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A SHORT HISTORY OF TRINITY EPISCOPAL CHURCH

by

Rodney Geiben

 

It is hard to realize living in the Twenty-first Century that when Trinity Episcopal Church was organized, that the Fredonia area was the American frontier. Thick forests, impassable roads, not long past threat of a British invasion, and life on the edge were the conditions that faced the first Episcopalians. Yet, those difficulties did not deter our pioneers from needing to worship God and having their church.

July 7, 1822 saw the Reverends Deodatus Babcock and Benjamin Dorr, traveling Episcopal clergy, come through Fredonia at the same time. That day they held two services in a school on West Hill and baptized three children. Not having clergy on a regular basis did not stop the founders. Their interest did not waver. August 1, 1822 they organized an Episcopal congregation. Wardens and vestry were chosen and Trinity Church was the name they chose for the new parish. The letter of incorporation was acted on and recorded with the County. October 15, 1822 the new parish was received into the Protestant Episcopal Church. Trinity Church is the fourth oldest parish in the Diocese of Western New York and in fact is older than the Diocese. It is the oldest Episcopal church in Chautauqua County.

By 1823 the church was able to call its first rector, the Rev. David Brown, who served until 1826. He was given $157.00 as salary which was provided by subscription.

Times continued to be difficult, yet the members of Trinity Church, Fredonia never gave up the dream or working towards having a permanent home. $500.00 was obtained from Trinity Church, New York City for the building fund in 1833. By 1835, after nearly ten years of fundraising, a Gothic revival building had been erected on the site chosen in 1832. It is believed that John Jones, a local builder and architect had designed the building. He was also the builder of several Greek Revival houses in the village. The first construction project cost $4,000.00. The building consisted of the west front, tower, and first two window sections of the present nave. In 1848 the congregation decided to lengthen the church by another window section and brick vestry. In 1858-9 Trinity was lighted by natural gas; the first church ever to do so.

1873, 1878, 1888, and 1904 saw a new ceiling and floor installed, painting, repairs, and other minor repairs done to the building. 1866 a "parish school house was erected. It stood behind the church near the end of the present driveway. It stood there until 1965 when it was bulldozed.

 

In March 1870 the vestry thought that the needed repairs to the church were too costly and that it would be better to build a new facility. Nothing came of this new church idea due to the lack of financial support

from the parishioners.

In 1878 a new organ was located in the new room added to the side of the nave. This organ was to continue to be in use up until the 1925 fire destroyed it. Prior to this move the organ had been located in the balcony.

At some point, stained glass windows had been installed. By the 1920’s it was found that these windows had deteriorated and could not be restored. A parish committee consulting with the Diocese determined that new windows should be installed and that they should be based on Thirteenth Century designs with medallions illustrating the life of Christ. A studio in Columbus, Ohio was contracted to obtain the new windows with the windows themselves being fabricated in Germany. April 12, 1925 the windows were dedicated.

May 26, 1925 a fire starting in a rear shed spread up into the attic and the false ceiling. When the fire was finally put out the new windows, the organ, pews, roof floor, altar communion service had all been destroyed. The wooden tower had survived the fire but had to be pulled down and the bell was eventually sold. Just the outer brick walls remained.

On June 11, 1925 the parish met with Bishop Brent. The Bishop pushed for reconstruction immediately. June 18th architect, Paul Mann presented his plans for the rebuilding within the existing walls while extending the chancel. These plans are what we see today. The great treasures of this reconstruction was the replacing of the lost windows with duplications and the purchase of the Casavant organ.

June 6, 1926 Trinity Church was dedicated by suffragan Bishop D. L. Ferris. The fire was a painful disaster but many of the artifacts donated by previous generations were repaired and are still part of the daily devotions.

As the years went on some repair work and improvements were made to the church or undercroft. In 1963 a rectory was purchased. At this time the old parish house ceased to be useable and the Soch house on Main Street was purchased. It was the first Garland Hall. Eventually the Soch house was replaced by a hall added to the rear of the church. Garland Hall exists today and has gone through its own remodeling and improvements. The most recent renovations saw a vestibule added, news kitchen, storage facilities, office and above all handicap access to the church.

July 3, 1983 the lost bell was finally replaced by two bells purchased from Whitechapel Bell Foundry, London, England. This is the same company that made the Liberty Bell in 1752.  

 

April 14, 1996 the rebuilt and expanded 1926 Casavant organ was dedicated. The congregation had this work done as a memorial. The work was done by Casavant, St. Hyacinthe, Quebec, Canada.

This is the brief history of the beloved home of Trinity's congregation. We worship here together. It is the place from which we support each other and try to serve our corner of the world. It is the treasured home we invite you to come and share with us.

 

 

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

 

Garland, Merlin A. History of Trinity Episcopal Church Fredonia, New York, 1822-1967. Dunkirk, New York, McClenathan Printery, 1968.

 

Historic Fredonia, 1825-1875. State University College at Fredonia, Fredonia, N.Y., 1960.

 

Reiff, Daniel D. Architecture in Fredonia, New York, 1811 - 1997. Fredonia, N.Y.: Fredonia Preservation Society, White Pine Press, 1997.

 

Memorial Book. Trinity Episcopal Church. Fredonia, N.Y.