Fish Church Stamford CT: Everything You Need To Know | Stanton House Inn

church pews at first presbyterian church in stamford ctFirst Presbyterian Church of Stamford, Connecticut, is a must-see for all.

 

Its glowing stained-glass windows and one-of-a-kind architecture will make any visitor understand why. 

 

Also known as Fish Church Stamford, this establishment has been a national historic landmark for anyone visiting the city of Stamford.

 

About First Presbyterian Church

 

This iconic church dates back to 1854, if you can believe it. It was once a wooden structure located at 90 Broad Street until 1882 when it burned down. When it was time to rebuild, it was replaced with a stone tower, enlarged in 1920. The Presbyterian community used the space until 1958. Then, in 1954, the congregation voted to relocate the church to 1101 Bedford Street—its current location.

 

In March 1958, the new church was built, following the designs of Wallace K. Harrison. Here’s the deal: The church isn’t famous because of its history. Instead, it’s the shape of the building that makes it a tourist destination, including those who aren’t even religious. Simply put, the structure resembles a fish, a symbol used in early Christianity.

 

 

interior of first presbyterian church in Stamford CT
Credit: John9474

It’s not the outside of the church in Stamford that has a fish shape; both its profile and floor plan follow the motif. Adding interest to the look of the entire church are the stained-glass windows, which are a feat themselves.

 

 

The windows contain more than 20,000 pieces of colored glass, each section telling a story. Altogether, the windows depict the story of the Crucifixion and the Resurrection.

 

On the Chancel is a 32-foot-high cross faced with wood from the Canterbury Cathedral in England. And while the church was once home to an electronic organ, a massive Visser-Rowland pipe organ has since replaced it.

 

Along Bedford Street sits a stone wall surrounding the church grounds. If you look closely, you’ll see it contains a series of tablets recognizing significant Stamford:

  • Events
  • Institutions
  • And individuals

It especially highlights religious leaders and events in Stamford from 1641 to 1975.

 

Little Bits of History

 

postcard of First Presbyterian Church in Stamford, CT, before construction of the Fish ChurchThe Stamford church has a multi-purpose space with a kitchen and stage called Fellowship Hall. More than 100 stones are scattered along the Memorial Walk leading from Fellowship Hall to the Sanctuary’s main entrance. Each stone represents an important figure in Judeo-Christian tradition. The figures date back to Abraham and up until the present.

 

 

The chapel’s corridor also contains over 100 stones from historic sites of Christian significance. Former pastor Dr. George Stewart gathered them all during his world travels. Also on the stone wall is the inscription, “from far places where other believers turned not their back.”

 

 

An additional point of interest is a 56-bell carillon currently housed in the Maguire Memorial Tower. It expanded from 36 bells called the Nestle Carillon. The name honored Nestle Corporation’s headquarters in Stamford during World War II.

 

How WWII Shaped Membership

 

After World War II, the First Presbyterian Church of Stamford’s membership grew to the largest congregation in its history. The congregation tapped out at more than 1,500 members.

 

Formerly known as the Stone Church, completed in 1884, the assembly couldn’t house a community of that size. So, the building committee had to make a significant change: Build a larger church at a new location. This is where Wallace K. Harrison stepped in to design the building in all its glory.

 

About the Designer

 

But this wasn’t the first massive project Wallace K. Harrison worked on.

 

Harrison served in the navy in WWI, after which he studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, France.

 

After his return to the States, Harrison first worked under a New York firm, Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue.

 

He later partnered with Corbett, his former teacher, to create his firm; Corbett, Harrison and MacMurray. This firm helped design the iconic Rockefeller Center. Alongside architect J. André Fouilhoux, he helped design the Trylon and Perisphere, the New York World’s Fair symbols from 1939 to 1940.

 

Later, Harrison partnered with Max Abramowitz from 1945 to 1976. Together, they were commissioned to design:

  • The United Nations headquarters
  • The Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts
  • And the Nelson Rockefeller State Mall in Albany

So, you know, nothing major.

 

About Fish Church Stamford Today

 

congregation first presbyterian church stamford ct Fish Church Stamford CT: Everything You Need to KnowThe church has persisted in drawing admiration since its construction. Renowned New York Times architecture columnist, Ada Louise Huxtable, listed Fish Church as one of “Ten Buildings that Say Today.” In 1959, it was also featured in a Museum of Modern Art exhibit titled “Architecture and Imagery: Four New Buildings.” 

 

With years passing, the church has needed refurbishment. So, the Prudon & Partners firm of New York City prepared a Conservation Management Plan for the church in 2017. The plan uses funds from the Getty Foundation. The plan calls to manage moisture concerns and fix moisture-related deterioration.

 

The grounds of First Presbyterian Church are a fantastic green space in the center of the city of Stamford. During the COVID-19 pandemic, city dwellers from the surrounding complexes spilled-out regularly onto the church’s lawns.

 

The summer months felt downright festive at times in 2020.

 

It’s a National Park Service Landmark

 

stained glass windowsFirst, you must understand that to become a national landmark, a town can’t just declare a building as such. A building must follow the rules and protocols before the National Park Service names it as such.

 

The National Park Service recognizes significant:

  • Historic buildings
  • Structures
  • And sites

In two ways:

  • First, those sites with local and statewide significance may enter into the National Register of Historic Places
  • Those containing national importance may be designated National Historic Landmarks (NHL)

 

The First Presbyterian Church was only recently listed as a National Historic Landmark. On January 14, 2021, Fish Church became the eighth Presbyterian church honored to join the list. It did, however, make some history, as it was the first designed in a modern architectural idiom to join the lineup.

 

Here’s what the National Park Services NHL executive summary noted of its induction:

 

First Presbyterian Church, also known as the “Fish Church,” is an important and singular work by Wallace K. Harrison (1895-1981), a major American Modern architect. The church, considered by Harrison to be his most successful accomplishment, exemplified both the architect’s strength as a master planner and his personal approach to Modern design that introduced significant innovations in construction technology to American architecture.

 

Visiting First Presbyterian Church

If you would like to see the church for yourself, you will always be welcome! You may also choose to attend a Sunday worship service, which is fairly traditional but not stuffy. After all, the mission of First Presbyterian Church is to “Know and Share God’s Grace in Jesus Christ.” Volunteers will warmly invite you in and give you a bulletin with the order of worship for the day. You will also find hymnals and Bibles in the pews. Following the service, all guests are invited to a coffee hour in the lounge!

 

There is no dress code at Fish Church, so feel free to come as you are! You will also never be asked to come forward or be singled out, so you may enjoy the service at ease.

Keep exploring attractions in Stamford, Connecticut, and nearby

The City that Works has more than a few surprises up its sleeve, culturally-speaking.

 

If you’re interested in visiting more unique architectural and historic sites near the Fish Church, be sure to visit:

 

 

 

 

Some other unique and historic churches to visit nearby to First Presbyterian Church include:

 

If you’d rather stick within walking distance of First Presbyterian Church in downtown Stamford, Connecticut, be sure to visit:

And for all of the best attractions, activities, and things to do in Stamford, CT, be sure to download our free Stamford Visitor’s Guide!

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