In 1868, just after the Civil War, the parish of Holy Trinity was incorporated. The first church was located in Harlem on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 125th Street. At that time the Church, both in England and America, was locked in a debate over whether Sunday worship should be “Low” or “High” church. Low church Anglicans sought simplicity and wanted to distance themselves from Roman Catholicism. Elaborate vestments, incense, bells, etc. were felt to be superfluous. High church advocates preferred the symbolism of the rites and rituals of Roman tradition. For more than a dozen years, the congregation flourished in Harlem as a “Low” Anglican parish. (The current congregation would generally call itself “Broad” church, embodying the best of both the “Low” and “High” traditions.)
In 1880, the church was destroyed by fire – but not the heart of the parish. The land on 125th Street was sold and a new church built on the corner of Lenox Avenue and 122nd Street. Though the parish was still “Low” church, the building was given an elaborate edifice. Unfortunately, another fire gutted the interior in 1925. The Vestry of Holy Trinity thought briefly of closing the church and selling the property, an idea vetoed by the rector and opposed by the bishop. Instead, the parish took advantage of the opportunity afforded by the fire to sell and relocate further uptown.
In 1927, Holy Trinity agreed to merge with The Mission of the Redeemer in the Inwood neighborhood of northern Manhattan at Seaman Avenue and Isham Street. The simple wood frame chapel stood where the tennis courts of Inwood Hill Park are now located. New land was purchased on the corner of Cumming Street and Seaman Avenue, one block from Dyckman (200th Street) and Broadway. Architect John Russell Pope was engaged to design a new building but in October 1929, the stock market crashed. Plans were amended and only a makeshift sanctuary and parish house were built. The grand gothic church and rectory envisioned by Pope were never constructed.
In the 1950’s, the parish had an estimated 300 members with events virtually every night of the week. The parish activities filled the lives of people in the neighborhood. The Holy Trinity auditorium was alive with activities from Cub Scouts and the parish basketball team, to Women’s Auxiliary and various fundraisers. As the 1950’s ended, membership declined as did church attendance across the United States. By 1986, this historic parish dwindled to a low of 8 members.
In the years since, a tenacious membership has survived and thrived. In 2016, the Vestry voted to become a mission of the Diocese of New York, a new vicar was appointed, membership and attendance are up, new ministries are starting, and a major renovation of facilities is being planned.
On June 16, 2019, the Rt. Rev. Allen Shin, Bishop Suffragan of the Diocese of New York, celebrated the final Eucharist in our 96-year-old sanctuary and secularized the building. Preparations are now underway for Holy Trinity to worship nearby, while our historic Parish House is redesigned to house our worship space and ministries.
On February 4, 2020 the Episcopal Diocese of New York announced the the sale of the property on which the old sanctuary stood to make way for future residential development. The deal includes the full renovation of Holy Trinity’s historic parish house and drill hall as the parish’s future home.
Last updated: February 14, 2020.