A History of St. Peter's and our Building

 

Welcome to St. Peter's Episcopal Church, a parish church of the Episcopal Diocese of Western New York and the Episcopal Church in the United States of America.

 

Our parish was incorporated on January 20, 1830 by a small group of local residents, including Burban Brockway and Jonathan Cass, the first wardens. The Reverend Rufus Murray, the Rector of St. Paul's church in Mayville was called as the first rector, serving both parishes until 1835. The first recorded baptisms in the new congregation were on May 29, 1831, when seven adults were baptized.

 

This short history is primarily about our building and furnishings,in order to provide a self guided tour of our historic church building. The entire history of our parish is a family history of the generations of faithful Christians who made St. Peter's parish their center of worship and the base of from which they served their community and the world in Christian ministry. The thousands of individual stories of those faithful men, women and children, many unheralded and untold, are the real history of this parish - a living history that continues in the daily expression of Christian life and faith of our 300 baptized members - centered in God's worship and praise in this church building.

 

On August 24, 1831, the Vestry voted to build a brick church. Land for the church building, a plot of some 1665 square feet, was obtained from James Ray on April 2, 1832, purchased for $350.00. On August 22, 1833 the Right Reverend Benjamin Onderdonk, Bishop of New York, dedicated the building. The first building was box-shaped, with a flat ceiling and about half the present nave, with only two stained glass windows on each side. In the present nave, you can get an idea of the size and shape by imagining the West walls to where the east tower wall intrudes into the Nave and the East wall half-way between the second and third windows.

 

On March 26, 1837 one of Westfield's most famous residents, William Henry Seward, was baptized in St. Peter's and on August 16th of the same year Bishop Onderdonk confirmed him. On the occasion of his confirmation, Mr. Seward donated $25.00 toward the purchase of the first organ, which cost $275.00.

 

During the years of 1847 to 1849, a fifteen foot addition was added to the East end of the building, from the original East wall to just beyond the third window. The third window on each side was added and the Rose Window, now installed in the South wall of the Parish Hall, was added in the center of the East wall, under which the Holy Table was placed. The building was described as "60 x 35 feet, the walls were blocked and colored in imitation of freestone and the sunken panels of the ceiling were colored a deep marine blue".

 

An article in the Westfield Republican in 1859 described that the Ladies Aid hosted a strawberry festival to raise funds to build a tower, although nothing was done until later years, probably because of the Civil War.

 

The stone Baptismal Font, now located in the Narthex, was originally placed in the East end of the Nave. It was a gift from the Sunday School in 1868. In the Fall of 1869, the Vestry voted to add twenty feet to the East end of the church for a Chancel and Vestry Room. There were subscriptions of $1,200 gathered, but no action was taken.

 

On May 16, 1871, the Vestry formed a committee to oversee the construction of the proposed Chancel and Vestry room addition. The new Chancel was raised two steps above the Nave floor and an inside wall at what had been the East wall was added with a narrow arch in the center. The Rose Window was moved to the new East wall. There is no specific mention of when the addition was completed. Vestry minutes record that a committee was formed and instructed to "confer with the ladies of the Church Aid Society in the matter of furnishing a new carpet, cushions for the pews, and furniture for the projected new Chancel and Vestry room". Vestry minutes for June 2, 1873 show they met in the new Vestry room, and in the Reverend J. Wainright Ray's letter of resignation (December 2, 1871) he stated "I regret leaving the less because I leave you in so united and good a condition. Much progress has been made including the enlarging of the House of Worship and its improvement." The Bishop's chair and other Chancel furnishings were given also in 1871 to adorn the new Chancel

 

During the same time (1868-1871), the tower and the present Narthex were added. In the tower was hung a brass bell weighing 2,500 pounds, and costing $3,000. The bell is inscribed "Purchased by the Ladies of this Parish, December 25, 1866." Part of the cost of the bell was to be raised by subscriptions from the community as the bell was used as the Village fire bell for many years, but the Vestry records indicate that contributions from the Village were few.

 

New windows were added in the West wall of the newly constructed Narthex in 1868. Overhead, about 40 feet up in the tower room off the Narthex, is the 2,500 pound brass bell, still suspended in its original framework. The rope hanging over the time capsule in the tower room rings the bell by rotating a six-foot wheel attached to the bell and swing the bell so that the striker inside the bell hits the sides as it swings. The other rope, on the West wall of the tower room, pulls an external striker the hits the inside of the bell, producing a "tolling" bell sound. The "tolling" striker is used at funerals to toll the number of years of the deceased's life and on Good Friday it is rung 33 times, for the number of years our savior Jesus lived among us.

 

Vestry records of July 9, 1870 make note of a new alter, our present alter, by making reference to a proposed donation of the old one to be given to the Reverend Mr. McFarland of Mayville for use at Hartfield. There was a St.George's Chapel at Hartfield, served by the Clergy of St. Paul's Mayville.

 

In 1871, through subscriptions of families of the parish, the original Nave windows were replaced with stained glass. These are our present windows. There is some indication that there were to be inscriptions dedicating the windows, but controversy prevented the dedications from being recorded.

 

In 1879 the organ was moved from the gallery in the West end of the Nave to the right side of the East end of the Nave. The gallery was removed sometime after this, but there is no record of the change.

 

The early pews were a row of boxed pews down the center of the Nave. Renting these pews to members supported the parish. Pew rentals were replaced in 1885 in favor of financial pledges from parish members and pews were then freely assigned (yes, you did have your "assigned" pew if your were a member, with pews set aside for non-members and visitors). When the boxed pews were replaced with the present pews, although in the May 16, 1871 Vestry minutes, the reference to new pew cushions indicates that it might have been done sometime around that date.

 

Elm Street was opened in 1890 on the East side of the church. In 1893 the first electric lights were installed in the Nave, and by 1896 the photograph of the Nave and Chancel show the interior of St. Peter's as it now is.

 

in 1896 Mary C. Fargo and Ann Fargo Perry of Buffalo donated the present organ in memory of their mother, Libby Pendergast Fargo, a Westfield native. The organ, an Odell Pipe Organ designated by its makers as "Opus 338, St. Peter's Church, Westfield, New York, 1896". It is called a "tracker" or "mechanical action" organ due to the design that produces all the mechanical actions during operation by direct effort of the player. The organ has not been modified from it's original "tracker" operation except for the addition of an electric blower replacing manual bellows. The organ was originally installed in its present location into the then new Chancel. The West wall of the altar guild sacristy is made from the packing box from the organ.

 

On September 20, 1897 the last addition to the worship space was added (the space you now see as the present church), a new Chancel, Sanctuary and guild room. this also provided appropriate space for the new organ. The Chancel had a new hardwood floor and choir seats. Mrs. George Patterson gave the carpets for the new Chancel. The new space was dedicated, debt free, due to the generous gifts of members.

 

In 1898 the Nativity and Resurrection windows were added to the Chancel in the East wall. The Resurrection window (right of the Altar) was a gift from Mrs. Mary E.Suppler of Philadelphia in memory of her mother, Olive Clarissa Rumsey, and installed in April of 1898. The Nativity window (left of the Altar) was given by Mrs. Chauncey Stevens in memory of the Stevens family and installed in August of 1898.

 

The Ascension window (center over the Altar) was in memory of George Washington Pattersonand Frances Todd Patterson given by their children and was installed in June 1911. The J&R Lamb Studio of Midland Park, New Jersey created the three sanctuary windows.

 

The furnishings in our Nave, Chancel and Sanctuary are mostly memorial gifts given by faithful members of our parish.

 

New furnishings and decorations continued to be added. The Processional Cross was purchased on the 1890s when a vested choir became a part of Sunday worship. The tall candlesticks (used on occasion on the Altar) were given in 1891 by Mrs. Elizabeth Matthews of Rochester in memory of Mrs. C.W. Hayes, wife of the Rector who died in 1889. The Easter offering in 1897 was designated to purchase the Altar rail, making it a gift from the entire congregation. The Pulpit in 1897 was from Mrs. Catherine Moore in memory of Bishop Coxe. The Litany Desk was a gift of the Altar Society in 1900. The Lectern was given in 1903 by Mrs. Edwin Eickerman in memory of her husband, a longtime Vestryman in the parish. Mr. Thomaas Peacock gave the Altar Cross in memory of his mother. In 1912 Miss Olive Rumsey bequeather her family silver to be made into the silver alms basins "In Memory Fayette Rumsey, some-time worshiper in this church". The Altar book stand was The Narthex Screen was a gift from Mrs. Charles S. Lott in memory of Ida Harter and Charles Lott in April 1953.

 

The present parish hall and kitchen were added in 1951 during the rectorship of the Reverend William Bailey. The parish hall was renamed and dedicated as "Bailey Hall" on June26, 1994 in recognition of Father Bailey's service as Rector, and after his retirement, as interim Rector and faithful parishioner until his death in 1999.

 

The Rose Window, which would have been covered by the new construction, was moved into the South wall of the new addition and an interior light installed to illuminate the window to the outside. The new parish hall enclosed the South side Nave stained glass windows and lights were installed so the windows can be seen from the Nave.

 

A small Rose Window was given Mr. and Mrs. Howard Johns, Mrs. Leland Hodgkins and Mr. Paul Johns and installed over the West door of the new parish hall.

 

The most recent addition is the office and Sunday school facility added to the South side of Bailey Hall and dedicated on May 16, 1979. This added a parish and a Rector's office, Sunday school rooms, a small chapel and a meeting room, dedicated in the memory of Clara Miller. At the same time the parish hall was redecorated, with a new ceiling and ceiling fans, wall paneloing and new restrooms builWe willt in the space occupied by the stage. This enclosed Rose Window and lights were installed to illuminate the window to the parish hall.

 

The Columbarium was added in 1997, with 24 niches and later expanded with twelve additional niches in May 2002. The stained glass window over the columbarium was a gift of the Reverend William and Betty Bailey in 1997.

 

St. Peter's parish continues to change although not with any new construction, but with interanl additions, rennovations and restorations of our beautiful historic building. A new wooden baptismal font was created in 1998 by James Hosmer, a Jamestown craftsman, following the design of the stone baptismal font and wood colors matching the Nave. In 1999 the church outside woodwork and masonry was renovated, including the inside of the bell tower. In 2001 we added an enclosure on the Elm Street door to help keep the weather out. A new heating system was intalled in 2000 and air conditioning was added to the worship space in 2001.

 

In 2002 fourteen tradional Stations of the Cross were created by the Jamestown artist Barbara Mills-Lissfelt. These were gifts of members of the congregation. They are on the walls of the Sanctuary and are used each year in Lent for our Stations of the Cross service. The Sanctuary stained glass windows were restored in 2003, with the Nativity and Resurrection windows taken out for a complete restoration and the Ascension window cleaned and repaired in-place. New protective coverings were installed on the outside of the windows to protect them in the future. The Hauser Art Glass Studio of Winona, Minnesota did the restoration work.

 

We are now begining the latest phase of our restoration of this,the oldest church building in the Village of Wesfield. Starting in 2008, in partnership with Habiterra, a Jamestown architecture and engineering firm, we will have a complete engineering study of the entire building performed, including a set of state-of-the-art as-built CAD drawings created, and then we will begin the restoration of the bell tower which is in dire need of repair.

 

There are many more projects that we pray we can some day embark on as we keep this Holy Space open for worship and mission in our village and to the wider world. This generation is grateful for the stewardship and vision of previous generations for the foundation of a wonderful facilty and example of Christian faith expressed through God's worship in this Holy Space.

 

Thank you for your interest in our parish and its history. We welcome you and invite you come and visit us and spend a few minutes in quiet meditation in our worship space.