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Thursday, December 11, 2014

Postcard Thursday: Trinity Wall Street


Today's postcard is a nice view of Trinity Church, Wall Street, and its surrounding churchyard, one of the oldest in New York City.

Trinity was built three times on the same spot. As we write in Inside the Apple:
In 1696...Trinity leased the city’s burial ground at the rate of one peppercorn per year. A year later, the church received its royal charter from William III and from that point forward only church members could be buried in the churchyard. Not coincidentally, this was the same time that a separate “Negroes Burial Ground” [today's African Burial Ground National Memorial] was established outside the city. The original church, a simple stone and wood building, was erected in 1698 with both financial and material help from one of its richest congregants, Captain William Kidd, who just three years later would be hanged in London for piracy. Trinity quickly prospered. Six years after its construction, Queen Anne gave the parish an additional 215 acres of the crown’s land, stretching from Wall Street north to the village of Greenwich....
The original Trinity had burned down on September 21, 1776, in the fire that swept through the city as Washington’s army retreated. A second church was consecrated in 1790, but a series of heavy snowstorms in the winter of 1838-39 so badly damaged the roof that the vestry voted to tear down the building and start again. The snows came at an opportune moment. Already, neighborhoods like Greenwich Village had pulled prominent churchgoers northward.... Trinity needed to do something to return itself—in its own eyes, at least—to its rightful place as the city’s premiere religious institution. 
Richard Upjohn’s grand Gothic Revival building quickly restored Trinity to the forefront of the city’s social and architectural scene. In 1844, architect Albert Gilman wrote of the almost-finished church: “[It] surpasses any church erected in England since the revival of the pointed style.” Its spire, at 281 feet tall, made it not only the tallest church in the city, but New York’s tallest building, a title it would retain for nearly 50 years. Part of what made the church so perfect was that Upjohn had copied it, almost exactly, from the design for “An Ideal Church” in the book True Principals by A.W. Pugin, the leading English proponent of the Gothic Revival. And unlike many of Upjohn’s successors and imitators, he had an attention to detail—overseeing everything from the stained glass to the exterior carvings—that gave Trinity an unequalled aesthetic appeal. 
The building was also controversial, however, both inside and out. A devout “high church” Anglo-Catholic, Upjohn introduced architectural elements that were utterly foreign to most Americans, including a chancel at the west end of the church complete with a high altar and rows of choir stalls. (At first, this was deemed too Roman Catholic, and the stalls weren’t used.) Outside, the building was constructed of brownstone, a locally quarried, soft sandstone. The stone was chosen for its outward resemblance to materials used in medieval English architecture, but not only did it lack the strength of schist, it was also commonly considered a cheap building material. Though many people tend today to call all single-family townhouses in New York “brownstones,” in the 19th-century no one would have conflated cheaper brownstone buildings with their more expensive brick cousins. (In her autobiography, Edith Wharton deplored the look of New York, claiming it was bathed in a “universal chocolate-coloured coating of the most hideous stone ever quarried.”) Both at Trinity and at Ascension in Greenwich Village, Upjohn had to convince his employers that the look of brownstone outweighed its d√©class√© associations.

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Explore more NYC history in

If you haven't had a chance to pick up a copy of Footprints yet,
you can order it from your favorite online retailers (AmazonBarnes and Nobleetc.) or

And, of course, Inside the Apple is available at fine bookstores everywhere.

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