|First-time visitors to Raritan often comment that for a small town Raritan has a lot of churches.
On Somerset Street there are four churches within three-tenths of a mile of each other.
And if one travels two blocks north up Anderson Street a fifth church can be found. At one time in its history Raritan had a sixth church.
When the town of Raritan was forming a century ago various groups of people with different religions came to Raritan. Each established its own place of worship. Below is the history of the Raritan Churches.
|Third Reformed (1848 - 2010)
Raritan, like most towns in its early days, established its first church as soon as a significant number of people started to live within its borders. Initially when Raritan had just a scattering of people those who wanted to worship their faith would need to go to Somerville.
But when the canal was being built in Raritan in the 1840s hundreds of workers with their families began to call Raritan their home. Many of these people who were attendees at the First and Second Reformed Churches in Somerville decided to create their own church in the emerging village of Raritan.
In 1848 they would get an official designation to establish “The Third Reformed Church”. For three years they met in a chapel belonging to another church in Somerville. In 1850 they started building their church in Raritan. In July of 1851 the Third Reformed Church opened and the town of Raritan had its first church. The church would soon build a Sunday School Chapel across the street. Eight years ago the Third Reformed Church, after years of declining membership, shut down. The building was then sold to a local businessman who sold it to the “Shree Swaminarayan Mundir Loyadham” which is a Hindu Temple.
|St. Bernard’s (1843,1853 ? - 1988)
Some records show that the first Catholic Parish here was established in 1843. The Catholics in Raritan in the late 1840s and early 1850s were able to celebrate mass when priests traveled to this area. These priests would hold the masses in Somerville.
Sometime around 1853 Raritan Catholics decided they no longer wanted to travel to Somerville so they built a small church on what is now known as Church Street in Raritan. But soon after it was operating it was destroyed by fire. Mass was said in private homes from 1855-1856 and then the stone church which survives to this day was built. The church prospered as the town grew.
In 1876 St. Bernard’s would establish a cemetery off of what is now Route 28 in Bridgewater. Today that cemetery is almost full. In recent decades two mausoleums have been added.
In 1877 Father Joseph Zimmer became the pastor. Popular and well known he would remain as the head of the church until his death in 1923. Today his name and years of service are engraved on the outside of the church.
St. Bernard’s had a parochial school that was in operation from 1887-1938.
In 1896 St. Bernard’s, led by its Italian parishioners, held Raritan’s first St. Rocco Festival. The event was a hit with everyone and would be held for years. In 1988, after 130 years in Raritan, due to expanding enrollment, St. Bernard’s would move to Route 22 in Bridgewater. The old church building would become a shrine were people could come into pray. Without the traditional church revenue, it has struggled to keep up with repairs. A fund raiser is planned for March 15th at The Somerville Elks. (For details see the “What’s Happening” section of this issue of The Breeze.)
Methodist (1872 - 1926)
This forgotten church of Raritan leaves no building as a record that it once existed. A sizable population of Methodists had populated Raritan in the 1860s and 1870s. So in 1872 they purchased the lot that had previously held a school house and built their church. While it was in operation this church was very active socially. Local newspapers of the era often reported that the church sponsored picnics, festivals, and events of the era such as Children’s Day. In the mid-1920s enrollment declined and in 1926 the church shut down. The building would be sold to Tony Orlando who converted it to a tavern.
That building was later destroyed by fire, thus any links to the original Methodist Church were gone for good. Just one photo of the church survives today.
|St. Paul’s (1894 – present)
In the 1880s a steady stream of Slovak Lutherans immigrated to the U.S. settling in Raritan. Initially they had no church and worshipped their faith informally at home and occasionally when a visiting pastor traveled to Raritan. More Slovak Lutherans families would settle in Raritan and in 1894 they decided to formally establish their own congregation which they called the “First Slovak Evangelical Lutheran Church”. For their first years they would meet in the Sunday School Chapel that was part of the Third Reformed Church. This building was on the site of the current St. Paul’s Church. In 1899 they were able to purchase this chapel and make it their own. They used this building for 25 years. Then in 1924 they began construction on the stone church that we see today.
In 1959 they changed their name to “St. Pauls’ Evangelical Lutheran Church”. The name was to honor the memory of their full-time first pastor.
|St. Ann’s (1903 – present)
Italians began to immigrate to the country in mass starting in the 1880s. One of the towns that they came to in large numbers was Raritan. The first Catholic Italians here became members of St. Bernard’s Church. As they grew in number they wished for independence. For years an Italian Priest was occasionally brought in to say a mass or two. But the Italians desired their own church and in 1903 they formed St. Ann’s Church in Raritan.
They would bring the St. Rocco Festival under control of this new church. For the first years they met in a vacant store on Somerset Street. Then in 1906 they built their own church on Anderson Street where the rectory is today. That small church served their needs for a couple decades, but as more Italians immigrated to Raritan a larger church was needed. In 1932 the church that we know today was built. St. Ann’s opened a school in 1966 that is still open today.
|St. Joseph’s (1912 - present)
Slovak Catholics, like their Slovak Lutheran counterparts, immigrated to Raritan and as their numbers grew sought out their own church where they could worship in their own language. By 1904 a Church Society was formed, but the Slovaks still attended mass at St. Bernard’s. By 1912 they had their official beginning when they were able to afford to hire a priest of their own. But the Slovaks had to teach the priest, Father Ketter, their language. This was accomplished through eager enthusiasm of both the parishioner who taught him and the priest himself. Father Ketter led the way toward the building of their own church whose cornerstone was laid in 1914.
In 1920 a school was started in the church basement and in 1926 a separate building for the school was built. The school had eight grades and stayed open till 1972.