Project Canterbury

The Chronicle of Christ Church

By Deaconess Josephine A. Lyon (1862-1939)

New Haven, Connecticut: Quinnipiack Press, no date.


WHEN the first edifice of Christ Church was built in 1853, the western section of the city was sparsely settled, and very few of the present streets were laid out, a large portion of the land being occupied by the town farm and almshouse. Martin Street, now Edgewood Avenue, was known as the road to the poorhouse, and beyond College Street there was no church of any kind. Open fields, intersected by uneven roads, extended to Hamden, and some of the inhabitants were but little better than heathen. It was truly a rich missionary district.

On the Feast of the Epiphany, 1854, the Rt. Rev. Thomas C. Brownell, Bishop of Connecticut, consecrated "to the Glory of God and for free use of all men" the small wooden church in which the present parish of Christ Church began its existence. This first building stood on the lot at the corner of Park and Elm (then Maple) Streets, and was the property of Trinity Church.

It was erected at a cost of $2,440, which had been donated by three sisters, faithful communicants of Trinity Church: the Misses Mary, Sarah, and Caroline Edwards, in memory of a fourth sister, Rebecca, who had died three years previously, and to whom the window of the Annunciation in the present Lady Chapel was dedicated. (The other two windows depicting the [15/16] "Expulsion from Paradise" and the "Visit to Elizabeth" were much later memorials to Mary and Sarah).

The Misses Edwards were devout and, for the time, advanced Church-women, influenced by the Tractarian Movement. It was the custom of the Churches in the city at that period to say Morning Prayer each Sunday at 10:30; and Evening Prayer at 3:30 or 7:30, the former being followed by the Communion Service on the first Sunday of each month. The three sisters, longing for more frequent worship in the Church, requested that the new mission hold its Communion Service on the third Sunday instead of the first, since it was possible to attend the other Episcopal Churches on the first Sunday, and that Morning and Evening Prayer be said on Wednesdays and Fridays.

The plan of the Church was designed by Richard Upjohn, an Anglo-American architect. He was the founder of the American Institute of Architects and its first president from 1856 to 1876. Much of his later work provided models for other architects of the Gothic revival in America.

At the first service the sermon was preached by the Rev. T. Clap Pitkin, Associate Rector of Trinity, who emphasized that the intention of the newly consecrated Church of God was to do a truly missionary work: "to enlarge the borders of the Church; to extend its privileges to a greater number; to give to those who were careless of religion, or who were not provided with free accommodations in the other Churches, an opportunity of sharing our spiritual blessings; and to bring [16/17] to bear on this community all those agencies by which religion shows its blessed influence in this life, as well as in that which is to come." He concluded by saying: "This building, so long as its timbers hold together, is to be a house in which God's worship, in accordance with our venerable ritual, is to be performed. It is never to be sold, it is never to be alienated, it is never to be merged in any other thing. If there be no occasion for it here, because another church shall have supplied its place, then in some other portion of the city it is to continue its good work. But wherever it may be, it is to be a consecrated House of God, fragrant with the offerings of prayer and praise; and the gift which has this day been made to God shall never be recalled." The offertory at the consecration of the building, amounting to $104, was appropriated toward buying the much needed Sacred Vessels. "The Female United Society" had contributed $70 for a Font, and the Bible and Prayer Books for the desk and the Altar were the gifts of Nathaniel R. Darrel.

The Church was accepted by the Rector and Wardens of Trinity Church in trust, and they immediately called the Rev. Daniel Henshaw, relying for the support of the services of the mission upon the weekly offertory at the Chapel and subscriptions of friends, which at the start amounted to $ boo per annum, pledged for three years. The Rev. Mr. Henshaw remained but a few months, returning to Rhode Island, where his father was Bishop.

At a parish meeting held April 15, 1856, it was voted that the Rev. Joseph Brewster should be asked to become the Rector of Christ Church at a salary of $800; and that the Wardens were to communicate to [17/18] him the unanimous call of the parish and request his acceptance. [Appendix A] At the same time it was voted that five should constitute a quorum of the Vestry.

The Rev. Mr. Brewster accepted the trust to care for the infant mission, and for twenty-eight years remained its Almus Pater, faithful and beloved. He was a strikingly handsome man: tall, dignified, somewhat austere, inheriting from his father the character and force of Puritan ancestry, and endowed by his mother with the grace and refinement of the best in the French race; an aristocrat with the true aristocrat's consideration for those less fortunate. One habit illustrates this: when visiting in his parish he found children in need of clothing, he secretly measured the height of the child by the buttons on his own vest, and reported the need to the Missionary and Homework Chapter (the precursor in this parish of the Woman's Auxiliary), and the women justified his confidence by making from this one measurement the desired garments; and only the Rector knew who received them. Children were devoted to him, and after he moved to a farm on Mt. Carmel they looked forward to the annual picnic there. It was generally in the autumn, the time of chestnuts, and the young people returned home laden with bags or baskets filled with the nuts they had gathered. For several years a donkey also furnished excitement, being offered to any boy who could ride him. Some of the more venturesome tried, but only to be ignominiously thrown; after which one of the Rector's sons mounted what had become a perfectly docile and gentle beast. The estate was large, with room for sports and games, and, for the day, the [18/19] parish made free use of it. I do not know that this generosity was ever abused.

Mr. Brewster was also a fine preacher. I remember his donning a black gown for the sermon, a hymn being sung during the transformation, but he discontinued this meaningless custom sooner than the other clergy of the city, for which he was dubbed a Puseyite. He also had the offertory restored to its true place in the service as an act of worship.

The Sunday School, which had started with three children, before the end of the year numbered more than one hundred and fifty; the collections amounted to $548; the families to about ninety-three; and the communicants, added anew, and by removal, eighty-seven. The Relief Society was organized to bring the parishioners together socially, as well as to distribute to the necessities of the poor. Through their efforts $477 was raised, 1,300 serviceable garments were distributed, and the parish library started.

A letter from Mr. Brewster's eldest son, the Rt. Rev. Chauncey B. Brewster, Bishop of Connecticut, now retired, seems to belong here. He writes:

"My early associations are of course with the old wooden Church on the corner opposite the present one; and later with the second building into which the first was incorporated. There I was confirmed by Bishop Williams; there I made my first Communion; and there was held my dear Mother's funeral. Well do I remember my devoted Sunday School teacher, Mrs. Baldwin, and her kindness to me. I still cherish an old Prayer Book she gave me. Notwithstanding her [19/20] goodness, I must once have been misbehaving in service; for I remember my Father coming to the pew and leading me up to a seat in the chancel.

"I find standing out in my memory a certain man who came to preach there: the Rev. Frederic Dan Huntington, who had been an eminent professor and preacher at Harvard University. About 1860 he left the Unitarians and came into the Church. At once my Father invited him to preach. He was our guest, and I remember my deep interest in him. In about nine years he became the first Bishop of Central New York. His son is Father J. O. S. Huntington (founder of the Order of the Holy Cross) and, at the time I refer to, a small boy. Of the laity I best remember Mr. Richard Lyon, foremost in the congregation, a model layman. [The father of Deaconess Lyon, the first clerk of the Church and later made Junior Warden, which office he filled for ten years.]

"My father was Rector, I think, twenty-eight years. He had genuine artistic talent and created a beautiful home at Mt. Carmel. The children of the parish he loved to invite for an outing. Once, I remember, a little girl pointed to a hill rising behind the house and said: ‘May I go up on the shelf?'

"My father was, I remember, a very fine reader, and I believe a sympathetic pastor. He also was the first parish Priest in New Haven to institute the regular weekly Eucharist at an early hour of the Lord's Day. With his artistic tastes he would have rejoiced indeed could he have seen the beautiful and noble new church. He would, I am confident, have been pleased by the memorial pulpit.

"As I close, let me say I cannot duly express my appreciation of the promising but all too brief [20/21] rectorship of the Rev. Frederic M. Burgess, or of the devoted labors of the present rector (the Rev. W. Osborn Baker). Nor could I fully express my admiration and affection for the Rev. George Brinley Morgan, whom I think of as the erector of the present church with its treasures of interest and beauty."

In two years the congregations increased and demanded a larger building. After evening service on the Sunday before Easter, March 16, 1856, a meeting of "families worshipping at Christ Church Mission" was held in the Church, at which James N. Mason, Esq., was appointed chairman and Richard F. Lyon, secretary. Prof. Francois Turner stated that the subscriptions of individual members of Trinity Church had now expired, making some other arrangement necessary; and that the meeting had been called to consider the subject of organizing a new parish. The Rev. Joseph Brewster said that such action would be a fulfillment of the design of the foundation of the mission; whereupon a committee consisting of Mr. William H. Ellis, Mr. William Townsend, Prof. Francois Turner, Mr. Richard F. Lyon, and Gen. Nicholas S. Hallenbeck was appointed to inquire respecting the propriety and expediency of forming a new parish, and to report the result at an adjourned meeting to be held on Easter Day at the conclusion of the afternoon service, March 23, 1856.

At that time the committee made the following report: "It is proper and expedient to organize a new parish, and would recommend that application be made at the annual meeting of Trinity Parish to dissolve the connexion, if any now legally exists, between this Church and Trinity Church."

[22] There was found no legal clause nor any other impediment to the formation of a new parish; so accordingly on March 31, 1856, a meeting was held of individuals who had been attending the mission, and twelve persons signed The Articles of Association, thus constituting the Society of Christ Church Parish. [Appendix B] Then followed also the assent of the Bishops of the Diocese, Rectors of Churches in the city and additional names to the Articles of Association.

The parish being now completely organized, and the congregation having reached the capacity of the present building, it was quite evident that, if the church were to grow and become self-supporting, it would have to have more space. The Broadway Hotel property, the site of the present Church, was at once decided upon as an ideal location for a Church, and it was secured in trust by the contributions of $85o, which was raised within the parish; $740, which came from outside; and by the very liberal advance of a parishioner of St. Thomas' Church, Alfred Todd, Esq.

The property consisted of a large hotel building, a dwelling house on Broadway, and a good-sized barn. It was felt that these buildings could be rented, thus providing for taxes, interest, etc.; and, as the property was for sale, it was decided to buy it, if possible, for a sum not exceeding $ 6,000. Mr. Birdseye Lake was appointed to investigate the matter, and later he reported that he had secured the property at the price named and was holding a bond in his own name. This required the payment of $2,500 within four months from its date, and, upon complying with these conditions, the Parish would be entitled to a deed of the [22/23] property. Messrs. Phillips, Lake, and Lyon were appointed a committee to raise this money; and on the 10th of December, 1856, they reported that they had accomplished their object, and the property was deeded to Gardner Morse, Esq., Trustee for the Parish. The deed of trust was drawn with great care so that the property could never be diverted from the purpose for which it was purchased.

At a meeting of the Wardens and Vestry on April 8th of the same year, resolutions were passed on the death of William H. Ellis, Esq., (the grandfather of Mrs. Weaver), whose constant attendance at Christ Church, and whose deep interest in our enterprise was always manifested by word and deed. He had fully identified himself with the new parish, and from his devotion to the Episcopal Church, long experience and sound judgment we had hoped to have derived valuable counsel for many years in our new organization.

Mr. Brewster had given himself freely and unsparingly to the work of building up the parish, and on account of continued ill health he now, December 12, 1856, tendered his resignation, but was urgently requested to withdraw it.

Again, in April, 1857, he wished to resign, but was persuaded not to, and instead leave of absence was given him for as long as he might think necessary. The Rev. Alfred L. Brewer, Assistant Minister of the parish, was placed in charge for the year ending Easter, 1858, but later, through illness, he was obliged to relinquish this charge.

On October 22, 1857, a communication was received from the Rector pressing finally and peremptorily his resignation in consequence of continued ill health. This [23/24] was accepted and a committee appointed to secure a successor, but, before this was accomplished, Mr. Brewster's health was so greatly restored that when Mr. Brewer was obliged to relinquish the work, Mr. Brewster, at the solicitation of the committee, consented to take temporary charge of the parish again. Later, finding his health happily normal and his interest in the parish undiminished, he was reelected Rector; and at the same meeting it was resolved that the receipts from collections and subscriptions, after deducting all necessary expenses for the Church, were to be appropriated to him. A committee was also appointed to secure an organist at a salary not exceeding $50 a year.

In this first little church the choir was placed upon a platform behind the congregation, where they could not be seen by them; and the instrumental music was drawn from an old-fashioned melodeon which had appropriately been referred to as "bumble bee nests."

At a meeting of Wardens and Vestrymen in July, 1858, the Rector spoke of the present crowded state of the Chapel and the great need of increased accommodations, and suggested that steps be taken to secure a larger Church edifice as soon as possible. A committee was appointed to procure plans for a Church building suited to the wants and circumstances of the parish. The first plan drawn by Mr. Henry Austin was to be of stone in the old English style. This was approved by the vestry, but on further consideration was found too costly. Several other plans were then offered; one for a small building on the rear of the lot, but the one finally adopted was for a wooden building covering the Church lot and incorporating the first Mission Chapel. A new nave was built; the nave of the Chapel was [24/25] divided to form transepts; and the Chancel unaltered became the chancel of the new Church. The builder was George Augur.

By the Feast of the Epiphany, 1859, a considerable amount had been pledged. This festival was the fifth anniversary of the founding of the mission and was made a day of congratulation and rejoicing. Bishop Williams presided at the service and the Rector's sermon was a memorable one, not only as an historical review but also as an expression of his own high purposes and of his belief in the "strength that comes only from resistance."

He said in part: "It is a great truth of history that the seeds of all the good the world enjoys have been sown and cultivated under reproach. So it was scarcely to be expected that this Christian enterprise, in its humble beginnings, should escape the scorn and incredulity which lead, here to opposition and there to indifference and neglect . . . The discouragements and disappointments of those early days I find it now hard to realize, but it is God's appointment to make men feel their dependence one on another, and it was my first care to persuade people that a Free Church did not necessarily imply inferiority or dependence. Neither was it a church for the poor exclusively, nor a mere personal convenience for such as would avoid a proper share of pecuniary responsibility; but a Church which, recognizing no human ownership, no worldly distinctions, and depending on no worldly motives of pride and fashion for its revenue, gives equal privileges to all—makes the poor as well as the rich, the stranger as well as the home-born, equally welcome, whether he give much, or little, or nothing,—and relies for maintenance on the [25/26] Divine Law of Giving, not spasmodically, ‘grudgingly, or of necessity,' but cheerfully, systematically, and in proportion to ability.

"From the day when the poorest saw how they could receive the proffered benefit without surrender of their independence, and the richest without soiling their respectability, our advance has been steady . . . There has been raised within the parish the sum of $2,628, exclusive of the sums collected toward the purchase of the church lot, and this from a Church with 28 free benches, seating only 196 persons, young and old . . . The growing infidelity and religious indifference to be found in our large cities is attributed in great measure to the fact that such a vast proportion of the population is unable from the proceeds of daily toil to buy or rent the sittings of our expensive churches . . . We stand at present committed to a great, yet comparatively novel, principle . . . Let our pure lives, our Christian activities, our beautiful charity, be an irresistible evidence to the world of our worth and use, an evidence that none shall despise . . . Expect difficulties, then they will not discourage you." He closed with the words chosen for a parish motto at the organization of the parish: "Be of good courage, and let us play the men for our people, and for the cities of our God; and the Lord do that which seemeth Him good." (2 Sam. 10:12).

The Misses Edwards, happy over the effort this young parochial organization had made to carry out their plans, and gratified with the struggle won to give the Gospel free, offered a second gift of $1,500, asking only that the new Church for which it was contributed should be open for Morning and Evening Prayer on [26/27] Wednesdays and Fridays throughout the year and for daily services as soon as practicable. These conditions were gladly accepted, being in accord, with all that the Rector, Wardens, and Vestrymen were anxious to see accomplished. This was followed by a gift of $1,000 given by Mr. James Brewster in recognition of the faithful and effective work of his son, the Rector.

At the Annual Parish Meeting on Easter Monday, 1859, the vestry reported that they believed that the cost of the proposed Church would not greatly exceed $5,000. They reported also that they had secured subscriptions to the amount of $ 8,000, including the lot on which the present Church stood, which they had been assured would be given by Trinity Parish. The buildings on the Church lot were sold for $ 808.50 and were removed by the first of June, 1859.

The last service in the Chapel was held August 14th, and the Rector preached both at the morning and afternoon services. He was assisted by the Rev. Dr. N. S. Richardson and the Rev. Henry Edwards, the latter a brother of the Misses Edwards. The sermons were peculiarly appropriate to the occasion; our past success was alluded to as full encouragement to perseverance and an earnest for the future. The Rector finished by saying: "We must not be discouraged if full success does not come as speedily as we wish. He is most courageous who can work and wait. We must expect and be prepared to meet discouragements, but if we still work on in faith, the blessing will surely come." The offering, amounting to $35.71, was given toward the building fund.

Project Canterbury