This is an excerpt from the history of St. John’s Episcopal Church and how it came to be. This information has been compiled from notes in the original Vestry Books, notes from the late Miss Mary Eppes and the late Mrs. J. H. G. Neblett, information from Mrs. W. S. Woody, and articles in several publications
When City Point, Virginia was in the initial stages of land development, losing its rural flavor and becoming more populated, the Rev. Malcom MacFarland, a builder as well as a priest, came to the village, realizing there would be a need of a church
“At a meeting of the subscribers to the building of a Protestant Episcopal Church at City Point, on April 13, 1840, on motion of John E. Meade, Col. John A. Peterson was called to the chair, and William Gilliam appointed scecretary…a vestry of seven was appointed, consisting of John A. Peterson, John E. Meade, William Gilliam, Charles Friedn, Peter Eppes, Christopher Proctor, and Robert Gilliam.”
The mission of the church has always been to minister to her people and to be the focal point around which the lives of her members could revolve. During her first 100 years, most members lived near the Church, and young and old walked to services.
On land donated by the Eppes family of Appomattox Manor, beside a dirt road called Cedar Lane, a $1200, plain Greek Revival style church was built. Although it was not finished by June 1841, the Rev. MacFarland preached in the new church to an average of 90 people “once a fortnight”.
On April 7, 1842, the Rector donated a $600 organ to the Church and on June 30, 1842, the building was consecrated, becoming the first church in City Point.
“In a meeting of the Vestry, January 11, 1843, the church was first referred to as St. John’s Church. The Women of the Church held a fair Wednesday, July 26, 1843…decided to purchase a bell, the cost being $84. This was done November 30, 1843, and the bell hung on a heavy oak frame in the yard.”
Between 1840 and 1860, there were 134 baptisms held at the church.
During the Civil War, as Union gunboats shelled City Point, slaves from the Manor took refuge in the cellar of St. John’s. When General Grant’s troops headquartered at the Manor, the Church was used as a signal station, a theater, and a dance hall. It was left in tragic disrepair. Despite the poverty of her faithful members, repair began immediately. Aided by the kindness of friends from the North and a loan of 5 carpenters from Maj. Smith of the U.S. Army, St. John’s was restored, and services began again on June 30, 1867.
“The Communion silver was presented by Mrs. Elizabeth Welsh Horner at the Easter Service, 1875.” For many years there was a Communion Basket. The silver, with linen cloths, was carried from Appomattox Manor to the Church when needed.” This silver is now displayed in the Narthex.
The Church was rebuilt in 1894, the roof raised, and the style converted to Norman Gothic. A balcony was removed, and an entrance porch, a copy of the original porch on the house “malvern” in Charles City County, was added.
In 1919, with 60 communicants, the transepts were added. The lights were given by Tubize Silk Co., and shortly after, the stained glass windows were placed.
In the old cemetery, beside and behind the church, are graves of many old and distinguished families of Hopewell and its surrounding areas.
A Memorial Garden has been created between the church and the parish house, Ribble Hall. A church school building, Eppes Hall, has been build, and a copper Celtic cross has been erected on the church roof.
If you are interested in who is buried in the cemetery at St. John’s the following links will help.