Our church was organized on August 23, 1639. (The first English settlers arrived in April, 1638 led by the Reverend John Davenport and Theophilus Eaton, soon to be elected governor.) The present Meeting House built 1812-1814 is the fourth meeting house of the congregation. The edifice was built over the colony’s ancient burial grounds on the Green, and thus the basement with numerous burial stones is referred to as the Crypt. (Please see below.) For almost two hundred years, i.e., until 1818, the Congregational faith was the established religion in Connecticut.  The founding fathers’ dream was to establish a holy commonwealth with the right to self-government and local autonomy of the church.

            The Great Awakening of the 1730’s and 1740’s caused a split in the congregation, resulting in the erection of another Congregational church on the Green to the north, United Church. In 1814, the Episcopalians built Trinity Church on the Green to the south, and First Church, situated in the middle became known as Center Church.

            For many years Yale students attended the old Meeting House leaving in 1757 when the Yale President formed a separate chapel. Yale seniors still acknowledge this connection by parading around Center Church on graduation day.

            In the nineteenth century Center Church was privileged to have a number of distinguished ministers, but the most famous was Leonard Bacon, whose pastorate extended to more than a half a century (1825-1881) and who was a Professor of Religion at Yale from 1866 to 1881. His Slavery Discussed in Occasional Essays from 1833 to 1846 (1846) significantly influenced the views of Lincoln on slavery.

            There are still a few members of the congregation, who remember the emotional preaching of the Reverend Oscar Maurer, who was pastor of the church for much of the twentieth century (1909-1943). Today, In the twenty-first century Center Church remains proud of its past , but looks forward to the future and sharing the good news to all those it encounters.

Click here to find a list of books illuminating more of the history of Center Church.

Click here to find out more about New Haven’s witches.

Click here to find out more about “Our Church Historian"

Those wanting more information on the history of Center Church should consult the booklet, Center Church on-the-Green, which is available in the church or from the church office, centerchurch@comcast.net or 203-787-0121.


Ithiel Town, the famous New Haven architect, modeled the fourth meeting house of Center Church built in the Post-Georgian or Federal style after St. Martin’s in the Fields on Trafalgar Square in London. He supervised the construction of both Center Church and the adjacent Trinity Episcopal Church at the same time during the War of 1812 (1812-1814). The church which has been significantly remodeled over the years seats over 600. It is distinguished by a number of architectural details: The central Tiffany stained glass window of the Reverend John Davenport preaching his first sermon in New Haven on April 25, 1638, a Waterford crystal chandelier, the Fisk Pipe Organ, its historic pews, and tablets around the interior walls celebrating the lives of its eminent pastors. The glory of the church is its spire.

The Crypt

An Ancient Cemetery with Gravestones from 1687 to 1812

Step back into the past; hear about 300 years of history unrivaled in all of New England.

137 grave stones of New Haven's founders and earliest citizens dating from 1687…

Benedict Arnold's first wife…

President Rutherford Hayes' family…

the Reverend James Pierpont, a founder of Yale College …

and Sarah Whiting, 1669-1726, “The painful mother of eight children of whom six survive.” She was described as “faithful, virtuous and weary.”

In 18123, a fourth meeting house, the current Center Church meeting house, was built over a small portion of the town's burial ground. All the remains and gravestones were left in their original positions to be protected by the church's foundation where a crypt, an enclosed chamber around the burial ground,  was created.

Historically, the New Haven Crypt is one of the exceptional colonial burial grounds to endure untouched.

The early settlers who are remembered there represent a cross-section of the original community: different social standing, different points of view.

The Crypt is a rich source of information on the early days of New Haven and a resource for understanding what makes this city unique today.

Crypt visiting hours:

April - October, Saturdays 11:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m.

For large groups, please call for an appointment: (203) 787-0121.


Some Historical Highlights of the Center Church Crypt

• The area of the upper Green contains more than 5,000 unidentified remains of many of the settlers of this colony of New Haven.

• Center Church was built over a portion of this early colonial cemetery, with construction beginning in 1812 and finishing in 1814.

• Beneath the church, The Crypt contains the identified remains of about 137 people, and the likely remains of over 1,000 that are unidentified.

• Buried in The Crypt are the remains of Margaret Arnold; the first wife of Benedict Arnold.

• Also in The Crypt: Sarah Rutherford Trowbridge, who has the oldest dated stone in The Crypt, dating back to 1687.

• President Rutherford B. Hayes visited Center Church in 1880 and viewed the burial site of his grandmother and aunt, who are buried in The Crypt.

• Theophilus Eaton, one of the founders of New Haven and the church, and for nineteen years the governor of New Haven Colony, is buried near the foundation of the Crypt.

• In 1982 the dirt floor was paved with cement. In 1985, it was realized by many experts in the field that a serious water problem was destroying some of the stones (see photo below). The decision was made in 1987 that the concrete floor was capping moisture in the ground, causing the stones to act as wicks.

• In 1990, the concrete floor was removed and an uncemented brick floor was laid in place, allowing the moisture to escape between the bricks.

• Many of the stones, in spite of the deterioration of others, are as sharp and clear as if they were carved yesterday.

• The Crypt is declared unique in all of New England by many historical preservationists, because it has been protected by the church for over 190 years.

• Fifty stones have been stabilized, but much more work needs to be done in this area before this treasure chest, which is rich in religious beliefs, history, education, art and culture can be preserved for future generations.

• The New Haven Crypt Association Inc. is responsible for the restoration and preservation work in the Crypt.

For more information, visit: Tales from the Crypt: Stones and Stories from the Basement of Center Church.

Please help us preserve The Crypt!

The Center Church Crypt marks the last remaining evidence of the early settlers of the New Haven Colony who were buried on the Green.

The headstones in The Crypt are deteriorating due to the seepage of water and the passage of time. Immediate action is necessary in order to preserve New Haven's history or it may be lost forever.

Become a part of history! Help us preserve the past for the future.

Send donations c/o Center Church, 311 Temple St., New Haven, CT 06510 (ATTN: NEW HAVEN CRYPT)–or stop by in person during our open tour hours.

Thank you!