The tallest building in Madison, Trinity United Methodist Church has been serving the faithful since 1873. Formed in 1811 as St. Johns Methodist Episcopal Church, a circuit riding preacher served the congregants in Madison and many other communities. After several transitions and changes, the church people decided to build a new church that would accommodate the merger of several congregations and pay homage to the glory of God. It's spire, which houses the bell tower, reaches a staggering 212 feet and can be seen from many points in both Madison and across the Ohio river in Milton.
This Gothic Revival church, designed by B.V. Enos and Son of Indianapolis, is constructed of brick with limestone ornamentation around the windows and horizontal bands which divide the bell tower into four sections. The steeply pitched spire covered in intricate slate tiles forming a geometric design is capped by a decorative metal finial while the front gable above the main entrance is topped by a metal cross.
Although most Gothic buildings feature buttresses (much like the most famous Notre Dame cathedral in Paris), the architects realized they were unnecessary in this building, but still referenced the location of traditional buttresses by building small projections along the sides of the church which are capped by limestone ornamentation.
The cornerstone was laid on September 9, 1872, and the building was dedicated in June, 1874. The original cost was $30,606. The first service held in the building, before it was finished, was a marriage ceremony on September 26, 1873.
Church member Robert McKim, an Irish immigrant, philanthropist, and apprentice stonemason agreed to become the superintendent of construction. He even helped to finance the steeple (among other items)! The cornices, pinnacle on the turret, the finial of the spire, and the other moldings were fabricated of galvanized iron by John Adams. The foundation was laid by Samuel Liggett, the brickwork by James H. Dorsey, the stone trim by James Crozier and John Jager, and the steeple construction by John Eckert.
This photograph taken circa 1930 shows the original chimneys the church used for heating during the cold Madison winters. (You'll also notice the Fountain Building to the left which is another Quest site.)
When the church was first constructed, it did not have stained glass windows. Instead, it featured frosted “Florentine” glass windows. Today, the only remaining example of these windows may be seen in the Fellowship Hall. As stained glass became available in 1900, the Coulter Company in Cincinnati was tasked to custom build stained glass windows to replace the Florentine windows in the sanctuary for Trinity. In order to pay for these expensive, yet ornately beautiful, windows members of the congregation would purchase a window. By 1912 the windows were installed. If you look closely, the names of those who donated windows were engraved in each window near the bottom in a section of red glass. Also, close inspection shows the hardware that allowed a portion of some windows to tilt open for ventilation.
Did you know this church had "air conditioning" in 1873? Inside, if you look very carefully at the center of the sanctuary ceiling, you will see a round piece of wood that runs the full length of the room. That piece of wood could be pulled with a rope and pulley up into the attic to allow for increased air flow.
Today, the original pews donated by Robert McKim are still in use. Mr. McKim also donated the large ornate beams in the sanctuary’s ceiling in 1874 to correct acoustic problems.
In 1967, the educational wing was built as an addition on the west end of the building. A nod to the Gothic Revival architecture, this addition mimics historic features including the pitch of the roof, brick construction, and decorative miniature buttress features.
Music has always been a part of Trinity’s tradition. The first organ was installed in 1897. Back then, the altar area looked a little different, with the organ pipes occupying the space where now is situated a beautiful curtain and cross. There was also a long wooden handle protruding from the floor to the right of the console – it operated the billows in the event of an electrical failure, and the last time church members knew it was put to use was in 1935, after the power went out just before the final hymn. Finally, the mechanical organ controls
failed in 1950 and the decision was made to install an electric organ system. Determined to save the original organ, church members decided to upgrade the original configuration with an electric system that was compatible with the historic organ. Unfortunately,
by the 1970s, deterioration of the pedal board and other components made it clear a new organ was needed. Several changes had to occur within the sanctuary to accommodate the new organ that featured 2,384 pipes arranged in 45 ranks, but it has delighted everyone who's had the pleasure of hearing its sweet sound since its dedication at a service on November 11, 1990.
Today, the modern organ components are cleverly hidden from plain view, but if you know where to look, a small portion of the components can be seen. This image shows the electrical connections to each individual pipe as well as the air supply hose (it's that black ribbed hose). To access the pipes not seen, one must climb a ladder to reach the upper portions of the pipes.
Fun Fact: Did you know pipe organs have to be tuned at least once or twice a year? When tuning, the interior temperature is important because the organ’s pitch rises and falls with temperature, so the tuner will often ask that the thermostat be set at the same temperature that is set on Sunday mornings for services.
But what about that bell I hear at noon? That bell you hear is actually located at the Presbyterian church, but Trinity has one too. It was not until 1949 the bell was donated to the church. In order to get it to the top of the bell tower, it had to be hoisted up through the ceiling. The only way to access it is via the south stairwell that climbs three stories then gives way to a ladder then finally slats nailed to the exterior wall. A small metal door just big enough to crawl through enables one to have access to the bell or the decorative slate roof for repairs.
Thank you to Pastor Doug Walker and the congregation at Trinity United Methodist Church for providing much of the history included in this article.