by Marvin Kusmierz - Feb., 2003 (Updated Feb., 2010)
In 1854, a small group of faithful Episcopalians gathered together to form the Parish of Trinity in Lower Saginaw (now Bay City) which was a part of Saginaw County at that time. The young congregation held regular services utilizing whatever facilities was available to them - homes, school houses, etc. Services were led by mainly by lay persons until they Father Spaulding became their first pastor. His spiritual leadership continued until 1858.
In 1855, the church sent a request to the Saginaw Bay Company requesting property for a new church building.
Hampton, 9th April 1855
James G. Birney, Esqr.
At a meeting of the Wardens and Vestry of Trinity Church, Lower Saginaw, a resolution was passed requiring the undersigned to correspond with yourself with regard to obtaining a site on which the said society propose to erect an Episcopal Church.
In accordance with our instructions we hereby apply for the Lots set apart the use of religious societies in the Village of Lower Saginaw in Block 67 and request you to forward to Trustees of the Society such evidence of title as may be proper and consistent with your powers in such matters.
We would further say that a building committee has been appointed by said Society to collect materials and means and that is is in contemplation to make a commencement the presdent year and to complete the same as early next year as the circumstance will admit.
With Sentiments of Esteem and Respect, We have the honor to subscribe ourselves.
1857 was a benchmark year. That year Bay County was organized from portions of the counties of Saginaw and , and all of Arenac. And, Lower Saginaw officially changed it names to "Bay City." But this year had a greater significance for the Trinity group as they began working on a permanent church building. Charles C. Fitzhugh, Israel Catlin and Henry Raymond were chosen by church membership to lead the project. Bay City has a number of church lots set aside by the Saginaw Bay Company, and a lot on the east side of Washington, between Center and Sixth streets was chosen.
The following year (1858), Fr. Spaulding departed and the church went without resident pastor until 1860. Undaunted by the this set back, the church steadfastly stayed on course with construction of the first church building. On May 10, 1860, a small wooden church was consecrated by Rev. Bishop McCoskry. It was the third church in the village of Bay City. Members were proud of their new church building. At that time there was no bridge that spanned the Saginaw River and members living on the west side had to used a boat or barge to cross over the river and get to worship service.
Construction of the church building was supported by donations of money, lumber and labor from its village neighbors. A practice consistent and necessary of the early pioneers -- to pitched in and help fellow neighbors knowing it would be returned in kind when they had the need.
By 1865, the membership had grown to 65 families, and that year the the church building was doubled in size to accommodate the growing congregation. The update included a new church interior, a new library and gas replaced fosil fuel for heating and candles that lit the church at night.. Funds for the project were made possible through the efforts of the Ladies' Aid. The update cost $1,200.00. Filling the pulpit at this time was the Rev. A.M. Lewis.
Two years later, the church congregation had grown to 350 and second expansion was completed. A fine organ worth every penny of the $3500.00 it cost was added in a third expansion.
Up to 1871 the church's official name was "Trinity Church of Lower Saginaw," which was appropriate during its early history, but stopped exisiting in 1857 when Bay County was organized, at which time name Lower Saginaw was changed to Bay City.
Public Acts of the State of Michigan.
AN ACT to change the name of Trinity of Lower Saginaw to Trinity Church of Bay City.
SECTION 1. The People of the State of Michigan enact, Thyat the corporate name of Trinity Church of Lower SAginaw, in the city of Bay City, and county Bay, be and the same is hereby change to Trinity Church of Bay City.
Sec. 2. This act shall take immediate effectl.
Approved April 15, 1871.
In the years that followed, the church acquired several properties including a large parcel of land on Grant street between Center and Fifth for future growth. In 1883, Rev. Alfred A. Alford D.D. was the pastor when the church completed a stone chapel that would seat 300 people. It was located on the corner of Fifth and Grant streets. The chapel was to be used for "Parish Rooms" or additional quarters for church activities.
A year later received a favorable offer for the property and the buildings on Washington which the church accepted. Services were moved to the new chapel.
Around this time, the church established missions in the villages of Wenona, Banks, Portsmouth, Essexville and McEwanville. Wenona and Banks later merged along with Salzburg and became West Bay City. McEwanville was later merged into Essexville.
In 1885, Phillips C. Ploeter, a local architect, was chosen to design the present Gothic style church building. The cornerstone was laid that year with construction being completed in 1887. The construction and furnishing total $70,000.00. It took 12 years for the new building to be consecrated. The large debt and the financial panic of 1893 was cause for the long delay. It was finally consecrated on December 16, 1899. Subsequent updates to this building took place in 1924 and 1958, the later at a cost of $25,000.00.
Some history regarding the early members of the church:
In 1842, missionary priests, Rev. Father Daniel Brown and Rev. Voltaire Spaulding regularly visited the area to attend the religious needs of the relatively few that lived here at that time. On March 3, 1843, Fr. Brown is believed to have performed the first infant baptism here on March 3, 1843. The child was the son of James G. and Elizabeth (Fitzhugh) Birney.
Fr. Spaulding of St. John's church in Saginaw often at this time, attended to the needs of this small faithful group.
William Dana Fitzhugh lived here from 1850 to 1856, he and his wife Anne Carroll were among the founding members of the church. In 1873, they donated the Carroll Park land to Bay City. Today, many of the Fitzhugh's descendants are members of the church.
Mrs. F. C. Porter, who devoted much of her time to the churches activities, died February 24, 1921.
The Trinity Episcopal Church has fine record of stewardship within the Bay County. As previously mentioned they were strong in promoting early missionary work in the various communities, and in recent times, the church has opened it's facilities for use by non-profit groups in need of a place to meet. Along with it's neighbor, the First Presbyterian Church, the Trinity Espiscopal Church provides a majestic greeting to visitor enter or leaving east down Center Avenue.
By Mary K. Freel (appeared in church newsletter) - Added Feb., 2012.
This month I would like to stray from the subject of stewardship and tell you about a rector search that happened in the early days of Trinity. As we are trying to find a new rector this story might give us all some heart for the efforts needed in the days to come.
After the organization of Trinity in 1854 the parish struggled to stay open and to attract and keep rectors. As a matter of fact between 1854 and 1874 (the start of our story) Trinity had six rectors and there were some years without any. In 1874 Reverend George P. Schetky came to town and took over. The parish had just completed an expansion of the church on Washington (around the place where Allan’s Shoes now stands) and had another mortgage owing on the rectory. I’m not sure what happened during his term of office but in the spring of 1876 the vestry, in an attempt to pay off the mortgages and get back on a sound financial footing decided to assess each family a certain amount—according to what the vestry thought they could afford. They also began taking up a collection at all services—before this time pew rents were the only means of financing the church. The new methods of financing were not popular and at the May meeting Reverend Schetky gave a letter to the vestry saying “I deem it advisable for myself that there should be a severance of my relations with this parish.” The vestry accepted his resignation. Ah, but there’s a fly in the ointment!! Reverend Schetky goes on to say “. . .to take effect as soon as Divine Providence shall open the way”. The vestry didn’t feel they could search for a new rector while the old one was still in place.
Time marched on and in October of the same year the vestry passed a resolution asking Schetky to “immediately inform the vestry of the early date at which he intends to withdraw from this parish.” Time continued to march on and in January of 1877 at the vestry meeting it was reported that the Reverend Schetky had not responded to their resolution. A deadline of February 3rd was given or the parish would take steps under the Canons of the Diocese to remove him. On the 12th of February Reverend Schetky said he would leave on the 4th of April. The Vestry relented somewhat and on the 31st of March stated that he could use the rectory until the Parish needs it or when the Vestry gives him one week’s notice. The vestry then began to look for a new rector.
On the 10th of April they extended a call to Reverent J. Saunders Reed. Remember they had the telegraph and letters to establish communications with their candidates—not like the instantaneous contact of email and telephone. On the 20th Reverend Reed requested more time but the vestry refused extending a call to H. Morton Reed. However, they said if he said “no” they might reconsider J. Saunders Reed. Apparently they both turned them down because on the 17th of May a call was extended to Worthys Hall and if he said “no” their backup was M. McKenzie. On the 4th of June they turned Reverend Hall down and were waiting on Reverend McKenzie. He must have declined because on June 25th a call was sent to R. W. Clarke.
Meanwhile Reverend Schetky remained in the rectory until some person or persons unknown to the vestry asked him to leave the rectory in the first week of July 1877. The vestry apologized to him for the misunderstanding but on the 11th they formally asked him to remove himself from the rectory. On the 15th a call was extended to Reverend A. A. Butler. He accepted on the 7th of August and FINALLY after 6 calls were extended the new rector was hired and in place. Reverend Schetky resigned in May of 1876 and finally left in July of 1877 14 months later.
I’m hoping this new search process will take less time and go a lot smoother than that search of 1877.