Asylum Hill Congregational Church

Status: Current

814 Asylum Avenue: Built 1864-1866, architect Patrick C. Keely, builder Samuel Coit; chapel (now Drew Hall) opened 1864; church dedicated 1866; bell installed 1871; tower and spire constructed 1875; clock installed 1897; parish house added 1903-1904; Gross Memorial Chapel and expansion of parish house added 1939-1940; second extension of parish house added 1990; third extension of parish house added 2004.


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Questions about Asylum Hill Congregational Church

Probably very: although Keely isn’t well known today, he was a very prominent architect in his day. Keely specialized in churches, and he designed anywhere from 400 to 700 churches in the US and Canada during the 48 years following his emigration from Ireland. The vast majority of the churches he designed were Catholic churches: by some accounts, he designed only five Protestant churches, which makes Asylum Hill Congregational Church almost unique. Asylum Hill Congregational Church is one of three Keely churches in Hartford; the other two, Saint Patrick’s Church and the Cathedral of Saint Joseph, were both destroyed by fires.

No, or at least probably not. This is something of a local legend, and it refers to the second of four structures that were located at 285 Church Street. That second structure was Saint Patrick’s Church, which was designed in 1853 by Patrick Keely, 12 years before Keely designed Asylum Hill Congregational Church. A photo of the 1853 Saint Patrick’s Church shows remarkable similarities between that church and Asylum Hill Congregational Church, but there are also substantial differences. Saint Patrick’s Church was destroyed by fire in 1875 and then again in 1956, and the current church building, now Saint Patrick-Saint Anthony Church, looks very different from AHCC.

Mixed, it seems. Rockwell H. Potter, pastor at Center, aka First, Congregational Church, said at the fiftieth anniversary of Asylum Hill Congregational Church, “It was not without pain and travail that the mother [Center] brought forth this church. … But the First Church realizes today that this branching out has been for the upbuilding of the Kingdom of God and all the pangs that were suffered fifty years ago have been compensated many times over by the joy of seeing this church in all the fullness of her strength.”

According to Atwood Collins, “it is probable” that Horace Bushnell suggested Twichell because a “daughter of Dr. Bushnell” told him that she recalled Twichell took part in a midweek service at North Congregational while visiting the home of Austin Dunham and because a member of AHCC recalled Bushnell telling her father that he knew “no young man of greater promise as a preacher than Mr. Twichell.”

For future research

On February 12, 1904, at the dedication of the new parish house, Charles E. Gross remarked in his speech that he hoped the church "would follow the example of South Church and provide Mr. Twichell with an assistant." This is, so far, the earliest reference that I've found to any plan to install an assistant pastor. Philip C. Walcott was in place as assistant pastor on June 1, 1904 -- or May 9, 1905, or both? -- and the quick turnaround on Gross's remark suggests to me that some discussion had already been underway.

By the mid-20th century, Asylum Hill Congregational Church became primarily a commuter church, with most of the members having moved to the suburbs, and consequently the members contemplated re-locating the church to the suburbs as well. So far, I’ve identified four times that the church formally considered relocation: 1960, 1965, 1973, and 1985, but each time the members voted to stay in Asylum Hill.


The main source for information on this page is the Hartford [Daily] Courant. Specific references to articles can be found under the history (timeline) entries. All sources for this page, including the timeline entries, can be viewed on the bibliography for this subject.