History of St. John’s
The following provides a brief overview of the history of St. John’s Church taken from parish histories written in 1923, 1941 and 1974.
“It was to the occasional visits of the missionaries of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts that the early settlers of the Town of Salisbury alone could turn for the celebration of the Anglican services. Among the first of these missionaries in northwestern Connecticut was the The Rev. Solomon Palmer, who had been for 14 years the Congregational Minister at Cornwall. One Sunday in 1754 he surprised his congregation by ‘declaring himself to be an Episcopalian in sentiment.’ He soon afterwards was sent to England for his ordination, and returned as the Society’s itinerant missionary for the district surrounding New Milford and Litchfield. In 1755 a wooden church building was erected in Sharon, and in 1760 Mr. Palmer reported to the Society as ‘having four good timber churches.’ One of these was a church in Salisbury, put up in 1756.
“Solomon Palmer was succeeded in 1762 by the The Rev. Thomas Davies, to whom the growth of the Church of England in northwestern Connecticut was largely due. He graduated from Yale College in 1758, and three years later was ordained in England by the Archbishop of Canterbury. He returned to America with a commission from the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel as missionary to New Milford, Roxbury, New Fairfield, Sharon, and Litchfield, a province which was apparently ex-tended to include Great Barrington, Massachusetts, as well. He married a young lady from Sharon, and the descendants of his daughter were for some years connected with the later parish of St. John’s.
“The last missionary to visit the Town before the Revolution was the The Rev. James Nichols, who was also the last candidate for Holy Orders to go from Connecticut to England for his ordination.
“The American Revolution dealt harshly with the Church of England in the colonies. While the Congregational Church gave its almost unanimous support to the movement for independence, ‘no one minister of the Church of England north of Pennsylvania joined the side of the insurgents.’ Its clergy were persecuted, driven into hiding, or forced to follow the ‘Tories’ into exile. The activities of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, which in 1775 was supporting 77 missions in the continental colonies, were seriously curtailed, and its missionary operations in Litchfield all but ceased until the end of the war. The church in Sharon was closed and the building turned into a prison house. For several years the members of the Church in Salisbury were virtually without a priest, and were exposed to the abuse of the Revolutionary ‘patriots.’ Nevertheless there could be found in the Town such men as Col. Samuel Blagden and Capt. Timothy Chittenden who joined the distinguished company of George Washington and Alexander Hamilton, and, like them, fought for independence while remaining loyal to the Church of England. Nor was the Town wholly without a priest. The Rev. James Nichols resumed his charge in the last years of the war, and entries in the parish register of Great Barrington record his visits to Salisbury in 1780 and again in 1783. Two years later the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, which he represented, withdrew from the missionary field.
“With the founding of the American Republic the Church entered upon happier times. Episcopal succession was secured for the United States, and the foundations of its Episcopal organization laid by the consecration of Samuel Seabury of Connecticut by three Scottish bishops in 1784. He became thereby the first bishop of the Church in the United States, as well as the first bishop of the Diocese of Connecticut. Five years later a general convention united the whole Church under one government, and with minor changes the Church of England in the Colonies became the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United State of America. “The growth of the Episcopal Church in Salisbury reflected the more tolerant attitude growing up among the Puritan communities of New England. Its ecclesiastical organization began to assume a more familiar and definite form. In 1792 several citizens contributed to the purchase of a piece of land which was conveyed in trust ‘for the members and professors of the Protestant Episcopal Church in Salisbury,’ though no church building was erected on this property, which was subsequently sold in 1824.
“With the coming of The Rev. George B. Andrews in 1819 a period of prosperity and achievement opened for the Salisbury parish. George Andrews was appointed to the care of the ‘Church of Sharon, Kent, and New Preston,’ which care, he states, included the churches of Salisbury, Amenia, and Pine Plains as well. In 1822, thanks to his ‘spirited exertions, seconded by the contributions of the friends of the Church, and generous assistance from some liberal individuals of other denominations, the present church building was erected,’ on a piece of land deeded to the Church in that same year by Horace K. Hubbard. On the occasion of the laying of the corner stone The Rev. George Andrews delivered an address. ‘The day appointed for the same being sultry, and a large collection of people being present, he was cordially invited to deliver his discourse in the Congregational Church. The invitation was as cordially accepted as given.’ Clearly time had done much to improve relations be- tween the two Churches. The Convention Journals of the following year refer to the erection of this ‘new brick Church,’ and report 55 families as comprising the parish. The bishop in his comments added: ‘These exertions, so honorable to the Church, and so animating to the cause of piety, have been stimulated in no small degree by the zealous labors of The Rev. Mr. Andrews.’ His name heads the list of the Rectors of St. John’s Parish, which office he held from 1821 until his retirement in 1823.
“In 1824 the articles of reorganization were drawn up and signed, and on September 15th of the same year the church building was consecrated by Dr. Thomas C. Brownell, Bishop of the Diocese of Connecticut. In his annual address Bishop Brownell reported: ‘During my visit to the parish of Salisbury … I consecrated the new Church in that place by the name of St. John’s Church. The edifice is constructed of brick in the gothic style of architecture. It is neatly furnished, and its accommodations are judiciously arranged. The expense of its erection … has been borne with cheerfulness. The zeal and liberality which this parish has evinced afford an encouraging promise of its future prosperity.’ Extensive additions were subsequently made to the building, which called for its rededication in 1852 by Dr. John Williams, the Assistant Bishop. These and slightly later additions included stained glass windows, a bell tower, and the present bell, the last acquired in 1866.
“During the rectorate of The Rev. James H. George extensive alterations to the church building were again undertaken. These included the extension of the east end of the church to enclose the chancel in its present form, the removal of the gallery at the west end, and the redecoration and refurnishing of the interior. The building was consecrated anew in 1884. Other furnishings, many of them in the form of memorials, have continued to be given to the church. A new organ, the east window, the paneling of the chancel and most of its furniture are the gifts of the Scoville Family, to whose unfailing generosity Church and Town are alike indebted.
“Twenty-five years followed between the end of the rectorate of The Rev. James H. George in 1902 and the beginning of that of The Rev. Henry J. Chiera in 1925. During this time the parish was served by nine different clergymen. A new rectory, which was also a gift of a member of the Scoville Family, was completed in 1909, at the same time the old rectory building standing about a quarter of a mile to the northeast of the church was given up.
“The Rev. Henry J. Chiera (1925-52) came to Salisbury with an unusual back- ground. He was the son of a Sicilian Minister, and he brought with him, not only an Italian accent, but also a fine eagerness to get things done which, because the means used were not always in strict conformity to Episcopalian practice, occasion- ally got him into difficulties. He was assiduous in looking after the welfare of his parishioners; but behind the wheel of his automobile he was a highway hazard. He was quite willing to make changes in the baptismal or other services, for those who requested him to do so, saying, ‘We are all Unitarians today.’ Or when he submitted a budget which the Vestry thought would bankrupt St. John’s, he would say, ‘The Lord will provide.’ – and he was generally right. These somewhat unorthodox practices endeared him to many of his parishioners; but there were always some who regretted them; and this brought about a division in the congregation. “A significant addition to the parish house was completed in his memory a year after Fr. Chiera died in 1952. In it hangs a portrait of Fr. Chiera by Ellen Emmet Rand, dated 1928, considered by some as the best of her many fine portraits, and which catches remarkably the eagerness and the sensitivity of the young rector. Quite possibly this is the most moving of all the memorials to him.
“Busy were the years during the rectorate of The Rev. James W. Hyde, who came to Salisbury from St. James’ Church in New York City in 1952. In addition to the extension to the parish house, the western end of the church, including the central bell tower, was rebuilt in brick in 1959, thereby matching the rest of the building, and by extending it one bay made possible a reconstruction of the interior with a narthex (vestibule) on the ground floor of the west end, and on the second floor a gallery, which includes a space for the choir and the organ (another Scoville gift) with console, all of which were completed in their present form in 1970. The six splendid windows in the nave were acquired as memorials in the period 1963-68. Meanwhile the rectory built in 1909 was replaced by another building in 1963.”
Rectors of St. John’s Parish
George B. Andrews 1821-23
Stephen Beach 1824-33
Lucius M. Purdy 1833-37
Charles William Bradley 1837
S. T. Carpenter 1837-39
David L. Devins 1839-42
William Warland1 842-45
George H. Nichols 1845-53
Ruel H. Tuttle 1853-58
Samuel F. Jarvis 1858-62
Jonathan A. Wainwright 1863-71
William Allen Johnson 1871-83
James H. George 1882-1902
Henry S. Habersham 1902-04
Henry H. Davies 1904-07
D. Parker Morgan 1907-08
David N. Kirkby 1908-13
Charles B. Carpenter 1914-20
Arthur M. Griffin 1918-19
C. S. McClellan, Jr. 1921
Frank Lambert 1924-25
Henry J. Chiera 1925-52
James W. Hyde1952-79
Leonard Fisher, Interim Priest in Charge 1979
Charles A. Bevan, Jr. 1979-96
Fleming Rutledge, Interim Priest in Charge 1996-97
Jesse Y. Bingham, Jr., Interim Priest in Charge 1997-98
John F. Carter 1998 – 2014
David F. Sellery 2014