Places that Matter

Cuyler Presbyterian Church (former)

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Martha Cooper
Martha Cooper
Martha Cooper
Historic
Historic
A center for Mohawk life in New York
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Place Matters Profile

Boerum Hill, known as North Gowanus until the 1970s, was affectionately termed "Downtown Caughnawaga" by a community of Mohawks who made the neighborhood their "home away from home" for some forty years. Having developed a particular skill for ironwork at great heights as bridge builders, Mohawks form the Kahnawake and Akwesasne reservations near the Canadian border began to work in New York City in the 1920s. They helped build many of the city's most iconic structures--the Hell Gate, the George Washington and Verrazano-Narrows Bridges, the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, the Seagram Building, and scores of others. Many of the workers found lodging near Local 361 of the ironworkers' union, headquartered on Atlantic Avenue.

By the 1940s a community of some 700 Mohawks and several hundred Indians from western tribes had created a network of apartment and boarding houses, bars and grocery stores in North Gowanus. Cuyler Presbyterian, led by Rev. Dr. David Muroe Cory for 29 years, was a center of Mohawk life in this neighborhood. Rev. Cory learned the language of his Mohawk parishioners, and in 1941 his Revised Iroquois translation of the Gospel of Luke was published by the American Bible Society. As possibly the only Presbyterian church to have hosted an annual pow-wow, Cuyler was deemed by the Mohawks "the church that makes friends." Immortalized by writer Joseph Mitchell in 1949, Brooklyn's American Indian community began to fade a decade later. By the 1980s only ten families were left. Rev. Cory died in 1996.

The Thunderbird American Indian Dancers, still in existence in 2010, evolved from performances and efforts begun at Cuyler Church. The Church is now a private residence, but its name over the entry has been preserved.