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SELF-GUIDED TOUR OF TRINITY CHURCH
Visiting Trinity Church
You can visit the church during opening hours, but of course please be quiet and respectful, especially when worship is occurring. For information on worship services and music events. Additionally, a small museum presents exhibits on the church’s history and its relationship to the city. Open Mon-Fri 9 am – ll:45 am & 1 pm – 3:45 pm and Sat 10:00 am-3:45 pm, Sun 1:00 pm – 3:45 pm). Trinity Church is located at 75 Broadway at the intersection with Wall Street. Hours: Daily 8 am – 6 pm; Churchyard 8 am – Sunset.
Listen to Tour Guide Renee talk about Trinity Church.
The First Trinity Church
Trinity Church’s congregation was founded in 1697 under a charter from King William III. At that time, the crown granted the episcopal congregation a piece of land at the intersection of Broadway and Wall Street which has always belonged to Trinity Church. The King charged an annual rent of one peppercorn, more a symbolic gesture than an economic investment.
Since the charter was granted for that piece of land, there have been three different church buildings: the original Trinity Church built in 1698 which was modest and in the style of the surrounding colonial architecture. The building, made of wood like most of the City of New York, was destroyed by the massive Fire of 1776, a result of the revolutionary war.
After the Revolutionary War, the now American Trinity congregation began to build a new church. When George Washington was inaugurated as the first President of the United States on April 30, 1789 at nearby Federal Hall, the church had not yet been completed so he attended a service at St. Paul’s Chapel, an extension of Trinity a few streets north along Broadway. When Trinity was completed in 1790, President George Washington attended the consecration ceremony sitting in a specially set aside pew. This church building lasted only about 50 years. It was structurally weak and the heavy snows of 1838-1839 threatened the building to cave in. so the second Trinity Church building was torn down and the current building was constructed between 1839 and 1846.
The third Trinity Church
The third and current church building was designed by Richard Upjohn, a co-founder of the American Institute of Architects (AIA). Upjohn was known as a leader of the American Gothic Revival movement. His magnificent design made Trinity one of the first and finest examples of Neo-Gothic architecture in the United States. Upjohn was an innovator in that he used red sandstone, relativity new to building material to America. The ‘lines’ of the Church are vertical, with its neo-Gothic spires and pointed arches, giving the church a sense of reaching to the heavens. At the time of its completion its 281 foot spire was the highest point in all of New York City until being surpassed in 1890 by the New York World Building.
Perhaps the most beautiful feature of Trinity Church is its use of stained-glass. Figural stained glass depicting stories and people (as opposed to purely geometrical shaped glass) was relatively new to America making the windows historic in that regard. The most remarkable of the stained glass panels is the chancel window above the altar, depicting Jesus, St. Peter, St. Matthew, St. Mark, St. Luke, St. John, and St. Paul in a dazzling array of colors. Many other religious figures are depicted in this window, including representations of the Trinity and the Eucharist.
When entering or leaving the church you will be awed by the three sets of massive 14 foot tall bronze doors designed by Richard Morris Hunt, architect of the Metropolitan Museum and the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty. The doors were a gift from William Waldorf Astor in 1891 and were dedicated to his father, John Jacob Astor III, a prominent member of the extremely wealthy and famous Astor family. The doors have six demi-relief panels, illustrating various scenes from the Bible. Above the doors is a stone pediment with Christ rising above his twelve apostles.
When it opened in in 1699, Trinity had no organ. Not until 1737 was a simple three-manual organ. Later, a more sophisticated organ was installed but was destroyed when the church burned down in 1776. As the church was built and rebuilt, different organs have come and gone. The biggest change in organs however came after September 11, 2001 when the World Trade Center towers were destroyed. Trinity Church, located about 600 feet away, was showered with debris, though amazingly survived with very little damage. The buildings were subsequently cleaned, but the organs were unusable. As a then temporary, but now seemingly long-term solution was the installation of an all-digital organ in 2003 created by Marshall Ogletree Associates.
The tower of currently contains 23 bells, the heaviest of which weighs approximately 2,700 pounds! Eight of these were cast for the original tower and three more were subsequently added to the newer Trinity buildings. In 1946 all 11 bells were converted to electrical motor control, and the art of swing chiming ended. In 2001, a British bell enthusiast donated a $1 million to install 12 brand-new bells that can be rung only by hand-pulled ropes dangling underneath (what’s called ‘change-ringing”. This project was put on hold in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks but in 2006 the project was completed and became the first ever ring of 12 installed bells in a church in the United States. For an interesting short video about these donated bells, click here.
There are two churchyards on either side of Trinity Church which contain cemeteries. The burial grounds are the final resting place for many historic figures. Probably the best known of the thousands of individuals buried here is Alexander Hamilton (d.1804), the first Treasurer of the United States. He may be remembered more for the dramatic manner in which he was killed: he was mortally wounded in a duel with his political rival Aaron Burr, the third vice president of the United States, serving under President Thomas Jefferson. Hamilton’s large triangular shaped tomb can be seen in the southern section of the graveyard along Rector Street, halfway down the street. If want to see what he looked like, take a look at a $10 bill. Hamilton is also the subject matter of the hottest Broadway musical Hamilton. Another famous individual buried here is Robert Fulton (d.1815) the first person to successfully apply steam power to ship locomotion who is widely credited with developing a commercially successful steamboat ferries. Also Albert Gallatin (d.1849) is also buried here. He served under the first six presidents of the United States as a member of Congress He was also a co-founder of New York University. Not everyone buried here was famous. The churchyard has a memorial to the unknown martyrs of the revolution buried on the grounds.
Other tours in Lower Manhattan
Revolutionary Era Tours of Lower Manhattan
For those interested in Revolutionary War history, we highly recommend that you take a tour with Patriot Tours. This highly-rated tour company uses a storytelling format and review of authentic documents, which will give you as close to a first-hand experience you can get of life as it was during Revolutionary Era New York. Group size is small – between 10 and 15 guests and your guides are personable. Patriot Tours has fantastic reviews on TripAdvisor. On their website you can read 5 star reviews from over 250 guests. Highly recommended! Check out these two tours:
Written by Courtney Shapiro