Mission: Sharing and Preservation
The Arlington Street Tiffany Education Center works to share with in-person and online visitors the Tiffany windows at Arlington Street Church. It is a program of The Foundation for the Preservation of 20 Arlington Street, a non-sectarian charity created in 2016 to restore the Church’s landmark building and share its historic and artistic legacy with the public.
Read more about our preservation work on the Foundation page.
This historic building sits in the center of the city: at the crossroads of Arlington Street and Boylston Street and across from the Boston Public Garden. It shares a rich history with the development of the city of Boston.
1729 Arlington Street Church was founded as the Church of the Presbyterian Strangers. The congregation hired Reverend John Moorehead, a Harvard graduate, to be minister, beginning a long line of liberal, highly educated clergy.
1787 The congregation opposed the rigidity of the Presbyterian doctrine and adopted the Congregational form of governance, taking charge of its own affairs.
1788 The Massachusetts Convention met in the church to ratify the United States Constitution. The Congregation, under the Reverend John Belknap, sent a petition to the General Court of Massachusetts to abolish slavery.
1803 William E. Channing, powerful in intellect and preaching, was chosen as minister. Channing defined “Unitarian Christianity” in his Baltimore Sermon and in doing so helped launch a distinctly Unitarian movement.
1860 The Congregation decided to move from its Federal Street location and chose a site in the new Back Bay district. Arthur Delvan Gilman, a noted architect and builder, was hired to design the new church and chose to
model it after St. Martins-in–the-Fields in London’s Trafalgar Square.
1861 The completed church was the first public building in Back Bay and still rests on the original 999 pilings used to support it from the muddy landfill.
1898 The church commissioned Louis Comfort Tiffany to design a unique series of memorial stained glass windows for the sanctuary.
1900 Dr. Paul Revere Frothingham became minister during Boston’s Gilded Age. He came out of the aristocracy and went on to encourage philanthropy and mission work among the poor.
1900s Sixteen Tiffany Memorial windows are installed to commemorate the prominent leaders of the church and of the Boston community.
1929 The stock market crashed and with the Great Depression the church was unable to fund the installation of the final four windows.
1960s The Church became active in Civil Rights Movement. James Reeb, minister and active member of congregation, was murdered on the march in Selma, Alabama. ASC became a center for protests against the War in Vietnam under the ministry of Jack Mendlesohn.
1973 The Church was designated a National Landmark .
1980s The church held the first Aids benefit for the city of Boston and ASC and Dignity Boston launched Friday Night Supper Program for the homeless.
1990s The Church began an extensive restoration plan under the ministry of Reverend Kim K. Crawford Harvie the firm of Goody Clancy was hired to oversee the project. This was the first major work performed on the building in 90 years.
2004 Reverend Kim K. Crawford Harvie officiated at the first church/state same-sex marriage in the country.
2015 The congregation raised $120,000 to begin restoration of the Tiffany’s windows.
2017 The Arlington Street Tiffany Education Center opens.
The present Arlington Street Church building was constructed between 1859–1861 on newly filled land in Boston’s Back Bay by members of the historic Federal Street Church. The original congregation gathered in 1729 in a barn where the Bank of Boston stands today, on the corner of present-day Federal and Franklin streets. A statue of the Rev. William Ellery Channing, the great definer of Unitarianism and the fifth minister of this congregation from 1803–1842, is located across from the church in the Public Garden.
Arlington Street Church was the first public building in Boston’s Back Bay, a tidal basin of the Charles River that was filled in for building during the 1850s. Work began on Arlington Street Church in September, 1859. In May 1860 the cornerstone was laid at the southeast corner of the building. The 190-foot-high spire was finished and the weathervane fixed in place on September 11, 1861. The building was dedicated on December 11, 1861. The church rests on 999 wooden pilings driven into the mud of Boston’s former Back Bay. The pilings must remain submerged in water at all times so that they do not rot.
Exterior Architectural Design
The building was designed by the celebrated Boston architect, Arthur Gilman. He designed the exterior after the famous church of St.Martin-in-the-Fields. The structure is sheathed in New Jersey brownstone ashlar and displays architectural embellishments derived from the Italian Renaissance and 18th-century English sources.
Music is an integral aspect of the Unitarian- Universalist tradition, and the fact that Boston was the center for the manufacturing organs and pianos in the 19th century proved to be advantageous. The E. and G. G. Hook Company had a longstanding relationship with the Federal Street Church and was asked to build the organ for the new Arlington Street Church in 1861. The case that was built for this organ was considered to be the finest in the city at that time.
The organ was replaced in 1895, and once again in 1955 when the Aeolian-Skinner Company was commissioned for the current instrument. The organ was installed in the magnificent case which we still view today. Some pipework from the 1895 organ was re-used in the Skinner organ but was rescaled and revoiced. The organ has three manual pedals and over fifty stops.
A series of repairs since it was installed now gives the organ the ability to recreate the sound as it was heard from its original 1861 case. As the Aeolian-Skinner Company closed in the 1970s, the Arlington Street Church organ is now regarded as a historical instrument of the 20th century.
Gathered in love and service for justice and peace.
ASC’s Affirmation and Covenant:
Love is the spirit of this congregation,
And service is our gift.
This is our great covenant:
To dwell together in peace,
To speak our truths in love,
And to help one another.
El amor es el espíritu de nuestra congregación
Y el servicio es nuestro regalo.
Esto es a lo que nos comprometemos:
Convivir en paz,
Hablar nuestras verdades con amor,
Y ayudarnos los unos a los otros.