Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Brief History of Trinity Methodist Episcopal Church Established in Pelham in 1852

The rich history of the Town of Pelham includes the fascinating histories of the churches and synagogue that have helped guide the spiritual lives of Pelham residents for many, many years.  One such Pelham church about which I have never written is the church once known as Trinity Methodist Episcopal Church.  It is known today as Trinity United Methodist Church and is located at 331 City Island Avenue on City Island in the Bronx.

Post Card View of Trinity Methodist Episcopal
Church Postmarked Oct. 22, 1904.  NOTE:  Click
on Image to Enlarge.

The first Methodist denomination founded in the United States was the Methodist Episcopal Church founded in 1784.  Within only a few decades after its founding, the denomination became the largest Protestant denomination in the United States.  In 1939, the Methodist Episcopal Church merged with the Methodist Episcopal Church, South and the Methodist Protestant Church to form the Methodist Church.  Thereafter, in 1968, the Methodist Church merged with the Evangelical United Brethren Church to form the denomination known today as the United Methodist Church.  Throughout this time, the little Trinity Church on City Island remained with the evolving denomination.  

During the mid-1800s, City Island was beginning to grow both in population and in prosperity.  The island was beginning to attract oystermen, boat builders, sailmakers, Hell Gate Pilots, and those who opened various businesses to serve them.  The population of the entire Town of Pelham in 1850 was 577 people.  The vast majority of that number lived on City Island and on the mainland immediately adjacent to City Island.

With no church on the island at the time, in about 1850, a group of City Islanders gathered for worship in each other's homes.  By 1851, the group was able to raise the money to begin building a tiny chapel on donated land located near the present location of today's church.  The group completed construction of the church in 1852.  First known as the "Union Chapel," the congregation joined the Methodist Episcopal Church and named their new church building "The Trinity Methodist Episcopal Church."  

A little competition, of course, is a good thing.  At about the same time, members of the Bolton Family who lived in the Priory at Pelham Manor and who had built Christ Church there were vying for the souls of City Islanders as well.  Beginning in about 1849, Adele Bolton, a daughter of Rev. Robert Bolton of Christ Church, urged one of her brothers, Rev. Cornelius Bolton, to offer a Sunday afternoon service on City Island every other Sunday.  Thereafter Cornelius Bolton was called to serve a parish in Maryland.  Thus, it took the Boltons several more years to establish an Episcopal Church on City Island.  They helped found Grace Episcopal Church, built in 1862-1863.  See Thu., Oct. 02, 2014:  Brief History of Grace Church on City Island in the Town of Pelham Published in 1886; Fri., Jan. 5, 2007:  The Early Years of Grace Church, City Island -- Once a Church in Pelham.

By the 1870s, the population of Pelham had more than tripled to nearly 1,800 people with most still living on City Island.  With the growth of the local population came growth of the congregation of Trinity M. E. Church.  By the mid-1870s, the congregation needed a bigger church.  The congregation built the church building that still stands and still serves City Islanders beginning in 1878.  The new church opened in 1879.

According to a brief history prepared by Trinity United Methodist Church:

"Besides saving souls in the 1890s Trinity helped save lives and property. Since the church was centrally located on the island and had bells high on top of the steeple, it became the official alarm center.  The parsonage was bought and in 1932 a building was erected to connect the 2 church buildings enlarging the facilities available for church and community activities."

Source:  "History of Trinity United Methodist Church," TrinityOfCityIsland.org (visited Sep. 24, 2016).  

I have written before of the importance to City Island of the agreement by Trinity Methodist Episcopal Church to permit use of the church bell as an official fire alarm bell on City Island.  See Mon., Dec. 07, 2015:  The Code Used on the City Island Fire Bell in the Late 19th Century Used for Fire Alarms.  

Trinity United Methodist Church remains an important part of the community of our region.  Though City Island is no longer a part of the Town of Pelham, the histories of early City Island churches that were built and operated in the years before New York City annexed City Island and other parts of the region in 1895 remain an important part of the history of the little Town of Pelham.

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