EARLY CHURCH HISTORY
St. Paul’s historic campus comprises three buildings on the city green in Vergennes, in the heart of a bustling downtown full of retail stores, restaurants, apartments, and offices. Vergennes citizens and visitors gather on the green for concerts, parades, farmers markets, and civic conversation.
Built in 1834, the early Gothic Revival-style church, with brick body and a
whitewashed clapboard bell tower, is the place of worship for the congregation. It dates to Vergennes’ early days as a center of commerce for the surrounding communities.
The architect was John Henry Hopkins, the first Bishop of Vermont.
The brick federal Parish Hall (c.1835) was originally a law office but acquired in 1890. Since 1900, it has served as meeting space and occasional chapel.
Its open interior, with full kitchen, is perfect for education and fellowship.
Built in the 1790s, the Rectory was acquired by St. Paul’s in 1890. It is currently occupied by our clergy.
In early January of 1832, a newly reorganized Protestant Episcopal Society in Vergennes, under the name of St. Paul’s Church, reestablished itself after its initial inception in 1811, and immediately began the process of trying to secure a lot within the City of Vergennes for a church building.
The society members petitioned the City of Vergennes to erect a church building on the so-called court house/jail lot next to the city green, and their request was granted. Unfortunately the society members were unable to raise the funds needed, and in March of that that same year, 1832, they decided to destroy the subscriptions and relinquish the right to the court house lot which they city had voted to grant them.
Fate would have it that about this same time, 1832, the Episcopal Diocese of Vermont was established, and their first Bishop, John Henry Hopkins, arrived to support the parishes throughout the new diocese. St. Paul’s was admitted to the new Diocese in May 1832. This period of history was during the 2nd Great Awakening, when revivals were taking place among different congregations throughout Vermont.
Bishop Hopkins was a critic of this new wave and was eager to shore up his fledgling Episcopal congregations in Vermont and help them to erect their houses of worship. Having heard of the failure to erect a church in Vergennes the previous year, Bishop Hopkins attended a Vestry meeting in August of 1833 and energized the society.
Once again, the society petitioned the city of Vergennes to erect their church building, and once again, the city granted their request. This time, the society was able to secure the funds to erect the church and the building commenced in 1834.
Bishop Hopkins, a renaissance man by all accounts, drafted gothic architectural designs for churches, and one was used for St. Paul’s Church. The builders were men of the community and the church. The superintendent, John Lovell, sold goods
in the Wheeler block on the corner of Main and Green streets till the fire of 1830, and again after it was rebuilt.
Hosea Willard, an influential builder and mason, came to Vergennes in 1825 and is noted for his output in brick and stone which included the Congregational, Methodist, and Episcopal churches, the arsenal, and in 1864, the west bridge over the Otter Creek. Tradition has suggested that the church building was constructed using brick from a ship’s ballast as well as stone from local quarries for the foundation.
Looking back at this time, we see that there were three years of intense activity by a small group of Vergennes citizens—merchants, businessmen, entrepreneurs, lawyers and other professions who also held many city offices—that resulted in our lovely building adjacent to the City Park.
A number of these families from that period as well as from the time of their sons and daughters and grandchildren are faithfully represented in many of the beautiful 19th century artifacts found in our sanctuary The names Booth, Parker, and White are among the families who not only helped build St. Paul’s but also Vergennes itself.
Mosley Hall’s plaque is found on a stained glass window which we hope to repair as part of our project. Once a boat captain, Hall had sailed on Lake Champlain, the Hudson River, and the Great Lakes. In the late 1830s, Hall established the Vergennes and Troy lines of boats.
Bishop Hopkins and Neo-Gothic Architecture
One of Bishop Hopkins’ most notable accomplishments is his Essay on Gothic Architecture, the first serious treatment of Gothic Revival architecture to be published in the United States. Bishop Hopkins began preparing his treatise on Gothic Revival church architecture in 1831 while he was in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and published it in 1836, although it had been completed long before.
In this work, he recommends the Gothic Revival style for churches of all sizes and degrees of complexity because “there is no other style of architecture which admits such variety, which is so beautiful on any scale, and which is so little dependant on size for its effect......The distinctive characters of the style may be preserved in union with the utmost simplicity.”
Episcopal churches gained their national Gothic Revival look because of this 1836 treatise. Bishop Hopkins designed many other churches in Vermont and his followers created several more. Eventually, Gothic Revival became synonymous with ecclesiastic, and the look spread to Congregational and Catholic churches.