History of Grace & Holy Trinity Church

General History of the Building

The Moore Memorial Church was established in 1874 by the members of Saint James’s Church, then on Fifth Street at the corner of Marshall. They purchased a lot on Laurel Street facing Monroe Park, formerly the fair grounds, and erected a frame building at a cost of $8,000. The new church commemorated the legacy of the Rt. Rev. Richard Channing Moore, a longtime bishop of the Diocese of Virginia. The first service was held in the church on July 24, 1874.

It was not many years before a larger structure was required. The old wooden church was moved to the back of the lot, and B. J. Black (1834-1892), a Richmond architect, was hired to design the new structure. Black projected a building 59 x 119 feet, seating 1,000, with an interior height of 70 feet and a spire reaching 160 feet. The spire was, no doubt, intended to rival that of the Park Place Methodist Episcopal Church (later called Pace Memorial) then under construction on the north side of the park at Franklin and Pine streets (destroyed by fire in 1966). Stone for the church came from James Netherwood’s quarry along today’s Riverside Drive in south Richmond, near its intersection with West 42nd Street.

The first service was held in the new church on January 1, 1888. Though the nave was completed, there were insufficient funds to finish the façade. A temporary board front was constructed until such time as money was on hand to finish the stonework.

By that time, however, architect Black had died. The building committee contacted New York architect J. Stewart Barney (1868-1925), a Richmond native whose late mother had been a member of the Moore Memorial Church. He agreed to provide his services free of charge provided that a memorial plaque to his mother was placed in the church. If such a plaque existed it has now been removed. Barney was engaged in February, 1894, and the vestry determined that the church would be known henceforth as the Church of the Holy Trinity, a Memorial to Bishop Moore.

The cornerstone was laid on May 16, 1894 by Dove Lodge No. 51, A.F.& A.M., of which rector J. J. Gravatt was a member and chaplain. In Masonic tradition a building’s cornerstone is laid in the northeast corner. No such stone is apparent as the building now stands. An option may be a break with tradition — a large stone just to the left of the church’s main entrance, in the southeast corner. This bears the name of the church and its memorial designation. (Only a few feet away across the alley one can see the cornerstone — in the northeast corner — of the Acca Shrine Temple, originally called The Mosque, then Landmark Theatre.)

Barney’s building design also included a porte cochere from the side entrance to the tower, seen in his presentation drawing with horses and coach passing through. Objections of neighbors, however, prevented this feature of the building from being constructed.

Barney’s overall design was termed “late French Gothic,” and the 110-foot tower is its dominant feature, though considerably shorter than that contemplated by B. J. Black. The tower features what is probably the largest belfry of any Richmond church but has never housed a single bell. An 1894 news article described the fanciful, pyramidal top of the tower as its “crowning glory,” a contrast to the otherwise simple front, yet each segment complementing the other.

The tower was directly in the path of a tornado which swept through the city in May, 1951, damaging many buildings and uprooting trees in Monroe Park. The unsafe pinnacle of the tower was removed and has never been replaced. Former rector Hill Brown referred to this as the church’s “crew cut.”

One of the few ornaments on the front of the building is the gargoyle positioned where the rounded interior stairwell intersects with the front wall. This one is purely decorative; the originals, hundreds of years ago, served as waterspouts. Indeed, gargoyle and gargle are both from the French word gargouille, meaning throat or waterspout. Some legends tell that gargoyles were used to ward off evil spirits. Asked by a Richmond newspaper reporter if the one on the church did so, Hill Brown replied that he really didn’t know but certainly hoped it did!

GHTC exteriorThe consolidation with Grace Church, formerly at Main and Foushee streets, took place on June 1, 1924 at the Laurel Street location. One of the effects of the merger was the need for more Sunday School space. Architects Baskervill & Lambert provided plans for a new parish house to be constructed to the north side of the church building. It was opened in 1929, and its façade so seamlessly matched that of the church proper that other than a slight color difference of the stone one would think the parish house had always been there. The parish house was designated a memorial to Dr. Gravatt who died just after the consolidation of the two churches. To date, his has been the longest tenure as rector in the two churches’ history. “Gravatt Memorial” is inscribed between the first and second story windows of the addition’s façade.

Changes in the 1980s involved the need for parking and the availability of a small strip of land north of the 1920s parish house. A 1901 parish hall at the rear of the church was demolished and the land converted for parking. This area was to be shared with the neighboring Catholic Diocese of Richmond. In exchange, that diocese surrendered a parcel of land between the parish house and one of their buildings next door. Glave, Newman & Anderson designed a contemporary-looking addition to fill the space, providing interior arrangements for a new parish hall and redesigned classrooms and offices. This 1983 addition is in stark contrast to the remainder of the building but was considered appropriate to its era, more so than an attempt at blending with the previous style.

– written by Donald R. Traser