South Church – Hartford

Welcome to Thursday Doors! This is a weekly challenge for people who love doors and architecture to come together to admire and share their favorite door photos, drawings, or other images or stories from around the world. If you’d like to join us, simply create your own Thursday Doors post each (or any) week and then share a link to your post in the comments below, anytime between 12:01 am Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American eastern time). If you like, you can add our badge to your post.

I’ve always been intrigued by this church. It’s less than half a mile south of the First Church, a.k.a. Center Church, which was established even earlier. In case you think the founding members of those early settlements were one big happy family, the establishment of South Church indicates otherwise. As in the previous two posts, I am including information from the National Registry of Historic Places (NRHP) nomination form.

Established by some of the founders and early settlers of Hartford after a division in the First Church, South Church continues a tradition of free Congregationalism which has endured from its beginning here under Thomas Hooker. After nearly thirteen years of doctrinal dispute during which many of the original withdrawers removed to Hadley, Mass., the church was finally given permission to organize by the General Court in October 1669. The Covenant to which the founders formally subscribed on February 22, 1670, is thought to be the original written by Hooker, and is still in use today.

The current building is the fourth structure to house this congregation. Again, from the NRHP nomination form,

The present meetinghouse of the Second Church of Christ in Hartford is the third oldest public building in the city and one of only four remaining erected before 1830. The third meetinghouse raised for the use of the church since 1670, it is located in almost the same spot as its predecessors on Main Street, south of the Park, or Little River. The present building stands on the houselot of the second minister, Thomas Buckingham (served 1694-1731) which was subsequently deeded to the church’s ecclesiastical society by his wife and son.

The Meetinghouse is a two-story rectangular brick building, 96 by 63 feet, in the Federal style, with steeple and trim of wood painted white, on a high base of red sandstone. With its columned portico and multi-stage steeple it suggests an adaptation of the classic church by James Gibbs, noted English architect. Tall arcaded windows on north and south, echoed by the round-headed doors and windows of the facade set in tall brick arches, are separated by pilasters, while the pedimented portico rests on four finely proportioned Composite (Ionic-Corinthian) columns.

In several other Thursday Doors posts where I’ve included church doors, I’ve received comments about the absence of a steeple, even thought a base appears and rises above the portico. In some cases, the steeples were destroyed by fire, weather or rot. In other cases, they were never built. When I noticed that the nomination form describes the steeple of South Church, in detail, I decided to include that description.

The steeple has five major stages in which the architectural elements of the portico are restated in classic sequence and in alternating simplicity and elegance of detail. The base, a square brick tower with clock dials, is ornamented on all sides with twin pairs of brick pilasters with wooden Doric capitals and architrave, surmounted by a balustrade of turned balusters and paneled pedestals. From this stage upward the spire is of wood. An octagonal belfry is next, with engaged Ionic columns at the angles separating arched louvered openings beneath Federal-style panels. The typical Ionic entablature leads to the third stage, a plain octagonal drum set off by circular molded casings quartered by key blocks. Three stepped setbacks support the fourth stage, which reflects the second on a reduced scale, but with the use of Corinthian columns. Its entablature is surmounted by an octagonal balustrade and the final stage, a plain octagon paneled above a heavy band course. From a simple cornice rises the ribbed metal ogee roof with gilded finial and weathervane. Despite its wealth of detail, the spire is carefully wrought into an expression of harmonious restraint.

The present building has not only served as a place of worship, but quite literally as a meeting house for the people of Hartford and as an auditorium for fine music from the day of its dedication, April 11, 1827. The Rev. Edwin P. Parker (served 1860-1912) regularly enlisted concert talent from Europe for meetinghouse performances. The ensuing musical vesper program continues to the present day. Hartford’s first public educational radio station, WSCH/FM, today known as WRCH, had its studios in the meetinghouse basement from 1963-1965 (maybe fodder for John Holton). The Fine Arts Foundation of Connecticut, Inc. was housed in the building from 1962-1967, conducting a variety of cultural programs.

The images submitted in support of the nomination included several interior photos. Since I don’t often get a chance to look inside, I’ve included more of the NRHP images than I normally do.

Note: Apparently WordPress has changed things. If you want to read the captions in the slideshow view of the gallery, you have to click on the little “i” in a circle. Sorry

If you are in a hurry and don’t wish to scroll through the comments, click to Jump to the comment form.


    • Thanks Robbie. It’s so strange to have the two old churches standing so close, but it’s wonderful that they have both been preserved. Thomas Hooker was a very important man in Connecticut’s founding.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I. Like that door, too, as it’s one I wasn’t able to photograph. Bucking ham street is part of a historic district I will explore after the break the end of this month.

      I liked the doors in your post, today. The intricate transom windows are amazing.


  1. That’s one fancy church spire, for all its ‘harmonious restraint’! Altogether I think it makes for a beautiful and surprisingly balanced building architecturally, and I imagine the internal acoustics are amazing :-)

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks Ruth. I have heard that the acoustics are very good. Music is still performed there. Personally, I’d love to hear the choir. The steeple is remarkable. I love that they’ve preserved it when others have removed theirs.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I remember once visiting the oldest church in London (All Hallows by the Tower) and miraculously catching a choir practicing a capella, standing together in a circle right in the middle of the church – it was truly the original kind of ‘surround sound’, a beautiful, echoing, haunting harmony of voices that vibrates your soul and makes the hairs on your arms stand on end! :-)

        Liked by 1 person

  2. So beautiful, Dan. And the steeple is a work of art. Thank you for including its description, as I could trace on your pictures all the little details. It reminds me of a lighthouse. Maybe where it is painted white and the octagonal part of the bell tower appears nearly cylindrical, especially its third level.
    With thanks :)

    A tiny village home on my blog today:

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Pat. I was so happy to find the detailed description of the steeple, I had to include it. At the time the church was built, there was a river, (The Park River, a.k.a. the Hog River) that ran through Hartford. It ran between First Church and Second Church. It was eventually buried.

      You have some wonderful images and interesting history today. Thanks!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Not often do we find a description that’s so easy to follow – but then we have these gorgeous images to help :)

        If I search your images, I’m almost sure that now there’s a road where the riverbed used to be.

        And, again, the black & white image of the N facade has a tree in it that I think it is long gone. Really, old / new images can reveal so much of a place’s history. Thank you for posting both.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Buildings here were primarily Brownstone, which was quarried in Portland, about 15 mi (24 km) south of Hartford but along the Connecticut River, so easily moved to the city, or bricks, which were being made in Windsor, just north of Hartford (and also along the river). There are many brick buildings from this era, and I love the detail they would work in around windows and along the roof line.

      Your post is wonderful to look at. So much color.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Now that’s a steeple you can’t miss! I like the triple hung windows and the columns. So glad you included the pictures of the inside. Awesome details. This building is a testimony to the superb craftsmanship from that period. How wonderful that it still stands proudly and elegantly today.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad you like it, Ginger. I know the interior photos aren’t doors, but I so rarely get to see inside these buildings, I had to add them to the gallery. The windows were replaces in the 1930s after a fire, and they aren’t sure if they were replicated in the same form, but I like them regardless. I am very happy that it has been preserved.


  4. Lovely, but I’m unable to read most of the captions in full. The shorter I can read in the post, but the longer are cut and they don’t appear if I view the images in the gallery. One more to add to your WP complaint list, sorry to say.

    I continue my Santa Severa castle tour and we finally reach the museum door, and see the sea through some others.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Suzanne. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by the religious split, and I have to remind myself that, at the time, the churches would have been much smaller. Still, the two buildings are barely 1/4 mile apart. At least they’ve both been preserved.


  5. That steeple against that sky — wow. The story that goes with a building so often makes it kind of human, doesn’t it? And that most likely is the reason for preservation. Thank you for including the detailed description of the steeple; I am in awe of the vocabulary in it and am trying to learn from it. I depend heavily on words like “things” and that entire description was like a college course to me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks! I, too, go to school on the descriptions in those nomination forms. I think they try to point out anything that is unique and worth preserving. Not just another brick church, of which there are hundreds in Connecticut. I love learning building terms.

      I am glad both churches have survived. I guess I’m not surprised at how there came to be two. It does seem quite human. I hope you have a good weekend.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Wonderful church, storyline and especially the steeple – controversies always … though communities are trying to join and work together in this day and age – no doors per se, but must take a walk and leave my door behind!! Cheers Hilary

    Liked by 1 person

    • Maybe someday we’ll figure out how to get along, Hilary. You would think that would begin in church, but it’s so often the beginnings of the differences we focus on. In any case, we have another beautiful building to admire.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. How can anyone just drive by a church without wanting to stop and photograph it? I really like that you show all different sides of the building, Dan. It takes me a bit, but I like sitting and thinking how I would walk around to view it. Interesting the five stages of steeple architecture. Who knew? I sure didn’t!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ideally, I’d like to have a door in every photo, but sometimes, I have to give it up to some architectural details. I was glad to find the historic photo for the one side I couldn’t get to. Now you are well versed in the language of steeples. NExt time your with some know-it-all friends, drop the phrase “typical Ionic entablature” on them.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Thanks for another interesting historical account Dan. Nothing like some doctrinal differences to help establish a new congregation. The benefit for us is a great variety of lovely old churches to photograph.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Different styles came in and out of fashion here in the 1800s and early 1900s. A lot of beautiful buildings were built during that time period. I love finding them.

      Thanks for joining us!


  9. I would not want to have to clean the windows in that building! Why I would think of that, I do not know. But it is an incredibly beautiful building. Intricate detail on the columns is magnificent.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Churches. So much history, so many born due to dissension. Ahhh..enter the people. 😉The architecture always impresses me. And steeples are my favorite part. Like the church’s arms reaching to heaven.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Thanks for the tip about suing the “I” to read the captions – not sure why they made that change but assume there is always a reason

    and I did like the side view to see the windows – also nice history again – I enjoy learning

    and here is the Link to my post for this week

    Liked by 1 person

  12. In public school we learned about Ionic, Doric, and Corinthian types of columns. Why? So I could recognize the frilly dilly job in this post!
    Bummer about the caption reading – thanks for nothing, WordPress!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I remember learning about those different types of columns, Maggie – one of the times we said, “and when will I ever use this?” The answer, when you’re preparing a post for Thursday Doors :-)

      I’m hoping that the little i thing works in all galleries. The Block Editor tiled gallery never showed captions.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. An excellent post that reminded me of all the church services I attended. (My father was a minister) Churches have the best acoustics. To hear music ascend, to listen to a pipe organ – I feel a sense of belonging.

    Liked by 1 person

Add your thoughts or join the discussion. One relevant link is OK, more require moderation. Markdown is supported.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.