Steeple to Steeple: Portsmouth

A walking Tour of Portsmouth’s historic Olde Towne churches.

One of six stained glass windows by Louis Comfort Tiffany at Trinity Episcopal Church.

Though some things have changed since its founding in 1752, Olde Towne Portsmouth has maintained much of its original charm. One big reason is that it’s held on to its architectural history—perhaps mostly visibly in its churches. Trinity Episcopal Church, for example, still stands on Court Street after almost 250 years. It and six other historic churches and one historic synagogue will be open to the public on October 4 as part of special walking tour called “Steeple to Steeple.”

The religious buildings on the tour are a window on early America. They include St. Paul’s Catholic Church (1), one of the finest examples of Gothic architecture in Hampton Roads; St. John’s Episcopal Church (2), boasting a massive rose window that was one of the largest windows ever made by Lewis Comfort Tiffany; Chevra T’Helim Synagogue (3), a rare example of an Eastern Orthodox synagogue, unaltered since its construction in 1918; Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church (4), one of the oldest black churches in the country; Monumental Methodist Church (5), with the oldest continuous Methodist congregation in the South; Court Street Baptist Church (6), First Presbyterian Church (7), and Trinity Episcopal (8). “You can see every period of American architecture here, from Colonial through late Victorian,” says Steeple to Steeple Committee chairman Dean Burgess.

For Burgess, the impressive array of stained glass is what makes the tour so distinctive. And some of the best can be seen at  Trinity, built in 1762. It has six windows designed and installed by Tiffany himself before 1900. Trinity also has White Friars windows, by one of England’s best-known glass houses, and painted and stenciled windows by Henry Sharp, one of the most prominent New York stained glass artists of the 1850s.

Two costumed guides, including town founder Colonel William Crawford, lead the church walking tour, which is limited to 100 people and usually sells out. The cost is $20 per person (including a lunch of Brunswick stew). If the tour sells out, Burgess says that he and Eric Price (who plays Colonel Crawford) will be happy to organize additional tours. (757) 393-0973, or e-mail Burgess at [email protected].

—Amanda Conner

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