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.
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.
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.