St. John's (Stone) Church, Saint John
Since Christmas was fast approaching, Cliff and I were spending hours looking at the pages of toys in the Eaton’s catalogue. Cliff really wanted a wind-up bulldozer with the rubber tracks. I knew that the chance of my getting a pair of skiis was pretty slim as money didn’t grow on the trees of our farm, but looking at the catalogue was certainly free.
On Saturday morning, we piled into Gramp’s car for Mum’s trip to town to do her Christmas shopping. Aunt Sadie was as much a kid at heart as we were, so she promised she would take us to MRA’s Toy Land to actually look at and maybe even touch all the beautiful toys that we had only seen in pictures.
I knew we were nearing town when I could see all the church steeples. But there was one church that seemed to have an upside down table with fancy legs on its tower and it lacked a spire. Mum said its proper name was St. John’s Church but everyone simply referred to it as Stone Church.
The years have passed and many of the stores of my youth have disappeared from the streets of uptown Saint John but one thing remains for my grandchildren to see - the church with the four corner posts on its tower but no steeple.
Since being erected in 1824, St. John’s (Stone) Church has stood at the top of the Germain Street hill, overlooking the business section of the city, reminding all that “God is.”
In 1925, Reverend A. L. Fleming, the Rector at that time, compiled a most valuable historic sketch of St. John’s Church, Parish of St. Mark, Saint John, in a 416 page book, titled “A Book Of Remembrance or The History of St. John’s Church, Saint John”.
Many people are recognized in the preface for their contributions in the compilation of the history. Many things that would have been missed were gleaned from scrap books, diaries and letters compiled or written by Archdeacon Raymond, Rev. G. M. Armstrong, Rev. John de Soyres, Canon G. Kuhring, D. R. Jack and C. Ward. Henry Morrisey shared a copy of the architect’s drawing, showing the original arrangement of pews.
With the revival of trade at the close of the war of 1812 it became evident that Trinity Church was no longer able to accommodate the congregation, and so, instead of enlarging the old church, it was decided at a meeting held on April 16, 1822, that a new church should be erected to meet the need and a committee was appointed to locate a suitable site. The Hon. Judge Chipman offered a piece of land on condition that a pew on the floor, and another in the gallery, be reserved for his use.
The freestone used for cutting for St. John’s Church and for the Court House was brought out as ballast from the same place in England.
The contract price was 3900 pounds but when finished the cost had doubled. It was calculated it would hold fifteen hundred persons. The church was built in 1824, and in July of 1826, the tower was finished, and the bell hung, but the erection of the spire was abandoned. The turrets of the tower were erected by a Mr. Cunningham from a design of his own and differed from what was originally intended. Mr. Joseph Bell, a Scot from Dumfries, was the mason who carved them.
The first service was held on September 11, 1825 and the first rector, the Rev. Benjamin Gerrish Gray was also responsible for Trinity Church. He was instrumental in the erection of the old Grace Church, Portland, which was the precursor of St. Luke’s Church on Main Street.
In November of 1833, a fire destroyed the rectory on Wellington Row. Rev. Gray’s wife and a servant maid perished in the flames.
Reverend John William Dering Gray served as a curate to his father from
1826 to 1840 and as rector until his death in 1868. He had served the parish
for forty-two years.
To fully appreciate the history of a congregation, it is necessary to know something of the individuals who took an active part in the work of the church, thus the author has included notes on Charles Ward, Edwin Ketchum. James Rhodes Ruel, Thomas Wilder Daniel, James Joseph Kaye, George DeForest, William Thomas, Charles H. Fairweather, George Frederick Smith, Frank O. Allison, Lieut. Jack Basil Hipwell and others.
While the history of Stone Church has been carefully documented in, ” A Book Of Remembrance or The History of St. John’s Church, Saint John” by A. L. Fleming, the baptisms, marriages and deaths can be found on microfilm at the Saint John Free Public Library and at the Provincial Archives in Fredericton.
This book can be viewed at the Saint John Free Public Library.
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