The oldest known example of ecclesiastical Gothic Revival architecture in New England is surprisingly located right in Gardiner, Maine, the Christ Episcopal Church. The Episcopal Church in Gardiner was organized in 1772 by Sylvester Gardiner, a major landowner for whom the city is named as the town’s main church. Two more vernacular buildings were constructed as houses of worship until a new, fireproof structure was desired. Built in 1820, the stone church was designed by the Reverend Samuel Farmer Jarvis, who was likely heavily inspired by the stone churches found in England. The church has massive lancet Gothic windows with tracery, that in the tower considerably larger.
This stunning Gothic Revival church was built in 1843, on the site of the blockhouse, erected 80 years prior for the settlers of the area from native attack. In the 17th and 18th centuries, many rural parts of New England had blockhouses erected to allow the settlers a defensive fort from attack. The blockhouses were often garrisoned wooden structures with small windows on all sides to allow for gunfire to attackers below. The structure would protect those inside from arrows and melee weapons. This building however, was constructed later for the Universalists, who believed in “universal salvation,” who had been meeting since 1821 in a schoolhouse beside the town common. The church, in its original state with its steeple and clock, was an extremely sophisticated example in wood of the Gothic Revival style with its pinnacles, lancet windows and pilasters. Sadly, the steeple and clock were removed in the early 1920’s for safety reasons as the structure could not support it without significant engineering. The church and congregation changed to the United Church of Christ-Congregational denomination in 1964. After that, the building was occupied by a brewery (believe it or not), before being reverted back to a church by the current congregation.
Reverend Adin Ballou, the founder of the Hopedale Community, created a Christian anarcho-socialist utopia that peacefully resisted government coercion and provided refuge for other white Christian anarchists but especially for freed enslaved people. In 1841, he and other Christian anarchists purchased a farm west of Milford, Massachusetts and named it Hopedale. The community was settled in 1842. The early commune regularly hosted progressive seminars on the topics like free love and proto-feminism and had black abolitionists like Frederick Douglass give talks on the plight of enslaved people. As per the request of Douglass, the Hopedale Community harbored and protected a runaway slave for some time. The practical end of the Community came in 1856 when two of Ballou’s closest supporters, Ebenezer and George Draper, withdrew their 75% share of the community’s stock to form the successful Hopedale Manufacturing Company. George claimed the community was not using sound business practices. The community, however, continued on as a religious group until 1867, when it became the Hopedale Parish and rejoined mainstream Unitarianism. After the brothers left the community, they funded a church building for the congregation. In the 1890s, Eben and George Draper funded this newer, large church building designed by Edwin J. Lewis.
Schenectady’s oldest extant religious building, St. George’s Church, sits in the center of the Stockade Historic District in Schenectady, New York. As Schenectady was settled and dominated by Dutch settlers, English settlers began moving to the riverfront town, due to its rich fur trade and opportunity. With the growth of English residents, a church where the services were conducted in the English language became necessary. The blossoming congregation hired architect Samuel Fuller, who arrived to Schenectady from Boston in 1758, at the height of the French and Indian War. Ground was broken on the stunning Gothic church in 1759 and it was finally completed in 1763, delayed due to fighting nearby. The church was originally more modest for the smaller congregation, but underwent a large building campaign in the mid 1800s thanks to Reverend William Payne. He oversaw the construction of a new parish house, a new rectory, as well as two successive expansions of the church and the addition of a stone tower and spire to the west front of the church, giving it the appearance we see today. The congregation is still highly active and maintains the building beautifully to this day.
Historically significant as the third home of the St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Brookfield, Connecticut, this building is also architecturally important as an exceptional Gothic Revival place of worship. The second church of St. Paul’s burned on Valentine’s Day 1936, and the church soon after sought to rebuilt, but with fireproof construction. Members of the church were said to have gathered stones from stone walls nearby, as the town developed, with farmland making way for suburban housing. Bridgeport architect Frederick H. Beckwith furnished plans for the Gothic Revival edifice, which apparently took inspiration from a church in Dorset, England.
While I love the quintessential white, wood-frame New England churches that proliferate the region, the stone, Gothic churches always make me stop in my tracks; and this example in Bristol is no exception! St. Michael’s parish was founded in 1718 as one of the Rhode Island’s four colonial churches, funded and overseen from London. The first church, built in 1720, was ironically later burned during a British raid in 1778. It was replaced in 1785 by a plain wooden meetinghouse with funds from local residents and partitioners. In 1833, it was replaced by a wood-frame Gothic church which burned in 1858. Undeterred, the church hired New York City architects Alexander Saeltzer and Lawrence B. Valk, who designed the present brownstone Gothic Revival church. Just over a decade later, the church hired Worcester architect Stephen C. Earle, to design a chapel and parish house, across the street. The chapel building follows the Gothic Revival style, but with more Victorian flair, and is also constructed of brownstone to compliment the church. Together, the two structures transport you to the English countryside with their design and presence on the main street in town. What do you think of them?
The Mount Vernon Congregation Church was founded in 1842 and originally was located in Ashburton Place on Beacon Hill (which I featured previously). As its members moved to the Back Bay, the congregation decided to build a new church in the western portion of the neighborhood. They hired architect C. Howard Walker to design the new church building, with stained glass windows by John LaFarge and Louis Comfort Tiffany added as memorials to several members of the congregation over subsequent years. As originally designed, the church had a 45-foot high steeple on top of its 85-foot square tower, but over the years it became structurally unsound, and it was removed just before the Hurricane of 1938, which toppled many steeples all over the region. In 1970, the church merged with the Old South Church in the Back Bay. In 1977, developers proposed to remodel the church building into retail and office space. The proposal was approved by the Boston Redevelopment Authority in January of 1978. Before work could commence, a fire destroyed much of the church building leaving a shell of Roxbury Puddingstone walls and the tower, the developer pulled its funding and the building’s future was uncertain. One year later, architect Graham Gund purchased the building. Gund was familiar with adaptive reuse projects, like his restoration of the Middlesex County Courthouse in Cambridge for his own office in Cambridge in the 1970s. Gund redesigned the building into 43 condominium units called Church Court. What are your thoughts on the architecture?
Perched high on a hill in central Newport, NH, St. Patrick’s Church has served the community in its stunning building for nearly 150 years. The town of Newport began seeing Irish immigrants moving into town looking for work at the mills as early as 1835. The large working-class population created a need for a Catholic church in the growing town. That same year, the Catholic population of the state of New Hampshire was listed at just 720 people. Over the following decades of meeting in homes and small buildings around town, the Catholic population in town, along with the newly established Archdiocese of Manchester, NH, came up with funds for a church in the mill town of Newport. The congregation hired Hira Ransom Beckwith, a carpenter, builder and architect from nearby Claremont to design and construct the new place of worship. Interestingly, Beckwith had only a high school education, so his training as an architect and builder was through apprenticeships. The church is a blend of Gothic Revival and Stick styles, with the lancet windows and tracery paired with the elaborate stick-work in the gable.
The Trinity Episcopal Church in the Southport section of Fairfield, Connecticut was established in 1725. Twenty families met for worship at its first meeting house in the center of town on Thanksgiving Day, 1725. Since then, the church has constructed five different places of worship in locations around town. Architect Albert C. Nash designed the church which was constructed during the years 1854-56. Sadly, the building’s near total destruction by wind during a tornado on January 1, 1862, required the church to be completely rebuilt as originally planned, with a few structural alterations. Trinity Church is an excellent work of early Gothic Revival church architecture in wood, one of the best I have seen in my trips around the region.
The Unity Church of North Easton, Massachusetts looks like it could stand toe-to-toe architecturally with the large churches in major American cities. The church was a gift to the Unitarian Society in town, by Oliver Ames II, who hired renowned Gothic architect Henry Vaughan to design a chapel, worthy of the town’s wealth. The church contains various tablets and memorials to the Ames Family, with stunning stained glass windows by John LaFarge, recently restored by the church! Behind the grounds is the cemetery where many of the Ames family members are buried.