The Trees Inside St. Paul's Chapel

Did you know that the roof of St. Paul's Chapel is held up by tree trunks? Read about those trees, and many other fascinating details of the Chapel’s construction history, in a 1962 Parish Newsletter (a precursor to Trinity News) story about discoveries made during a conservation project:  

Work was begun on Monday, July 16, 1962, and by Wednesday, the old pews* and part of the flooring had been removed. It was found that the row of pews nearest the Altar on each side of the aisle was probably added later than the others: the wood of the flooring in this area was not as old as that under the rest of the nave. When all of the old floor was removed, sand and soil were found beneath, together with section of slate flagstone, which may well have been the original flooring of the Chapel when it was built, as this kind of flooring remains unchanged in the west vestibule of the Chapel. Some of the beams under the flooring were small diameter tree trunks, cut in half lengthwise. Wooden dowels, as well as hand-made nails, were used. The wood was cedar, pine and oak. (Samples of these woods have been preserved.) Literally hundreds of large oyster shells were found throughout the area, suggesting that perhaps the rise of ground on which the Chapel was built was originally near an Indian camp. During the time of the Indian settlements on Manhattan Island, the Hudson River shores apparently produced a rich harvest of clams and oysters. Under some of the easternmost pews were found fragments of an advertisement for the traveling show of  Barnum’s Museum, (the Museum was at that time directly across the street from the Chapel) dated 1872, which gives an indication that some of the pews and flooring were added a generation later than the others. Many bones were discovered, which proved to be those of domestic animals, such as sheep, cows or pigs. When the square casing at the base of the great columns was removed, it was found that the actual tree trunks, which uphold the roof, are of pine, of about 24” in diameter at the base. These bases were worked into octagonal shape up to a height of 44”. The huge tree trunks are each set on a stone base. Thus, each column of the nave is one great tree trunk, faced with fluted wood casing. 

On the 24th of July work was begun to remove the early 19th Century marble tiles at the rear of the nave. Parish records reveal that a tile floor was laid in 1831, presumably for the area not covered by the 19th Century pews. This old flooring had to be removed because of its hazardous condition, after more than century of constant use. Parts of old glass bottles were found in the area. Under the old flooring in the south center aisle were found fragments of two small gravestones. The remains of both persons whose names appear are actually buried in the Churchyard of the Chapel, and one is at a loss to understand the presence of these fragments under the nave flooring.

*These pews were not original. The original pews were box pews and were replaced in the nineteenth century by what one might consider “traditional” front-facing bench pews.