The present day Trinity Church—a glorious Neo-Gothic edifice—is the third church built on the same exact spot.
The original Trinity Church, built in 1698, was the first Anglican Church in the city. His majesty King William III granted Trinity a royal charter at the cost of 1 peppercorn a year, allowing it to function as a virtual Church of England in the British colony of New York. Ships could see its spire from the sea, as it was the tallest structure in the city. Many people contributed into its construction, including the infamous captain-turned-privateer-turned-pirate William Kidd. In 1705 Queen Anne granted Trinity two parcels of land (from Fulton Street to Hudson) for farming. That sealed Trinity’s fate as one of the biggest landlords of New York and wealthiest churches in the world. The first Trinity building perished during American Revolution in the Great Fire of 1776.
14 years passed before the second Trinity re-appeared as an Episcopalian Church, which stood from 1790 to 1838. These were different times: New York was no longer a colony, the official church of New York was no longer Anglican, the lease from the Church of England had been officially annulled, and the lands owned by Trinity were not farm lands but prime New York real estate. Trinity became the most prestigious church in town; it was the place where the cream of the crop of New York society came to worship, including John Jacob Astor himself. The winter of 1838 was harsh, and the church was weakened by severe snow storms so much that it had to be torn down.
This turned out to be a good thing. At first Trinity hired Richard Upjohn to simply fix the spire of the old church, but then decided that the building was too weak and had to be rebuilt from scratch. The structure that we see today has been gracing Wall Street since 1846 and is indisputably one of the most spectacular examples of the Gothic Revival. Tall and slender, it features a spire that was originally visible from all over the city and the harbor. It was the tallest point in New York and its most recognizable structure up until 1890. The Astors gave Trinity the gift of spectacular bronze doors designed by Richard Morris Hunt as a homage to the “Gates of Paradise,” Ghiberti’s doors to the Baptistery in Florence.
The Trinity Church cemetery is one of the oldest in New York. It is the resting place of Alexander Hamilton, one of the Founding Fathers, aide to George Washington, and the first U.S. Secretary of the Treasury; Robert Fulton, inventor of commercial steamship; and John Peter Zenger, the newspaper publisher whose libel trial helped establish the right to a free press, who is buried in an unmarked grave.
One the wealthiest landlords in New York, Trinity holds real estate portfolio worth $6 Billion. It is still a functioning church, where the faithful can come to worship and music lovers can come to listen to afternoon concerts.
As a token of friendship and a nod to history, Trinity paid back rent of 279 peppercorns to Queen Elizabeth II on her visit in 1976. The Queen accepted and sneezed.
Architect: Richard Upjohn
Style: Gothic Revival