Thursday Doors – Mystery Church

Entrance to St. John’s Episcopal Church

Today’s doors belong to either St. John’s Episcopal Church or the Calvary Congregational Methodist Chapel in East Hartford, CT. The latter’s name is on the sign in front of the church, but the former has all the history – none of which says it doesn’t exist. There was an article in the Hartford Courant in 2014 about the building being for sale, but the article hinted that the congregation was hoping to still be able to use the building. Good thing I came for the doors.

I am going to lean heavily on the National Registry of Historic Places (HRHP) nomination form, because 1) it’s extensive and 2) it sent me on a research journey that was quite interesting:

“St. John’s Episcopal Church, East Hartford, is located north of the center of town on the southeast corner of Main Street and Burnside Avenue… there are two structures on the site, the church itself and a hall. A house on the site was demolished in 1970.”

St. John’s Episcopal church lists an address on Main St. The Methodist Chapel, lists an address on Burnside Avenue. This suggests to me that both congregations are still involved with this building. The fact that there was a house on the site, as recently as 1970, gave me hope that I might be able to find a picture of it. I especially wanted a picture after I read this in the nomination form:

“The front portico with handsome entablature, raking cornices, and cornice returns was removed by the Antiquarian and Landmarks Society and continues in possession of the Society. For photograph of the house, see the cover of The Connecticut Antiquarian, XXII (June 1970).”

In searching for that cover, I discovered a wonderful resource for historic books – Resource Books, LLC – which turns out to be located in a neighboring town to the one in which I live. I bought the book, because I wanted to use the photo and because this edition has information on another CT historical site that I hope to visit. Tami, the nice woman who runs Resource Books was kind enough to send me a photograph of Pg. 12 of the book, the page on which the story of the above referenced “front portico” ran. Even more ironic is the fact that the Antiquarian and Landmarks Society, has stored the dismantled portico in the Hatheway House Barn in Suffield, CT – the very same building I am hoping to visit.

“The dominant features of the exterior of the church are the brownstone masonry, the high gabled roof covered with multi-colored slate, the Gothic lancet windows, and the projecting entrance tower at the southwest corner that serves as a porch. The tower, almost free-standing, rises as a truncated pyramid under open belfry, trumpet spire and weathervane finial.”

The other building that remains on the site today is a social hall, that was originally built as a gymnasium. In fact, it was the home of the first indoor basketball court in East Hartford. I mention that in honor of today’s opening round of the NCAA Basketball Tournament. The interesting thing about the social hall is the fact that it’s constructed of precast concrete blocks, that look remarkably like the brownstone used in the church.

Given how well my crude illustration of architectural details at Christ Church Cathedral was received, I have included additional illustrations (in the overstuffed gallery) to accompany this final section from the nomination form:

“There is a heavy, wooden double door in each of the three sides of the entrance tower, … Corner buttresses of the church and the tower flank the west doorway. The sides of the doorway are chamfered and its arch is supported on consoles. A recessed doorway surround, in which the heavy wooden doors are set, also has chamfers that are embellished with a raised quatrefoil and foliate motif. The wooden double doors, shaped at the top to fit the arched opening, have a raised pattern of diagonally crossed chamfered boards. There is a small central triangular opening in the gable above the doorway. The other two doorways are similar. The slated tower rises behind their gables.

The front, or west, elevation toward Main Street, is filled by five tall, narrow windows with lancet arches. They are graduated in height, following the slopes of the gable, with the tallest in the center. A small lancet window is in the gable end above. The lapped brownstone coping of the gable edges leads up to a finial at the peak, while at the eaves level the incised year numerals “18” (to the left) and “67” (to the right) are carved as parts of foliate designs in the footstones.”

So much for my blog posts getting shorter.

I am done, but I want to mention that Thursday Doors is fun weekly blogfest, hosted by noted antiquarian and landmarks guru, Norm Frampton. Each week, Norm gathers photos of doors from around the world and stores them in his virtual barn in Montreal, Canada. If you have a door(s) to contribute or if you just want to see more beautiful doors, visit Norm’s site and click on the blue frog.


  1. Dan, you missed your calling as an historian. I can also envision you as a history professor. I love the old photos of the church. I’m eager to see what you find when you make your trip. Thanks for all the research and details. I love your diagrams. That really helps me understand the various building aspects!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks Cheryl. I love it when I find the story behind these buildings, unless they lead to a mystery. I’ll have to a do a “Asked and Answered” post at some point.

      I’m glad you like the diagrams. I was going to include a pop-quiz in this one. The quatrefoil and foilate motif is a type of “tracing” which is the term I had to look up when I did the diagram for the Cathedral. I like to include them because when I read those descriptions, I figure people would get lost pretty quickly.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. They took such pride in the details! No wonder the buildings a so well loved. The details on the roof, the belfry, the doors . . . beautiful! Cheryl is right: your enthusiasm is that of a historian. Missed calling?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Perhaps, Pam. But I’m filling that gap pretty well. I feel bad, because the congregation could not afford to maintain the building. It’s sad, but I’m not sure the future is bright for this church. I hope it can find a congregation to keep it around.

      I look at these buildings and I’m amazed at the kind of work people were able to do by hand. No tower cranes, no CAD systems, just a lot of hard work and an eye for perfection.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. We don’t normally see bright blue doors on a church, but they look quite handsome on this one. :-) As you were discussing the building’s history, it made me think back to the church I attended as a child, St. Peter’s. There was a series of buildings – church, rectory, school, convent, and a lyceum. The lyceum was a large building that was used for a variety of things including basketball games, dinners, and everything in between. I haven’t seen the name lyceum on a building since that time. :-)

    Liked by 1 person

    • I had to look it up, Judy. Great word. I’ll bet that would make your Scrabble opponent mad. The blue doors are what caught my attention to this church. I was confused from the start thought. The sign said Methodist, but the church is also on the corner of Main St. and Rector St. and I associate ‘Rector’ with Episcopal churches.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Wow! Everything about this building, inside and out, is amazing. I’m one of the people who got lost in the descriptions, so I appreciate your diagrams. It boggles my mind how such incredible intricate details were accomplished all those years ago. Even the tile roof is a work of art! Pride in their craftsmanship lives on in every inch of this structure.

    Love that blue door. Perfect!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Ginger. I was getting lost as the description climbed up that tower. The details in this church are amazing. The details of the doorways are so intricate, and there are three identical entrances in the base of that tower! All done in the 18th century. Imagine, they didn’t even have apps on their phones.


  5. Oh my goodness, Dan, I was taken away by this history lesson! Not only that though, I just viewed your images for a LONG time, amazed by the patterns in the slate roof, the color of the door (blue) …. I LOVE that color blue!, the intricate wood work and brick work, the incredible beauty this church overall presents with. Now that’s a church! Thank you so much in showing that some in this world do take seriously preserving history. Amazing post!!! 👏🏼👏🏼👏🏼

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Amy. I hope they can find a way to keep it maintained. I’d hate to see the church go the way of the Parish House. There’s so much excellent craftsmanship on display here. I am amazed, especially given the period during which this church was built.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. It’s a gorgeous cathedral! I love the blue door, roof, and all the lovely details.
    I think I prefer the outside with the hedge that didn’t hide those gorgeous tall, narrow windows compare to the tall juniper type plants that are there now.

    I appreciated the old images and especially the one of the interior. It’s stunning.

    Great history, and subject this week!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Deborah. I agree about the hedge. I guess that’s a testament to the fact that they don’t have money for maintenance. I am always happy when I can find older images. I had hoped to find an image of the parish house, but it was already gone. At least they mentioned the book, which led me to a great resource for future history projects.

      I always think I like red doors the best, and then I see a blue door.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Just gorgeous! Those blue doors just pop and so does that patterned roof. It would be such a shame if they aren’t able to maintain it.
    Great work on digging up the history and additional info Dan. The structural anatomy diagrams are a great idea as well :-)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Norm. The blue doors caught my eye as I was driving by, I knew I had an entry for Thursday Doors. The history caused me to delay about a week, as I was trying to figure out the Episcopal/Methodist deal. I hope whoever owns it can keep it well maintained. I’m guessing the roof is good for another 100 years.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. That is just fabulous, Dan. And while the door is good, that roof and the bell tower just leave me breathless! I’m going to have to find it on Google streetview and have a virtual wander round it!

    Liked by 1 person

    • 870 main st. East Hartford, ct.

      I’m glad you liked this post. The tower is amazing. I was also very impressed by the social hall. They made a great effort to make it fit with the church’s design.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yep, already visited. Lovely. Is it as small as it looks, though, the church? The tower shape is reminiscent of a windmill.

        The designs inside are amazing too!

        One day… not sure when… I have a photo of building to post on my blog that I think you’ll enjoy. One day… (I need some energy as there’s a lot I want to write about it.)

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Now THIS is a beautiful church. I’m not really a big “blue” person, but honestly, the colour palette of this church is striking, and along with the patterned roof, is reminiscent of the Byzantine art I love so much. The black and white interior images are also wonderful. Dan, more posts like this, please!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Wendy. I’m glad you like this. It’s the blue doors that got my attention. I love it when I can find the history of the design. Sometimes, the people who did the NRHP nominations skim over those details. These guys were all in. I hope someone can keep this building well maintained.


  10. Wow – this one is worth mega bonus points! That roof! I’ve never seen anything like it and it’s GORGEOUS! Plus it has a bell tower … a very handsome one I might add … and those unusual blue doors.
    Did you find this in the area of town you’ve always been meaning to explore but never got around to before now?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Joanne. This is something else I discovered on my new “back way” home. I saw those blue doors and I knew I had to come back. I would have posted earlier, but the confusion between the Methodist/Episcopal ownership send me out for additional research. It took a while to identify that it was (once) St. John’s. Once I found that, I found the other information.

      The roof is unique and the pattern is interesting. I’m amazed that such an intricate pattern, across multiple roofs, could be managed so well all by hand. I think 18th century craftsmen were more capable than we give them credit for.


      • They certainly were. I obviously missed what that roof was made of … slate? I assume that accounts for why it hasn’t had to be replaced? It would be a shame to lose it if it ever had to be replaced. It’s a work of art

        Liked by 1 person

        • It is slate. Some of the old buildings around here have slate roofs where the tiles are 1 1/2” thick. They’ve lasted forever. I hope this lasts a good long time. I can’t imagine the cost to replace that.

          Liked by 1 person

  11. Great find – an eye catching church Dan! A blend of several architectural periods – do you know if there were gaps in building it (?don’t mean to send you on an investigation, tell me only if you already know!) Those green arros did you add that, or was it on the page they sent you?
    As usual am late, and writing from my other blog – Jesh StG

    Liked by 1 person

    • As far as I can tell, the church was built in one fell swoop. The social hall case later. I think the architect added details that he liked. I read about renovations but they were internal.

      I added the arrows and descriptions. Sometimes, the words used in the NRHP nomination forms refer to details that aren’t in common use today.

      Thanks for stopping by.


    • Thanks Jean. The NRHP nomination form goes on for seeral pages about the architectural details. I had to pick and choose, but it was interesting reading. This is one of the earliest examples of this style of building being build in this country. Of course they were modeling churches in Europe that were already 100+ years old.


  12. Ooh, aaah!! I really liked the ornate designed slate roof, Dan! I also think you lost your calling and could have been a detective! You are like a dog with a bone. . . Looking up and trying to find the history of buildings is a very intelligent trait.

    Liked by 1 person

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