Dina's Dwellings

Project Overview

A closer look at Dina's Dwellings

The historic First Reformed Church will be the site of Dina's Dwellings. This photograph was taken in 1960 by Jack Baucher a part of The Historic American Building Survey.

The Town Clock CDC is fundraising for Dina's Dwellings, a project that will contain affordable housing options for female victims of domestic violence and their children. Working together with Middlesex County's premier organization dedicated to helping victims of domestic violence, Women Aware, the Town Clock CDC hopes to make a meaningful difference in the lives of women. The First Reformed Church of New Brunswick will host Dina's Dwellings through a reconfiguration of the church's sanctuary. When the church was built in 1812, it was meant to hold a congregation of over one thousand. When Rutgers University was founded as Queen's College, Convocation was held at the First Reformed Church. Due to its importance in the past, the First Reformed Church is listed as a landmark on the National Register of Historic Places. However, its congregation today must fight for relevance amidst a much smaller membership and increasing facility costs. Through the Town Clock CDC, Dina's Dwellings will let the church use its extra space to help a population in dire need of assistance.

Cross Section of Dina's Dwellings, showing the reconfigured sanctuary space, apartments on the first and second stories and multipurpose space on the third floor. Image used with permission from Jeff Venezia of Design Ideas Group.

The four story building will be converted to apartments, multipurpose community space, and a smaller sanctuary for the First Reformed Church. Principle architect Jeff Venezia of DIGroup Architecture, AIA to create a plan which maximizes space while respecting the historic structure. Margaret Westfield of Westfield Architects & Preservation Consultants acted as the preservation consultant on the project. The apartments, known as Dina's Dwellings, will contain 2 two-bedroom, 1 one-bedroom and 7 studio/efficiency apartments.

Women Aware's social services department will match candidates with open apartments as women move on to more suitable housing arrangements.

Multipurpose and a media room will make sure that the residents have access to resources and support beyond their apartment dwellings.

The sanctuary reconfiguration is a one-of-a-kind effort which involves the cooperation of multiple community stakeholders, setting a new standard for small congregations inhabiting large structures. With Dina's Dwellings paving the way, the Town Clock CDC hopes to create a new paradigm for other communities to follow.

Who was Dina?

This is an image of a doll created from the likeness of Dina Van Bergh.

Dina Van Bergh was an important woman in the history of New Brunswick. She came to New Brunswick from Amsterdam with her husband, Dr. John Frelinghuysen the pastor of First Reformed Church who died shortly after her arrival in 1786. Her strength and spirituality attracted the attention of Dr. Jacob Hardebergh who courted and later married her. After Hardenbergh's death, Dina continued to be an important spiritual leader in New Brunswick.

Her resolve in times of difficulty and service to the community reminds First Reformed Church of its historic roots. Her namesake is an inspiration for this project, which will provide homes for women who fight for a better life for themselves and their families. We hope to use her name to guide the project towards providing better lives for women who are suffering.

Why here? Why now?

In 1971, a man set fire to the Sanctuary of First Reformed Church, angry that the Church was providing sanctuary to his partner who was a victim of abuse. The fire destroyed much of the historic sanctuary, including the altar and most of the historic stained glass windows. Over the past few years, the congregation of the First Reformed Church has diminished in number. Though a still a vibrant community, they no longer have the resources to maintain a historic building of the church's size. The fire's destruction and the dwindling congregation numbers could be seen as signs of a church that is at the end of its days. However, they can also be the catalyst for many new opportunities.

Concerned congregation members and community leaders came up with a creative solution to address their problems in a way which could help solve a greater social issue, one which affected their own church. While some faith based organizations support and fund affordable housing and adaptive reuse efforts, the Town Clock CDC will be the first to integrate affordable housing into a sanctuary space. Though the church was originally destroyed for providing sanctuary for a victim of abuse, its future rebuilding will ensure that the space is used to permanently provide sanctuary for these victims.

The First Reformed Church was once the highest point in New Brunswick. The Town Clock, depicted here, provided the time and direction for the entire community.

The Town Clock, located in the steeple of the First Reformed Church, is owned, operated and maintained by the city of New Brunswick. However, it is physically located inside of the church. With that spirit, the Town Clock CDC hopes to use the facilities of the historic First Reformed Church to provide direction for the greater community of New Brunswick. Combining the resources of the public, private and faith-based realms, great things are possible.