Architecture Overview

The First Gothic Style Church in America

The people of the parish of Trinity Church on the Green, New Haven, have built two churches in their long history since organized Episcopal services began in the town in 1723. The first church was built between July of 1752 and the summer of 1753. The second church was built between 1814 to 1816 by Ithiel Town, a pioneer in the Gothic Revival Style in America,  For more on this influential and seminal early American architect, see Ithiel Town, Architect of Trinity Church.

After much research and long debate, it appears that the current Trinity Church on the Green, New Haven, by almost a decade, is indeed the first Gothic Style Church in America.[1], -- what the Trinity building committee in 1812 called the "Gothic Stile" and  Bishop Jarvis in 1814 called the "Gothick" style -- an architectural movement that spawned an American Gothic Style architectural movement called variously "Gothic Survival", "Gothic Revival" or "neo-Gothic" style.  It led to the building of at least 1,821 historic churches in America and, in a similar style, Carpenter Gothic houses and small churches, Collegiate Gothic campus buildings, interior decorations, ironwork, and bridges culminating in the Brooklyn Bridge in 1883.  It was built prior to the earliest Gothic Revival Style churches in Canada as well (New Haven had a thriving trade with Canada from its early days on though the 1800s), making it the first Gothic-Revival building in North America.

It is built out of local seam-faced "trap rock" or diabase, a dark volcanic rock whose iron weathers to a rusty brown when exposed to the air, giving the church a distinct reddish appearance. Built of the same stone as East Rock Park, its tower echoes the tall exposed rock ridges that boarder New Haven. For more on this unique stone, see Rock of Ages: Trinity's Trap Rock Exterior

Walk-throughs with photographs

For more information on the rich architecture of the church, a number of "walk-through" have been created by Trinity parish members.  Note: Some of the files are large, and may take some time to download. The picture to the right depicts a Christmas Eve service at Triniy.

A Walk through Trinity Church the church, its memorials, altars, and windows

Trinity's West Window describes the great window in the chancel

Trinity's Secret Spaces by Joe Dzeda describes the bells and their mechanisms, and a panorama of New Haven from the top of the tower

Trinity's Big Dig by Joe Dzeda describes the 1961 construction that dug an undercroft out from under the church

Trinity’s History and Vision describes the outward shinning 250th Anniversity East Window

In my Father’s house are many rooms: A Columbarium Walk-Through, describes the enclosed space in the south-west corner of the nave.

The First Church on Church Street

Trinity’s First Church was built between July 1752 and the summer of 1753. Up until an investigation triggered by the formation of the Trinity Church New Haven Historical Society in 2011, the date of the deed that allowed the the building of this structure was used as the foundation date of the parish; evidence now suggests 1723 as the parish's founding date, with 1727 being the first date that pledges were obtained to build a physical church building, and 1752 as the first date the deed to the lot was officially noted.  For more on the difficulties of building an Anglican Church in Puritan New Haven, see First years of Trinity Episcopal Church New Haven.

But adherents to the Church of England were a minority in the state where the official established Congregational religion, the New England branch of the Puritan movement, was backed by the power of the colonial state government. So opposition to putting a Anglican church in the home town of Yale, the “School of the Prophets” of the Congregational Church, prevented construction until 1752 – even though Connecticut was a colony of Great Britain, and the King was the head of the Church as well as the State.

The First Anglican “Church” in New Haven was located on the south side of Chapel Street and the east side of what we today call Church Street, about 100 feet from the corner. It was indeed the first church in the town, as the three established Congregational places of worship in New Haven each called their buildings a “meetinghouse”. The first church was a small wooden structure measuring 58 feet by 38 feet and only sat 150 persons. The small wooden altar, preserved today the side altar still used at Trinity's early Sunday and Wednesday services, was flanked by two Gothic arch-shaped tablets listing the 10 commandments which presently hang in Trinity’s vestibule.

The painting of the Second Church to the left is from a nineteenth century painting by Trinity's own Dr. William Giles Munson -- a dentist by trade and a relative of Rev. Harry Croswell's wife Susan; he is also well known for his paintings of New Haven's Green and Eli Whitney's factory.

The building was not actually consecrated officially at the time of its completion, as that requires a Bishop, and there was never a Bishop in Colonial America, and never one in Connecticut until 1785. In addition to being the first church, Trinity Church it was the first place of worship in New Haven to have a steeple – though the three New Haven Congregational meetinghouses, not to be outdone, would also add steeples. But it also had a chancel, something not imitated by good Puritan church designers who wanted to make the word, not the altar and its "popish ceremonies", the center of worship.

But there was one other difference: when the church was built, near if not quite on the Green, its spire was topped with a golden crown (see detail from the Munson painting), as if to remind their fellow citizens whose authority they worshiped under. It was not the “Demon Episcopacy”, but the Monarch of the British Empire, and the Defender of the Faith of the Church of England. It was a bold announcement of defiance to their Puritan neighbors. It worked well for them until the American Revolution – whereupon the crown disappeared on a dark night as either a prudent act or a revolutionary gesture.

Because of their neighbors' opposition, and their concern not ”to have anything to do with the Demon Episcopacy” in the words of Ed Getlein’s history of Trinity Church Here Will I stand, local craftsmen would not work on the church. So eight of the founding 24 families – including Thomas David, Benjamin Sanford, and Enos Alling -- “boarded in” imported craftsman. Each of the eight families bore the burden for a week in a rotation schedule over the entire year it took to build. Here is a tiny image of the first Trinity Church on a 1812 map drawn by Trinity member Amos Doolittle.  Note the cupola – in 1807 the old steeple was taken down and a cupola built in its place; the Church was generally repaired and painted. Galleries had been added in 1797, but even so, the parish was outgrowing the church.

The First Wooden Trinity Church is commemorated on Trinity’s outward facing east window, a unique stained glass window that was designed to shine out onto the busy corner of Temple and Chapel Streets in New Haven. Note that the window uses clear Lucite bars to hold it together and allow the back lighting of the window;  it is indeed a light unto the world. 

The Second Church on the Green "in the Gothic Stile"

The earliest records of the intent to build a second church are recorded in notes from Vestry meeting held October 20, 1810, at the home of Mr. John Jacocks. A site on the town Green was secured at a town meeting on December 14, 1812. Ithiel Town was selected as the architect. He designed the building in 1813. In the Connecticut Journal newspaper on January 31, 1814, the Trinity Episcopal Society of New Haven placed an advertisement “To Builders”, notifying them that “Proposals will be received by the subscriber until the 14th of February next, for the building of an Episcopal Church in this city…The building will be in the Common rock stone [New Haven Trap Rock] and built in the Gothic stile.” Those who wanted to place a bid could “see the Plan or draft” kept in the New Haven store of William McCracken, a member of the building Committee, who would only accept proposals “in writing and under sealed covers.” Funding was raised by five year pew rentals sold out swiftly; hence the distinctive closed doors on the pews that indicated possession.

The cornerstone was laid on May 17, 1814, in a service that included a sermon by Bishop Samuel Jarvis in a special "form of prayer composed for that Occassion" that included laying a plate under the cornerstone. Work on the church was completed in 1816 and it was consecrated on February 21, 1816 in ceremonies that extended over three days and included the a sermon by Bishop John Henry Hobart, the institution of Mr. Croswell as rector with a sermon by Bishop Philander Chase, and the confirmation of 107 persons, while about 3000 persons attended the ceremonies in a building that could only seat 1400 persons. Attached to the publication of Bishop Hobart's Sermon was a “Description of the building lately erected for public worship, by Trinity Church, in the city of New-Haven; by Mr. Ithiel town, Architect”. Town notes that, "The Gothic style of architecture has been chosen and adhered to in the erection of this Church, as being in some respects more appropriate, and better suited to the solemn purposes of religious worship.” Harry Croswell will attribute much of his success in growing his church to its splendid architecture.

The New Haven Green

This popular 1831 color print shows the "East view of the public square or green in New Haven, Connecticut".  It was created by John Warner Barber (John Warner, 1798-1885) and is taken from the collection of the Connecticut Historical Society. It depicts a scene at the height of the rectorship of Rev. Dr. Harry Croswell, whom you could easily imagine as the figure strolling on the Green with his long tall strides and green umbrella towards the church. The Green has a rich history going back to 1641 when New Haven was laid out in a grid with nine-squares under the supervision of the settlers’ surveyor, John Brockett, he central section of the plan was reserved as a market place with the meetinghouse in its center; this plan has guided the history and development of the Green -- and impacted the development of Trinity Church; it has the right only to the width of one Oxcart of land around the circumference of the Church which limits what changes can be made to the Church. The Green is managed by The Committee of the Proprietors of Common and Undivided Lands at New Haven, a self-electing body of five people elected for life. For more on the Green and its History see Not a Park or Mere Pleasure Ground: a Case Study of the New Haven Green: by James Sexton.

Trinity Episcopal Church on the Green is the most unusual of the three churches on New Haven‘s carefully designed  Federal period town Green. The building was designed by Ithiel Town, the same architect who designed Center Church on the Green, and a decade later would design what is now Hartford’s Christ Church Cathedral and St. Pault's, in Troy New York (see below). It is the first American Gothic Revival Style church, a style based on the English Gothic Style or architecture.  In fact, it is both the first neo-Gothic church in North America, and the oldest existing neo-Gothic church as well.

To the left is the earlier "A Perspective View of the Three Houses for Public Worship on the Public Square, New Haven", a hand-colored engraving attributed to Amos Doolittle, circa 1825; it is found in the collections of the New Haven Museum. Note the newly planted Elm trees, and the wooden fence completed in 1800.  Amos Doolittle (1754-1832) was a New Haven silversmith and copper engraver; he made a number of etchings and maps of people and places, but is most famous for his four engravings of the events of April 19, 1774 and the battles of Lexington and Concord that opened the Revolutionary War.

Trinity was the first of the five structures built on the Green in the early nineteenth century. Though built in quite a different Federalist architectural style, its architect Ithiel Town would go on to build Center Church in the Federalist Style and the Court House in the Greek Revival style, and his assistant/builder/architect David Hoadley, who was the builder for Trinity, would design and build the United "North" Church in the Federalist Style. Trinity Church was the first of the three churches built on the Green in the decade of 1710-1720.  A Methodist church was built on the Green the next decade, but was later rebuilt just across from the Green and is now the "First & Summerfield United Methodist Church" on the corner of Elm and College streets. This has created a unique space in American cities: a town center space dominated by churches. It comes at a cost, as restrictions on building on the historic Green limit what the parish can do to within "two ox carts" from the outside wall of the church -- about 3.8 meters or 12.4 feet. Parking is limited, and parish offices and schoolrooms are limited to the few interior rooms. For how Trinity parish addressed this limitation in the 1960s by going under grounder almost to the water table, see the Trinity's Big Dig.

On the right is an engraving titled "New Haven, Conn. Comprising a View of the Episcopal and Presbyterian Churches, Statehouse and Yale College". It is a hand-colored engraving by Illman and Pilbrow, New York, 1831, from the collection of the New Haven Museum. The perspective highlights the original Trinity Church, and shows behind it the then newly built Greek Revival Style State House as well as the other two Federal Style churches northward along the Green. Note the wooden fences with the cows on the green, and the battlement decorations along the cornice. Directly in front of Trinity Church is the “sign post”, which was also used as a public whipping post up until 1825; you can also see the public well on the corner of Church and Tembple.  At some point in the twentieth century, Chapel street was widened and one traffic lane taken off the outside edges of the Green, bringing the street (and its noise and fumes) 12 feet closer to the church. In addition, a decision was made by the city fathers to make the Green the bus hub for transit between the city and its suburbs - rather as if you put The Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York City outdoors and in the middle of Central Park. There is much talk today of rectifying the mistakes of the past, and restoring the Green as a park and place for worship, commerce, and play.

1814-1816 Trinity Trap Rock Church

To the left is the earliest extent image of the second Trinity Episcopal Church in New Haven. It is taken from an 1817 "Engraving of Trinity Church", possibly by Amos Doolittle, from the collection of the Yale University Art Gallery. The United States was at war with Great Britain at the time of its building in 1814; the Church had to get permission from British Commander Hardy, whose fleet was blockading New Haven, to float the great wooden beams down the Connecticut River across the sound and into New Haven Harbor.  Commander Hardy reputedly said, "If there is any place on earth that needs religion, it is this New Haven.”  Or words to that effect. The design of the building was probably chosen to highlight the differences with its New Haven Congregationalist neighbors, and to express kinship with the Anglican tradition. The church "was heralded as the first attempt at Gothic in church building in New England, and one of the largest structures for that purpose in America"[2] by noted Yale Historian Franklin Bowditch Dexter.

Though it imported its wood, the reddish stone of its exterior is locally quarried seam-faced “trap rock” or diabase from Eli Whitney's East Rock Quarry in Hamden. According to Ithiel Town’s description, the stone blocks were: "layered with their natural faces out, and so selected and fitted as to form small but irregular joints, which are pointed. These natural faces present various shades of born and iron-rust; and when damp, especially, different shades appear very deep and rich; at the same time conveying to the mind an idea of durability and antiquity, which may be very suitably associated with this style of architecture.”

Diabase is a dark and very strong volcanic rock whose iron weathers to a rusty orange-brown when exposed to the air, giving Trinity Church its distinctive reddish appearance with soft tints of orange and brown. Thus the church tower echoes the tall rock ridges and postpile pillars of the trap-rock mountain range of the Metacomet Ridge that extends from New Haven, north through the Connecticut River Valley to nearly the Vermont border. Some 50,000 cubic feet of rough and hewn stone was used to raise the walls , which are five feet thick at the base.  For more on the stone, see Rock of Ages: Trinity's Trap Rock Exterior

Some 50,000 cubic feet of rough and hewn stone was used to raise the walls of the original church, which are five feet thick at the base tapering to three feet at the top 38 feet above the ground. The original church was 103 feet long, and 74 feet wide; the original wooden tower at the east or font end is 25 feet square and projects forward half of its size, making the whole length 115.5 feet. The original wooden tower was 100 feet  from the base to the upper roof, and capped with four , “frustrums of octagonal pyramids, finished at the top, with a termination, iron-work, and vane to each, making their height 30 feet above the roof of the tower.” There are four other pinnacles, 20 feet high, placed between the pyramids and connected to the corner by a balustrade 7 feet high. 

There were five windows on a side, and two at the west or back end which were 26 feet high and 8/1/3 wide. The great west altar window was in five parts topped by a great circle mullion: it contained 1400 panes of glass, and was the greatest window in the United States of its day.

Since Rector Henry Whitlock was away traveling for his health, at the building's cornerstone ceremony Bishop Samuel Jarvis gave an Address, Delivered in the City of New-Haven, at the Laying of the Corner-stone of Trinity Church, May 17, 1814, in which he noted the following about the "Gothick" style church:

"In this view, it is a source of great pleasure, that you, my brethren will set a laudable example to your fellow Christians, by erecting your church according to a mode of architecture, of which, as yet, there is not a perfect and pure specimen through the whole of the American republick. That style of building which is commonly termed Gothick, and which is distinguished by its pointed arches and its slender clustering columns, is peculiarly adapted to sacred uses. The experience of ages has proved, that it tends, wore than any other, to fill men with awe and reverence, to repress the tumult of unreflecting gaiety, and to render the mind sedate and solemn. Whatever tends in any degree to make men serious and devout when they approach the Divine Majesty, is an auxiliary to his service; and the providing that which products this effect in the greatest degree, is an act by which we doubtless honour and glorify our Maker."

He liked the church so much that he would later be buried under its altar.

The church was not only one of the largest churches in America in its day, it seems that Trinity Church on the Green was the first Gothic Revival style church built in America, and, in fact, the earliest Gothic Revival Church in all of North America. Note the image to the right of Trinity Church in 1816; the interior is quote different from today, in the style of the pews, the missing chancel, the windows, and even the vaulting arches.  It had clear windows and may have been painted white. Note that all the texts claim this is an 18 inch interior, you can see what appears to be a memorial to Mary. Wooster Ogden, who died in 1839 on the south wall of Trinity Church.

1828 Three Ithiel Town Buildings on the Green, and Two by Hoadly

 This image is a recently hand colored steel engraving titled "Gothic Church (Newhaven)".  It was engraved by T. Turnbull after a picture by William Henry Bartlett (1809–1854), and was published in American Scenery in 1840. Though the building in the foreground is actually the Old State House, and the one near the center is the back of Center Church. This picture shows Ithiel Town's mastery of all the three styles of Architecture that he promoted in the first part of the nineteenth century: Federal, Gothic Revival, and Greek Revival, all next to each other on New Haven's Green.

New Haven was a co-capital with Hartford for 172 years, from in 1701 to 1873. The state house or “Court House” in the print was erected in 1828; it was designed by Ithiel Town in a Greek Revival style after the Temple of Theseus. The state court was located on the first floor: it was here that the Amistad trial was held by Judge Andrew Judson of U.S. District Court in 1840.

But by 1783 the need for a one administrative city for the state government meant there had to be a single capital, and New Haven and Hartford began a bitter rivalry for the honor. Harford offered 500,000 towards a new State Capital building, and in a close vote, the state's voters selected Hartford -- eventually corruption and politics led to a cost overrun for the State Capital from $1,000,000 to over $2,500,000 -- making the move a net loss of 1 million. For more on these events, read this article in the Connecticut Heritage Gateway.


After the vote, the building was left to decay. In 1885 the Court of Common Council voted to demolish the old State House. In 1889, the State House was pulled down by yanking out the great columns and causing the building to fall in on itself while 3,000 people watched. The building erected to honor justice and law fell victim to politics and greed. Here are two photographs of the demolition by courtesy of the New Haven Museum. The sad event is described in New Haven – An Illustrated History by Floyd Shumway and Richard Hegel, as “irreplaceable loss."  Imagine having this architectural and historical gem on the Green today. The text accompanying the pictures on Page 147 describe the fall: 

"The demolition of Ithiel Town’s State Capitol behind Center Church on the Green was carried out over the protests of many New Haven citizens.  These remarkable photographs document the fall of the six columns of the north portico.  Seven men turned the windlass connected to the iron cables that passed through holes cut above the east and west columns.  The columns began to crack under the pressure and finally fell forward to the cheers of 3,000 onlookers."[3]

The site now holds a few trees and park benches. Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it, but those who vandalize it commit a kind of cultural suicide. Fortunately the three churches remain on the Green as emblems of the past, as worship spaces for the present, and a hope for the future. And thanks the continuing support of the people of New Haven, two of Ithiel Towns’ designs remain to inspire us all.

The Mattatuck Historical Society claims that architect David Hoadley helped Ithiel Town with the design of Trinity Church. Hoadly also built the "North Church" on the Green, what is now United Church, and the Congregational Church on the Green in Orange Connecticut. 

A Twin Church in Troy New York

St. Paul's Episcopal Church in the Hudson River town of Troy, New York resembles Town's Trinity Church in except that it was built using a different type of stone of a different color. In fact, the building contract specified that the new church was to be a copy of Ithiel Town's Trinity Church in New Haven. The major difference with the original Trinity is that Trinity used the dark very hard red trap rock stone from the local Hamden, Connecticut quarry, whereas St. Paul's used blue-gray limestone quarried in nearby Amsterdam, New York. Ground was broken in 1826, and the church was finished two years later in 1828. It has been suggested that “it now reflects the original appearance of Trinity more than Trinity itself does” since Trinity’s wooden tower has been replaced and the Chancel and two exit towers have been added -- though it too lacks some of the early wooden corner  pinnacles and roofline balustrades, which were later taken down from the New Haven original version as well. Like Trinity, it shows the influence of English Gothic style churches and, in its rough surfacing and irregular masonry, a touch of the contemporary Picturesque styling.  The tower is indeed closer to the original Trinity wooden one than Trinity's current one.

A description of the building highlights the similarities:

“The church itself is rectangular in shape, five bays long by three wide. It is faced in limestone blocks laid in a random ashlar pattern with dressed pilasters at the corners. There are five lancet windows along the south profile and four along the north. Both the west and east facades have three similar windows apiece. A horizontal course connects all the north and south windows at the lancet's spring. The roofline is marked by a decorated wooden cornice. A hundred-foot-high (30 m) tower rises from 12 feet (4 m) above the main entrance on the western facade. Inside its crenellated top is a 2,200-pound (1,000 kg) bell."

Also like Trinity, it has windows designed by the Louis Comfort Tiffany company.  Unlike Trinity, it's altar faces east -- the traditional east orientation is favored so that the priest faces the rising sun when celebrating the Eucharist, signifying the Easter resurrection.   Clearly Mr. Town fixed a few things in release 2St. Paul's Episcopal Church in the Hudson River town of Troy, New York resembles Town's Trinity Church in except that it was built using a different type of stone of a different color. In fact, the building contract specified that the new church was to be a copy of Ithiel Town's Trinity Church in New Haven. The major difference with the original Trinity is that Trinity used the dark very hard red trap rock stone from the local Hamden, Connecticut quarry, whereas St. Paul's used blue-gray limestone quarried in nearby Amsterdam, New York. Ground was broken in 1826, and the church was finished two years later in 1828. It has been suggested that “it now reflects the original appearance of Trinity more than Trinity itself does” since Trinity’s wooden tower has been replaced and the Chancel and two exit towers have been added -- though it lacks some of the early wooden corner  pinnacles and roofline balustrade (seen on the image to the right) which were later taken down from the New Haven original version as well. Like Trinity, it shows the influence of English Gothic style churches and, in its rough surfacing and irregular masonry, a touch of the contemporary Picturesque styling.

A description of the building highlights the similarities:

“The church itself is rectangular in shape, five bays long by three wide. It is faced in limestone blocks laid in a random ashlar pattern with dressed pilasters at the corners. There are five lancet windows along the south profile and four along the north. Both the west and east facades have three similar windows apiece. A horizontal course connects all the north and south windows at the lancet's spring. The roofline is marked by a decorated wooden cornice. A hundred-foot-high (30 m) tower rises from 12 feet (4 m) above the main entrance on the western facade. Inside its crenellated top is a 2,200-pound (1,000 kg) bell."

Also like Trinity, it has windows designed by the Louis Comfort Tiffany company.  Unlike Trinity, it's altar faces east -- the traditional east orientation is favored so that the priest faces the rising sun when celebrating the Eucharist, signifying the Easter resurrection.   Clearly Mr. Town fixed a few things in release 2.

 

 1828 A Sister Church and a Rival in Hartford

Hartford and New Haven in Connecticut indeed had a long rivalry, not just in politics, but in education and religion. There was a attempt between 1716 to 1719 to move Yale to Wethersfield, Connecticut.  Trinity College was originally known as Washington College, and Rev. Harry Croswell was one of its founders in 1823, but it moved to Hartford, and changed its name as in 1845. The state capital was moved from New Haven as a co capital in 1873.  In 1919, Christ Church Cathedral, Hartford, was established by the annual convention of 1919 as the cathedral church of the diocese of Connecticut.

Designed by the remarkable Ithiel Town, Christ Church, though now a Cathedral, the church building is actually smaller than Trinity Church, but it has external buttresses as an extra outside ornament, giving it more of a neo-Gothic look. Due to its elevation in 1919, it is the oldest Gothic revival Cathedral in America, while Trinity remains the oldest Gothic Revival church in the United States.

For a discussion of Trinity Church on the Green, New Haven, its the use of the Gothic style, and the style of other early Gothic churches, see Temples of Grace: The Material Transformation of Connecticut’s Churches, 1790-1840 (2003), an award winning book by Gretchen Buggeln.  In particular, see pages 110-124.  

Architecture in Motion

Nineteenth Century

Hartford and New Haven in Connecticut indeed had a long rivalry, not just in politics, but in education and religion. There was a attempt between 1716 to 1719 to move Yale to Wethersfield, Connecticut.  Trinity College was originally known as Washington College, and Rev. Harry Croswell was one of its founders in 1823, but it moved to Hartford, and changed its name as in 1845. The state capital was moved from New Haven as a co capital in 1873.  In 1919, Christ Church Cathedral, Hartford, was established by the annual convention of 1919 as the cathedral church of the diocese of Connecticut.

Designed by the remarkable Ithiel Town, Christ Church, though now a Cathedral, the church building is actually smaller than Trinity Church, but it has external buttresses as an extra outside ornament, giving it more of a neo-Gothic look. Due to its elevation in 1919, it is the oldest Gothic revival Cathedral in America, while Trinity remains the oldest Gothic Revival church in the United States.

For a discussion of Trinity Church on the Green, New Haven, its the use of the Gothic style, and the style of other early Gothic churches, see Temples of Grace: The Material Transformation of Connecticut’s Churches, 1790-1840 (2003), an award winning book by Gretchen Buggeln.  In particular, see pages 110-124.   

On the left is a photograph of Trinity Church from the photo collection of the Connecticut Historical Society, with the church framed by the famous New Haven elms: it must date from the 1860s, as it is missing the 1870 pyramid, the date the wooden tower was also replaced by stone. The church has undergone many changes, including replacing the old wooden tower with a stone one, replacing the white interior with the current dark colors and gilt, and adding stained glass windows.

It shows a stone Gothic Revival style church with pointed arch windows. It has a square stone tower with a flat roof adorned with crockets and finials.  Teeth-like crenellations run along the cornice roof line and the tower battlements. Its windows have pointed arches. The leafless trees are New Haven’s famous elms, now lost to disease. The pyramid on top of the tower is gone, along with the color its variegated copper roof added to the tower.

An iron fence with granite posts is in the foreground. A barrel and blocks of stone, probably paving stones or cobblestones are on the sidewalk at the left. Note that there was no Temple Street: the fence bars horse or cart traffic. Where today there is a bus stop, and you are towed for parking on the busy street that leads traffic out of New Haven, then there was a peaceful apron of the church fronting the lower green. 

Note that you can still see Ithiel Towns’ Doric Greek Revival State Courthouse on the Green behind the Church.

Stained glass windows were added over the years from 1885 on, replacing the original clear panes set in diamond patterns. In 1884 a chancel at the front (west end) of the church was added, raised up five steps. This addition was certainly in the Gothic tradition, and showed the influence of the Oxford Movement that sought to reemphasize sacramental practices associated with the Roman Catholic tradition. In 1893 the present pulpit was added. In 1895 a beautiful carved marble altar with two kneeling angels and a Chi Ro monogram was presented to the church by a donor. 

Twentieth Century 

In 1912, the stone reredos [decorative backdrop] with its statues surmounted by winged angels was set behind the altar, replacing the dark Victorian wooden one. In 1930 the squat pyramid or “candle snuffer” roof on the tower, seen in the 1716 photograph to the left, was removed. The present Aeolian-Skinner Organ replaced to old one in 1935.

In 1961 and 1962, in an event called The Big Dig, the church was substantially extended by digging out under the church floor to create not a crypt or basement, but a comfortable snug “undercroft” with choir rooms, classrooms, a kitchen, and meeting halls; two-story towers were added to provide exits on the west site of the church and to also add four more rooms to the church; the cost for this extensive change was $500,000 – less than the cost it took in 2011 to add a handicap access elevator to the church.

All through the twentieth century there were changes to bells, windows, choir stalls, pluming, handrail’s, chimes, sound systems, electrical systems, security systems, organ pipes, and a new slate roof. 

 The Twenty-first Century

In the twenty first century the church building continued its evolution. The tower space had belonged only to bats, bells, and chimes – but in 1999 a room under the bell tower and behind the organ pipes was renovated as an adult education room. An outward shining window was proposed for the east side of the room to visually demonstrate the church's outreach to the community. Titled “Trinity’s History and Vision", it was designed by Val Sigstedt. After much clever thought – the education room is painted bright white and great lamps back flood the room at night – the window was installed as part of the 250th celebration of the building of the First Trinity Episcopal Church in 1752.

The center of the window has a number of medallions illustrating Trinity’s rich history and its people. In addition to the image of the first wooden Trinity Church above, there are scenes of a man floating the logs to build the second church down the river, and an image of the “hippie” era communion when the 9:15 service was instituted in the 1970s – note not only the man’s period haircut, but the flowers in the woman’s hair, and the rich pearl texture of the dove. 

In the twenty first century the church building continued its evolution. The tower space had belonged only to bats, bells, and chimes – but in 1999 a room under the bell tower and behind the organ pipes was renovated as an adult education room. An outward shining window was proposed to visually demonstrate the church's outreach to the community. Titled “Trinity’s History and Vision", it was designed by Val Sigstedt.  After much clever thought – the education room is painted bright white and great lamps back flood the room at night – the window was installed as part of the 250th celebration of the building of the First Trinity Episcopal Church in 1752.  It recalls Mathew 5:14-16 (NIV): You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

For more on the window that shines out on the cold dark corner of the Green and streets of New Haven, click here

Today, while other parts of the Green are dark, or lit only by the stark harsh light of streetlamps, the outshining window brings color and life to the busy corner of Temple and Chapel street: the bus drivers and passengers particularly appreciate the bit of light and color as they sit and wait at the bus stop or on the bus in front of the church. steps.

A Columbarium, a permanent resting place for cremated remains in a church, first planned for in the 1930s, was built in 2010. It is a 230 square foot area in the southeast corner of the nave just below the stained glass Tiffany window with the glowing image of Christ on the Road to Emmaus.

In 2010 the undercroft was closed and refurnished; at the same time a handicap access elevator was added, requiring the addition of new woodwork in the nave, a new more friendly side entrance on Chapel Street with notice board, a door with clear windows, and a small roof over head. Less visible infrastructure improvements were made: electrical and plumbing systems were overhauled, the sound system became digitized and programmable, the shut-in conference call system was put on the network, and the church installed wireless internet access, as well as a digital projector in the undercroft -- and on the web, a virtual church can be viewed in the walk-throughs above.

To the right is a recent photo taken by the late Diana Beardsley (1947 -- 2010), who as Church Photographer, contributed many of the photos on this web site; it was used as a Christmas post card in 2011.

Trinity Church may no longer look as if it is propelled by exposed heating pipes as an engine huffing towards salvation, but it is indeed Architecture in motion.

 

 

 

 

Notes

  1. ^ A review of buildings from Category: Gothic Revival architecture in the United States accessed on February 13, 2012 in Wikipedia at www.wikipedia.org found 1,821 buildings listed in the category of "American Gothic Revival", with 1,774 type P (Protestant), 25 type C (Catholic) and 2 type F (other). Trinity Church on the Green New Haven, built between 1714 and 1716, was the oldest. The next oldest was St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, Washington, Connecticut, built in 1822.  The third oldest was also built by Ithiel Town: it was Christ Church (now Cathedral), Hartford, Connecticut, built in 1827 to 1829. Another church listed in the count of Gothic buildings was St. John's Episcopal Church in Warehouse Point, Connecticut.  Originally built in 1804 in the Federalist style, the church was moved from its original location in 1844; ten years later, Henry Austin of New Haven was hired to remodel the church in the Gothic style, and this work was completed in 1855; thus only the inside is Gothic Revival style, and it was crafted well after the 1816 completion of Trinity Church. Note that there were elements of a Gothic style in wooden churches in America before 1814; Christ Church, Stratford Connecticut in 1743 had pointed arch windows, for example, but Trinity was the first stone church to be built entirely in the style.

 

The earliest authority for the originality of the Trinity New Haven Gothic style church is found in Jarvis, Bishop Samuel, An Address, delivered in the City of New Haven, at the Laying of the Corner-Stone of Trinity Church, May 17th, 1814; together with the Form of Prayer composed for that occasion. New-Haven, 1814. A number of other commentators since Jarvis have observed its seminal place as the origin of this architectural style as well. Dr. Dwight in his account of New Haven wrote that “The Episcopal church is a Gothic building the only correct specimen it is believed in the United States.” Blake, Henry, Chronicles of New Haven Green from 1638 to 1862, Tuttle, Morehouse & Taylor Press, 1898, p. 27. The architect See also, Buggeln, Gretchen, Temples of grace: the material transformation of Connecticut's churches, 1790-1840,  UPNE, 2003, p. 110, which notes that, “Trinity was the first of several Gothic buildings erected by Episcopal congregations in Connecticut in the next few decades. Sr. John's in Salisbury (1823), St. John's in Kent (1823-26), and St. Andrew's in Marble Dale (1821-23) are good examples of the standard form these early Gothic churches assumed in more rural areas, rendered in brick or stone.” Buggeln also quotes Bishop Hobart and Rev. Harry Croswell on p. 115; Croswell in his unpublished Annals, New Haven Museum, p. 55 calls it "the first attempt at the gothic style of architecture in church-building in New England", and credits it with bringing in new members.  See also, Seymour, G. D., "Ithiel Town" entry in the Dictionary of American Biography, Base Set, American Council of Learned Societies, 1928-1936. The first stone neo-Gothic church in Canada was probably St. John's Church in Saint John, New Brunswick in 1824, the same year work began on Notre-Dame de Montreal, making Trinity the first Gothic Style church in all of North America. There were earlier examples of Gothic elements: Christ Church Stratford (1743) had pointed arch windows, for example, but these eighteenth century wooden church are not considered Gothic-Revival style churches, but in the Colonial style with Gothic details. The oldest church in the United States is St. Luke's "Old Brick Church in Smithfiled, Va., (1632) is a rectangular "room church" which also shows Gothic details, some of which were added in the nineteenth century.  However, it was Town's Trinity Church that launched modern the Gothic revival moment in North America.

 

2. ^ Dexter, Franklin Bowditch, Papers of the New Haven Colony Historical Society, Volume 9, The Society, 1918 p. 50.

3. ^ Shumway, Floyd, Hegel, Richard, New Haven, An Illustrated History, Windsor Publications, 1981, p. 147.