The Greenpoint Reformed Church. Illustration by Aubrey Nolan

The Greenpoint Reformed Church at 136-138 Milton Street is a building that not only plays an important role in our community today, but also has a huge historical significance. For those of you who do not know it, the church is the home of the wonderful Rev. Ann Kansfield who was voted The New York Times New Yorker of the year not only by her adoring congregation, but also by many other admiring Greenpointers. Ann uses the church to host Alcoholic Anonymous meetings, House homeless people and a huge amount of charitable ventures.

The house was built by an important figure in neighborhood history, Thomas Smith, in 1867. Smith started life as an apprentice builder, but his talent shone through so quickly that he was soon able to start his own construction firm and he built the iconic Little Church around the Corner in Manhattan amongst other works.
It was not as a builder, however, but as a manufacturer, that Smith would become wealthy. During the Civil War Smith acquired a bankrupt pottery works at 300 Eckford Street. Smith was advised to forget about trying to make the pottery into a successful financial venture because at the height of the Civil War few people were buying pottery. However, Smith was not deterred.

Smith must have been an amazing man with an unbelievable ability to master making things. He went to Europe and studied porcelain production and upon his return to America set up the first American factory to make hard porcelain, despite the fact that he had no training in producing china. He mastered every detail of the porcelain making process, even creating his own machines. His production of porcelain turned out to be a success and Smith became a millionaire.

At the end of the Civil War, Smith bought two large parcels of land along Milton Street. He wanted to build his house near Keramos Hall on Manhattan Avenue, which was built as a showroom for the beautiful pieces of porcelain he turned out. Because Smith had been trained as a builder, he was able to build himself an impressive Italianate Greek Revival Style mansion. He built a number of other Italianate gems around his home that today enjoy landmark status. The free standing, two-story red brick structure he made his home exudes dignity. It has a gorgeous portico with Tuscan columns as its entrance. Two wide bay windows flank it on the ground floor and three bay windows define the upper floor.

Inside the house has another treasure. Obviously as a man who created porcelain Smith would include porcelain tiles in his mansion. Today the only porcelain tiles that remain in the house grace the fireplace that surround an amazing terra cotta image of Robert Fulton. There are also shards of broken porcelain in the cement of the foundation, which were mixed into the concrete when it was poured.

Smith died a millionaire shortly after World War One and the house was taken over by the Y. M. C.A, but in 1944 the Reformed Church, which had previously been housed in the amazing structure on Kent Street, acquired the property. The pastor of the church was the amazing Reverend Benny Benson, a pacifist anti-war preacher whose unorthodox views raised some eyebrows, but was revered as a true man of God. It is hard to think of a building today in Greenpoint with a richer history or one that plays a more vital role in our community today.

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