Boston’s Trinity Church Destroyed by Fire, 1872

October 1, 2015

Trinity Church, located on Summer Street, was built in rough-hewn granite blocks in 1829.  The Gothic-style church, designed by George Watson Brimmer, was erected when the area of Washington, Summer, Milk and Franklin streets was a residential neighborhood, home to Boston’s elite. Architect Charles Bulfinch (architect of the Massachusetts State House and the U.S. Capitol) had designed many of the homes and the layout of the streets in the area.  By the time of the Great Fire, however, Trinity Church was all that remained of the area’s once serene past.  As Boston’s elite moved into newer and larger homes during the 1850s and 1860s, Bulfinch’s designs were leveled to make room for large granite warehouses and factories.

In 1870 the Congregation of Trinity Church, led by Reverend Phillips Brooks, voted to leave the now commercial area and to build a new church in the Back Bay area.  In 1872 land in Copley Square was chosen and architect H.H. Richardson was picked to design the new Trinity Church but just a few months later the Great Fire gutted the existing church.  After the fire all that remained of the old building was the spire, which had to be demolished.  Although plans for a new church were already in the works, Trinity’s congregation was essentially homeless until the new building was completed in 1877.  In the interim, Rev. Brooks conducted church services at the Massachusetts Institute for Technology on Boylston Street in the Back Bay.

Although burial in church crypts had been banned in the City of Boston in the early 1800s, Trinity still had many bodies in the crypts below their Summer Street church.  The Church had bought a lot at Mount Auburn in June of 1872 and planned to remove all bodies from the crypts.  After the fire, the grueling task of transporting the remains from Trinity’s damaged crypts to Mount Auburn began.  A single monument marks the Trinity Church lot at Mount Auburn where more than one hundred are buried.

The Trinity Church Lot is Lot #4194 on Cactus Path.

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Source:  Friends of Mount Auburn Cemetery special publication “November 9th Marks the Anniversary of the Great Boston Fire of 1872,” 2003.

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