Saturday, September 22, 2018

Trinity Episcopal Church

Last weekend, a friend drew my attention to a distressing post on the Facebook group, You Know You're From Waterbury When.... The post has since been taken down, but it showed photos of the former Trinity Episcopal Church on Prospect Street and stated that the Immaculate Conception parish was about to demolish the building. The post was followed by a flurry of responses from people who were horrified by the news. Several of the Immaculate's parishioners responded with some conflicting information. The church is owned by Immaculate Conception, which ran it as the Father McGivney Center for many years.

The former Trinity Episcopal Church, 2018

Since there were so many rumors and conflicting details, I reached out to Immaculate Conception asking for the correct information. No one has responded. Father Ford, who is in charge of the plans, has been out of the country in Portugal. Perhaps when he returns, I'll find out more details. In the meantime, here's what I know.

The rumor from several parishioners is that the Immaculate acquired Trinity Episcopal with the intention of letting it fall to ruin so they could demolish it and replace it with a parking lot. I don't know if this is true or not, but there is evidence to back it up, such as the parish's failure to do basic maintenance on the building, like painting the exterior woodwork.

Back in March, Father Ford met with the Knights of Columbus Council at the McGivney Center and informed them that the boiler and roof needed to be replaced, the plumbing needed work, and the electrical system needed a complete upgrade. He stated that the total cost would be between $750,000 and $1 million over the next five years. As a result, the decision was made to tear down the building and expand the parking lot.

I have heard two stories about the church's stained glass windows. One is that Father Ford sold all of the best ones; the other version of the story is that he donated them to a church that appreciates having them. Until Father Ford returns from his trip and responds to my request for information, I won't know which version is true and which is rumor.

Trinity Episcopal is a contributing building to the Historic Downtown Waterbury Area, which is on the State and National Registers of Historic Places. This does not mean that the owner of the building is not allowed to demolish it. What it does mean is that the owner is eligible for tax credits and grants to help cover of the costs of fixing up the building. I do not know if Father Ford looked into this option to help pay for the building's repairs.

It is possible for a grassroots group to fight to save a building slated for demolition. Information about this and about financial resources for the owners of historic buildings can be found by contacting the Connecticut State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO).

The Building's History

Trinity Episcopal parish was formed by parishioners of St. John's Church in 1877 in response to the growth of St. John's on the Green. The decision to form the new parish was made in 1872, but they did not have enough money to build a new church until five years later, when local businessman Samuel W. Hall died and left $15,000 for that purpose. Hall also left money for the memorial chapel at Riverside Cemetery.

The new parish worshiped on Grand Street in a former Universalist chapel until they could build their own church on Prospect Street. The total cost was more than $70,000 -- Samuel W. Hall's bequest was invested for five years and grew to $22,500; additional donations for the building fund included $10,000 from Gordon W. Burnham, and funds raised by the parish.

Trinity Episcopal Church in 1884; photo by Adt & Brothers, published in Waterbury and Her Industries

The Prospect Street church was built in 1883 out of gray granite from Plymouth, with seating for about 530 people (The Town and City of Waterbury, Volume III, p. 665).  The architect was Henry M. Congdon, a New York architect whose work includes Episcopal churches throughout the Northeast.

The first services were held on May 18, 1884. The consecration service was held two years later, in May 1886. During the parish's first eighteen years (1877-1895), there were 901 baptisms, 508 confirmations, 422 marriages, and 604 burials.

The new Trinity Church was dedicated in memory of Samuel Hall's wife, Nancy Austin Hall (1815-1868). A chancel window in memory of Samuel W. Hall was donated by the ladies of the parish.

Other memorial stained glass windows included:
  • a window in memory of Rev. Jacob Lyman Clark, donated by the Sunday schools of St. John's Church; 
  • a window donated by Mrs. Sarah Merriman Morton Scovill in memory of her children, Thomas C. Morton, J.M.L. Scovill, Jr., and Sarah A. Whittlesey; 
  • a window in memory of Edward Daniel Steele, installed in 1901; 
  • a depiction of The Annunciation based on a painting by Hoffman [possibly Heinrich Hofmann, known for his painting of Christ], in memory of Mr. and Mrs. Charles E. Lamb and their son, Richard;  
  • a chancel window in memory of Agnes Dubois, wife of Rufus E. Hitchcock;
  • and a chancel window in memory of Rufus Edward Hitchcock, given by his daughter and her husband. (The Town and History of Waterbury, Volume III, p. 667 and Pape's History of Waterbury, Volume I, p. 113).
I have found no record of who made any of the stained glass windows.

The parish house was built as an addition in 1900.

The church was renovated in 1914, with a new organ chamber built on the north side of the church for a new organ made by The Ernest M. Skinner Co. (The OHS Pipe Organ Database). The organ was rebuilt or substantially revised in 1975 by William L. Betts.

Postcard view of Trinity Episcopal Church after the Parish House was added.
Postcard currently being sold by

Photograph of Trinity Episcopal Church by Alfred A. Adt, 1906

Until the 1920s, the south facing front of the church was unobstructed. After the Immaculate Conception was built in front of it, Trinity Episcopal's main entrance became a sort of alleyway from Prospect Street, perpetually in the shadow of the Immaculate Conception Church (now Basilica).

During the late 1990s, the Trinity Episcopal parish membership had dwindled, as was the case with many of Waterbury's formerly robust churches. In 1999, the parish closed and the Trinity Episcopal Church building was purchased the Immaculate Conception for $265,000. The building is currently appraised at $1.2 million.

A Last Look

Knowing that the building is about to be demolished, I zipped over to take some final photographs before it's gone. I hope there are photos of the interior from before the windows were removed, and that those images will be preserved someplace where people can access them.

The view from the parking lot, which is about to get bigger. The west side of the building, part of the parish house, was built out of brick instead of stone.

Detail showing the unpainted woodwork on the top floor of the parish house.

I hope that sculptural details like this are saved before demolition.

A stained glass window that wasn't removed and will presumably be destroyed.

Another stained glass window that is still in place,
with a wooden frame that hasn't been cared for in a long time.
All of the stairs leading into the building have been demolished, which suggests that there are no plans to remove anything else before the whole thing is torn down.

Beautiful doors that are well-worth saving.

More stained glass windows that will presumably be demolished.

A second set of the checkerboard windows.

The north side of the church.

Detail of the north side.

Stained glass windows up the upper floor of the church,
with woodwork that has been neglected for a very long time.

A clear view through the building where the stained glass has been removed.

Boarded up windows.

A partially intact rose window.

View of the parish house and church with demolished stairs.

Construction/demolition fencing is being installed.


emeritus said...

Sad news indeed. Thanks for the report and photos.

Unknown said...

ThThis is DEFINITELY SAD NEWS as this is the church I, and my family,attended and where my first, m.yy brother and myself were baptized (i believe) ...and where I made my first communion.
It's sad that, and with all respect, the Once dollar Conception. Job being built, LITERALLY cast a shadow upon Trinity Episcopal. I have only found memories of that parish and it's members. is is DEFINITELY SAD NEWS as this is the church I, and my family,attended and where my first, m.yy brother and myself were baptized (i believe) ...and where I made my first communion.
It's sad that, and with all respect, the Once dollar Conception. Job being built, LITERALLY cast a shadow upon Trinity Episcopal. I have only found memories of that parish and it's members.

Raechel Guest said...

Demolition has begun (October 9, 2018) and is expected to take several weeks to complete.