The old Dutch Reformed Church, a National Historic Site, was established in the village of Second River (Belleville) in 1697. The church has been rebuilt and enlarged three times since then, in 1725, 1807 and 1853. The church cemetery is the final resting place of sixty-eight Revolutionary War soldiers. On September 12, 1777 the Battle of Second River was fought in front of the church as British troops from New York attempted to cross from the east bank of the Passaic River. The battle was the only battle fought in Essex County during the American Revolution. Colonel Philip Van Cortlandt, commanding officer of the Essex County Regiment, is buried here. Twenty years later, at the annual town meeting on the 4th of July in 1797 many of the local veterans gathered at the church and voted to name the village Belleville. Josiah Hornblower, who built the first steam engine in America in 1753 and is considered by many to be the father of the American Industrial Revolution is also buried here.
Three American flags fly at the cemetery at all times. The thirteen star Betsy Ross flag from the American Revolution honors the patriots buried here and commemorates the encampment of George Washington here in November of 1776. The fifteen star Star Spangled Banner is flown in honor of Major General Alexander Macomb, hero of the War of 1812 and recipient of the the Congressional Gold Medal. General Macomb's home was located a few homes south of the church. The third flag, the thirty-four star Union Army flag, flies alongside the grave of Civil Captain Henry Benson killed in action in 1862, in remembrance of Captain Benson and the hundreds of thousands of men killed in our nation's bloodiest conflict.
The church, located next to the bridge and turnpike leading east to Jersey City, is also believed to have been part of the underground railroad as it is located on what is one of the known routes of the escape system for runaway slaves. Theodore Weld, one of America's leading abolitionist lived off Main Street, a quarter mile north of the church. In 1856 Rev. Thomas Dewitt Talmage was ordained at the Belleville Reformed Church and was installed as Pastor. Rev. Talmage would eventually move on to Brooklyn where his ministry spread worldwide. In 1870 the first Chinese immigrants arrived in Belleville, establishing the first Chinese community on the east coast of the U.S. The Chinese were subject to intense discrimination nationwide but found a welcoming home in Belleville. The first Chinese New Year was celebrated here in 1871. The church established the first school for Chinese immigrants in September of 1871. Many Chinese were members of the congregation and a number of those deceased were buried here.
Every 4th of July morning, a celebration at the church takes place which includes a 21 gun salute on a pair of Revolutionary War cannon. Each April there is a commemoration of the traditional Chinese memorial day, Ching Ming, with a wreath and flowers set a the Chinese monument in the church cemetery in remembrance of those first Chinese immigrants.
After three centuries of preaching the gospel by the Reformed Church, in 2010 the torch was then passed to Pastor Mike Ortiz and his congregation of La Senda Antigua. The Pastor and his congregation have done a tremendous amount of work themselves to repair and rebuild the nearly 170 year old church. The church is in desperate need of repairs of everything from heating to windows and especially to the steeple which was damaged by Hurricane Sandy and remains unfinished. The Belleville Historical Society is appealing for help for this important piece of American history. Donations can be sent to La Senda Antigua at 171 Main St Belleville, NJ 07109 c/o Pastor Mike Ortiz. For more historical information email firstname.lastname@example.org