A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America
Egyptian Revivalism was a popular architectural style in Europe and the United States during the 19th century. Prisons, cemetery gates, churches, memorials, tomb markers, and even reservoirs in NYC and across the United States took inspiration from Egyptian architecture and art motifs. 19th-century Egyptian Revival architecture included pylons, papyrus-stalk columns, obelisks, and details such as winged-disks and lotus flowers.
"The Tombs" Prison
"The Tombs" Prison (Wikimedia)
Officially known as the New York Hall of Justice and Detention Center, the Tombs was completed in 1838. Designed by John Haviland, the building's Egyptian facade was inspired both by the temple at Dendera, a Ptolemaic period (332-30 B.C.) temple dedicated to the goddess Hathor and one of the best preserved temples in Egypt, and architect Claude-Nicholas Ledoux's ca.1785 design for an unbuilt prison at Aix-en-Provence in France. The Tombs' entryways featured huge papyrus-stalk columns. Some considered the Tombs to be a fine example of Egyptian Revivalism, Charles Dickens called it "bastard Egyptian" when he mentioned it in his account of his first trip to America American Notes. Nonetheless, Egypt was the Tombs inspiration. Egyptian style in the 19th century was often associated with mystery and death and was thus occasionally used in the design of cemetery gates and prisons, such as Haviland's 1830s design of the New Jersey State Penitentiary at Trenton, and architect Henry Austin's wall and gates at the Grove Street Cemetery in New Haven, Connecticut (1845). The Tombs was located at 125 White Street in Lower Manhattan, and was nicknamed for its Egyptian association, despite looking more like a temple than tomb. Both a female and male penitentiary, it was known for its alleged corruption. The original building was torn down in 1902 and there have been three prisons on the site since. The fourth and current complex, the Bernard B. Kerik Complex, was built in 1974.
Croton Distributing Reservoir
Croton Reservoir (Wikimedia)
In need of a new water-supply system, New York State built the Egyptian-style Croton Distributing Reservoir between 1839 and 1842. The structure, designed by John B. Jervis, had blank walls, huge central and corner pylons, and a blank cavetto cornice, a concave bracket that lines the edge of many ancient Egyptian temples and facades. The 44.5-foot-tall granite structure was located on Fifth Avenue between 40th and 42nd Streets. Visitors could walk on top of it and enjoy views of the city. After it became obsolete as a water source, Croton was destroyed in 1899-1900 to make way for the construction of the New York Public Library.
The First Presbyterian Church in Sag Harbor
44 Union St., Sag Harbor, Long Island
From Manhattan: Long Island Railroad
The First Presbyterian Church in Sag Harbor (Courtesy of Bob Brier)
This church is also known as "Old Whalers" and is one of the earliest examples of Egyptian Revivalism in the United States still standing. The church, dedicated in 1844, is situated outside of the city on Long Island. It is a wooden building with a temple-like facade, including three pylons, and obelisk-shaped fence posts. Inside, the doors in the narthex have Egyptian-like moldings that taper from bottom to top. The church stood 185 feet tall and could be seen from seven miles out to sea until 1938, when a hurricane blew off the steeple. Designed by famous 19th-century architect Minard Lafever, it has been a National Historic Landmark since 1994.
The Grove Street Cemetery Gates
227 Grove St., New Haven, Connecticut
From Manhattan: Metro-North Railroad to New Haven Union Station; it's a five minute taxi or bus ride from the station to downtown New Haven
Grove Street Cemetery (Wikimedia)
Henry Austin's Egyptian Revival wall and gate at New Haven's Grove Street Cemetery were designed based roughly on the Greco-Roman temple dedicated to the god Khnum at Esna in southern Egypt and the Greco-Roman temple of the god Thoth at Hermopolis in the Nile Delta. There are two typical thick papyrus-stalk columns in the open center of the gate, which is an Egyptian-style pylon. Under the giant winged disk that symbolizes the Egyptian god of the dead Osiris, the gate reads, "The Dead Shall be Raised," taken from I Corinthians 15. This inscription presents a modern Christian belief against an ancient Egyptian backdrop, a culture filled with mummies and an un-Christian notion of the afterlife. Egyptian-style cemetery gates popped up across the United States from Louisiana to Baltimore in the 19th century. Grove Street Gate, one of the finest and earliest examples of this trend, is an easy day trip from Manhattan.