History & Archives

The Riverside Church is modeled after the 13th Century Gothic cathedral in Chartres, France. Its tower stands as a beacon to the world and continues to bring people with very different perspectives together to this day.

History & Architecture

The Riverside Church is situated at one of the highest points of New York City, overlooking the Hudson River and 122nd Street. It is 100 feet wide and covers two city blocks. Construction began in 1927 with the first service held on October 5, 1930. The Nave seats nearly 2,000 worshipers. The 20-floor tower, rising to a height of 392 feet, contains offices, meeting rooms, and the 74-bell Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial Carillon. The carillon’s 20-ton bourdon bell is the largest tuned bell in the world. The smallest bell in our carillon weighs 10 pounds.

Inside the Nave worship sanctuary, the strivings and aspirations of humanity shine through exquisitely detailed carvings, engravings, stained glass, and other iconography, a tribute to the artists, craftsmen, and architects and their dedication to the glory of God. The Labyrinth on the floor of the chancel has been adapted from the maze at Chartres, one of the few such medieval designs in existence.

The pulpit has welcomed speakers from far and near: The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., preached his famous anti-Vietnam War sermon, “Beyond Vietnam,” from this pulpit. Nelson Mandela addressed the nation during an interfaith celebration welcoming him to America. Marian Wright-Edelman of the Children’s Defense Fund spoke about the need to provide quality healthcare to all children; and the well-known Dr. Tony Campolo delivered a sermon concerning affluence in America.

The beautiful and intimate Christ Chapel, patterned after the eleventh century Romanesque nave of the fortress church of St. Nazaire at Carcassonne, belongs architecturally to an earlier period than does the rest of the church.


Riverside was conceived and built by John D. Rockefeller, with the intention that Rev. Dr. Harry Emerson Fosdick be the senior minister. In the 1920s, Rockefeller belonged to a Baptist congregation, worshipping at the Park Avenue Baptist Church. Fosdick (a Northern Baptist Minister) had been preaching at the First Presbyterian Church when a controversy arose regarding his views on Fundamentalism, most notably captured in his sermon entitled, “Shall the Fundamentalists Win?” Due to this controversy, he left First Presbyterian and eventually agreed to serve at Riverside, with the caveat that its congregation be non-denominational rather than Baptist. Rockefeller agreed, and the congregation at the Park Avenue Baptist Church became the Riverside congregation.

Riverside Archives

The Riverside Church Archives serves as a repository for Riverside’s institutional records and those of its predecessor churches, the Norfolk Street Baptist Church, the Fifth Avenue Baptist Church, and the Park Avenue Baptist Church. The collection includes photography, moving images, audio recordings, publications, committee minutes, clergy sermons and papers, membership records, and records of church programming and events. The Riverside Archives also stewards a collection of rare books and Bibles as well as The Riverside Church’s fine arts, decorative arts, architectural art, three-dimensional objects, and other materials of enduring historical, artistic, and cultural value.

From its roots in the early 19th century to the present day, Riverside’s influence and activities – documented in its archives, artifacts, and edifice – have played and continue to play an integral part not only in the history of liberal Christianity, but in the larger story of American history. The Archives is dedicated to ensuring Riverside’s history of social justice and action, cultural and community endeavors, and commitment to open and inclusive theological thought and expression is made available for research by church ministers, staff, congregants, scholars, students, and the general public. The Riverside Archives aims to promotes scholarship, elevate the church’s core stories, offer new pathways of engagement and dialogue, and bridge the past to the present in relevant and innovative ways.

The Riverside Church Archives is available for research by application and appointment only at 490 Riverside Drive, 9th Floor, New York, NY 10027. Access to archival materials is provided and supervised by Riverside Archives staff.

Email Riverside Archives

Riverside’s Senior Ministers

Rev. Dr. Harry Emerson Fosdick
1930 – 1946

Rev. Dr. Robert James McCracken
1946 – 1967

Rev. Dr. Ernest T. Campbell
1968 – 1976

Rev. Dr. William Sloane Coffin, Jr.
1977 – 1987

Rev. Dr. James A. Forbes, Jr.
1989 – 2007

Senior Minister Emeritus
2008 – present

Rev. Dr. Brad R. Braxton
2008 – 2009

Rev. Dr. Amy Butler
2014 – 2019