Starting his career with just a vision, Richard Upjohn would become known as one of the most famous church architects in the United States. Although not everyone agreed with him at first, Upjohn believed that churches built in the Gothic Revival style would help worshippers better connect with God. He felt that being in an atmosphere that resembled the Middle Ages enabled to people to glean the most from church services.
Upjohn was born in Shaftesbury, England in 1802, where he trained as a carpenter and cabinet maker. But once he was in his 20s, Upjohn decided to move his young family to the United States in search of better opportunities.
In 1829, Upjohn’s family first settled in New Bedford, Massachusetts. He quickly found employment as a cabinet maker, but he couldn’t help but dream about doing more. While he was building cabinets, he starting working on sketches and designs.
Early in his career and prior to designing churches, he designed the entrances to the Boston Common, the city’s central park, and several homes and other structures. He showcased his unique talent when he built his first church, St. John’s Episcopal Church, in Bangor, Maine.
Drawn to Places of WorshipIn 1839, Upjohn moved to New York City, where he made his name in the world of church architecture. As soon as he arrived in the Big Apple, Upjohn started designing Trinity Church on Wall Street in Lower Manhattan.
Once the beautiful rectangular building, situated behind a single tower, was completed in 1846 in Gothic Revival style, Upjohn’s fame surged. Soon he was sought after to build hundreds of churches across the United States. Most of the buildings he designed were located in the northeast, but some were as far south as North Carolina.
A devout Christian, Upjohn eventually became the primary architect for his Episcopal Church. In order to give back, Upjohn donated his time once a year to designing new missionary churches.
After drawing the plans for several houses, office buildings, churches, and other structures, Upjohn wanted to make it cheaper and easier for others to construct churches using his Gothic style. In 1852, Upjohn published a book titled, “Upjohn’s Rural Architecture: Designs, working drawings and specifications for a wooden church, and other rural structures.” The book became a model for church design over the next several decades.