Trinity Episcopal Church

More than 180 years of Tradition and Service

Trinity Episcopal Church HistoryOldchurch

Trinity Church was incorporated as a parish on June 12, 1833. For about four years services were held in a schoolhouse, which stood in what was then called “a bare, wild, and cheerless place” where The Park Church stands today. Mrs. Thomas “Auntie” Hill secured a donation of $800 from Trinity Church, New York City, which greatly advanced the effort to build a church. With this money and the commitment of time, energy and building materials, a church edifice, whose name sake was Trinity Church, was completed in 1836. It was described as “a pretty but unpretentious building, painted white and standing alone in a field” on the southwest corner of Church Street and Railroad Avenue. Trinity Church is a parish of the Chemung District of the Episcopal Diocese of Central New York.

Of historical interest is the story of Frances Miriam Whitcher, wife of the Rev. B. William Whitcher, who in 1849 resigned as Rector of Trinity following the uproar that ensued regarding Frances’ literary endeavors. She was discovered to have characterized unfavorably some members of her husband’s congregation in her then famous “Widow Bedot Papers.”

In 1850 the Parish purchased a lot on the corner of West Church and North Main Streets, where the present church stands today.  In 1852 a rectory was constructed on that property. It was replaced in 1913; this second rectoy was destroyed by fire in 1956.

By 1855 the congregation had outgrown the little white church and decided to erect a new edifice. The cornerstone of the present church building was laid on July 26, 1855 and the church was completed in 1858 at a cost of $30,000.  The first service was held on July 4th of that year.  On September 15, 1858, Parish Sexton and fugitive slave Thomas Stewart and Ann Johnson were the first to be married in the new church. All debts having been paid, the church was consecrated on April 5, 1866.  The building was designed in the American Gothic style by architect Henry Dudley of New York City; the builders were Nichols and Washburn of Albany.  Dudley was renowned for church architecture, his trademark being spires of the same material as the building.  Thus Trinity has a steeple (consisting of a tower and spire), which is of the same brick construction as the church. It is one of only a few of its kind in the world. The Trinity steeple remains a prominent landmark for the entire Elmira community. The church is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

New structures, rebuilding, and renovations continued to mark the history of the church.

Trinity Church circa 1915
Trinity Church circa 1915

In 1922 much work was done on the “porches” and considerable interior renovation occurred. The steeple was re-pointed in 1986 and reconstructed in 2007. The most recent of a number of additional exterior restorations occurred in 2010-2013. This extensive structural repair was funded in part by New York State Environmental Protection Fund and Landmark Conservancy Sacred Sites Grants.

Over the years the original stained glass windows have been replaced with memorial windows whose beauty and symbolism depict the life of Christ, the Church, and the Saints. One of the most prized of these is The Diven Memorial Crusader Window crafted by Tiffany. Also noteworthy is the Eldridge Memorial Window, executed by Godwin of Philadelphia and installed over the altar in 1888. At the time of its dedication, it was described as the most beautiful and elaborate memorial window in Western New York. Two of the original windows remain today. The parish is fortunate to have two White Friar windows made in Britian. The sanctuary also contains a vast number of lovely and meaningful furnishings given as memorials over the years. Further information is available in Trinity’s Visitor’s Guide.

Arnot Memorial ChapelThe Arnot Memorial Chapel, together with an adjacent Parish House, were given as a memorial by Marianna Arnot Ogden in 1882. The Chapel is made of 13th Century-style brick and stone with a sundial above the chancel window and is reminiscent of an old English parish church.  On the south wall is a stained glass window given in memory of members of Mrs. Ogden’s family.  The chapel became known as The Arnot Memorial Room when it was deconsecrated in 1955 and renovated for use by the Church School, as a social area, and later as home to The Chapel Shop.  This handsome space is currently used for worship by Trinity Church during the coldest months and by the United Baptist Church throughout the year. Details may be found in the Visitor’s Guide.

In the early 1900s the Parish became renowned for its outstanding music program.  Legendary for the popularity and quality of its music program was George Morgan McKnight, organist and choir director as well as Director of Music at Elmira College.  For many years, under rector The Rev. Henry Hubbard, Trinity supported Boy Scout Troop 30 and men’s and women’s athletic teams.  Trinity was a gathering center for many young people city wide.  In the 1950s, when The Rev. David Kingman was rector, extensive renovation modernized and expanded the Parish House adjacent to the church was modernized and expanded, allowing for greater and more convenient use of the space. The Parish House grew to incorporate parish offices, the Trinity Room Parlor, a library, aTrinity Church 1972 Flood choir/vesting Room, a commercial size public health-certified kitchen, and  gymnasium size Parish Hall with a performance stage. In 1972 the parish building withstood the effects of the flooding of Tropical Storm Agnes. Markers at the north and south entrances to the Parish House indicate the water level.

Trinity Church, the mother church in the Chemung Episcopal District, continues to be an active presence in Downtown Elmira today.  In this capacity, it houses the Children’s Clothing Closet, an outreach program of the Chemung Episcopal District Churches. Trinity’s Inner Peace Labyrinth provides spiritual ministry to all people in the Elmira community. Under the leadership of former rector The Rev. John C. Humphries, Jr., the parish first became an active participant in joint efforts with other downtown churches and a home to area support groups in the 1970s and 1980s. The current and sixteenth rector, The Rev. Dr. William C. Lutz, whole-heartedly directs the support of outreach programs and the mission of Trinity as a Downtown Ministry Center.  To this end, the parish supports the Second Place East, Inc. Help for the Home Shop and Saving Grace Ministries and provides space for the Kiwanis Aktion Club and Alcoholics Anonymous. Ministries. Fr. Lutz has organized five successful Glider City Work Camps. Trinity hosted the Elmira Community Kitchen for two years while the home facility at St. Peter and St. Paul’s Church was under renovation. The lower level of the Parish House is home to Trinity’s Thrift Shop, a ministry which serves the greater Elmira community.

Trinity Church welcomes all to worship and to experience its beauty and hospitality.