New Jersey State Historic Trust awards $3M to convert historic site into Steeple Center

120 East State, the nonprofit converting the historic First Presbyterian Church of Trenton complex in downtown Trenton, recently announced 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 gift. The New Jersey State 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. Johann 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. 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, 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.