120 East State Announces Major Milestone

New Jersey Historic Trust Awards $3 Million to Non-Profit 120 East State to Convert 200-Year-old Trenton Presbyterian Church into Community-based Performing Arts and Economic Development Complex

Project to Transform Historic Downtown Church into Steeple Center For Arts and Culture

New Jersey Historic Trust Awards $3 Million to Non-Profit 120 East State to Convert 200-Year-old Trenton Presbyterian Church into Community-based Performing Arts and Economic Development Complex

120 East State seeks other support to make $25 million project a reality

TRENTON, NJ, December 5, 2023 – 120 East State, the non-profit converting the historic First Presbyterian Church of Trenton (FPCT) complex in downtown Trenton, announced today that the New Jersey State Historic Trust awarded it $3 million to transform the 300-year-old site into the Steeple Center, a community-oriented performing arts center and space for nonprofit and for-profit entities to use.

The First Presbyterian Trenton congregation has seeded the project with its first $1 million dollar gift. The New Jersey Historic Trust and the James Kerney Foundation each made 2022 early investments of $825,000 and $5,000 respectively.

120 East State formed in 2022 to repurpose the church, on the National Historic Register, with its other buildings and grounds. FPCT was the site of fighting during George Washington’s victory at the Battle of Trenton on Christmas Day, 1776. Its graveyard is believed to contain the graves of American and Hessian mercenary soldiers fighting for the British, including Hessian commander Maj. Johan Rall, and the first U.S. Army chaplain to die in battle, the Rev. John Rosbrugh.

“This is a tremendous day for the Steeple Center and for the community it will serve here in the heart of Trenton,” Cherry Oakley, 120 East State Board President, said. “We are deeply grateful for the grant from the New Jersey Historic Trust and, of course, to the congregation of First Presbyterian Church and Coastlands Presbytery, whose lease allows us to launch this conversion.”

“While this is a really important milestone, it is only one step,” Oakley said. “We continue to need support to make the Steeple Center a reality for our community and Trenton. This is a great space, but the main church building, almost 200 years old, is showing its age. Job one is to get the buildings up to snuff so we can move forward together with our neighbors.”

“We anticipate that converting from an historic church into the Steeple Center for Arts and Culture will cost about $25 million dollars, which includes the renovation and construction costs of the historic site, and the further development of 120 East State, so it can steward and operate the property,” Molly Dykstra, Project Leader, said.

120 East State will contribute to the revitalization of the surrounding community. Its intention is to become a sustainable source of jobs for local residents while creating opportunities that foster meaningful connections between Trenton residents and visitors, all while highlighting the important history of this property. 

About 120 East State
120 East State (120ES) is a community-based, community-centered investment in the heart of Trenton. Through public and private funding, 120ES is transforming a building with a storied past, First Presbyterian Church of Trenton, into a multi use gathering place for the whole community, including a community cafe, cultural/performing arts venue, and events/program space. Serving Trenton and greater Trenton, 120ES will contribute to the vitality of downtown, provide needed jobs and services to Trenton residents, highlight the told and untold histories of this National Historic Register property, and create a Trenton-proud hospitality zone for visitors to our capital city.

About First Presbyterian Church of Trenton
Founded in 1712, the First Presbyterian of Trenton has been located on this downtown Trenton site since 1724, nearly 300 years (the current structure dates from 1839).  The earliest cemetery grave-markers date to the 1730’s.  Many of Trenton’s original settlers are buried here, but the cemetery is perhaps best known as the final resting place of Col. Johann Rall, killed in the First Battle of Trenton in December, 1776.  The first U.S. chaplain Rev. John Rosbrugh is also buried here, killed in cold blood by British and Hessian troops during the second battle of Trenton.

Both the church and cemetery are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Photo caption: New Jersey Historic Trust awards $3.825 million to Steeple Center project.
L to R: Jennifer Williams, Trenton North Ward City Councilwoman; Jasi Mikae Edwards, At-Large Trenton City Councilwoman; the Rev. Jeffrey Vamos, Vice President,120 East State Board of Directors; Danica Curcic, 120 East State Board of Directors; the Hon. Reed Gusciora, Mayor, City of Trenton; Cherry Oakley, President, 120 East State Board of Directors; Cynthia Vandenberg, 120 East State Board of Directors; Dorothy Guzzo, Executive Director, New Jersey Historic Trust; Nancy Livingston, 120 East State Board of Directors; Teska Frisby, Trenton West Ward City Councilwoman, President, Trenton City Council; the Rev. Molly Dykstra, Project Leader, 120 East State; Ira Lackey, 120 East State Board of Directors.  

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