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Historic church collapses in downtown New London

Clean up continues the day after the church collapsed
Eddy Martinez
Connecticut Public
Officials are continuing to investigate the cause of the collapse of the former First Congregational Church on Union Street in downtown New London, Connecticut, the day after it collapsed on Jan. 25, 2024.

A historic church built in the 1850s in New London collapsed Thursday, leading to the loss of a beloved downtown landmark.

There were no injuries, according to officials in the southeastern Connecticut city.

The steeple on top of the stone church crumbled, leaving a huge pile of rubble in front of the building.

Officials were investigating the cause of the collapse at the former First Congregational Church on Union Street.

“The skyline of the city has permanently changed, and we've lost a significant piece of our history. The congregation ... dates back to before the before the city was founded,” Mayor Michael Passero said Friday.

The church is expected to be a "total loss." The two remaining steeples will have to be removed, he said. Other portions of the church deemed unsafe will be demolished.

A next-door building, a dorm for Connecticut College students, was evacuated but has been deemed structurally safe, city officials said. The students were being temporarily housed in a nearby hotel.

The church collapse led to the closure of several nearby buildings, including City Hall and a post office. Police were asking residents to avoid a part of downtown Thursday afternoon into Friday.

Police were on scene along with crews from other agencies.

From across the street, passersby watched as rubble was collected and investigation continued as the collapse of the former First Congregational Church on Union Street.
Eddy Martinez
Connecticut Public
From across the street, passersby including New London resident Olinda Poretella (left) watched as rubble was collected and investigation continued as the collapse of the former First Congregational Church on Union Street.

First Congregational Church was sold in 2015 to Engaging Heaven Church. Engaging Heaven posted on Facebook that there was one person inside the church at the time of the collapse, but that "no one is hurt and everyone is accounted for."

The uninjured person was located inside the rear of the church after a search by New London fire personnel, according to police.

Passero said the city was extremely fortunate.

"It could have been a much bigger disaster for us," he said.

Trish Reyburn owns a business across the street from the collapse.

"All those rocks fell right onto their own property and the steeple fell into the church, instead of onto the street," Reyburn said. "That seems kind of miraculous, that nobody was hurt."

Gov. Ned Lamont said in a statement he was aware of the building collapse and had been in touch with State Police and emergency management officials.

“We have deployed state emergency services personnel and equipment to assist in response efforts,” Lamont said. “I urge everyone in the area to follow the direction of law enforcement and other first responders who are working to keep the community safe.”

Video courtesy of The Day

About the church

First Congregational Church has a long history in New London. It was formed in the 1600s, and the current church was built in the 1850s, according to a church website. A bell installed in the 1870s was used by the town to call people to meetings and sound fire alarms.

The church was sold in 2015 to Engaging Heaven Ministries, according to city records.

According to documents submitted to the National Register of Historic Places in the late 1970s, the church was built in 1851 by Leopold Eidlitz.

"Eidlitz's massive German Gothic First Church of Christ ... Approached by a long flight of steps, it looks down on the street traffic from its high site with heavy granite dignity," the document said. "The pointed arch of its central entrance contrasts with the round-headed windows in the three towers. The tall, square central tower which rises in three stages is flanked by shorter towers with pitched roofs."

Connecticut Public's Eddy Martinez, Patrick Skahill, Matt Dwyer and Eric Aasen contributed to this report, which is developing. Check back for updates.