For over three centuries, 109 Greenwich Street has been the site of three different buildings–all with the same name. The first Trinity Church, which was built in 1751, stood on Greenwich Street for only 25 years before it was destroyed in the Great Fire of New York. It was then rebuilt in 1790, and then rebuilt again in 1846 after it was demolished due to snow damage.
The following year, the church commissioned architect Richard Upjohn to design a Gothic stone structure to serve as the parish’s new place of worship. The church’s spire and cross were the highest point (not building) in New York until 1890 when the New York World Building was built.
The Churchyard is the only site at 109 Greenwich Street that has remained unchanged since the 17th century. The oldest headstone in the graveyard is that of five-year-old Richard Churcher who died in 1681, most likely of smallpox. Not only is his headstone the oldest in the churchyard, but it is the oldest headstone in all of New York City. Notice it has engraved details not only on the front but also on its back!
The cemetery is also the resting place of various historical figures such as Alexander Hamilton, a number of Revolutionary War heroes, and some lesser-known signers of the Declaration of Independence.
Also located in the churchyard is the grave of John Peter Zenger, a printer whose 1733 libel court case was responsible for the establishment of freedom of the press. When Zenger began printing articles in The New York Weekly Journal about the political corruption of New York’s then colonial governor, William Cosby, he was thrown in jail for opposing the government. Zenger didn’t deny that he printed the pieces, and neither did his lawyer, Andrew Hamilton. Hamilton asked the jury to prove the publication’s criticisms false saying, “It is not the cause of one poor printer, but the cause of liberty.” The jury returned after only a few minutes of deliberation with the verdict of not guilty. Though Freedom of the Press was not a written liberty until the passage of the First Amendment in 1791, newspapers and other publications felt that they were freer to express their political opinions after Zenger’s trial. This newfound freedom gave way to the publication of political pamphlets that played an important role in the American Revolution.
Trinity Tree Root, the red metal sculpture that now stands outside of the church, was installed in 2005 to commemorate September 11, 2001. When the Twin Towers were hit, a large sycamore tree shielded St. Paul’s Chapel, Trinity’s sister church, from damage. The tree was eventually cut down due to damage from the attack, but its roots and stump remained in front of the church. Artist Steve Tobin was commissioned to excavate the roots and create the sculpture that would stand in front of Trinity. The sculpture is a bronze cast of the roots of the sycamore.
Today, Trinity Church is still an active church. It is also a prominent real estate owner and investor, with its SoHo, Greenwich Village, and TriBeCa properties being among the most valuable in the city.
|1697||First Trinity Church built|
|1776||Trinity Church destroyed in Great Fire|
|1790||Second Trinity Church constructed|
|1839||Trinity Church demolished|
|1846||Current Trinity Church consecrated|
|1976||Trinity Church landmarked|
|2005||Trinity Tree Root is installed|