When it opened in 1886, Trinity Episcopal Church became the new spiritual home for the unified congregations of Christ and Trinity Churches. The new church allowed the members to refocus their energies into outreach ministries such as the Charity Organization Society established in the late 1870s by St. Paul’s Cathedral. Trinity members suggested that the COS divide the city of Buffalo into church/charity districts to better coordinate charity work amongst the many churches. Trinity assumed responsibility for one of these districts and opened a settlement house known a Trinity House on Elk Street in 1896, later followed by Watson House on Babcock Street (1903). Members of Trinity continued the work of mission to the community well into the twentieth century by opening a Day Care Center in the church basement in 1969, establishing Compass House, a haven for youth in crisis in 1973 and Homespace in the 1990s for single parents with transitional housing needs.
Goodhue also had medieval style wood carvings that included linen-fold panels in the chancel. The choir area had wood carved and intertwined Latin phrases from Psalm 148 “Laudate Dominum de coelis, Laudate eum in excelsis, Laudate eum omnes anglei eius, lautdate eum virtutes eius” (praise the Lord from the heavens, praise him in the heights, praise him all his angels, praise him all the heavenly hosts). The ends of the choir pews had carved figures of four Archbishops related to music: Sts. Gregory holding a staff, Ambrose holding a scroll, Wilfred carrying a model of a cathedral and Augustine with a pilgrim’s cross.
Redecorating the chapel was the last major construction project Trinity undertook until the 1990s when the church conducted a capital campaign to purchase two buildings north of the church. One building was intended as additional office and meeting space while the other was demolished to address safety concerns along the north side of the church. Also, an exterior
Also, an exterior atrium/entrance with a wheelchair lift was built on the Close side of the Parish House. The office and Parish House later became rental property for the church. The chapel still functions as Sunday school space and the sanctuary for worship.
Gilman had also drawn up plans for an accompanying church but died in 1882 before Trinity and Christ churches merged, requiring the selection of another architect. Local architect Cyrus K. Porter (1836-1910) was chosen and redesigned Gilman’s plans into a large sandstone and brick building that could seat nearly 800. Porter’s church continued the Gothic genre with the classic nave-transept-apse design with a steeply pitched roof but eliminated Gilman’s plan for a clerestory. Both architects envisioned a tall steeple on a square tower base for the northwest corner of the church but only the tower was completed by the time of the first service in April 1886. The steeple was never finished per the decision of the congregation.
While the city expanded, so did the need for organizations such as churches. St. Paul’s Episcopal Church (later cathedral) was established in 1817 as the first Protestant Episcopal church in the Village of Buffalo. By 1836, the congregation outgrew its 1819 structure and the vestry resolved to find a new location for a church. It also authorized the formation of a new church by interested members. The result was that several of the congregation joined together to form Trinity Episcopal Church. They bought a small church from the Universalists in 1839 and in 1842, built a larger building at the corner of Washington and Mohawk Streets on the east side of the city just north of Lafayette Square. This new building quickly proved to be too small for the active, growing congregation and a group of parishioners comprised of young male bachelors left Trinity to form St. John’s Episcopal Church in 1844.
from its founding in 1836 until he left to become the Bishop of Missouri in 1844. Unlike Hawks, Ingersoll’s resignation was the result of a division within the parish and Ingersoll felt compelled to do something drastic in order to initiate a reconciliation. The crux of the issue was over moving the congregation from its present building at Washington and Mohawk Streets to a new, yet to be constructed, building on Delaware Avenue. Trinity had outgrown the modest Greek Revival style building that had been its home since 1842 and some of the church members purchased a plot of land on the church’s behalf at Johnson Park on Delaware Avenue. Many in the congregation took exception to the purchase, resulting in the crisis.
Trinity’s need for more space was a reflection of the growth of the City of Buffalo in the first half of the nineteenth-century. Buffalo began as a frontier village that barely survived being burned by the British during the War of 1812 to become the second largest city in New York State and one of the top ten largest cities in the country by 1900. Buffalo had the good fortune to be chosen as the Lake Erie terminus of the Erie Canal making it the gateway for all transportation and shipping between the Midwest and the East Coast. When Buffalo was incorporated as a city in 1832, the population was close to 9,000. By 1900, the population was over 350,000, the waterfront was the busiest inland port in the country, and an average of 250 passenger trains arrived daily at the various railroad terminals. (Pan American Magazine, vol.1, no. 5, October 1899, 65)
The church also reflects the period of the late nineteenth-century when Buffalo was developing as a major industrial city with a rapidly growing economy and population. The church complex developed on Delaware Avenue, Buffalo’s premier residential neighborhood in the late nineteenth-century and was the spiritual home of many of the city’s most prominent citizens. Trinity began as the second oldest Episcopal congregation in the city, organized in 1836, and has constantly responded to the needs of the city’s population with worship opportunities and social service.
Early in 1874, The Rev. Dr. Edward Ingersoll suddenly resigned after thirty years of service at Trinity Episcopal Church in the City of Buffalo. Ingersoll was the second rector in the history of the parish, following the Rev. Cicero Hawks who was with Trinity
Trinity started in 1836, and since then quite a lot has happened. Our buildings are historic, as is our record of helping the community outside of our doors. Trinity’s present day community continues to contribute to, and foster, this rich legacy. To learn how you can help Trinity’s effort to care for this legacy, please visit our support page.
Built between 1869 and 1905, Trinity Episcopal Church is historically and architecturally a distinguished religious complex reflecting the growth of a major American city. It reflects the new developments in the areas of art and architecture in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. Trinity, a local landmark, is listed on both the State and National Registers of Historic Places. The church complex is nationally significant as the site of a seminal program of opalescent glass and interior decoration by American master John La Farge. His work in Trinity’s new church had national exposure and acclaim that came at a crucial time in the artist’s career that reintroduced the artist as a national leader in the expressive use of layered and intricately leaded art glass. One of La Farge’s later Trinity Church windows was displayed at an international exposition that reinforced the American role in reviving the European stained-glass window industry.
Begun in 1869 with the construction of the Gothic Revival-style Christ Chapel, the complex became best known for its larger, more prominent Victorian Gothic church built between 1884 and 1886. The chapel was designed by Arthur Gilman and the 1886 church was a reworking of Gilman’s earlier plans by Buffalo architect Cyrus Porter. John La Farge produced an ambitious program of opalescent glass and interior decoration for the new church executed between 1885 and 1886. Four additional windows were produced by La Farge along with five by Tiffany Studios and others by William Gibson, Hardman and Company, and Mayer Studios of Munich (installed between 1887 and 1897). The result was a church that evolved into an exceptional example of Victorian taste in art and architecture at the hands of several of the period’s finest designers. Following the trend of employing top designers, the 1905 parish house was the work of the nationally prominent firm of Cram, Goodhue, and Ferguson. Bertram Goodhue returned to Buffalo in 1913 to redesign the interior of the 1869 chapel in a combination of Gothic medieval designs based on Anglo-Catholic traditions and the Arts and Crafts movement. The rare conglomeration of extraordinary talents produced a complex of buildings that resulted in a distinctive ensemble of art and architecture of remarkable quality and unity.
The Mission & Vision of Trinity Church
Trinity is a metropolitan house of prayer – a community of worship and spiritual inquiry, welcoming all people. Recognizing our common brokenness, yet rejoicing in the reconciling love of God, we will:
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As Buffalo’s population continued to grow, so did Trinity Church making sufficient seating capacity a constant problem. Some of the church members felt that the location at Washington and Mohawk Streets was too confining and an, “unfavorable location, and that a move up town was desirable.” (One Hundred Years of Trinity 1836-1936, 3) Several members looked to Delaware Avenue with its wide tree-lined boulevard and available land. Throughout the nineteenth-century, Buffalo’s wealthiest and most prominent citizens including President Millard Fillmore, bought or built large fashionable residences on Delaware Avenue. Several of Trinity’s members lived on Delaware including Dr. Roswell Park who founded the first cancer research institute in the United States in Buffalo and Maria Love who established the first daycare center in the country for working class children. A number of Buffalo’s churches followed their members to Delaware Avenue beginning with Westminster Presbyterian Church in 1859, Christ Episcopal Church in 1871 and Asbury Methodist Church in 1876 (NR listed 2003). Some of Trinity Church’s members tried to engineer a move to Delaware Avenue by purchasing land that was part of the estate owned by Dr. Ebenezer Johnson, Buffalo’s first mayor. This action resulted in dividing the congregation over questions of when and where to move that were so serious that the rector, The Dr. Rev. Edward Ingersoll, resigned.
In 1874, The Rev. Libertus Van Bokkelen took over as the third rector of Trinity after Ingersoll. He faced the dilemma of how to find adequate space for the needs of the church without further splintering the congregation. His solution was to expand the church by merging it with another congregation. Christ Episcopal Church was relatively new in Buffalo and had gone into serious financial trouble after their chapel was built on Delaware Avenue just north of Tupper Street. Christ Church planned to build a church on the adjacent lot but only got the foundation set before the financial situation halted construction. Van Bokkelen got the two church vestries to discuss joining the two congregations and after several meetings the two churches were formally merged on July 14, 1884. Terms of the merger stated that Christ church would contribute the chapel, Trinity would purchase the adjacent lot and foundation and complete construction of a new church, and that the merged entity would be known as Trinity Episcopal Church.
Per the terms of the agreement, Christ Church contributed the chapel built in 1869 that was designed by architect Arthur Gilman (1821-1882), best known for the Arlington Street Unitarian Church in Boston (1861) and its resemblance to Sir Christopher Wren’s St. Martins-in-the-Fields Church in England. Gilman’s Christ Chapel went in a different direction as a classic example of the Gothic Revival style with the characteristic steep roof, gothic arched windows openings and large arched openings between interior support pillars. Gilman added an identifying cross of Christ with its equidistant cross pieces on the Delaware Avenue façade.
Matt was officially installed as Trinity's 13th rector on October 4, 2015 with Bishop Bill Franklin presiding at that service.
Since the first service in 1886, the church and chapel were the principal spaces for Trinity’s activities. To the south of the church was a rectory. By 1905, Trinity needed more space for meetings, classrooms and offices and the vestry decided to replace the rectory with a parish house. The firm of Cram, Goodhue and Ferguson were commissioned for the building and provided a large L-shaped masonry building that was three stories facing Delaware Avenue with the remainder being two stories. The building exterior that fronted onto Delaware Avenue was faced in similar stone as the church and included the symbol of the Trinity (also in stone) over the entrance. The building had several meeting rooms, a rector’s office and a library on the first level and a large open room on the second floor that could function for various activities and gatherings. The rector’s office and library on the first level had Gothic style paneling, and built-in shelves, plus a second floor room with built-in drawers for linen storage for the Altar Guild. Shortly after the Parish House was completed, the Close area between the buildings was paved and the large Celtic Cross erected as a gift from General and Mrs. Field who gave one of the La Farge chancel windows. Howard owned the Howard Iron Works of Buffalo and was a vestry member and Chairman of the Building Committee when the new church was built.
In 1913, Bertram Goodhue returned to Buffalo to redecorate the chapel that was left unfinished since it was first used in 1870. After construction of the main sanctuary, the chapel was mostly used for small services and the Sunday school. Colonel Charles Clifton from the Pierce-Arrow Automobile Company approached Goodhue to finish the interior in memory of his daughter Katherine Gould Clifton who died in 1902 at the age of 10. Under Goodhue’s direction, the chancel arch was extended past the choir and the chancel window partially covered by a wood reredos containing the painting of the young Jesus in the temple by artist Tabor Sears (Anecdotal evidence states that Clifton detested the stained glass window in the chancel and directed Goodhue to conceal the window)/ Surrounding the reredos were thirteen niches with figures representing Christ, Mary and St. John at the pinnacle and Sts. Michael and George, Peter, Paul, Stephen, Alban, Athanasius, Anselm, Jerome and Bede on either side.
Goodhue also had the dark wood ceiling beams decorated in red and gold to complement the richly detailed chancel ceiling that had symbols of various saints and apostles around a center symbol representing the Trinity. The floor of the chancel was finished in marble with insets of groups of multicolored decorative tiles that had religious symbols, mostly representing the Trinity. Clifton also donated two stained glass windows in the chapel north wall, one showing St. Ives and the other the Children’s Crusade. Presumably Goodhue arranged with studios for the design and production of the tiles and windows but the identities of both have been lost.
When The Rev. Libertus Van Bokkelen became rector of Trinity Episcopal Church in 1874, he had the formidable task of preserving the parish by keeping the membership from splintering. His work with reconciling the parish and negotiating the merger of two parishes resulted in a renewed Trinity Episcopal Church and a church on Delaware Avenue with a new direction for the future. The new building symbolized new opportunities for mission and provided a glorious worship space that allowed members to recognize those who contributed much to the church and the community through memorial donations that included several magnificent windows. Through the combined talents of local architects and nationally significant masters of design such as La Farge, Tiffany and Goodhue, the resulting church buildings produce a remarkable cohesive blend of American art and architecture that spanned the late nineteenth and early twentieth-centuries. La Farge’s decorative plan for the church marked a critical moment in the artist’s national career that made Trinity integral to the restoration of his career and a participant in the revival of the art of the decorative stained glass window. The subsequent generations of members recognized that they are stewards of this heritage and look to preserve the buildings, honor the memories of those who contributed to the physical as well as the spiritual legacy, while moving onward with continued service in a changing world.