ST. JOHN'S EPISCOPAL CHURCH OF MARCELLUS
The following information was submitted by John Curtin
Taken from Heffernan, Kathryn C. Nine Mile Country. Published by Visual Artis Publicans, Inc. 1978. pp. 186-189. Copyright by the Board of Trustees, Marcellus Free Library, Marcellus, NY
The few Episcopalians among the earliest Marcellus settlers had a choice of attending union services with the original First Church of Marcellus, or of traveling to Onondaga Hill, or to Skaneateles to attend services of their own denomination. By 1824, however, the population of the town numbered enough communicants of the Protestant Episcopal faith to warrant organization of a local church.
On the eighth of February of that year, these communicants met in the village schoolhouse. Under the direction of Reverend Augustus Converse of Skaneateles, they resolved that an Episcopalian church should be incorporated, and that it should be known in the law as St. John's Church of Marcellus. Harvey Andrews and Caleb Cowles were selected as Church wardens. Dr. Richard R. Davis, Leonard Blanchard, John Herring, Gad Curtis, Zabina Moses, David S. Earll, Zera Shepard and Austin Godard were named vestrymen. John Bixby was duly chosen Clerk of the Vestry of the new church.
A lot at the corner of Main and North Streets was donated by a Mr. White as a site for a church. However, it was to be nearly ten years before a structure was erected. A small wooden building, which faced south on Main Street, was opened as the first St. John's Church in 1833.
Meanwhile, services had been regularly held in the schoolhouse at the rear of the Presbyterian Church, where the congregation was served by the rector from St. James at Skaneateles.
From 1833 until 1839, the rector from Zion Church at Onondaga Hill conducted services in the new St. John's. Then, Reverend Thomas Ruger became the first full-time rector. The congregation was able to pay him an annual salary of two hundred seventy-five dollars. To augment this income, he conducted a select school for boys in the upper room of the schoolhouse. After Reverend Ruger departed, the congregation shared several rectors with the church at Jordan for brief periods. For a few years they were able to have services only when a visiting clergyman could be secured. However, the church managed to stay in existence.
In December of 1866, the little church was completely destroyed by a fire which erupted in a grocery store just north of the church property. With no insurance to cover the loss, the congregation rallied and resolved to rebuild. Money was raised, and the second St. John's was consecrated on the old site in 1869. During the interim, Reverend R. M. Duff, who was at the time serving as rector for both St. John's and St. James' at Skaneateles, conducted services in the Methodist Church on Sunday afternoons. Despite frequent changes of rectors during the next ten years, the congregation increased to a membership of forty.
Fire struck again on July 3, 1879 when several buildings in the center of the village were destroyed. Undaunted, the vestry on July 11 resolved to solicit subscriptions and build again. They were encouraged in their efforts by the able leadership of their rector, then Reverend J. H. Lloyd.
In October the old site at the corner of North and Main Streets was sold for five hundred dollars, and a lot on Orange Street, now the parking area behind the Big M Market, was purchased for two hundred seventy-five dollars. On September 16, 1880, the cornerstone for a new building was laid, and on Friday, February 25, 1881, the third St. John's Church of Marcellus was consecrated by the Right Reverend F. D. Huntington, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese.
Following the resignation of Reverend Lloyd in 1881, the church experienced a period in which frequent changes of pastors were interspersed with times when the leadership of the parish was in the hands of lay readers. However, when the seventy-fifth anniversary of the church was celebrated in 1899, the membership had grown to one hundred communicants plus a small group at Warners where a mission had been established.
Under the rectorate of Reverend E. B. Mott, who served the congregation from 1899 to 1907, the parish built its first rectory, located at 17 Maple Street. Total cost of the house was nineteen hundred ninety-six dollars. In 1907 Reverend Edward B. Doolittle accepted a call to St. John's at an annual salary of six hundred dollars plus the customary diocesan stipend (at that time one hundred fifty dollars) and housing in the new rectory.
Meanwhile, in 1904 a legacy of approximately thirty-three thousand dollars in securities from the estate of the late John Lyman of Syracuse comfortably increased the financial well-being of the parish. During Reverend Doolittle's seven-year rectorate, the parish was able to purchase two pieces of property on the corner of Orange and Maple Streets for four thousand dollars. Mr. Edward Moir offered a donation of one thousand dollars to the parish on condition that they demolish the two houses on the property, which faced his home on Orange Street, by the first of July 1911. The deadline was met. A little more than two years later, on November 25, 1913, the congregation opened its new parish house located on Maple Street on the northwest corner of the vacated lots.
When Reverend Walter E. Cook, who had succeeded Reverend Doolittle for another seven-year rectorate, resigned in 1921, the parish numbered two hundred communicants. By this time, the church, built in 1881, was in need of extensive repairs. The congregation faced an important decision. Should they build a new church on the lot at the corner of Orange and Maple Streets, or should they move the old church to a new location and repair it? The second choice was determined to be less costly.
Accordingly, in April 1924, St. John's Church was moved almost the entire length of Orange Street by team and wagon and situated at its present location. Reverend Christian A. Roth worked with the parishioners in conducting a canvass of the parish and in solving the many problems involved in moving and renovating the building. Work was completed in about six months, and the church was dedicated on October 29. Under the rectorate of Reverend A. B. C. Douthwaite, who served from 1924 to 1926, St. John's celebrated its centennial.
From 1926 to 1942, the church again experienced frequent changes of rectors, five in all - Reverend J. Edward Taylor, Reverend E. A. Wooley, Reverend Joseph Clark, Reverend Harold D. Gosnell, and Reverend Warren Mace. During the depression years, St. John's, like other churches and institutions, faced financial problems. It was during this period that bowling alleys were installed in the basement of the parish house, meeting a need for community recreation. The annual fund raising, which has come to be known as St. John's Christmas Tour, was first instituted as a bazaar by the women of the parish during the depression years.
Reverend Joseph O. Roberts served the parish during the nineteen forties. During his rectorate, financial gifts from Mr. John Moir and several memoral gifts helped to ease the financial pressure.
With the resignation of Reverend Roberts in 1951, Reverend M. Dennis Lee began the longest rectorship in the history of the parish. Since September 1952, when the dual assignment to Marcellus and Warners was terminated, he has been full-time rector at St. John's and a recognized leader in the community.
Congregational support, memorial contributions, and sound leadership brought growth and stability to St. John's in the years following World War II. New carolonic bells were dedicated on June 3, 1945. A vestibule was added to the church in 1951, and in 1956 a tunnel connecting the church with the parish house was excavated. The Pilot Memorial Hall was added to the parish house in 1959, and two years later the Moir property adjacent to the church was purchased for a rectory at a cost of thirty thousand dollars. On February 8, 1974, St. John's of Marcellus was privileged to celebrate its sesquicentennial. The bicentennial year of 1976 finds it a prosperous and active congregation as Reverend Lee looks toward a well-deserved retirement.
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11 June 1997