Trinity Parish, Seattle's first Episcopal parish, is established on August 13, 1865.

  • By Greg Lange
  • Posted 11/04/1998
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 185

On August 13, 1865, a lay vestry organizes Trinity Parish, Seattle's first Episcopal parish, which builds its first church at 3rd Avenue and Jefferson Street in 1870. It was destroyed in Seattle's Great Fire of 1889. A new church was constructed at 609 8th Avenue in 1891, but destroyed by fire a decade later. The present structure was erected in 1902 and was designated a historic landmark in 1976. The building sustained heavy damage in the 2001 Nisqually earthquake. Within the next few years it was completely restored and earthquake-retrofitted. The church opened for its first service in the restored sanctuary on Christmas Eve, 2005. Trinity Parish is one of Seattle's oldest continuously operating religious congregations, and its church is the oldest church structure in Seattle.

First Churches Consumed by Fire

The first Episcopal service in Seattle was conducted at the Methodist Episcopal "White Church" on July 14, 1855, but a parish was not established for another decade. The lay vestry for Trinity Parish organized on August 13, 1865. It built a small church at 3rd Avenue and Jefferson Street in 1870 and consecrated on June 11, 1871. The Diocese of Olympia assigned Rev. R. W. Summers and then Rev. Charles R. Bonnell to serve the "mission" parish until 1878, when the vestry then "called" its first permanent Rector, George Herbert Watson.

In 1885, the Parish organized Grace Hospital at the corner of 8th Avenue and James Street. The clinic opened in 1887 and gave Protestants an alternative to the Sisters of Providence Hospital, which opened at 5th Avenue and Madison in 1878 and was expanded in 1882. Grace did not survive beyond 1894.

The church was destroyed in the Great Fire on June 6, 1889, and the parish relocated to 609 8th Avenue on the western slope of First Hill (next to Grace Hospital). The second Trinity Parish Church was designed by Henry F. Starbuck (1860-1935) of Chicago and opened on June 5, 1892. It was severely damaged by fire on January 20, 1902. A young John Graham Sr. (1873-1955) secured the contract to design an expanded structure modeled on traditional English stone churches.

Japanese American Mission

Trinity Parish opened its new church on January 20, 1903, and maintained an active ministry to all classes in downtown Seattle. Its second Rector, Fr. Herbert Gowen, also launched an innovative mission (now St. Peter's Parish) to serve Seattle's growing Japanese American community.

Trinity Parish made national headlines on March 27, 1909, when Gowen officiated the then controversial "mixed-race marriage" between Gunjiro Aoki and Gladys Emery (daughter of the Archdeacon of the Episcopal Diocese in California). At the time, such bonds were illegal in California and Oregon, but not in Washington. Fr. Gowen retired in 1914 and was succeeded by Fr. William H. Bliss, who remained Rector until his death in 1924.

Serving the Downtown Community

A Parish House (also designed by John Graham Sr.) was added in 1930, and its Rector at the time, Fr. Stanley Mook, pursued an aggressive urban ministry during the Depression, but his financial management disturbed the Vestry. Fr. Mook sued when it demanded his resignation, leading to a nasty public spat that was finally settled by his reassignment to Vancouver in 1934. He was succeeded at Trinity by Fr. Lewis J. Bailey.

Trinity Parish became the "mother church" for regional Episcopalians when lenders foreclosed on St. Mark's Cathedral in 1940. The Diocese settled its debts in 1944 and took possession of St. Mark's from the U.S. Army, which had been using it during World War II.

Trinity expanded and diversified its downtown ministry under Rectors John P. Craine, John R. Wyatt, and especially Paul E. Langpaap, who led the congregation for a quarter of a century between 1957 and 1982. Following World War II, the Parish accumulated substantial property through purchases and gifts, including the dilapidated Darrell Hotel, which it converted into a halfway house. During the 1960s, portions of these holdings were sold for construction of Interstate 5 and Jefferson House senior housing complex.

A Landmark Ministry

The Parish was a leader in the response of the Church Council of Greater Seattle to the "Boeing Bust" of the 1970s, and was a major supporter of the "Neighbors in Need" food bank program. It maintained this tradition by housing the headquarters of Northwest Harvest and other social outreach efforts.

Like many urban parishes, the congregation began to shrink in the 1960s, declining steeply from a peak of about 650 communicants. Trinity did not lessen its urban ministry, however, under the leadership of Fr. Allan Parker and current Rector Paul Collins.

Trinity Parish Church was designated as a city landmark on December 20, 1976.

Earthquake and Aftermath

Twenty-five years later, on February 28, 2001, severe damage sustained during the Nisqually Earthquake rendered the building unusable. The church launched a campaign to raise funds to restore it, with 98 percent of the 350-member parish pledging a total of $2.6 million for the building fund. Added to this was another $700,000 donated by the larger Episcopal world, and a $2.2 million FEMA grant.

Trinity engaged the Seattle-based Bassetti Architects to help plan the restoration and RAFN Company construction contractors to implement the design. Within four years the church was rebuilt, fully restored, and earthquake-retrofitted, at a total cost of $7 million. The congregation celebrated its first service in the restored church on Christmas Eve, 2005, and the building was rededicated on February 11, 2006.


Sources:

Mark Gralia, Trinity Parish Church, Seattle: The First One Hundred Years (Seattle: Trinity Parish, 1984); Mark Gralia, Twenty-Five Years after the First One Hundred Years (Seattle: Trinity Parish, 1990); Shaping Seattle Architecture, A Historical Guide to the Architects ed. by Jeffrey Ochsner (Seattle: UW Press, 1994), 90, 322, 337; J[ames] Willis Sayre, This City of Ours (Seattle: J. W. Sayre, 1936), 59; Walt Crowley, National Trust Guide: Seattle (New York: Wiley & Sons, 1998), 135-136; Heather MacIntosh, "Repairing, Retrofitting and Restoring Trinity Episcopal Parish Church," Preservation Seattle, July 2002 (http://www.historicseattle.org/preservationseattle/ techniques/defaultjuly.htm); Christine Palmer, "Rehabilitation Of Trinity Parish Episcopal Church," Ibid., (http://www.historicseattle.org/preservationseattle/ techniques/defaultfebruary4.htm); "About Trinity Parish," Trinity Parish Church website accessed April 17, 2006 (http://www.trinityseattle.org/about.html); "Trinity Parish Church," National Park Service website accessed April 4, 2017 (https://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/seattle/s20.htm).
Note: This essay was updated and corrected on February 16, 2003, updated on April 17, 2006, and corrected on November 9, 2006, and April 4, 2017.


Related Topics:   Buildings | Landmarks | Religion

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