I live in the neighborhood of Trinity Episcopal Church. I understand that it was not originally called Trinity. Can you provide its previous name, as well as a little of the church’s history? ~ Jay van S., Historic Meridian Park
The congregation that has been called Trinity Episcopal Church for the last 65 years was actually established nearly a century ago. However, it was not given its current name until April of 1951, and the present building was not completed until December of 1952. From 1919 until 1951, the church on the southeast corner of 33rd and Meridian Streets was alternately known as the Episcopal Church of the Advent and Advent Episcopal Church. It held its services, Sunday school, and other parish activities in a modest chapel-like structure on the same spot as the iconic stone edifice that stands today.
Interestingly, the Episcopal Church of the Advent’s first building began its life as a Baptist house of worship. In 1885, a 30-year old minister named Cincinnatus Hamilton McDowell (1854-1939) was called to Indianapolis to establish new churches in the growing capital city. He founded four churches in a little over a decade, one on each side of town. They included the South Street Baptist Church, Woodruff Place Baptist Church, Germania Avenue Baptist Church, and University Place Baptist Church. Reverend McDowell’s north side mission opened its doors on the corner of 33rd and Meridian Streets in 1898. That building was the forerunner of Advent.
The University Place Baptist Church took its name from the legal description of the lot on which the church was built, Atkins & Perkins University Place. Reverend McDowell also built a home for himself on another lot in the University Place Addition. His residing at the corner of 33rd and Pennsylvania Streets, a short block away, made it convenient for him to oversee the activities of the new church. McDowell later built additional residences on the land to the east of his original home. Four generations of the McDowell family lived in those properties over a period of nearly 70 years.
Why the University Place Baptist Church went out of existence late in 1918 is unknown. All that was reported in newspaper articles of the day was that the Episcopal Diocese of Indianapolis wished to establish a church on what was then the far north side. Motor vehicles had arrived in the early years of the 20th century, making it possible for people to live outside the core of the city and still get to work in a timely fashion. George Kessler’s park and boulevard plan had begun to be implemented during this same time period, resulting in several wide, beautiful bridges being built over Fall Creek. The combination of automobiles and bridges contributed to the rapid growth of north side neighborhoods. Among those who had moved to the area were the twenty-seven men and women who were the founding members of Advent. These parishioners had previously attended Christ Church on Monument Circle, All Saints Church at 16th and Central Avenue, and St. David’s Church at 21st and Talbott Streets.
After spending the winter months of 1918-19 making repairs to the building, the Episcopal Church of the Advent held its first services on April 6, 1919.
In 1923, the large residence immediately to the south of Advent became available. The church acquired the property at 3243 North Meridian Street and made it the parish house. The former home remains a part of the Trinity complex to this day.
As the church grew, it established a variety of focus groups that sponsored such activities as book discussions, fundraisers, and social events.
By the 1940s, both the congregation of Advent and its activities had grown substantially. As the little church that had been built by the Baptists out in the sparsely populated suburbs held only about 250 people, thoughts turned to building a new church.
By Spring of 1951, the cornerstone for the new church was laid, and the name of the church was changed to Trinity.
Although weddings were performed at Advent with some regularity, they increased dramatically after the beautiful new church was erected. The first marriage to be performed in the newly completed Trinity Episcopal Church was the granddaughter of a former rector of Advent.
For three decades, Trinity’s Madrigal Dinner was a popular annual event during Advent. Dining and entertainment were combined in an evening that featured Medieval dress, food, and music.
In 2002, St. Richard’s, the day school founded by Trinity in 1960, became an independent entity. This spring, the school will complete its 56th year in operation.
In 2019, just three years from now, Trinity Episcopal Church will celebrate its 100th anniversary.
If you have a question about Indianapolis history, please send it to historicindianapolis(at)yahoo(dot)com, with “HI Mailbag” in the subject line. We will do our best to answer it. Sponsors and Subscribers are given preference for extensive research on specific properties or specific families featured in HI Mailbag articles. ~ Sharon
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