Prior to June 1879, a group of Episcopalians in Chester asked Dr. Churchill Gibson of Petersburg to hold services in the Chester Hotel. This was the beginning of the Episcopal Church in Chester. A location was selected on which to build the church in 1880. The cost of the original building was $1,500 and the church was consecrated on December 23, 1880 by the Rt. Rev. Francis McNeese Whittle, D.D.
Due the congregation's growth, plans to build an addition onto the rear of the building were made in 1949. The cost would be less than $5,000. A further addition, in loving memory of the Rev. Percy T. Olton who served from 1948-1953, was dedicated in April 1955.
Twenty years later, St. John's Church and the two additions were destroyed by a fire on November 2, 1975. The Vestry quickly began the rebuilding process with parishioners under Rt. Rev. David S. Rose. Services were restored in our present Church building and Parish Hall/Education Building on Easter Sunday, March 26, 1978.
On November 4, 1984, through the generosity of Mary H. Burdick, the Colonnade connecting the church and parish hall was dedicate, completing the original plans for the church complex.
ABOUT THE ORGAN
The original builder of the organ was Samuel S. Hamill (1830-1904) from East Cambridge, Mass. He specialized in "Great Pipe Organs," a special class of organs possessing great power of tone. The company shipped half a dozen organs to Cuba in the 1860's but most of his instruments went to churches in small cities in this country. Not many survive today.
St. John's organ was built in about 1885 and placed in St. Anthony's Catholic Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts around 1898, so the organ must have been at least in its second home. By 1981, St. Anthony's was razed as part of an urban renewal project, so the Organ Clearing House dismantled the organ and sold it to Wigton Pipe Organs.
William Van Pelt, who was at the time executive director of the Organ Historical Society, contacted the Organ Clearing House on behalf of St. John's in Chester in search of a suitable organ for rebuilding after the fire. In May of 1984, a contract was signed to rebuild the organ. Rebuilding was quite extensive. The casework was stripped of its white paint, new moldings were made to match missing ones. A new spire and fleur-de-lis was made to replace those which were missing. Keys were recovered and a new pedal board was provided. Although the organ blower is electrically powered, the original hand-pumped bellows has been retained for authenticity.
St. John's Episcopal Church - Chester
12201 Richmond Street, P. O. Box 3886, Chester, Virginia 23831, United States
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