Name: Saint John's Episcopal Church
Date: ca 1910
Image Number: JH10ccdJH01
Comments: Saint John's Episcopal Church is located at the north corner of Bird and Harrison Street in Scottsville. This white frame church with Gothic windows and a scrollwork vergeboard was built in 1875 and was the second church in Saint Anne's Parish. The photo above is from an early William E. Burgess postcard; at right, Saint John's Episcopal Church is shown as it appeared in 2001.
In her parish history, entitled St. Anne's Parish, Albemarle County, Virginia, Jo McCleskey details the
1874 deed transfer of this church lot from the Raglands to the Trustees for St. John's chapel for $125 plus interest:
"All that lot or parcel of land whereon the aforesaid church is situated consisting of a front of fifty feet upon the Street known in the plan of
said town of Scottsville as Harrison Street and running back one hundred and forty feet the same being a part
of the lot known in the plan of the said town as lot number one hundred and sixty nine (169). The southern boundary
of the same being Bird Street and being bounded on the north and west by the lands of Gro. W. Dawson trustee and
the shape of the same being a rectangle." (Albemarle County Deed Book 73, page 96)
A History of St. John's Episcopal Church, Scottsville, Virginia, 1875-1975 By Michael T. Paul and Karen Dawley Paul
Reviewed by Mrs. F. Russell Moon, Jr. and
The Very Reverend Clifford E. Schane
In the town of Scottsville within earshot of the James River is located a modest but sturdy building which commands a view of the surrounding streets, homes, and businesses. This is St. John's Episcopal Church, the product of an unknown builder who has captured the strengths and solid virtues of a simpler age. The church was built around 1874 on land which had been donated by parishoners. (1) It was "used for the first time at the visitation of Bishop Whittle" in July, 1875, although it was "still in an unfinished state" and funds were "wanted to paint and furnish it." (2) The first entries for St. John's in the Parish Register were also made in July, 1875. On the twenty-fourth day of that month, Bettie Jefferson Gantt, Thomas G. Griffin, and Mrs. E. F. Rust were confirmed, and the first offering was made for the Education Society. (3) The first marriage to be recorded at the new church was that of Frances Bathurst Scott to William Meade Lewis on 18 October 1877. Mrs. Lewis was the daughter of Mrs. Pocahontas Bolling Scott, who was one of the founders of St. John's. (4)
The church was built to minister to the spiritual needs of a growing Episcopal community. Early records indicate that services were being held in private homes in the early 1870's, and a baptism was recorded in Scottsville as early as Easter, 1861. (5) The Reverend Thomas E. Locke noted in 1874 that during "the past year I have continued my missionary work in Howardsville and Scottsville. The church in the latter place is making some little progress." He stated that "a small Sunday school" was "in successful operation" and that four people had been "confirmed here last summer." He went on to state that "a new Church is about to be erected. Already the workmen are busily engaged upon it, and we hope to get into it early this fall." Locke added that in order "to complete the building and finish it, we shall need some foreign aid." Aside from the church an "additional room to the rectory" had almost been completed. "For this and other improvements around the rectory, contributing very materially to the comfort of the Rector and his family," Locke stated, "I am indebted to the ladies of my charge." (6)
Locke was not only the rector of St. John's, however; he was in charge of St. Anne's Parish which occupied the southern half of Albemarle County. It is only within the framework of the Parish that the history of St. John's can be understood. St. Anne's was formed in 1745 to serve an area that was still in the frontier stage It was inhabited not only by settlers of English ancestry who were moving West, but also by Scotch Irish Presbyterians, who were migrating southward and eastward through the Great Valley. The Parish's first official minister was the Reverend Robert Rose, a missionary who succeeded the former Jesuit and Episcopal convert, James Gavin, in meeting the spiritual needs of the area's people. By the 1770's, three churches had been established within the present boundaries of St. Anne's. They were the Forge Church near Carter's Bridge, Ballinger's Church near Boiling Springs, and the Garden Church in the neighborhood of North Garden. (7)
Despite this auspicious beginning, the Parish fell on hard times during the final years of the Revolution. Its minister, the Reverend Charles Clay, and its vestry became embroiled in a struggle over finances which reached the Albemarle County Court. Clay left the Parish in 1780, and St. Anne's was not a part of the Protestant Episcopal Church which was inaugurated in 1785 to replace the established Anglican Church. (8) From the time of Clay's departure until the arrival of the Reverend Zachariah Meade in 1832, services were held only occasionally by clergymen from neighboring Fredericksville Parish. As St. Anne's first rector in half a century, Meade held services in the recently built Christ Church in Glendower which had been constructed entirely from the donations of local parishioners. Meade left the Parish in 1834. Serving the Parish during the next thirty-five years were the Reverend Joseph P.B. Wilmer, who later became Bishop of Louisiana in 1866, the Reverend Ebenezer Boyden, the Reverend Charles Ambler, the Reverend William Meade Nelson, and the Reverend Samuel Ridout. (9) Mr. Ridout's ministry was followed by that of St. John's first rector, the Reverend Thomas E. Locke, who arrived in the Parish in November, 1869. (10)
Miss Sally Carter, an historian of St. Anne's, described the Reverend Mr. Locke as "this sturdy soldier of life" who "put up under conditions that were more than trying." Not only had many of the most devoted parishioners of previous years died or moved on, but the Civil War had dislodged the local economic base to the point that the remaining parishioners' "ability to contribute largely had been more than greatly diminished." (11) The Reverend Mr. Locke persevered, however; and the new church in Scottsville prospered. On 5 May 1878, St. John's was officially consecrated by the Right Reverend Francis McNeece Whittle. (12) Around this time, the local newspaper noted that Locke would "preach in the Episcopal Church" in Scottsville "next Sunday at 11 A.M. and in the afternoon at half-past five." (13) He did not hold services in Scottsville every week, however; the local churches coordinated heir schedules so that one service was held each Sunday. The Baptists worshipped on the first Sunday of the month, the Presbyterians on the second, and the Episcopalians on the third, and the Methodists on the fourth. (14)
In addition to its religious function, the new church also contributed to the social life of Scottsville during Locke's tenure. In the early 1890's, the ladies of St. John's staged "Ye Old Folkes' Concert" which featured "along with singing--solo, duet, and choral- a 'Baby Doll Drill' and 'Fan Drill' by '16 Charming Misses.'" (15) Locke left St. John's in the Fall of 1896 after having served in Albemarle for twenty-seven years.
This church was without official guidance until the arrival of its second rector, the Reverend William H. Laird, on 1 July 1897. (16) Laird "found a congregation very responsive to his own spirit of life." Miss Sally Carter noted that these "were happy and fruitful days" for the church, as it came under "this strong influence of this young man's faithful spirit." (17) Laird himself stated that during his tenure the parish "cheerfully assumed the burden of the $150.00, heretofore annually received as aid from the Dio. Miss. Soc.---thus making the Parish free and independent." The parishioners had also made valuable improvements upon both church and rectory and had given improvements upon both church and rectory and had given "liberally to Missions and charities." He added that he "would also like to record here that every dollar of our assessment for the Bishop and Contingent Fund has each year of my rectorship been fully and promptly paid by my people." (18)
Laird left St. John's on 1 October 1901, and the church was without a minister for nine months. During this period visiting clergymen held occasional services. (19) St. John's third rector, J. Wilmer Gresham, arrive in Albemarle on 20 July 1902, but was absent from the parish for the period of January to March, 1903 "in accordance with the terms of my understanding upon assuming charge."
During his ministry, parish activities flourished. "I note the carrying on of an effective Sunday School during six months of the year," he stated, "the organization of a Branch of the Woman's Auxiliary: the formation of a Church Guild." Gresham held his last service in Albemarle on 25 December 1903, and he was succeeded by the Reverend Thomas Baker who remained at St. John's until 1907. Baker's tenure was followed by that of the Reverend William H. Darbie who left the parish after serving only two years. (20)
The sixth rector of St. John's was the Reverend Elliot Benger Meredith who arrived in Albemarle on 12 May 1910. The son of an Episcopal minister, he was born in Stafford County, Virginia, on 17 May 1873. He graduated from Roanoke College of the Virginia Theological Seminary at Alexandria, was ordained as a deacon in 1901, and was ordained as a priest in 1902. He was married to the former Esther N. Montague and had two daughters and three sons. Before coming to Albemarle, Meredith served in various churches in Virginia and Nevada. (21) Described by one parishioner as a "great hunter and fisherman," he also counted radio repair among his many hobbies. (22) "During the depression years of the thirties, he was steadfast," wrote another parishioner, "and remained with us to see the revival, in the forties, of better days." (23) His ministry was an active one. He was instrumental in having St. Stephen's, the parish's third church, built in Esmont in 1914. In addition to preaching in Glendower, Esmont, and Howardsville, he held services at St. John's on the second and fourth Sundays of each month at 11:15 A.M. He also participated "in our mission work in Alberene and the Blue Ridge" and frequently held Sunday services for convict laborers in the camps along Route Six in the 1920's. (24) Meredith's wife, Esther, also took an active part in community affairs, and she taught biology at Scottsville High School. (25) Meredith retired from the ministry in 1945 and was living in Scottsville in 1951. (26)
From the time of Meredith's retirement until the arrival of the Reverend Beverly "Little Bev" Tucker, Jr., then a deacon, in 1948, St. John's was again without the services of a qualified minister. Several seminary students and lay readers held services intermittently, however; and they enabled the church to survive another difficult period. (27) Tucker was ordained priest at Christ Church, Glendower, on 8 June 1949. Participating in the ceremony were his father, Beverly D. Tucker, who was the Bishop of Ohio, and his uncle, Henry St. George Tucker, the former presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States. An alumnus of the University of Virginia, Tucker also graduated from the Virginia Theological Seminary. (28)
His "influence was unobtrusive, but seemed to have almost an explosive quality, as though some secret leaves were at work under the quiet manner of this young man." (29) In fact it was Tucker who was largely responsible for having the Parish Hall built at St. John's. Completed in October, 1952, this structure serves as a community center for the various churches in St. Anne's Parish. (30) It was described as a "Parish House, Sunday School, and Young Peoples' Center" in a leaflet distributed by the Parish around this time. In a statement included in this leaflet, E. Odell White, the senior warden at St. John's, and Allen K. Randolph, the senior warden of Christ Church, wrote that the "joint Sunday School for the two churches is already a vital force and source of inspiration for the whole parish." They went on to state that the "Building Committee has given a great deal of thought and care to both our needs and resources, and our architect has drawn a fine set of plans based on their recommendations." These plans included "an office for the Rector and a choir room, both of which will be large enough to serve as classrooms…" There would also be a "nice sized kitchen, two lavatories, and one large room, 38x21, where the young people…may be assembled in Christian fellowship under the direction of trained leaders." George Tyler Goodwin gave enough land to enlarge the portion of the lot where the parish hall was to be built to permit the construction of the large room. Also included in this leaflet was a letter from the Reverend Mr. Tucker. He stated that he hoped "we will look upon this project not simply as a building for the existing Episcopal families…, but as part of a great missionary venture to reach the large number of unchurched families in the area." He also asserted that such "a project is admittedly a bold undertaking for so small a parish." If it be granted that the construction of the church itself was the first major event in the history of St. John's, then the addition of the Parish Hall must be considered the second major event.
The Hall provided a place where the social groups connected with St. John's could meet and project plans for their various functions. Social activities had not been neglected in the early years of the church's history, however; aside from "Ye Old Folkes' Concert" staged during the Reverend Mr. Locke's tenure, the members of St. John's were involved in many other activities. In 1935, the ladies of the church planned "a food and rummage sale, to be held Sat., Aug. 3, beginning at 10 a.m. Place to be announced." (31) During the Christmas season of the year, the members of St. John's joined with parishioners from other Scottsville churches in staging a Christmas pageant which featured the singing of Christmas Carols at a Community Tree. (32)
Foremost among the social groups was the "Women's Guild and Auxiliary" which changed its name to "Episcopal Churchwomen" in 1945. The leading members of the "Guild" in the 1940's and 1950's were Mrs. C.C. Dunn, Mrs. M. I. Dunn, Mrs. Percy Harris, and Mrs. E. Odell White. They met one afternoon every month at the home of either Mrs. Harris or Mrs. M.I. Dunn. Later an evening group was formed which continued to meet at various homes after the afternoon group disbanded.
The "Churchwomen" at St. John's joined with other women in the parish to perform four primary functions; they provided care for elderly parishioners through visits, gifts of food, and transportation; they provded both foreign and domestic missions with toys and clothing; they held a series of Lenten suppers, "Every Member Canvass" suppers, and pancake suppers on Shrove Tuesdays; and they sponsored birthday parties, showers, and wedding receptions for individual parishioners. In fact, the ladies have been described by one parishioner as "the backbone of the parish," for they have raised funds for all essential parish services. Not to be counted among the least of their functions was the annual sale of plum puddings made from a "secret recipe" of Susan Hill Dunn. (33)
Another of the various groups connected with St. John's was the Altar Guild. Members care for linens and vessels used at the Communion service and prepared the flower arrangements. Susan Hill Dunn, Cenie Moon, Mary Pearl Cook, and Phyllis Davis have been in charge of the Guild in the past, and Mrs. Vera Davis continues to perform the Guild's functions.
Just as important as the Altar Guild of St. John's was the Church Choir. Prominent organists and choir directors have been Sarah Roberts who directed five or six members in the late 1940's, Mrs. Cenie Moon who has played and directed at various times in the last twenty-five years, Mrs. Frances Bailey who played at St. John's in the early 1950's and who had been an organist at the Catholic Cathedral in Atlanta, and Mrs. Virginia Ramsay who was interested in both piano and voice. Other organists have been Mrs. Leonora Shafer, a graduate of the Westminster Choir School who conducted a choir school in the local area, and Mrs. Mary Pearl Cook.
The most fundamental of the various social activities centered at St. John's is the Sunday School. The modern-day school was established by the Reverend Mr. Tucker at St. Stephen's but was transferred to St. John's when the Parish Hall was completed. Hugh Flynn, Elmer Johnson, and Frank Russell Moon were among the superintendents of the Sunday School. There have been at times as many as fifty students or as few as fifteen. Classes are held from September through June for children ranging in age from toddlers to junior high school students.
In the late '50's and early '60's, a breakfast was held after the early Sunday service. Two parishioners would prepare breakfast for as many as forty communicants, who were charged fifty cents apiece. Before it was discontinued, this meal evolved into a Continental breakfast and was a fitting symbol of the fellowship shared at St. John's. (34)
The Parish Hall having been completed and the Sunday School having been established, the Reverend Mr. Tucker left St. John's in February, 1953 to accept the rectorship of Old Donation Church in Princess Anne County near Virginia Beach. He was replaced in February, 1954 by Reverend Webster L. Simons who was born in Malden, Massachusetts, in 1925 and later moved to the Washington, D.C. area. He served in the Army Air Force during World War II and graduated from Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, and the Virginia Theological Seminary. After ordination, he served at St. Stephen's Church and St. Christopher's School in Richmond. (35)
Concerning the Reverend Mr. Simons' tenure at St. John's, one parishioner has noted that "he has enriched our services, and opened to us the meaning and beauty of our Prayer Book." "Attendance at our Sunday services has notably increased," she went on to state, and work "among the young people of all ages has continued to advance, in the Sunday school particularly." Simons also "instituted a Parish Vestry, on which members from all three churches serve jointly." (36) Simons' work with local teenagers was particularly important, and he conducted a "Social Hour" for them on Friday evenings. (37) Simons and his wife, the former Mary Josephine Hayworth, who was fondly known as "Jo," counted bicycling among their many interests, and a local newspaper noted that "each has a bicycle on which they (sic) hope to explore the surrounding countryside." The Reverend Mr. Simons' bike was "the same with which he toured part of Holland in 1948 when his father was stationed there. He also enjoys swimming and tennis when he has time for it." (38)
Simons' wife was an active member of St. John's while she resided in Albemarle. In addition to caring for a baby daughter, she was "absolutely devoted to her music" and became the Parish's choir director. She also played the organ, establishing a Junior Choir, and wrote and staged several Epiphany pageants. The following lines are a representative sample of her work:
There was a Puritan named Increase Mather,
Who worked himself into quite a lather.
Let's turn the pages of time and look
As he preaches against the English Prayer Book. (39)
"Jo" was well-qualified to pursue her musical interests. She graduated from Northwestern State College of Louisiana with a degree in music in 1945 and did graduate work at the University of Michigan and Louisiana State University. (40) The Reverend Mr. Simons and his wife left St. John's in September, 1957, to accept a call at Bon Air in the Diocese of Southern Virginia, and they later journeyed to Wilmington, North Carolina. (41)
After an interval of almost a year, the Reverend Fredrick L. Eckel became the next rector of St. John's. A native of Brooklyn, he graduated from St. Stephen's College, Columbia University and Seabury-Western Theological Seminary. Having served the church in various capacities, he was the Canon Chancellor of the Cathedral in Atlanta before coming to Scottsville. (42) He was married and had one son. Canon Eckel was extremely active during his years at St. John's. Having been the Executive Secretary of the Episcopal Church School Association, he was enthusiastic about the local Sunday School. (43) He also brough a set of bells to St. John's and taught the children of the Parish to play them. They performed at local Christmas services and at other churches in the area as well as at St. Luke's. (44)
One of Canon Eckel's major contributions to the community was the establishment of The Church News of Scottsville, VA, which was published on a quarterly basis from 1959 through 1961. A typical issue was that of Spring, 1960, which included "A Word From The Pastor" of the churches of Scottsville, a listing of services and events for each of the churches, and a column called "The Pulpit and the Altar." (45) Canon Eckel also arranged a "Boar's Head Festival", which was performed in the Parish at Christmastime. (46) His fruitful and active ministry came to an end in April, 1960, when he passed away while still in the service of St. John's. (47)
St. John's was again without the services of a minister until the Reverend William R. Martin, then a deacon, arrived in February, 1962. (48) Having recently graduated from the Virginia Theological Seminary, he was ordained a priest at Christ Church in Charlottesville on 1 June 1963. (49) His wife was named Emma Lou, and they had three children. The Reverend Mr. Martin was popular in Scottsville, and his special interests included counseling alcoholics. He left St. John's in July, 1864, to become the Chaplain at Old Dominion College and later moved to Culver Military Academy in Indiana. (50)
After an interval of more than a year, the Reverend John A. Wright, Jr., then a deacon, became the new rector of St. John's in September, 1965. (51) He was ordained priest at Christ Church, Glendower, on 27 March 1966. (52) The Reverend Mr. Wright was a graduate of the Virginia Theological Seminary and of American University in Washington, D.C, where he worked at night as a Capitol policeman. His wife was named Gayle, and they had two boys and two girls. (53)
Wright was instrumental in the unification of St. John's, St. Stephen's, and Christ Church into one congregation, a move which was largely supported by the communicants of Christ Church with a few dissenting voices from members of St. John's and St. Stephen's. (54) In a statement made in 1969, Vestryman Walter L. Coles cited "our present financial hole" as the reason why he supported unification. He noted that he feared "Deficit budgets, reduced Diocesan pledges - this is the road we are now following, and the situation is worsening." He added that the vestry was simply "attempting to get things on an even keel," and went on to state that "only Christ Church has the requisites essential to growth - the building, the land, and wherewithal to expand if and when desired." He also asserted that it is "an accepted fact that when the main service is held regularly every Sunday at the same Church, attendance increases, interest grows, and a sounder, stronger Parish evolves." (55) Coles spoke ten days after the vestry had unanimously approved unification on 2 July 1969.
The Reverend Mr. Wright wrote on 15 January 1970 that the Congregational Meeting had approved a formal resolution concerning unification on 14 January 1970, and he asked that Coles put his signature on the document which had to be forwarded to the Bishop. Thus, unification must be ranked with the construction of the Church and the building of the Parish Hall as the third major event in the history of St. John's.
The Reverend Mr. Wright was also involved in activities which extended beyond immediate parish duties. During the floods of 1969 and 1972 in Scottsville, he set up soup kitchens at St. John's which were staffed by ladies of the Parish. Together they ministered to the needs of those who were crying to move the town from serious damage.
The Reverend Mr. Wright left the Parish in September, 1973, to accept a call in Fletcher, North Carolina. He has been succeeded by the Reverend Clifford Schane as rector and the Reverend Peter Way continues to serve as curate. (56) Both of these men show the same dedication to the church's service which has characterized the ministers of St. John's for a century, and despite such proposals as that presented in a vestry meeting in 1974 to sell the church, there can be a little doubt that the people and the rectors of St. John's will continue to support this modest structure which is so much a part of their heritage.
1. Virginia Moore, Scottsville on the James (Charlottesville, 1969), p. 59.
2. Eighty-First Annual Council of the Diocese of Virginia (May, 1876), p. 126.
3. St Anne's Parish Register,1854-1896, pp. 46, 77, 125. Cited below as Parish Register, I.
4. Letter, Mrs. Walter Leake to Mr. and Mrs. Michael T. Paul, July 10, 1975. See also the enclosure from the Virginia Churchman, 1941.
5. Virginia Moore, Scottsville on the James, p. 59; Parish Register, I: pp. 40.
6. Seventy-Ninth Annual Council of the Diocese of Virginia (May 1976), p. 124.
7. Elizabeth Coles Langhorne, A History of Christ Church, Glendower and G. MacLaren Brydon, A Sketch of the Early History of Saint Anne's Parish in Albemarle County, Virginia (Charlottesville, 1957), pp. 3-5; Reverend Edgar Woods, Albemarle County in Virginia (Bridgewater, Virginia), p. 124; George MacLaren Brydon, Virginia's Mother Church (Philadelphia, 1952), p. 357.
8. Langhorne and Brydon, History, pp. 50-55.
9. Langhorne and Brydon, History, pp. 10-11.
10. St. Anne's Parish Register, 1897-1955. Cited below as Parish Register, II.
11. Langhorne and Brydon, History, p. 11.
12. Journal of the Convention of the Diocese of Virginia, 1878, p. 43.
13. Scottsville Courier, 28 September 1876.
14. Scottsville Courier, 22 February 1888, 14 February 1895.
15. Moore, Scottsville on the James, p. 109.
16. Parish Register, II.
17. Langhorne and Brydon, History, p. 12.
18. Parish Register, II.
19. Parish Register, II; Langhorne and Brydon, History, p. 12.
20. Parish Register, II.
21. Daily Progress, 3 September 1951; Parish Register, II.
22. Interview with Mr. Douglas Forsyth, 23 March 1975.
23. Langhorne and Brydon, History, p. 13.
24. Forsyth Interview; Langhorne and Brydon, History, p. 13.
25. Forsyth Interview.
26. Scottsville Sun, 1 November 1951.
27. Forsyth Interview.
28. Daily Progress, 13 May 1949, 9 June 1949.
29. Langhorne and Brydon, History, p. 17.
30. Interview with Mrs. Cenie Moon, 26 April 1975; Forsyth Interview; Langhorne and Brydon, History, p. 17.
31. Scottsville News, 18 July 1935.
32. Scottsville News, 19 December 1935.
33. Moon Interview.
34. Moon Interview.
35. Daily Progress, 7 December 1953; Scottsville Sun, 4 March 1954.
36. Langhorne and Brydon, History, p. 18.
37. Forsyth Interview.
38. Scottsville Sun, 4 March 1954.
39. A copy of this pageant is in the possession of Mrs. Cenie Moon of Scottsville.
40. Daily Progress, 7 December 1953; Moon Interview.
41. St. Anne's Parish Register, 1955 to present. Cited below as Parish Register, III; Daily Progress, 17 March 1958; Forsyth Interview.
42. Daily Progress, 17 March 1958.
43. Moon Interview; Forsyth Interview.
44. The Church News of Scottsville, Virginia, Fall, 1959, p. 3.
45. A run of the magazine is in possession of Mrs. Cenie Moon of Scottsville.
46. A copy of this Festival is in the possession of Mrs. Cenie Moon of Scottsville.
47. Forsyth Interview.
48. Parish Register, III.
49. A copy of the program for his ordination is in the possession of Mrs. Cenie Moon of Scottsville.
50. Parish Register, III; Forsyth Interview.
51. Parish Register, III.
52. A copy of the program for his ordination is in the possession of Mrs. Cenie Moon of Scottsville.
53. Forsyth Interview.
54. Interview with Mr Walter L. Coles, 1 June 1975.
55. Statement of Mr. Walter L. Coles to the Congregational meeting of St. Stephen's Church, 12 July 1969.
56. Parish Register, III; Forsyth Interview.
The Burgess postcard of Saint John's is from the collection of Jack Hamner. Jack resides in Scottsville, Virginia.
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