A Place of Restoration

Note: “A Place of Restoration,” is a reference not only to Old Trinity’s unique architectural history, but also to the spiritual restoration that many experience here. For more information, see Our Mission.

“Old Trinity” has had a worshipping congregation through nearly three and a half centuries of political and ecclesiastical change. The building was built in the 17th century by English settlers to match the then “new style” that emphasized both the preached word and the sacraments simply celebrated.

A three-tiered (“triple-decker”) high pulpit stood prominently along the church’s north wall surrounded on three sides by as many as 20 box pews. The first or bottom tier, called the “clerk’s desk,” was reserved for the “parish clerk,” responsible for recording attendance, keeping order, and announcing items of local interest to the congregation. Lessons and prayers were read from the second tier, or “reader’s desk,” using the Authorized Version or “King James Bible” (1611) and the Book of Common Prayer (1662). The third tier, or “preacher’s desk,” with overhead sounding board, was reserved for clergy. Within the half-circle apse (reputed as the first constructed in the new colonies) stood a simple “Communion Table” upon which ministers would consecrate and administer the elements of bread and wine.

Early Modifications & Restoration Efforts

There were times when the building was in danger of falling into ruin. But periodically throughout its history, small groups of interested folk would come together to see to its restoration and refurbishment, keeping the church alive and ensuring that its graveyard and cemetery remained a much-loved regional burial ground.

The first modification made to the “Church in Dorchester Parish” occurred circa 1745 when a transept was added to its south side. At the same time a “gallery” or loft was added above the west door of the church, but this was taken down about a century later as it was determined to be “no longer used or fit for use.” The south transept probably served as both a vesting area for clergy and a meeting room for the church wardens and “vestry” (the parish’s governing body). This transept would eventually be removed during the Chrysler-Garbisch Restoration (1953-1960) because it was deemed “not original” to the building. Its bricks were then used to construct the present-day Vesting House, a small colonial-style building located a short distance from the church along the shoreline.

By the mid-19th century, the church was already considered quite ancient, and in need of significant repair. Dr. Thomas King Carroll, Jr., a local physician, took on the task of raising the needed funds. Soon after, the church was remodeled to conform to the neo-Gothic style popular in that day. The windows were made smaller and given pointed arches, while those behind the altar and over the west entrance were completely bricked over. The original box pews and three-tiered pulpit, long since succumbed to dry-rot, were removed and replaced with bench pews, and a new pulpit and lectern were constructed and placed across from each other in “split-chancel” style in front of the altar. In 1853, “The Old Church,” as it was called, was consecrated as “Trinity Church,” and locally called “Old Trinity” ever since.

By the early 20th century the church was in danger of falling into ruin again. This time the north brick wall (facing the shoreline) was beginning to buckle from the weight of the roof and the sinking ground beneath. Eventually funds were secured to remedy the situation. To shore up the wall a series of brick buttresses was erected against it to prevent further buckling. These buttresses were later removed during the Chrysler-Garbisch restoration.

Behind the apse is buried Bishop William McClelland, who as Rector in 1928, established the “Old Trinity Church Association” (a.k.a. The Friends of Old Trinity Church), and the first of several endowments to provide for the care and maintenance of the Church and grounds.

The Chrysler-Garbisch Restoration (1953-1960)

Through the good offices of U.S. Senator George Radcliffe, Col. Edgar W. Garbish and his wife Bernice Chrysler Garbish became interested in Old Trinity. From 1953 to 1960 they restored the building to a 17th Century ideal as a memorial to Mrs. Garbish’s parents, Walter Percy Chrysler and Della Viola Chrysler.

The wooden flooring and other 19th Century furniture were removed. The original floor tiles were discovered under the floor and reset. Because the walls were in very bad repair a steel frame was put in place, but the original bricks were replaced with traditional burnt oyster shell mortar. The closed-off windows were discovered and all were replaced with double casements and handmade green-hued leaded glass panes in a diamond shape that were contemporary with the 17th Century.

Fifteen 17th Century style boxed pews and the High pulpit on the north side of the church were built from 17th and 18th century heart of pine wood discovered in old barns in Maryland and Pennsylvania. The hinges and all the iron work is hand made. Once again, a three-tiered pulpit overlooks the main area of the church, while a leather-bound “Authorized Version” or King James Bible (1611) lies open on its reader’s desk.

Today the main body of the church is 38 feet long and 20 feet wide. The church has excellent acoustics which enhance congregational singing. The half-circle apse encompassing the chancel has a radius of six feet and is of particularly fine craftsmanship. Here the original black walnut altar-table, purported to be a gift from “Queen Anne’s Bounty Fund,” stands once again. The royal arms of Queen Anne (r. 1702-1714) look down from the loft where a small English-built Walker pipe organ (added in 1990) now resides. A “Table of Kindred and Affinity” is posted near the main door, in compliance with a 1696 Maryland statute that has never been revoked. Among the remaining original features are a Jacobean-era chancel chair, a number of wall sconces, a lantern, and the original floor tiles. An 18th century English brass chandelier (gifted by the Garbisches) now hangs from the ceiling.