Sartori to Sacred Heart: Early Catholic Trenton

Posted in Exhibits, Past Exhibits

St John's Church from THS 1929

June 28 – October 26, 2014


July 27, 2pm

Lecture by Richard Hunter


Celebrating the bicentennial of the first Catholic church built in New Jersey, this exhibit, spread over two upstairs galleries, introduces in one room the colorful personality of John Baptist Sartori, one of the founders of Trenton’s Catholic community, while in the other, religious objects and other materials relating to the history of St. John the Baptist Church and its successor house of worship, the Church of the Sacred Heart are on display.


Sartori portraitJohn B. Sartori (1765-1854) is a little known, but fascinating figure in Trenton’s history.  Born in Rome, the son of a jeweler to the Pope, he first emigrated to the United States in 1793, setting up as a merchant in Philadelphia, importing marble, statuary and various exotic Italian goods.  In 1797 he was appointed U.S. Consul in Rome by President John Adams, returning to his home country just before the Papal States were overrun by the French forces of Napoleon Bonaparte.  He was involved in some awkward dealings with the French occupiers and shortly after the Papal States were reinstated, he returned to the United States in 1801, settling in Trenton.


For 30 years Sartori lived at an estate known as Rosey Hill on the banks of the Delaware, just downriver from the William Trent House.  He resumed a career as a merchant, retaining his position in absentia as U.S. Consul in Rome and earning note as the founder of the first pasta-making factory in the United States.  Sartori pasta was sold to U.S. Presidents and gourmet customers up and down the east coast and in the Caribbean.


In 1999-2000, in advance of the reconstruction of Route 29, the site of Sartori’s home was investigated by archaeologists and a trove of his family’s household goods was recovered from a stone-lined privy.  These items, other Sartori materials and early American pasta making are the basis for one of the two exhibit rooms.


Sartori was Trenton’s first prominent Catholic resident and may reasonably be considered the father of the Diocese of Trenton.  In 1828, for his efforts establishing the Catholic church in Trenton, the Vatican named him Consul General of the Ports of the United States.  In the early 19th century the Sartori family and fellow worshippers celebrated mass in his mansion at Rosey Hill.  Two hundred years ago this June, led by the Sartori and Hargous families, a brick church, St. John’s, was completed at the corner of Market and Lamberton Streets and consecrated by Bishop Egan of Philadelphia.  A cemetery and school were soon added.

Sacred Heart ChurchFrom these beginnings grew a second, larger church on a new site nearby on South Broad Street.  This St. John’s burned to the ground in 1883 and was replaced by a new edifice erected in 1884-89 which was renamed the Church of the Sacred Heart.  This fine Romanesque Revival-style building, designed by noted architect Patrick Charles Keely, still stands today, the focal point of five historic structures built between 1889 and 1924.


Under the care and leadership of Father Thaddeus Hogan, the driving force behind the parish in the late 19th century, and a succession of pastors, Sacred Heart has thrived down to the present day as Trenton’s senior Catholic congregation.  The exhibit traces the growth of St. John’s and Sacred Heart through the display of documentary materials, religious accoutrements such as chalices and vestments, and other more eclectic items, including a matchstick model of the church building.


This exhibit is being curated by Richard Hunter, President of Hunter Research, Inc., a Trenton-based historical and archaeological consulting firm, and Museum Society board member, and by Patrick Harshbarger, Principal Historian and Architectural Historian at Hunter Research.  Support for the exhibit has been provided by Father Dennis Apoldite and Sacred Heart Parish.





Richard Hunter has been studying the history and archaeology of Trenton for more than 30 years, publishing and lecturing widely on this topic.  His particular interest in the Sartori family and the Church of the Sacred Heart stems from excavations and research carried out in connection with the reconstruction of Route 29 in the late 1990s.  Richard holds a Ph.D. in Geography from Rutgers, an MA in Archaeological Science from Bradford University, England, and a BA in Archaeology and Geography from Birmingham University, England.  He is the founder and President of Hunter Research, Inc., a cultural resources and historic preservation consulting business based in Trenton.


Patrick Harshbarger has been working in the field of public history and museum exhibits and interpretive planning for nearly 25 years. Since joining Hunter Research, Inc. in 2010 in the position of the firm’s Principal Historian/Architectural Historian, he has participated in the development of exhibits and interpretive signage at several Trenton-area sites including the Petty’s Run Archaeological Site, Abbott Marshlands, the Kahn Bath House and Mercer Meadows Park. Patrick holds an MA in history and museum studies from the University of Delaware, and an MPA in public administration from Florida International University.





Sunday, July 27, at 2.00 pm,  Free and Open to the Public

Richard Hunter will present a brief lecture to coincide with the recent opening of the exhibit on Sartori and Sacred Heart.  The lecture will provide an introduction to the exhibit, narrate the life of John B. Sartori and explain the archaeological and archival findings at the Rosey Hill Mansion.