Trinity Church of NYC and It’s History

On the west side of Broadway, facing Wall street, stands Trinity Church, or, as it is commonly called, “Old Trinity,” the handsomest ecclesiastical structure in the city. It is the third edifice which has occupied the site. The first church was built in 1697, at the organization of the parish, and was a plain square edifice with an ugly steeple. In 1776, this building was destroyed in the great fire of that year. A second church was built on the site of the old one, in 1790. In 1839, this was pulled down, and the present noble edifice was erected. It was finished and consecrated in 1846.

The present church is a beautiful structure of brown-stone, built as nearly in the pure Gothic style as modern churches ever are. The walls are fifty feet in height, and the apex of the roof is sixty feet from the floor of the church. The interior is finished in brown-stone, with massive columns of the same material supporting the roof. There are no transepts, but it is proposed to enlarge the church by the addition of transepts, and to extend the choir back to the end of the churchyard. The nave and the aisles make up the public portion of the church. The choir is occupied by the clergy. The windows are of stained glass. Those at the sides are very simple, but the oriel over the altar is a grand work. There are two organs, a monster instrument over the main entrance, and a smaller organ in the choir. Both are remarkably fine instruments. The vestry rooms, which lie on each side of the chancel, contain a number of handsome memorial tablets, and in the north room there is a fine tomb in memory of Bishop Onderdonk, with a full-length effigy of the deceased prelate in his episcopal robes.

Service is held twice a day in the church. On Sundays and high feast days there is full service and a sermon. The choral service is used altogether on such occasions. Trinity has long been famous for its excellent music. The choir consists of men and boys, who are trained with great care by the musical director. The service is very beautiful and impressive, and is thoroughly in keeping with the grand and cathedral-like edifice in which it is conducted. The two organs, the voices of the choristers, and often the chime of bells, all combine to send a flood of melody rolling through the beautiful arches such as is never heard elsewhere in the city.

The spire is 284 feet in height, and is built of solid brownstone from the base to the summit of the cross. It contains a clock, with three faces, just above the roof of the church, and a chime of bells. About 110 feet from the ground the square form of the tower terminates, and a massive but graceful octagonal spire rises to a height of 174 feet. At the base of this spire is a narrow gallery enclosed with a stone balustrade, from which a fine view of the city and the surrounding country is obtained. The visitor may, however, climb within the spire to a point nearly two hundred and fifty feet from the street. Here is a small wooden platform, and about four feet above it are four small windows through which one may look out upon the magnificent view spread out below him. The eye can range over the entire city, and take in Brooklyn and its suburban towns as well. To the eastward are Long Island Sound and the distant hills of Connecticut. To the southward stretches away the glorious bay, and beyond it is the dark blue line of the Atlantic. Sandy Hook, the Highlands, the Narrows, and Staten Island are all in full view. To the westward is the New Jersey shore, and back of Jersey city rise the blue Orange Mountains, with Newark, Elizabeth, Orange and Patterson in full sight. To the northward, the Hudson stretches away until it seems to disappear in the dark shadow of the Palisades. From where you stand, you look down on the habitations of nearly three millions of people. The bay, the rivers, and the distant Sound are crowded with vessels of all kinds. If the day be clear, you may see the railway trains dashing across the meadows back of Jersey City. The roar of the great city comes up to you from below, and beneath you is a perfect maze of telegraph wires. The people in the streets seem like pigmies, and the vehicles are like so many toys. You know they are moving rapidly, but they seem from this lofty height to be crawling. It is a long way to these upper windows, but the view which they command is worth the exertion. The tower is open to visitors during the week, on payment of a trifling fee to the sexton.

The chimes are hung in the square tower, just above the roof of the church. The bells are nine in number. The smallest weighs several hundred pounds, while the largest weighs several thousand. The musical range is an octave and a quarter, rather a limited scale, it is true, but the ringer is a thorough musician, and has managed to ring out many an air within this compass, which but for his ingenuity would have been unsuited to these bells. The largest bell, the “Big Ben,” and several others, are connected with the clock, and the former strikes the hours, while the rest of this set chime the quarters. Five of the bells, the large one and the four smaller ones, were brought here from England, in 1846. The other four were made in West Troy, by Meneely & Son, a few years later, and are fully equal to their English mates in tone and compass. The entire chime is very rich and sweet in tone, and, in this respect, is surpassed by very few bells in the world. The bells are hung on swinging frames, but are lashed, so as to stand motionless during the chiming, the notes being struck by the tongues, which are movable. The tongue always strikes in the same place, and thus the notes are full and regular. From the tongue of each bell there is a cord which is attached to a wooden lever in the ringer’s room, about thirty feet below. These nine levers are arranged side by side, and are so arranged as to work as easy as possible. Each is as large as a handspike, and it requires no little strength to sustain the exertion of working them. The ringer places his music before him, and strikes each note as it occurs by suddenly pushing down the proper lever. At the end of his work, he is thoroughly tired. The ringer now in charge of the bells is Mr. James Ayliffe, an accomplished musician.

In favorable weather, the chimes can be heard for a distance of from five to ten miles. There are few strangers who leave the city without hearing the sweet bells of the old church. The city people would count it a great misfortune to be deprived of their music. For nearly thirty years they have heard them, in seasons of joy and in hours of sadness. On Christmas eve, at midnight, the chimes ring in the blessed morning of our Lord’s nativity, thus continuing an old and beautiful custom now observed only in parts of Europe.

The church is kept open from early morning until sunset. In the winter season it is always well heated, and hundreds of the poor find warmth and shelter within its holy walls. It is the only church in New York in which there is no distinction made between the rich and the poor. The writer has frequently seen beggars in tatters conducted, by the sexton, to the best seats in the church.

The rector and his assistants are alive to the fact that this is one of the few churches now left to the lower part of the city, and they strive to make it a great missionary centre. Their best efforts are for the poor. Those who sneer at the wealth of the parish, would do well to trouble themselves to see what a good use is made of it.

The ultra fashionable element of the congregation attend Trinity Chapel, or “Up-town Trinity,” in Twenty-fifth street, near Broadway. This is a handsome church, and has a large and wealthy congregation.

Trinity Parish embraces a large part of the city. It includes the following churches, or chapels, as they are called: St. Paul’s, St. John’s, Trinity Chapel, and Trinity Church. It is in charge of a rector, who is a sort of small bishop in this little diocese. He has eight assistants. Each church or chapel has its pastor, who is subject to the supervision of the rector. The Rev. Morgan Dix, D.D., a son of General John A. Dix, is the present rector.

Trinity takes good care of its clergy. The salaries are amply sufficient to insure a comfortable support, and a well-furnished house is provided for each one who has a family. Should a clergyman become superannuated in the service of the parish, he is liberally maintained during his life; and should he die in his ministry, provision is made for his family.



The wealth of the parish is very great. It is variously stated at from sixty to one hundred millions of dollars. It is chiefly in real estate, the leases of which yield an immense revenue.

The churchyard of Old Trinity covers about two acres of ground. A handsome iron railing separates it from Broadway, and the thick rows of gravestones, all crumbling and stained with age, present a strange contrast to the bustle, vitality, and splendor with which they are surrounded. They stare solemnly down into Wall street, and offer a bitter commentary upon the struggles and anxiety of the money kings.

The place has an air of peace that is pleasant in the midst of so much noise and confusion, and is well worth visiting.

In the churchyard, near the south door of the church, you will see a plain brown-stone slab, bearing this inscription: “The vault of Walter and Robert C. Livingston, sons of Robert Livingston, of the Manor of Livingston.” This is one of the Meccas of the world of science, for the mortal part of Robert Fulton sleeps in the vault below, in sight of the mighty steam fleets which his genius has called into existence. A plain obelisk, near the centre of the southern extremity of the yard, marks the grave of Alexander Hamilton. At the west end of the south side of the church is the sarcophagus of Albert Gallatin, and James Lawrence, the heroic but ill-fated commander of the Chesapeake sleeps close by the south door of the church, his handsome tomb being the most prominent object in that portion of the yard. At the northern extremity of the churchyard, and within a few feet of Broadway, is the splendid “Martyrs’ Monument,” erected to the memory of the patriots of the American Revolution, who died from the effects of British cruelty in the “Old Sugar House” and in the prison ships in Wallabout Bay, the site of the present Brooklyn Navy Yard.

Close to the Broadway railing, and so close that one can almost touch it from the street, is a worn brown-stone slab, bearing but two words, “Charlotte Temple.” It is difficult to find, and but few strangers ever see it, but for years it has been the most prominent spot in the enclosure to the lovers of romance. Charlotte Temple’s history is a very sad one, and unhappily not a rare one. She lived and died nearly a century ago. She was young and surpassingly lovely, and she attracted the attention of a British officer of high rank, who carried her off from her boarding school, seduced her, and deserted her. Her friends discarded her, and she sank under her heavy load of sorrow. She was found by her father in a wretched garret, with her child. Both were at the point of death. The father came just in time to close their eyes forever. They were laid to rest in the same grave in the old churchyard, and, some years after, the seducer, stung with remorse for his brutality, placed over them the slab which still marks the spot. The sad story was written out in book form, and was dramatized and played in every part of the country, so that there are few old time people in all the land who are ignorant of it.


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