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Fairfield 375: Trinity Church in Southport, three centuries of enduring faith

EDITOR'S NOTE: Fairfield, established in 1639, is one of Connecticut's oldest communities. From its settlement 375 years ago by English colonists on "four squares" of land that Native Americans called Uncoway to the vibrant town of 60,000 residents that it is today, Fairfield's history is a chronicle of compelling events and colorful characters.

The Fairfield Citizen will highlight vignettes from that rich history throughout this 375th anniversary year on a regular basis.

Trinity Episcopal Church in the Southport section of town was established nearly 300 years ago. Twenty families met for worship at its first meeting house on Mill Plain Road on Thanksgiving Day 1725. Since then, the church building has been located in five different places, and opened in 1862 in its present location, 651 Pequot Ave., where its sanctuary has drawn admiration for its Gothic Revival style.

The second oldest Episcopal church in the state, Trinity Church was established at a time when most colonists attended Congregational churches and establishing a Church of England met with resistance from Fairfield's Congregationalist town leaders. But the Anglicans persisted. Trinity Church was given the power to collect its own taxes by 1763, instead of its parishioners having to pay taxes to the Congregational Church.

Interesting highlights of Trinity Church history include the discovery eight years ago of the remains of several church founders near the site of the first church and their re-burial, and the reconstruction of church buildings at least three times after they were destroyed.

In 2006, the remains of seven members of the founding families of Trinity Church were unearthed in Sturges Park. Abraham Adams, John and Avis Applegate, Rebecca Brown, Benjamin Lines, David Jennings and Esther Lord had been buried on the grounds of Trinity Church's original Mill Plain meeting house, which later became agricultural fields when the church moved. Although the headstones of the early Trinity Church parishioners had been moved to the Old Fairfield Burying Ground adjacent to Town Hall, their remains were never transferred. The remains were discovered in 2006 by a construction crew hired by the town to excavate Sturges Park to improve field drainage. After two years of study by anthropologists, the bones were identified and buried in the Trinity Church Memorial Park, adjacent to the current Southport church, after a special memorial service.

Trinity Church has been damaged by fire, wind and water over the years. The British burned the church to the ground in 1779 during the Revolutionary War. The sanctuary was destroyed again in a tornado on New Year's Day in 1862 when its steeple toppled into the sanctuary, crushing it.

The most recent damage occurred in October 2012 when the Trinity Parish Nursery School was inundated by flooding triggered by Superstorm Sandy, causing damage estimated at $1.6 million. The school returned to its rebuilt and refurbished building one year later in November 2013, welcoming pre-schoolers once again into the church community.

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