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St. John's History - 3. A new church and rectory

Updated: Apr 23, 2020

         Plans to build a new church were already being made, with John A. Appleton as chairman of the building committee. The effort was totally supported by the people of the church, with no assistance solicited from outside. The Sunday School children contributed the baptismal font and one of the bells. Mrs. Winslow contributed a tenor bell as a memorial to her deceased husband. Other people of the parish provided $500 for a town clock. Mrs. Marsh, Mrs. Dr. Boardman, and Mrs. Satterthwaite put in large memorial windows for their deceased husbands and the architect contributed a memorial window for his son. The total cost of the building was just over $108,000.

               The cornerstone was laid by the Rt. Rev. Horatio Potter, November 10, 1869, and the consecrated by him on the 30th of September 1871. Since diocesan law forbade the consecration of any church with debt, Mr. John Appleton took responsibility for the remaining debt of several thousand dollars, which enabled the consecration to proceed. The Rectory was also constructed at this time, with a stained glass window provided by the people of the Rector’s bible class, and Mr. Cornelius Vanderbilt provided furniture for the rector’s study.

              The first bride that stood before the altar of the new church was Miss Helen Collins, and the first funeral was that of vestryman, Aymar Cater.

              A legacy of $5,000 from the estate of the Rev. Dr. Mercer, became the nucleus of a fund which eventually enabled the construction of a beautiful chapel, called after him the “Mercer Chapel.”               The parish’s commitment to its community became even more evident when, in 1882, a member of the parish, Sarah B. MacFarland, along with several other women of the church community, founded the Staten Island Diet Kitchen. It was incorporated on June 6, 1882, for the “relief of the destitute sick of the County of Richmond, by the preparation and distribution of nourishing food, and otherwise.” It is considered to be Staten Island's first feeding program.

                The managers for the first year were Mrs. MacFarland, Eliza MacDonald, Margaret A. Johnston, Charlotte Meyer, Elizabeth W. Clark, Clara K. Oehme, Mary T. Ripley, and Caroline L. Peniston. These managers, plus Rev. Eccleston and Louis Henry Meyer (first President of the Staten Island Savings Bank), witnessed the instrument of incorporation. In 1885, the Staten Island Diet Kitchen acquired a red brick house at 190 Van Duzer Street and Grant Street in Tompkinsville, and in 1926 they reported serving 38 families with a volunteer board of 30 women.   The building was eventually rented, and the money used to purchase milk which was distributed through various local agencies and schools. The Bishop's Chair currently in use in St. John's is inscribed to S. MacFarland, as Founder of the Staten Island Diet Kitchen.

               Notable to the history of St. John's at this time is the friendship of the Rector's daughter Gertrude with Alice Austen, now recognised as one of America's most talented and prolific photographers. Miss Austen grew up in her grandparents' home known as “Clear Comfort” at the foot of Hylan Boulevard overlooking the Narrows.   Her photos of St. John's and life in Clifton exemplify the lifestyle of the times.

By the time of St. John’s 50th Anniversary in 1893, Staten Island was changing drastically. The mansions of the wealthy proprietors, surrounded by large estates, were disappearing and the land being cut up into building lots. The community was no longer populated by men and women of the beliefs and means of the founders. In this changing climate, Rev. Eccleston charged the congregation with the following to “win men’s souls.”

  • All the details of public worship should be the best.

  • The music should be the most attractive that art and sacred culture can devise – devotional and inspiring.

  • The reading of the scriptures, and the prayers, they should be reverential and distinct.

  • It must aim to make Christ visible to men.

  • The messaged delivered from her pulpit must duly recognise the facts of our daily life.

“But the world has eyes – it can see a visible gospel. It is waiting for a church that reveals Christ. The orphan asylum, is worth ten thousand sermons; the infirmary, is worth a hundred pulpit orators. The ragged school, the dispensary, the diet kitchen, the Magdalene home, the night refuge, -- these preach the gospel, these make Christ visible, these bring men to the church.

                 In the response to the hope expressed by the rector in his memorial sermon, numerous members of the parish contributed the $5,000 of the mortgage upon the rectory, thus freeing the parish from all debt.

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