Forty-one years after the American Revolution, the General Convention of the Espicopal Church established a "general seminary" to be built in New York.
A year later, in 1818 Clement Clark Moore, best remembered for his "A Visit from Saint Nicolas," donated 66 tracts of land from his estate in Chelsea, which equaled a full city block -- the area from 9th Avenue to 10th Avenue and 20th Street to 21st. Three years later Trinity parishioner Jacob Sherred left a princely endowment of $70,000 to help with the cause.
|Valentine's Manual, in 1863, published a lithograph of the early seminary -- NYPL Collection|
In 1826 the first building, a stone Gothic Revival structure, opened in what came to be known as Chelsea Square. By 1836 a second building was completed, nearly identical to the first. Seminarians studied in a rural, idyllic setting.
By the 1870's however the northern-bound city was encroaching on Chelsea. Students were exposed to the temptations and worldliness of the theatre and commercial districts that grew ever nearer. Financial troubles plagued the school, as well.
But when the wealthy Eugene Augustus Hoffman took over as Dean in 1879 things changed. Hoffman poured personal money into his plan for the instution. Drawing from the plan of Oxford University he envisioned a central quadrangle flanked on three sides by Gothic Revival buildings. He retained Charles Coolidge Haight to design the complex and what emerged is a rich, connected collection of brick and stone buildings embracing the central lawn in a U shape. The project lasted from 1883 until 1902.
Gables, turrets, oriel windows, and stained glass harmoniously combine into a romantic whole. My favorite time to pass the Seminary is just at dusk, or even better, during a nighttime storm. The brooding Victorian mass rises up against the sky like a page from Emily Bronte.
Haight's centerpiece is the Chapel of the Good Shepard and its English belltower. Over the main doors is an exquisite bronze bas relief and the 15 tubular bells which are tolled daily by the Guild of Chimers is the oldest set still in use in the country.
|The Chapel of the Good Shepard sits back on the lawn behind a sturdy iron fence.|
The original 1827 building on the east end was replaced by an unfortunately incongruous building, Sherrill Hall, designed in 1960 by O'Connor & Kilham. Sherrill Hall was razed and a mixed-use five-story building was erected in 2009 that includes retail and residential space. While the new structure does not pretend to be 19th Century Gothic Revival, it more sympathetically blends in.
non-credited photographs taken by the author