The Great Buildings: Trinity Episcopal Church

As curator of the Greater Shamokin Heritage Museum, I am excited to announce a new series of articles focusing on the historic architecture of Shamokin and its environs. The Great Buildings series will focus primarily on extant examples, giving you the reader a chance to accompany me virtually as I explore these unique buildings and, of course, learn something of their history along the way.

Introducing the Great Buildings of Shamokin is Trinity Episcopal Church, the landmark Lincoln Street Tudor Revival. Some of you may recall the church having been recently in danger of demolition after the Episcopal congregation relocated to Mount Carmel. It has recently been revealed that the church building has been purchased by a private party and thankfully is saved from demolition. For more information, see this article in the Daily Item. The new owners plan to convert the chapel space into a coffee shop.

The images in this article were taken in the fall of 2018 (with exceptions as noted) and therefore show the church exactly as it was after the congregation vacated.

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Construction of Trinity Church was completed in 1891. A rare clipping, found among the church records, shows the architect’s concept of the church prior to its completion. Some variation from the finished product is evident; namely the open-air vestibule and large round window on the east side, which in fact was about half the size, as seen in the following photo postcard from the early 1900s. According to the inscription on the drawing, the architect was Samuel Milligan of Philadelphia, and a Pottsville paper names R. K. Ingam as the builder.

Postcard - Trinity Church - LR
Photo postcard, circa 1900s/1910s. Note the three windows on the north side–two are memorial windows; the third is the original diamond pane glass, still in place prior to the installation of the Lorenz memorial window.

The rectory/parish hall immediately adjacent to the chapel is a later addition to the structure. A photo in Larry Deklinski’s collection shows the old parish hall (also visible in the background of the photo postcard).

The Herald of July 4, 1890 describes the early plans for the church’s construction. At that time, the project was expected to cost $10,000. The article contains a detailed description of the features of the proposed edifice, interior and exterior. Some of these early details can easily be identified with the current structure; others may have been modified in the construction phase.

It will stand east and west on the site, with a double gable on Washington street and a single gable at the opposite end. The entrance will be through a gothic porch 18 feet high and 15 feet in width, on Liberty street near the western end. … The side walls will be 11 feet of rugged mountain stone surrounded by a slate roof the apex of which will be 38 1/2 feet above the floor. The gable elevation will be about 39 feet, of stone, pierced for a chancel window, circular in form, 9 1/2 feet in diameter. At the northeast corner of the building will be a tower, of stone…with a turret 3 feet high. The base of the tower will be occupied by a pipe organ. On the opposite side will be the robing room with the chancel between them. The roof will be pierced for four…windows, for ventilating purposes. The interior of the church will be finished in yellow pine, with an open vaulted ceiling, yellow pine wainscoting up to the windows, with interspaces between the latter filled in with plaster of a mellow buff color. The seating capacity will be 300, with a centre aisle four and a half feet in width and small side aisles. It is expected the church will be completed during the present year.

Shamokin Herald, Friday, July 4, 1890, p. 6, col. 4

Entering the main doors brings you to a small enclosed vestibule. Since the architect’s sketch shows an open-air vestibule, it is difficult to say whether that design was ever implemented or if the closed vestibule is original to the building. If not original, it would appear to be a very early addition as it is already present in the postcard from the turn of the century.

From another set of double doors (which are mid-century replacements) we enter the chapel. This beautiful space is surmounted by a wooden vaulted ceiling with dormer windows. The imposing height of this ceiling is difficult to capture in pictures. As the chapel spans the width of the church proper, stained glass windows can be found on all four walls. The north wall consists of three memorial windows, and one of the south windows was also a memorial but was removed by the family last year.

Some original or nearly original features of the chapel include the wood-and-brass lectern dedicated in 1891 in memory of Lydia A. Mensing, and the brass altar rail inscribed with the names of two parishioners, Mrs. Charles P. Helfenstein and Mrs. John P. Helfenstein.

Of all the stained glass in Trinity, the most prominent is the memorial window at the eastern end of the chapel, above the altar. In accordance with a provision in the will of Sarah W. Kulp, this window was installed after her death in 1931 and dedicated in memory of herself and her late husband, Monroe H. Kulp. “Farmer” Kulp, as he was popularly called, is best known as the founder of Kulpmont. He also served two terms in the U.S. Congress and presided over one of the largest prop timber operations of central Pennsylvania, the Kulp Lumber Company. After his death, his widow continued most of his business interests, including carrying on the real estate development of Edgewood, Fairview and Kulpmont, and serving as president of the Shamokin & Edgewood Electric Railway.

The memorial window, dedicated on December 20, 1931, depicts the angel and the Three Marys at the tomb of Christ after the Resurrection. A new oak altar and reredos were added at the same time, dedicated to the memory of Rev. F. M. C. Bedell and Lizzie Shinn, respectively, and all three were consecrated in the service presided over by Bishop Myatt Brown.

IMG_0724

The Kulps’ wedding also took place here on June 8, 1897. The following is a clipping from the Harrisburg Telegraph, describing the ceremony in detail.

Harrisburg_Telegraph_Wed__Jun_9__1897_p1col4

Leaving the chapel, a passageway connects to the parish hall. It’s remarkable that this section of the building was only added in 1927 on the site of the original parish hall. The design of this structure, inside and out, blends flawlessly with the original church and in no way suffers from the artificial look of most modern-day renovations. Local newspapers recount that the builders specifically took pains to match the stone used in the original building. Their efforts were rewarded when William Taby, a former sheriff of Northumberland County, located an identical cache of stone from the mountain near Trevorton, said to be a perfect match. Under a contract with the Raup Lumber Company, construction began in the fall of 1927.

The second floor is occupied by the parish office and the rector’s apartments. Originally, part of this space was a stage where ladies of the parish would present plays for the community, but nothing remains except some of the backstage trappings of the scenery/curtain system preserved in what is now a closet (not pictured).

No history of Trinity Episcopal is complete without mention of the events of 1977. The small-town church gained nationwide attention that spring when an image of the face of Christ was said to have appeared on the tabernacle veil. The apparition, or as it would be simply known, “the Image,” was witnessed by members of the Reigle family during a service, and news of what many believed to be a miracle was famously announced by their nine-year-old daughter Iris as she summoned her grandmother to the scene: “Grandmam, grandmam, hurry–come see God!”

Iris’ words would soon be heard around the nation. Between 1977 and 1985 an estimated 110,000-123,000 people from at least 47 states and 37 countries came to see the Image. A photo in Larry Deklinski’s collection shows the lines of worshippers waiting to enter the church.

Today, Trinity Episcopal–deconsecrated last year after the few remaining members merged with the Episcopal parish in Mount Carmel–is no longer a church, but its rooms resound with a century of history and memories. Preserving the past not only figuratively in every space, but also literally in every remaining item which bears the name of a long-gone parishioner, the building stands and should ever continue to stand as a memorial to each person who worshipped here–to whom Trinity was not only a building, but a spiritual home.

The altar from the former Kulp Memorial Church in Kulpmont, brought to Trinity many years ago after the Kulp church’s closure. Picture taken June 2019.

 

3 thoughts on “The Great Buildings: Trinity Episcopal Church

  1. Slight correction there, the altar from Kulp Memorial was brought down from Mt. Carmel two hears ago it sat up there for many years.

    • Thanks, Chris. I did not know that. I think you will be pleased to hear that the altar will be properly cared for as part of a Kulp history exhibit within the Heritage Museum in the near future.
      Also, the next article in this series will be on the Kulp church, which I have arrangements to visit hopefully sometime this week.

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