by Susan Taylor Block
English-American Architect Richard Upjohn (1802-1878) envisioned and drew plans for the 1846 Trinity Church building at Broadway and Wall streets in New York City. It is the first example of Gothic Revival architecture in the United States. Like English architects before him, he set out to marry beauty and striking verticality in such a way as to stretch the neck and rouse one’s spiritual imagination.
Mr. Upjohn supervised all elements of the design process. During the eight years it took to build what actually was Trinity’s third building, Upjohn designed and oversaw production of stained glass windows, stone and wood carvings, stenciling projects, and a host of other details. His idea of using red and black patterns within the building spread across the nation.
Frances Palmer, a well-known and early lithographer, worked with Richard Upjohn and many other artistic businesses, including Currier and Ives. She painted the image seen here of Upjohn’s low-lying office from which was birthed the 281’ tall cathedral. The bell, sonorous and no-tech, was rung every workday at 8,12,1, and 5, to alert office and construction workers of the time.
Living in the city of Wilmington and the state of North Carolina, the story of Trinity Church and Richard Upjohn brings many historic connections to mind. Col. Thomas Wright, born in the Wilmington area in 1761, was a member of the family for whom Wrightsville Beach would later be named. He married a New Yorker named Ann Scott, and their son, Thomas, was baptized at Trinity Church on July 23, 1780. Ann Scott Wright died soon after her son’s baptism. Thomas married again, this time his bride was named Ann Winslow, also from New York. She was a great-great-great grandniece of Gov. Edward Winslow of Massachusetts. Thomas and Ann had two children who died young and were buried at Trinity Church. They were Robert and Catherine “Kitty Ann” Wright. Ann Winslow Wright was buried nearby.
Perhaps it was some connection through the world of Trinity Church that afforded Col. Wright the privilege of delivering a speech of welcome to George Washington, when the President visited Wilmington in 1791.
On the murky side of things, Captain Kidd, who “lent the runner and tackle from his ship for hoisting the stones” of the first Trinity Church building, is rumored to have buried treasure at Money Island, on Wrightsville Sound. http://susantaylorblock.com/2010/02/05/captain-kidd-and-the-legend-of-money-island/
The people ties between Trinity and St. James are many. An outstanding example is the ties of rector Adam Empie with the two churches. Not long before he became rector of Trinity Church, the Rev. John Henry Hobart personally instructed Adam Empie as he prepared for the priesthood, not long before the Rev. Hobart became Bishop Hobart. The Rt. Rev. Dr. Benjamin Moore led Empie’s ordination service. Eventually, Dr. Empie would become the first chaplain to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and the president of the College of William and Mary, before retiring to Wilmington. He is remembered for his scholarship, many talents, and for support and care for African Americans.
The two churches have building ties, too. St. James Episcopal Church, a downtown Wilmington landmark, was dedicated in 1839, just as construction began on Trinity Church. The Wilmington People’s Press carried the news. St. James was described as a graceful example of “neat” Gothic Revival church, and Trinity was noted as being “purely and severely Gothic.”
St. James was designed by Philadelphia architect Thomas U. Walter, who designed the current U.S. Capitol dome. In 1876, Mr. Walter would follow Richard Upjohn as president of the American Institute of Architects – an organization Upjohn co-founded. In 1922, Richard Upjohn’s grandson, Hobart Brown Upjohn, designed a two-story parish house with a spire that would compliment the 1839 Walters building.
With George W. Conable, Hobart Upjohn served as architect for a mission of St. James: the 1912 Gothic Revival building that houses Church of the Good Shepherd. Hobart Upjohn also designed Wilmington’s present First Presbyterian Church building – a 1928 Gothic Revival fortress of stone.
Across North Carolina, Richard Upjohn’s magnificent Christ Church in Raleigh and Hobart Upjohn’s beautiful Chapel of the Cross building in Chapel Hill are my two favorites of many more examples of Upjohn artistry and execution. The Upjohns’ work shelters, educates, beautifies, and inspires. Ideas that began as medically trackless pinpoints in the most abstract districts of their minds emerged as concretely as, say, Trinity Church.
Sources: Trinity News, November-December 1979. Catherine W. Bishir, North Carolina Architecture; Raleigh, 1990. Bill Reaves Collection: New Hanover County Public Library. Leora Hiatt McEachern. History of St. James Parish (1729-1979); Wilmington, 1985. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trinity_Church_(Manhattan) Met.muweum.org. Susan Taylor Block, Temple of our Fathers: St. James Episcopal Church (1729-2004); Wilmington, 2004.