Before this denomination of church was locally established, Episcopal church services throughout the 1840’s in Essex, NY, were held by various missionary priests traveling from nearby locations, including Ticonderoga and Keeseville (Belden Noble Memorial Library. Essex, New York: An Early History. Burlington, VT: Queen City Printers, 2003. Print. 78).
From Schoolhouse to Church
These transitory services were usually held at Hickory Hill, home of Judge Henry H. Ross and his wife Susannah, although sometimes they were held in the Ross family schoolhouse. The schoolhouse was constructed (c. 1835) by the Ross family with the intention of it eventually being converted into a church once a proper schoolhouse for the town could be built.
“St. John’s Episcopal Church was officially incorporated on March 21, 1853 by Rt. Rev. Jonathan M. Wainwright, Bishop of New York.” (Essex, New York: An Early History 78)
In 1854, Judge Ross gave the church a lease for the building, and it was finally converted into a church. Though it was not until 1881 that the church was formally consecrated.
“In 1877, the church purchased the building and lot, removed the old building to its present site, and reconstructed it in its present form, using designs by the Reverend John Henry Hopkins” (Essex, New York: An Early History 74). The next door rectory was built that year as well.
Other churches were later established from St. John’s, including a mission in Boquet (1854), the Church of Good Shepherd (1882) in Elizabethtown, and St. Mary’s Chapel (1902) in Willsboro.
St. John’s was closely tied to the Crater Club in the first half of the twentieth century with clergymen and others affiliated with the Episcopal church vacationing there in the summer. Several of these visitors became “summer rectors” at the church (Essex, New York: An Early History 79). The rest of the year the clergy and church leaders were somewhat irregular.
In 1952, the Rev. Albert Anderson became the first year-round rector for St. John’s. He was also the rector of the Church of Good Shepherd—this shared arrangement or rectors between the two churches continued until 1994 when they were officially established as separate churches.
Church Details and Decoration
During its transition into a church, St. John’s was redesigned “in the spirit of the country English Reform Gothic” (Images of America: Essex on Lake Champlain 74).
The church is a frame building supported by buttresses on the sides, with a wing for the organ chamber and vestry room and a bellcote at the north end. A parish hall was added as a new west wing in 1984. (Images of America: Essex on Lake Champlain 74)
The large projecting buttresses on the exterior are an unnecessary structural addition for this small wooden church, but they were added to give a resemblance to the large elaborate Gothic churches of Europe (“Essex: An Architectural Guide.” 16).
The church has a somewhat rustic interior. The interior also has a “beautiful hammer-beam ceiling, [another] stylistic reference to the medieval churches of Europe.” (“Essex: An Architectural Guide.” 16).
Without a local gas supplier (or electricity) in the church’s early days, “manufactures made simple chandeliers that were fitted with oil lamps, typically two connected by an ornamental rod” (Images of America: Essex on Lake Champlain 75). Do any readers know if these still exist in the church today?
The stained glass windows of the south facade were crafted by Taber Sears of New York, circa 1910. (“Essex: An Architectural Guide.” 17).
The church’s altar was carved from a stone found on the farm of Henry H. Ross. The stone altar is polished and inlaid with porphyry and marbles of differing colors (“Essex: An Architectural Guide.” 17).
The small belfry atop the church contains a bell that came from the lake steamer, Champlain, which wrecked sometime in the 1870’s near Westport, NY.
“In 1987 a garden and columbarium were dedicated in memory of the Rt. Rev. Robert B. Hall, Bishop of Virginia.” (Essex, New York: An Early History 79)
St. John’s Today
The church continues to serve parishioners from local communities—Essex, Willsboro, Westport, Reber, Whallonsburg, and Westport— and summer visitors.
In 2002, the first woman priest was appointed at this church (Essex, New York: An Early History 79).
This map (with satellite image overlay) will help you locate St. John’s Episcopal Church and see how its location relates to other historic buildings in Essex’s historic district.
View Discover Essex on Lake Champlain in a larger map
References for St. John’s Episcopal Church
Belden Noble Memorial Library. Essex, New York: An Early History. Burlington, VT: Queen City Printers, 2003. Print.
“Essex: An Architectural Guide.” Essex Community Heritage Organization, 1986.
Hislop, David C., Jr. Essex on Lake Champlain. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Pub., 2009. Print. Images of America.
“Historic Essex.” Historic Essex. Essex Community Heritage Organization. Web. 26 Feb. 2013. <http://www.essexny.org/>.
Smith, H. P. History of Essex County: With Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of Some of Its Prominent Men and Pioneers. Syracuse, N. Y.: D. Mason &, 1885. Print.