WALLINGFORD — St. Paul’s Episcopal Church is marking the 150th anniversary of its current, iconic North Main Street home.
The original wooden church building was destroyed by fire in 1867. The current stone structure was built and consecrated two years later.
The Rev. Dee Anne Dodd said the church will host tours of the building during this weekend’s Celebrate Wallingford event. Dodd, along with Dan Lyon, Robin Hunter and Bob Mansfield spoke Wednesday about the history of the building considered a town landmark.
The Neo-Gothic style sanctuary can hold approximately 300 people and has a 91-foot tower and 2,500-pound bell that is rung every Sunday. Dodd said although the building itself was completed in 1869, the worship community was formed more than 275 years ago. The building that the church used prior to the existing one was built in 1846.Threat to town
On the morning of Oct. 27, 1867, before the start of Sunday service, members of the congregation arrived to see the church ablaze.
“The fire started in the morning in the chimney and burned the whole place down and was threatening to burn the whole town,” Mansfield said.
Dodd said it is rumored that Samuel Simpson grabbed the crescent-shaped altar in an attempt to salvage it before running out of the church as it burned. The small altar and a few items were saved from the fire and are still used by the church. The wooden altar, made in 1762, was used in a church service last week to celebrate the anniversary.
Materials used to build the new church were imported and the stone exterior was quarried and brought in from Portland, Connecticut, by train and ox cart. At the time, it cost $70,000 and was funded by contributions from local donors.Changes over time
Hunter said when it first opened, the sanctuary had 13 stained glass windows; now there are 17. The original windows were styled after Bible passages.
Additional windows were purchased by families and dedicated to members who died.
“Stained glass windows tell Bible stories, but they also tell stories of the devotion of the families,” Dodd said.
Over time, changes have been made to the building. Gas lighting was added in 1912 and was eventually converted to electrical in 1946.
“We have WiFi in church now,” Dodd said. “Just as a point of comparison, we’ve gone from gas lights to we actually having a WiFi hotspot.”
Guided tours of the 150-year-old building will take place during Celebrate Wallingford. Saturday tours will be noon, 2 p.m., and 4 p.m. Sunday tours will be at noon and 4 p.m.