Trinity Church

Trinity Church

Trinity Church

THE MANY LIVES OF THIS HISTORIC CHURCH

As you walk up Wall Street past the New York Stock Exchange a towering church comes into view. Amongst the skyscrapers of lower Manhattan stands Trinity Church. Built in 1846 by architect Richard Upjohn, it was one of the first Gothic Revival buildings in New York City. But its history goes back much further to the very first days when New Amsterdam became New York.

The current church is the third Trinity Church on this same site. It was in 1696, just a few years after the formation of New York, that the approval for the purchase of the land was granted to the Church of England. The first church was a modest rectangular structure with a sloped roof and a small porch that faced the Hudson River.

In 1705, Anne, Queen of England, increased the parish’s land holdings to 215 acres. A school building was eventually built on the property where Trinity School was founded. It was here that in 1754, King’s College, which is now known as Columbia University, began with eight students in its first class.

This church was destroyed in the Great New York City Fire of 1776. At the start of the Revolutionary War, when the British Army arrived, one of the first things they did was set the city on fire. Starting in the Fighting Cocks Tavern, it spread quickly and destroyed nearly 500 buildings.

The second Trinity Church was consecrated in 1790. It was 200 feet tall and longer and wider than its predecessor. This new church faced Wall Street as the current church does now. It became politically significant as it was the church of choice for President George Washington as well as other high-ranking members of the newly established United States of America’s government.

Over the course of the particularly volatile winter of 1838 into 1839, the church was weakened by numerous snowstorms. The structure was torn down, and construction on the third Trinity Church began. It was finished in 1846 and has stood the test of time.

When it was complete, its soaring Gothic Revival spire with its gilded cross dominated the skyline. It was the tallest building in the United States and held that prize until 1869 when St. Michael’s Church in Chicago surpassed it. Trinity continued to be the tallest building in New York until 1890 when The New York World Building took the mantle.

During this time, Trinity Church defined the city. Long before the Statue of Liberty arrived in the harbor, it served a similar purpose. Immigrants would arrive at the shores of America and draw a sketch of this church to send home to their loved ones with a note letting them know they had arrived.

The church’s tower contains 23 change-ringing bells. They are the only set in the United States and rotate a full 360 degrees. This produces a shimmering cascade of sound that features a combination of changing tonal patterns. They can be heard on Sundays and special occasions.

Trinity Church has three sets of exquisite bronze doors. They were donated by William Waldorf Astor in memory of his father, John Jacob Astor. Each was conceived by Richard Morris Hunt, who also notably designed the pedestal for the Statue of Liberty. The north and east doors each consist of six panels showing stories of Church history or the Bible. The south door depicts the history of New York.

In 2022, a new stained-glass window was installed above the main entrance. It was created by Thomas Denny, a celebrated British stained-glass artist. It illustrates both “The Parable of the Talents” and “The Judgment of the Nations” from the gospel according to Matthew.

A visit to Trinity Church is not complete without stepping into its graveyard. This is where Alexander Hamilton, founding father and the first Secretary of the Treasury, is buried. He rests alongside his wife, Eliza, and son Phillip. Other influential early New Yorkers include Robert Fulton, Angelica Schuyler Church, John Watts, Franklin Lewis, and military leaders like William Alexander Lord Stirling and Franklin Wharton.

Experience Trinity Church firsthand on our 5 Neighborhoods Walking Tour and explore this historic spot amongst the modern skyscrapers of Lower Manhattan. Book your tickets at this link

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