Third Congregational Church, New Haven, Connecticut (2)

The former Third Congregational Church, on Church Street in New Haven, in 1903. Image courtesy of the Connecticut State Library, Herbert Randall Survey of New Haven and Environs.

The Second National Bank of New Haven on the same site, around 1918. Image from A Modern History of New Haven and Eastern New Haven County (1918).

The scene in 2018:

As discussed in the previous post, the Third Congregational Church was established in 1826, and was located in several different buildings over the next three decades. In 1856, the church moved into this new building on Church Street, opposite the New Haven Green. It was designed by architect Sidney Mason Stone, and the exterior featured a Romanesque-style design that would become popular for churches during the second half of the 19th century. The congregation worshiped here until 1884, when the church merged with the nearby United Church, which still stands on the Green.

In 1890, the vacant church was purchased by the city, and the interior was converted into the first long-term home of the New Haven Free Public Library. At some point before the first photo was taken, a new, much shorter steeple was also added to the building, although it does not seem clear whether this happened before of after it became a library. Because it was designed as a church, though, it proved inadequate as a library. At the time, most libraries had closed stacks, which required patrons to specifically request materials at the circulation desk. However, the limitations of this building resulted in open stacks. This allowed the general public to browse all of the collections, but it also meant that a number of books went missing during the two decades that this building was in use.

The city finally completed a new library building in 1911, which is still standing today at the corner of Elm and Temple Streets. Around the same time, the old building here on Church Street was purchased by the Second National Bank of New Haven, and was subsequently demolished. The bank then constructed an eight-story office building on the site, which was designed by the architectural firm of Starrett & van Vleck and completed in 1913. The first photo was taken a few years later, and was published in A Modern History of New Haven and Eastern New Haven County. According to this book, it was the second-largest of New Haven’s ten banks, with a headquarters here on Church Street that was described as “the finest banking and office building in the city.”

The Second National Bank had its offices here in this building throughout much of the 20th century, but in 1978 it was renamed Colonial Bank and moved to Waterbury. The company would subsequently go through a series of mergers, eventually becoming part of BankBoston, Fleet Bank, and finally Bank of America. In the meantime, though, the former Second National building is still standing here on Church Street, with few changes since the second photo was taken. It remains in use as an office building, and its current tenants include the New Haven newsroom of NBC Connecticut.

Third Congregational Church, New Haven, Connecticut

Third Congregational Church, on Church Street in New Haven, around 1863-1869. Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.

The scene in 2018:

New Haven’s Third Congregational Church was established in 1826, and was originally comprised of 29 members from the city’s two other congregational churches. They worshiped in temporary quarters on Orange Street for several years, before moving into a new church building in 1829, at the corner of Church and Union Streets. However, less than a decade the congregation lost this building due to financial difficulties, but subsequently built a new one on Court Street in 1841.

Third Congregational moved again in 1856, to this prominent site on Church Street, where it faced the other two congregational churches from across the New Haven Green. It stood directly adjacent to the Exchange Building, a brick, four-story commercial block that is partially visible on the right side of the photo. The Romanesque-style design of the church was the work of noted local architect Sidney Mason Stone, and it was constructed at a total cost of $53,000, which included $16,000 for the land.

This building was used by the church until 1884, when the congregation merged with the United Church on the other side of the Green. Then, in 1890, the former Third Congregational building was converted into the first long-term home of the New Haven Free Public Library, which had previously been housed in the second floor of a building on Chapel Street. Here, the library became an early example of an open stacks layout, where patrons could freely browse through the books. However, this was not necessarily done for philosophical reasons, but rather out of practicality, as the building proved inadequate as a library.

It did not take long for the library to outgrow this building, and in 1906 the city received a gift of $300,000 from Mary E. Ives to build a new library. Construction began in 1908, and it was completed in 1911, at the corner of Elm and Temple Streets. The old church-turned-library was demolished soon after, in order to build the eight-story Second National Bank of New Haven. This building was completed in 1913, and it is still standing today, in the center of the 2018 photo. However, the only building that has survived from the first photo is the Exchange Building, which has remained relatively unchanged on the right side of the scene, at the corner of Church and Chapel Streets.

New Haven Green, New Haven, Connecticut (3)

Looking east on the New Haven Green, from near the corner of Temple and Chapel Streets in New Haven, around 1900-1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2018:

The first photo was taken from about the same spot – and presumably on the same day – as the one in the previous post, although this one shows the view looking toward Church Street on the eastern edge of the New Haven Green. Like the scene in the previous post, this view underwent dramatic changes within about a decade after the first photo was taken. The city saw rapid growth at the turn of the 20th century, with the population more than doubling between 1880 and 1910, and this helped to spur several major redevelopment projects that replaced older buildings here along the Green.

Beginning on the left side of the first photo is City Hall, an ornate High Victorian Gothic-style building that was completed in 1861. To the right of it, at the corner of Court Street, was a three-story building that housed Heublein’s Cafe. This restaurant was owned by Gilbert Heublein, a prominent food and beverage distributor who later built the Heublein Tower in Simsbury. Further to the right, in the center of the photo, was the Tontine Hotel, which was built in the 1820s, and on the far right side was the former Third Congregational Church. Built in 1856, it served as a church until 1884, when its congregation merged with the United Church. In 1890, it became the home of the New Haven Free Public Library, and it was used until the current library building opened in 1911.

The most significant change to this scene came soon after the first photo was taken. In the early 1910s, both the Tontine Hotel and the former Third Congregational Church were demolished to make way for two new buildings. On the left side, the Tontine Hotel was replaced with a new post office and federal courthouse, which was constructed between 1913 and 1919. Just to the right of it, the site of the church became the Second National Bank of New Haven, with an eight-story building that was completed in 1913. Today, both of these are still standing, but the only surviving buildings from the first photo are City Hall on the far left, and the Exchange Building, which is partially visible on the extreme right side of both photos.

St. Mary’s Church, New Haven, Connecticut

St. Mary’s Church, on Hillhouse Avenue in New Haven, around 1918. Image from A Modern History of New Haven and Eastern New Haven County (1918).

The church in 2018:

St. Mary’s Church is the oldest Catholic parish in New Haven, having been established in 1832. Its first permanent location was on York Street, but later moved to Church Street. However, in the early 1870s the growing parish began constructing a new building here on Hillhouse Avenue, in the midst of an upscale, largely Protestant neighborhood. The stone, Gothic-style church was dedicated in 1874, and it was the work Irish-born architect James Murphy, who specialized in designing Catholic churches across New England. Murphy’s other churches included the Cathedral of St. Patrick in Norwich, which was constructed around the same time and features a design that is very similar to St. Mary’s here in New Haven.

Perhaps the most notable event here at this church came in 1882, when curate Michael McGivney established the Knights of Columbus. This organization, which served as a Catholic alternative to fraternal societies such as Freemasonry, was intended to provide support for the working-class immigrants of the parish, particularly for widows and orphans. It began here in the basement of the church, but it soon spread around the country, and today has a membership of nearly 2 million. However, the Knights of Columbus are still headquartered in New Haven, albeit in a much larger building, and Father McGivney’s remains are interred here in the church.

A century after the first photo was taken, St. Mary’s Church is still standing, and it is still an active Roman Catholic parish. Over the years, its surroundings have changed as Yale University steadily expanded its campus northward along Hillhouse Avenue, but the exterior of the church still looks much the same as it did when it was completed. The only significant difference is the spire at the top of the tower. Although designed with a spire, the church did not have one until 1986, when the Knights of Columbus donated one that matched Murphy’s original plans.

United Church, New Haven, Connecticut (2)

The United Church, at the corner of Temple and Elm Streets in New Haven, around 1900-1915. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The church in 2018:

As discussed in a previous post, the United Church – also known as the North Church – was completed in 1815. It was the second in a row of three churches that were built along Temple Street on the New Haven Green, and it featured Federal-style architecture that was very similar to the neighboring Center Church, which had been built a year earlier. However, unlike Center Church, which had been designed by two of the most influential early 19th century architects, United Church was evidently designed by Ebenezer Johnson, Jr., a local shoemaker who was a member of the congregation. Noted architect David Hoadley is generally credited with overseeing the construction, though, so he may have had a hand in the final design as well.

The United Church itself predates the construction of this church by nearly 75 years, with the origins of the congregation dating back to 1742. At the time, New England was in the midst of the Great Awakening, causing a rift between the “New Lights,” who were influenced by the preaching of men such as George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards, and the “Old Lights,” who were wary of the ongoing revival. The New Lights of New Haven ultimately separated from the First Church in 1742, forming the White Haven Church, with a meeting house that was located a block away from here, at southeast corner of Church and Elm Streets.

Probably the most prominent early pastor of the church was Jonathan Edwards the Younger, who was the son of Jonathan Edwards. He was installed in 1769, but this decision proved controversial, and many members left and formed a new church, known as the Fair Haven Church, and constructed a meeting house here at the site of the current church. These two congregations remained separate throughout Reverend Edwards’s tenure, but he left in 1795, and the churches were reunited the following year as the Church of Christ in the United Societies of White Haven and Fair Haven. This rather unwieldy name was eventually simplified, and was variously to as either the United Church or the North Church, given its location at the northern end of the Green.

Following the reunification, the congregation worshiped in both meeting houses, alternating on a monthly basis. This arrangement continued for some time, but by the early 1810s the church had seen significant growth, and the old buildings were in poor condition. As a result, in 1813 construction began on a new brick church, which was built on the site of the former Fair Haven building. Twenty church members were involved in the actual construction work, and their payment was in the form of the two old buildings,, along with the former property of the White Haven Church. The new church was dedicated in December 1815, although the finishing touches would not be completed for another two years.

During the Antebellum period, this church and its members contributed to the growing Abolitionist movement in New England. Perhaps most significantly, one of its members was Roger Sherman Baldwin, an attorney who represented the African defendants in the Amistad case. Baldwin was successful in the trial, which was held across the Green from here on the present-day site of City Hall, but the outcome was then appealed to the Supreme Court. There, Baldwin again spoke in favor of the kidnapped Africans, as did former president John Quincy Adams, and the Supreme Court affirmed the lower court decision to free the men. Baldwin would subsequently go on to have a successful political career, serving as governor of Connecticut from 1844 to 1846, and as a U. S. senator from 1847 to 1851.

Aside from its connection to the landmark Amistad case, the North Church was also involved in the controversy over whether Kansas should be admitted to the Union as a free state or slave state. Since this issue was to be decided by a vote among its residents, this caused an influx of both pro-slavery and anti-slavery settlers, with each side hoping to tip the balance in their favor. This inevitably resulted in violence between the two sides, and on March 20, 1856 the prominent abolitionist and pastor Henry Ward Beecher spoke here at the church, in support of a group of New Haven residents who were moving to Kansas. As the New York Times recounted several days later,

The object of the meeting was to raise money for the purpose of providing the colonizing party with proper weapons of self-defence against the attacks of the Border Ruffians, and also to give them something with “lock, stock and barrel,” to point at the wolves of the prairie who may encroach upon their camps.

The price of admission was fixed at twenty-five cents, but, notwithstanding the equivocal politeness of inviting a subscription party out of an evening, on such conditions, the Church was filled – floor and galleries – with an audience of the most prominent citizens of New-Haven, including a large number of clergymen of various denominations, and a full quorum of Professors from the Faculty of Yale College.

As the keynote speaker of the event, Reverend Beecher spoke about slavery, its effect on the country, and the current situation in Kansas. Following his speech, the audience sang a hymn, “Song of the Kansas Emigrant,” and then Yale professor Benjamin Silliman came forward and asked the people to purchase Sharps rifles, at a cost of $25 each, for the departing settlers to bring with them. Samuel W. S. Dutton, the pastor of the church, was among the first to pledge money for a rifle, standing and declaring that “One of the deacons of this church, Mr. Harvey Hall, is going out with the Company, and I, as his pastor, desire to present to him a Bible and a Sharpe’s rifle.” This was met with great applause, and at one point Reverend Beecher pledged that his church would give 25 rifles, if the assembly could match the contribution. They eventually reached this number, with some contributing multiple rifles, and finished the meeting with a total of 27 rifle pledges from the assembly. This, combined with the admission fee, resulted in a collection of about a thousand dollars for the Kansas settlers, or about $28,000 in today’s dollars.

The church went through another merger in 1884, when it joined with the Third Congregational Church. The combined congregation continued to worship here in this building, which had seen few exterior changes by the time the first photo was taken in the early 1900s. Two other historic buildings are also visible in the photo, which predate the church. On the far right side of the photo, at 149 Elm Street, is the John Pierpont House, which was built in 1767, and just to the left of it is the Jonathan Mix House, built in 1799. Today, remarkably little has changed in more than a century since the photo was taken. Both of these houses are still standing, with the Pierpont House now serving as the Yale Visitor Center. The church has also remained well-preserved during this time, and it is now a contributing property in the New Haven Historic District, which was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1970.

Center Church, New Haven, Connecticut

Center Church on the New Haven Green, around 1900-1915. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The church in 2018:

Center Church has been featured in several previous posts, which show the building along with the neighboring churches. However, this particular view provides the best look at its design, which was the work of noted architects Asher Benjamin and Ithiel Town. It was completed in 1814, but the congregation itself is considerably older, dating back to 1639, just a year after New Haven was settled. The first two meeting houses were located near the center of the eastern part of the Green, at approximately the spot where these two photos were taken. A third meeting house, built of brick, was completed in 1757, and stood a little further to the west, probably in the middle foreground of this scene.

This third meeting house remained in use until the early 19th century, when it was replaced by the current church, which stands even further to the west than its predecessors. This site was not without controversy, though, because the western part of the green had long been used as New Haven’s burial ground. An estimated 4,000 to 5,000 people had been buried here during the 17th and 18th centuries, before the opening of the Grove Street Cemetery in 1797. The burials on the Green had largely ceased by the turn of the 19th century, and around 1812 the church decided to construct its new building on a portion on the burial ground.

This action caused considerable controversy in New Haven, with many objecting to the perceived desecration of their ancestors’ graves. The book Chronicles of New Haven Green, published in 1898, provides the following description:

A public meeting was held at the County House, in March, 1813, at which a protest was adopted, signed by one hundred and seventy-eight subscribers, and resolutions passed vigorously denouncing the proposed location of the building. The construction was nevertheless commenced, but when the workmen began to excavate the trenches, a number of persons assembled with shovels and began to throw back the earth as fast as it was thrown out.

The work went on, though, and few of the graves were ultimately disturbed. Instead of removing the remains or the headstones, the church was built over a part of the existing burial ground, which became the floor of the basement. This created an unusual sort of crypt, with all of the headstones left standing in the same position that they had been in prior to the construction of the church. As it turned out, these graves would be better preserved than the ones outside of the church. In 1821, those stones would be moved to the Grove Street Cemetery, but the remains were not disinterred, leaving several thousand unmarked graves that are still located beneath the New Haven Green today.

Aside from its unconventional basement, the design of the church was typical of many New England churches of this era. It was built of brick, and featured Federal-style elements such as rounded arches over the windows, a balustrade along the roofline, and a classically-inspired columned portico at the front entrance, with modillions around the pediment and an ornate carving in the middle of it. Asher Benjamin, who at this point was a well-established architect, provided the original plans for the church, which was evidently based on St. Martin-in-the-Fields in London. However, the design was modified by his former protege Ithiel Town, who was at the beginning of a long and successful career as an architect.

The completed church was dedicated on December 27, 1814, with a ceremony that included a closing prayer by Timothy Dwight, the eminent theologian and author who served as president of Yale from 1795 until his death in 1817. At the time, the pastor of the church was Nathaniel W. Taylor, a young Yale graduate who had studied under Dwight. Like his mentor, he went on to become a prominent theologian. He served as pastor of the church until 1822, when he left to accept a position as a professor at Yale. He was also one of the founders of what later became the Yale Divinity School, and he continued to teach didactic theology at Yale until his death in 1858.

Reverend Taylor’s successor, Leonard Bacon, was installed as pastor in 1825, at the age 23, and he served for more than 50 years until his death in 1881, although he retired from active ministry in 1866. He was also a Yale graduate, of the class of 1820, and in 1823 he had graduated from Andover Theological Seminary. Like his predecessor, he would go on to become a prominent clergyman, but during this time he also achieved fame as an author and editor. He was the editor of the Christian Spectator, which was a literary journal that later became the Yale Review, and he was also a founder and the longtime editor of The Independent. In addition, he published several books, including Slavery Discussed in Occasional Essays from 1833 to 1846. This abolitionist book helped to influence, among others, Abraham Lincoln, whose famous statement, “If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong,” is actually a paraphrase of Bacon’s assertion in the book that “if those laws of the Southern States, by virtue of which slavery exists there, and is what it is, are not wrong — nothing is wrong.”

The first photo was taken only a few decades after Reverend Bacon’s death, and by this point the church building was already nearly a century old. Very little changed on the exterior during this time, and although another century has passed since this photo was taken, the church has remained well-preserved today. Along with the two other nearby historic churches, it is now a contributing property in the New Haven Green Historic District, which was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1970. Underneath the church, the crypt has been unaltered since the building was completed, and 137 headstones still mark the graves. It is the only visible remnant of the large colonial cemetery on the Green, and it is seasonally open to the public for tours.