At almost 250 years old, St. Paul’s Chapel has seen and survived it all: the American Revolutionary War, the Great Fire of New York (1776), George Washington’s Inauguration, and 9/11. The Chapel is the oldest surviving church in Manhattan and the oldest public building in continuous use in New York City.
After Trinity Church was destroyed by fire in 1776, St. Paul’s became the center of worship in the small city. President George Washington worshipped at the church during the two years that New York served as the nation’s capital, including his Inauguration Day in 1789. George Washington’s original pew can be seen in the chapel, with the original rendition of the seal of the United States hanging above it. The church’s interior is mostly unchanged from the early 18th century, with the glass chandeliers dating back to 1802 and the organ dating back to 1804.
The church played an important role yet again in the city over two centuries later on September 11, 2001. After the Twin Towers–which stood just across the street from the Chapel–were hit, St. Paul’s served as a refuge for the victims of the attack. Doctors and volunteers gathered in the church to provide medical attention to the hurt and also handed out food and water. After the attack, the chapel became a makeshift memorial for those lost.
Miraculously, the church was unscathed, with not even a broken window. Only the organ experienced problems, with its pipes having been damaged by the smoke and fire in the air. It was soon refurbished and is now working again. What ultimately saved the church was the huge sycamore tree that stood in front of it. The tree’s massive branches caught all of the falling debris that may have destroyed the structure. The tree is no longer standing, but a bright red cast of its twisting roots sit outside of Trinity Church.
St. Paul’s Chapel has been a city landmark since 1960.