Trinity Church, the oldest church in Staunton and known for its first eighty years as “Augusta Parish,” was founded in 1746, one year after Augusta County became an independent entity, and one year before the City of Staunton was established. (Augusta was the wife of Frederick, Prince of Wales, and mother of George III.) At their founding, the parish and county boundaries stretched from the Blue Ridge Mountains to the Mississippi River and from the northern border of North Carolina and Tennessee to the Great Lakes. As the Church of England (Episcopal) was the established church in Virginia (until after the American Revolution), the first vestry was elected as the leadership of both the parish and the county. Of its twelve members, at least nine were Presbyterians. Only one, John Madison, father of the first Bishop of Virginia, James Madison, was definitely a member of the Church of England. Services were held in the courthouse until the parish built its own church.
In April 1747, the vestry elected the Reverend John Hindman the first rector. Land at the western edge of the city was purchased by the parish in 1750 from William Beverley. Three churches have been built on this site. The first brick building was completed in 1763, probably where the church tower is now located. The cornerstone of the second building was laid in 1830, using some of the brick from the first church. By this time, Augusta Parish had become known as “Trinity Church,” although the two names remained interchangeable for a long time.
The Church Building
The present building was constructed in 1855 and enlarged in 1870 when wings were added to the sides and the chancel was enlarged. In 1893 the massive brick columns and the three arches separating the nave from the chancel and side chapels were added. The chancel was greatly enhanced with the addition of the present brass altar rail, the walnut pulpit, and prayer desks; the nave and gallery were renovated; and carpeting and improved lighting (gas) were added. In 1907 the church interior was completely refinished. In 1923 the then-existing choir rooms were converted to the present Altar Guild sacristy and clergy vesting rooms, and the present choir vesting rooms were added. Further extensive exterior and interior renovation with repairs to correct moisture problems in the walls were accomplished in 1936, with repairs to the roof, gutters, downfalls, and underground drains, as well as replacement of a number of rotted beams under the church. In 1957 what started out as a plan to build a new organ in the gallery and to move the choir to the gallery ended up as a complete rebuilding of the interior of the church. Major changes were required to install a twenty ton organ in the gallery, and other structural repairs were necessary to correct water seepage and heating and electrical problems. The entire wooden floor had to be removed and replaced with a concrete one because of absence of proper footings and because of extensive termite damage. The rectory was built in 1872 and renovated in the early 1920s with the addition of a second bathroom and other miscellaneous repairs. Further renovations and repairs were done in 1939 and again in 1952. The parish house was also built in 1872, the first such structure in Virginia. It was enlarged and improved in 1924 and was given an extensive facelift in 1952. During the multi-building renovation completed in 2000, a new organ was installed in the church, along with new lighting, hardwood floors, air-conditioning, and replacement electrical and plumbing systems. The flat ceiling in the nave was removed, so that the interior now follows the exterior roofline. At the same time, the parish house was also renovated and enlarged, with the addition of a new kitchen, the refurbishment of classrooms, meeting spaces and offices, and the installation of central air-conditioning and an elevator. During the time the church building was closed during the renovations in the 1950s and the 1990s, services were held in the parish hall (now called “McCracken Hall”).
Trinity Church has served many people and many generations since 1746. From the time of its founding, the parish has been very much involved with the surrounding community. Over the years, Staunton mayors, city council members, and other community leaders have been parishioners. The first vestry was charged with a number of civil responsibilities, performing the functions of today’s county board of supervisors and city council. The buildings have always been used for concerts, charitable events, and community meetings. In 1775, the freeholders met at Trinity to consider their relationship with England. The Virginia Assembly, having crossed the Blue Ridge to escape the British army led by Banastre Tarleton, met here June 7-23, 1781 (thus, the first Augusta Parish Church served as the Virginia state capitol for sixteen days). A Windsor chair, used in that meeting, is on display in the corner of St. Columba’s Chapel. The Virginia Theological Seminary was established at a Diocesan Council meeting at Trinity in 1824. During the Civil War, professors and students from the seminary held classes here. Trinity Church has been a charter parish in three dioceses of the Episcopal Church: Virginia (est. 1785), Southern Virginia (1892), and Southwestern Virginia (1919). Until 1853, when Thornrose Cemetery was opened, the Trinity Churchyard was the public burying ground. The oldest stone is that of one Roger North who died on October 17, 1776, although the earliest known burial took place at least ten years before the first church was built. The church opened a columbarium (burial place for ashes) along the east wall in the late 1970’s. The first person listed in the columbarium is Carl Broman, who for over 40 years was organist and choirmaster at Trinity, and professor of music at Mary Baldwin College. Many boys, Episcopal and otherwise, sang in Dr. Broman’s choir of men and boys.
On June 9, 1996 a special service was held in Trinity Church to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the founding of the parish. The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, the Most Reverend Edmond L. Browning, presided and preached at the ecumenical Eucharist which included several former rectors, the rabbi of the Temple House of Israel in Staunton, and the Mayor of Staunton who presented the Presiding Bishop with a key to the city during the service.
Now, having completed 260 years as a parish, the words of Trinity’s Deed of Consecration of the present building in 1857 still ring true today and serve as a reminder of the church’s purpose and vision of the future: “May those who frequent the building ever know and feel that surely the Lord is in this place and that this is none other than the house of God.”
History of Trinity Churchyard Compiled by Elizabeth Hullihen
This history and guide to the graves present in the Trinity Churchyard was first produced in the 1950’s or 1960’s and contains an index of the names of those buried in the churchyard and a list of the grave inscriptions catalogued by their location on the property. The Guide was updated in 2005, so an additional index is at the end of the booklet.
Member Registers 1850 – present
The parish office maintains member registers from 1850 until present day of births, baptisms, confirmations, marriages and burials. Please call to make an appointment to view these materials.
Trinity History Book – available for purchase