Thursday Doors – First Presbyterian Church Hartford

First Presbyterian Church
First Presbyterian Church

The history surrounding today’s featured church is not unlike that of many of the historic churches whose doors I’ve featured in the past. When you need an impressive door, a church is a good place to go. This church has always caught my eye as I’ve driven by because of the glorious stone work and the details around the doors and windows. The building telegraphs its own history as your eye is drawn past different building materials and different styles, but a sense of strength is conveyed, regardless of your vantage point.

From 1851 until 1868, the congregation moved three times before building this permanent home. I think this is the second church I’ve written about where the congregation began meeting in a saloon. Ironically, they moved from the saloon to the Washington Temperance Hall on Main Street in Hartford. From there, the Presbyterian congregation purchased the what had been the South Baptist Church, about two blocks south of the Temperance Hall. In 1868, they built the chapel portion of the current church.

Also, like several other churches, the Chapel was partially destroyed by fire. Not only did the congregation decide to rebuild, but, in addition to rebuilding the Chapel, they laid the cornerstone of the present church. From the history page on their website:

The building was completed and dedicated May 17, 1870. Designed by Renwick and Sands of New York, the building is of Vermont granite with a trim of Portland brownstone in a blending of Gothic and Romanesque architecture… Although the architect’s plan called for a taller tower topped by a spire, it was built with a sloping roof only slightly higher than the main roof.

The next bit of history mentioned on the website sent me off on a tangent. They mention a struggle between a desire to remain a Presbyterian Church or whether to give control to the Ecclesiastical Society, which governed financial affairs at that time.

I’ve seen Ecclesiastical Societies mentioned so many times when I’ve researched churches in Connecticut that I had to know more. I’ll try not to bore you, but this is a remarkably important part of Connecticut history. Keep in mind that Connecticut towns, like most early New England towns, were formed around churches, specifically, Congregational churches. Churches that were not subject to the Church of England (originally) or any other hierarchical religious structure. According to an article in the Hartford Courant:

As soon as they erected crude shelters and cleared land, settlers of the first three towns — Hartford, Windsor and Wethersfield — “set about organizing a way of living together under both Biblical and civil law,” Ellsworth S. Grant wrote in “The Miracle of Connecticut.”

The typical way of organizing was to ask the General Assembly for permission to establish an ecclesiastical society. This allowed the group to manage all religious affairs within its defined geographic area. In a similar fashion, the residents would ask the General Assembly for permission to establish a town, in order to handle the secular activity. Since attending church services was mandatory, travel could become a problem for early residents.

As populations grew and land use expanded, additional ecclesiastical societies had to be formed for practical reasons. I mentioned when I wrote about the Denslow House, that the Town of Windsor Locks was formed partially because the 3-5 mile journey to Windsor’s First Church Congregational was too difficult. One by one, ecclesiastical societies formed, churches were constructed and towns were established. This is how Connecticut, the third smallest state in the United States, ended up with 167 towns!

As the title suggests, today’s congregation decided to remain in the Presbyterian Church. They have struggled and they have grown. Today, the church is an important member of Hartford’s community and they are committed to community outreach as well as providing a place of worship. Please enjoy the photos of their beautiful church.

This post is part of a fun series called Thursday Doors, managed by Norm Frampton. Many of us come together, virtually, each Thursday to share pictures, drawings, history or stories about doors. If you want to join us, hop on over to Norm’s place. Check out his door(s) and click on the Linky thing (blue button). That will lead you to all the doors, and a chance to add yours.


  1. I admit that since I started following Norm’s Doors, my eye seems to be attracted to churches in a way I’ve never experienced before. They rarely fail to deliver … and this one is another fine example.

    I was particularly curious about the scupper. I had no idea what they were, nor do I think I would have even noticed it. Very interesting!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Joanne. I’m not 100% sure about the scupper. Scuppers are usually at the edge of a flat roof. I’m guessing based on the fact that there is flashing along the opening and that they are aligned with the snow barriers. If they give the melt-water a place to go, it would help avoid ice dams, They could also be vents, but they look too open to the weather for that.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. These old, beautiful churches remind me of the churches of Europe and for good reason. In Philadelphia last weekend, I saw many, many eye-catching houses of worship, too many to take photos of if I ever wished to get anything else done. :-) This congregation sounds as though they’re living their beliefs, which is even more important than having a gorgeous church.


    Liked by 1 person

  3. Beautiful door, Dan. I like the contrasts… that there are matching/coordinating windows is even better. I know (though I don’t know if it’s still true) that it became a no-no to match things. But I don’t care, and I couldn’t help myself if I did. I have an automatic response to match things. I get no small amount of grief for being coordinated… So there. I like the matching door and windows. ;)
    Have a thriving Thursday. Hugs.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m with you, Teagan. The little architectural details that get repeated throughout the the building makes it special in my opinion. Especially when you stop and think about how hard it was to recreate those details in the mid-1800s – no computers, no CAD systems, this was all done by hand and brain power. Thanks, and have a wonderful Thursday too.


  4. Another impressive building, Dan. Not just the doors, but the windows and walls — it all suggests solidity and permanence. A couple of stray thoughts: 1) Did they ever stop having fires years ago? The fact that fires are relatively rare now is obviously a great boon. 2) Everything’s “first”. How about a “second” or “third”? Heck, I might call my building the 362nd national whatever just to mess with people. Good post!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Paul. I had a twitter friend who worked with the Fourth Bank in Cincinnati, OH. The church I belonged to in Pittsburgh was part of a group that included Pittsburgh First, Second and Third. But, your right, you hardly ever see them now.

      As for fires, I’d like to dig into a bit, but I’m guessing it’s related to the fact that there were unattended boilers. I know tow of the churches I wrote about had “boiler fires” in their history. Maybe its why Hartford Steam Boiler Insurance also formed here about that time. They are celebrating 150 years in business today!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Norm. I knew the early towns built up around a church, but I also read about the societies being in charge of education, something that eventually moved to the non-secular portion of government.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Wow, that window in the original chapel is spectacular. This is a beautiful church you’ve highlighted today, Dan. I really enjoyed the history you included along with this one. With the way things are these days, it’s hard to even imagine towns being built around churches, but I have to admit, it gives me a warm feeling to be reminded that it was like that at one time. I think we all owe a lot to those little churches and the people who attended them. Even if most people seem to have forgotten that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Wendy. It often seems that people want religious freedom for their particular religion, but are less tolerant of others. These people worked hard, fought and many died to establish the freedom we enjoy, and they also built their lives around a religious foothold. Maybe we’ve forgotten too much.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Beautiful church! What a stunning facade! Like you, I appreciate the way the old chapel is integrated with the ‘newer’ construction. Truth be told, I like the old part best :) Great doors!
    I enjoy the learning. Although churches as the center of civic life do frighten me a bit, I can see how that was realistic at the time.
    Scupper, eh? Sounds like a good thing, perhaps too often overlooked nowadays.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks. I do like the old building a lot, but stone usually wins out of brick for me. Still, I give them credit. Today, builders would knock the brick part down and start over. Church at the center of a town is scary, but a moral anchor for a community is a nice idea, even if there are multiple anchors in the same community (which this was). I can imagine the pressure to join the Congregational Church. I’m not sure when the last Ecclesiastical societies dropped out of power around here. Subject for future research I guess. I think little by little their power was ceded to the Town side of the equation.

      I’m still trying to confirm the scupper, but I’m 95% certain that that’s what it is.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I can’t say enough how much I love old churches and the building materials they used. I especially love the windows…always beautiful. Thanks for the history of why Connecticut has so many towns for such a small state. Very interesting. I chuckled at the church first meeting in a saloon. I find it interesting how churches start up and where their first meeting takes place. I’ve been to two churches now that spent time in a dance studio, but haven’t come across any that meets at the bar.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Mary. Last week I wrote about the mail being delivered to the bar. This week, the Sunday sermon. I mean, you have to meet somewhere :) But, you’re right, the material and effort that went onto these buildings is impressive.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Jan. If you couldn’t get to church, you built a new town and a new church. It’s amazing to think about such small distances as being such big obstacles. The 167 might have to get reduced at some point. With the exception of some consolidated districts, that translates to 167 Police, fire, school, ambulance, public works, etc, etc.


  8. The architecture is wonderful. It looks quite impressive. I really like the glow of the morning sun shining inside the church, and I had no idea about scuppers? The history was quite interesting. I had no idea that’s why so many churches were built there.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Deborah. I’ve always wondered why we had so many towns. I’m guessing on the scuppers but it makes sense for now. Normally, you wouldn’t see them on a pitched roof. The church is very pretty. It’s on a busy street with limited and harshly enforced parking so early worked for getting photos, but the sun was fighting with me.


  9. The church, doors, and ironwork are all amazing. However, the arches with the various colored stones is what grabs me. A nice cold beer, and you and I could have a meaningful discussion on how they did that and what the materials were they used. I love the first photo and all the beautiful stonework above the door. Wow. :-)

    Liked by 1 person

  10. This is a beautiful First Presbyterian Church, Dan. The spectacular details in the front door with its surrounding brick work, the pretty, welcoming flower pot and lovely wire gate covering the side door were appreciated.
    Last Thursday, we worked ten hours, the heat in building made me go home, pack to leave for Mom’s (after work on Friday) take all out to parking lot to stuff into car, shower and eat dinner, Dan. So sorry, missed several great posts! Hopefully, my week’s vacation will include “catch up” periods while Mom naps. . . :)

    Liked by 1 person

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