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.

The Riverside Archives’ mission is to collect, organize, and preserve the institutional records of The Riverside Church to serve as an information resource by providing access, promoting scholarship, elevating the church’s core stories, and bridging the past to the present in relevant and innovative ways.

History & Architecture

The Riverside Church is situated at one of the highest points of New York City, overlooking the Hudson River and 122nd Street, covering 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, is the tallest church in the U.S. and the second tallest in the Western Hemisphere. It contains offices, meeting rooms, and the 74-bell Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial Carillon. The carillon’s 20-ton bourdon bell is one of the largest tuned bells 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, Jr., 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 inter-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 promote 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.


Click here for a reference & research portal where you can contact the archives, submit questions, and search through frequently asked questions.

NEW: Digital Archive

The Riverside Church Digital Archive is a web-based discovery portal that provides quick and easy access to Riverside’s archival, library, and art collections. Users can explore the collections through interactive finding aids and descriptive catalog records, access and download digitized and born-digital objects, and view curated digital galleries and timelines. Over 4,000 digitized audio files from WRVR-FM (Riverside Radio) are also available for streaming on the site.

Click Here for the Digital Archive

Digital User Guide PDF

Riverside + Ancestry.com Record Archive

The Riverside Church Archives, in collaboration with Ancestry.com, has digitized a subset of our membership records and made them available online for genealogical research.

The record set is comprised of Member Lists, Marriage Records, and Death Records spanning from 1841 to 1945, including not only Riverside records, but those of its predecessor churches: The Norfolk Street Baptist Church, The Fifth Avenue Baptist Church, and The Park Avenue Baptist Church. To view the collection, click here.

This collection has been thoroughly vetted and adheres to all laws concerning privacy and confidentiality of The Riverside Church’s members and is for research purposes only.

If members of The Riverside Church who are not registered with Ancestry wish to access these and other records from Ancestry’s collection database, please click below to make an appointment or visit our online booking site. Research appointments are available on most Tuesdays from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. in the Riverside Archives Reading Room on 16T.

Schedule an Appointment

Riverside + Ancestry.com FAQ

WRVR Digital Collection

NEW: Riverside’s Archives needs your help to edit as many transcripts as we can by July 31, 2021!

Learn More

The WRVR-FM (Riverside Radio) Collection includes more than 3,500 digitized radio programs created by WRVR-FM, a public radio station owned and operated by The Riverside Church in the City of New York that began broadcasting on January 1, 1961, and continued as a commercial radio station from September 1971 until 1976.

Thanks to a grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR), in partnership with the American Archive of Public Broadcasting (AAPB), the Library of Congress and GBH, we are pleased to make our digitized collection available to the public.  You are invited to explore the WRVR Collection, which spans 1961-1973 and includes a wide variety of programming:  progressive religious and philosophical discussions, sermons, speeches, and event coverage.  Highlights include documentary coverage of the Civil Rights movement in Birmingham in 1963, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous Beyond Vietnam speech, and over 1,000 episodes of Just Jazz with Ed Beach.

Explore the WRVR Collection

Virtual Tower Tour

Episode 1 premieres June 17:

Episode 2 premieres June 24:

Episode 3 premieres July 1:

Want to see the sights for yourself in-person? Step inside the tallest steeple in North America and see New York City like never before. Our Tower Tour covers a brief Riverside history and the Nave sanctuary before embarking to the outdoor penthouse gallery at the top of the tower offering 360-degree views of the city, with viewings of the carillon and bells on the way up. Make plans to take a Tower Tour today:

Learn More

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

Rev. Adriene Thorne
2022 – Present