St. James Parish Beginnings Recalled

Another in the series of articles by A. Eileen Cozart, PhD., coordinator of bicentennial activities for Jefferson County, “Reflections of the Heritage of Jefferson County” is based on articles published in early editions of the Herald Star. Sunday Herald-Star, December 13, 1981.

December 2, 1900...The Rev. H.L. Gaylor preached the historical sermon at the centennial celebration of the St. James Church.  Widow McGuire and Rev. Dr. Doddridge were two unique characters in the early religious history of Ohio.  Rev. Dr. Doddridge, the Episcopal clergyman, at that time a resident of the state of Pennsylvania moved by his own deep zeal for the name of the Master and the love for his fellowman had crossed the Ohio as early as 1796 holding communion at distant points.

There is reason to believe that the infancy of the Parish of St. James dates back as far at least as 1796.  An agreement with a number of persons in the vicinity to commence services at the residence of Mrs. Mary McGuire who lived on what is now a porting of the Infirmary farm in Cross Creek township.  Mrs. McGuire afterwards moving some miles further west the continued at her residence and the organization thus formed grew into the parish of  St. James near the Wayne township line.

The earliest accurate records, however begin  with the notice of organization on December 1, 1800.  That meeting and all subsequent  meetings of services were held at the home of  Widow McGuire until the year 1816.  Where she went the service of the church went with her.

In 1816 as a compromise between the parties a site situated on the Fernwood side of the Creek was purchased from a Mr. Elliott who had secured it from a Mr. Daniel Dunlevy and a church structure erected and Rev. Dr. Doddridge continued as its pastor until the year of 1822.

On the first day of December 1816 a meeting of the Congregation of St. James was called to formulate a petition to the general convention of the Episcopal Church the movement for the organization of a Diocese on this side of the Ohio River.

Among the subscribers or supporters in 1816 were William McConnell, Benjamin Doyle, Samuel Tipton, James McConnell, Daniel Dunlevy, Robert Maxwell and John Cunningham.

The St. James Parish was ministered to by faithful pastors who labored for small stipends dividing their time and efforts between distant congregations, making their rounds on foot, or if they6 were fortunate enough to own a horse and saddle, on horseback.  When ready money was wanting and it could not be obtained in any other way the product of the farm and mill were loaded on flatboats and floated down the river to New Orleans and there sold for cash.  The master was compelled to return by water to Baltimore, Philadelphia or New York thence overland to cross the Alleghenies back again to Ohio.

Rev. Mr. Morse, who succeeded Rev. Doddridge after a pastorate of almost 30 years, served acceptably for 15 years and retired from the work only upon the urgent solicitation of the Bishop.  The first Sunday School at Cross Creek was organized by Rev. Mr. Gray about 1854 and later became a Union Sunday School.

The register at one time had as many as 106 communicants in good standing and that was in 1812.  Since that year the shifting of the population, frequent changes by removing and losses through death reduced the number so that now where was a comparatively small parish.

In 1800, a 100 years ago the list stood at the first meeting: George Mahon, William Wheatcraft, Eli Kelly, George Hastwell, William McConnell, Benjamin Doyle, Joseph Williams, John Long, Mary McGuire, John  McKnight, Frederick Albright, James McConnell, John Scott, George Richey and Moses Hanlin.

January 14, 1939.…The first burial in the St. James Episcopal Cemetery located on the road between Fernwood and Bloomfield was Mary Armstrong in 1817.  An epitath on the marker reads “So faded this lovely blooming flower - First smiling solace of an hour - So soon was transient comfort fly - and pleasures only bloom to die.”  The cemetery was free, only the cost of digging the grave was required.

Rich Memories Recalled By Visit To Old St. James Episcopal Church

By Barbara Parker
Steubenville Herald-Star Sept. 19, 1964

If  you are by chance traveling on County Road 26, some afternoon, enjoying the scenic country lanes of Jefferson County as many motorists do, your attention may be drawn to a small white frame building nestled among the trees on a knoll.

Curiosity may get the better of you and you may stop to explore.  At the side of the road you will find a marble monument with a metal plaque which reads: “St. James Episcopal Church, Founded in 1800, the First Organized Parish of the Church in Ohio.”

You might make your way through the Golden Rod, daisies, Queen Anne’s Lace and wild asters which lend the only cheerful note to the place.  Your Feet will become entangled in the ivy and bramble bushes which creep over the ground in the graveyard where you try to read the tombstones bearing some of the oldest names in Jefferson County history - Rouse, Marshall, Dugan, Maley, Armstrong, White, McConnell, Doyle, Cunningham.

YOU MAY FEEL UNEASY about the nest of hornets in the corner eave of the little church and decide it’s time to go.  With a sigh you walk away and like many others, think to yourself that something should be done to preserve this place which obviously had played a great part in the early history of the county.

Not many people will remember St. James Episcopal Church and no one could blame them if they didn’t since the parish has existed in name only for many years.  But in its hey-day, its congregation was much larger than either St. Paul’s or St. Stephen’s Episcopal churches in Steubenville and of course it existed long before either of these.

FOR MORE THAN 100 years, life and death passed through the doors of St. James.  As one of the earliest churches in Ohio, it attracted countless spiritually-thirsty pioneers who flocked to this little “God’s Acre” to renew their strength for the task of conquering the untamed Ohio wilderness.

St. James parish had its beginnings in 1900 under the pioneer itinerant preacher, the Rev. Dr. Joseph Doddridge, who claims an illustrious place in area history not only as a great churchman but as a humanitarian.  He probably was the first Christian minister in the state of Ohio.

Doddridge also is a well-known name in West Virginia where Dr. Doddridge’s parents settled while he was a child.  In 1792, after completion of his theological studies, Dr. Doddridge began his ministry in Wellsburg and soon was holding services on both sides of the river including the little settlement of Fort Steuben, which became Steubenville.  This was the seed of the Episcopal Church in Ohio.

ST. JAMES CHURCH had its origin in 1800, when on Dec. 1, of that year, Dr. Doddridge adopted the subscription plan for support at his various charges.  Mrs. Mary McGuire, who had purchased a tract and built a residence in Cross Creek township two years earlier, reached an agreement with Dr. Doddridge for him to hold services at her home every third Sunday of the month.  The subscribers were: George Mahan, Benjamin Doyle, William McConnell, William Whitcraft, Joseph Williams, John Scott, Eli Kelly, John Long, George Ritchey, George Halliwell, Mary McGuire, Moses Hanlon, William McConnell, John McKnight, John McConnell and Frederick Allbright.  This was the first organized parish of the American Church in Ohio and antedates a similar organization at Boardman by about nine years.

About 1814, Mrs. McGuire moved out of the county.  Services continued , however, at other homes and at White’s schoolhouse.

ALTHOUGH SERVICES and meetings had been going on for 16 years, the first recorded minutes that can be found begin on Dec. 1, 1816, when at a congregational meeting presided over by Dr. Doddridge, Robert Maxwell and James Strong were elected wardens.  John McConnell, Andrew Elliott, John Foster and John Cunningham were elected Vestrymen.

A Vestry meeting was held Aug. 20, 1817, at which a list of 52 communicants was reported with 13 baptisms during the previous two years.  It was ordered that a site for a church edifice and graveyard be procured from Andrew Elliott.  In pursuance of this resolution, an acre of land was secured in the southwest corner of Section 33 in Cross Creek township, near the Wayne township line.  Preparations were made for erecting a church edifice of wood.

AT THE FIRST ANNUAL convention of the diocese, Dr. Doddridge made the following report: “St. James Church in the County of Jefferson, nine miles from Steubenville, was formed two years ago.  It contains about 30 families and is increasing.  The number of communicants, 52: the number of baptism within two years has considerably exceeded 100.  They are a steady, pious people, and zealously attached to the doctrines and worship of our Church.”  With the exception of permanent seats the new church was ready for use on the occasion of Bishop Philander Chase’s first visitation on May 17, 1819.  On Sept. 19, 1825, the Bishop consecrated the completed St.  James Church  Hundreds were present in the grove surrounding the church and many were unable to obtain admittance.  Fifty persons were confirmed and 73 received Communion.

ST. JAMES is credited with 100 out of 768 communicants reported in the Episcopal Diocese in Ohio in 1826, the largest of any parish on the list, leading the next highest, Christ Church, Cincinnati, by 36.

It was in the fall of 1826, that Dr. Doddridge, prematurely worn out by his excessive labors for his Church, died at the age of 58 in his home in Wellsburg, where he is buried.  The Rev. Dr. Intrepid Morse had been serving St. James Church since 1819, but he resigned in 1837 to devote his whole time to St. Paul’s Church in Steubenville.  His place was taken by the Rev. Mr. Richard Gray, a young Englishman who began a notable career at St. James.  At the parish meeting of St. James Church on April 3, 1837, it was reported that subscriptions of about $1,500 had been obtained toward the erection of a new church and it was resolved to build a brick structure.

ON FEB. 7, 1851, THE Rev. Mr. Gray resigned St. James and thereafter the parish suffered the fate of many small churches in the area.  Populations shifted.  People died and moved away and none came to take their places.  By 1856, the communicant list of St. James had fallen to 45.

A succession of pastors failed to revive the church.  However, in 1864, a new frame church edifice was consecrated which took the place of the brick structure.  This was the third edifice erected by the parish and still stands.

At the annual diocesan convention in 1868, the Rev. Mr. Thomas K. Coleman, pastor of St. James, reported: “Children, but no baptisms; youth, but no confirmations; number of communicants, 25; no articles of association; no vestry elections or meetings, neither font, lectern nor communion table, offertory plates, surplice or gown;;;; will resign in Autumn  From 1875 until 1897, the Rectors of St. Paul’s Church in Steubenville held services also at St. James.

THE REV. MR. E. W. COWLING, the first Rector of the newly organized St. Stephen’s Church in Steubenville, accepted the call in May 1897.  Since Rev. Cowling, the Rectors of St. Stephen’s ministered to the depleting congregation at St. James.
The centennial anniversary of the founding of St. James was celebrated Dec. 1, 1900.  At that time, the Rev. Mr. Herbert L. Gaylord, Rector of St. Stephens, said, “The influence which this parish has wielded for good in the Diocese of Ohio, and among the early people of this community, scarcely can be overestimated.”

THE NUMBER of communicants in the church continued to decrease and in 1913 at the diocesan convention, St. James listed only 14 members.  The last entry in the minutes record of the annual congregational meetings is August, 1885.  After 1916, there were no reports at all from St. James.

One hundred and sixty=four years have rolled by since Dr. Doddridge founded the little parish in the Ohio wilderness.  All that is left is a white frame building, mute testament to a great faith, and a few yellow ledgers, which tell the life to any who care to read it, of this once flourishing church which played such an important part in the early history of Ohio.

SERVICES WERE HELD at the little church once a year for some time and then these, too, were discontinued.  In recent years the building was used by the American Sunday School Union.
Some attempt has been made to keep the church and grounds from completely deteriorating.  John Bates of St. Stephen’s Church donated his time and services for 10 years and kept the building usable until about a year ago.

A growing interest in the preservation of this historical structure by certain area people has prompted the Rev. Mr. Frank W. Hutchings, pastor of St. Stephens, under whose jurisdiction the building lies, to write to Episcopal officials and the Ohio and Jefferson County historical societies.

Steubenville Herald-Star
Feb. 25, 1967

‘Another Slant On Stripping’

To The Editor:
The Steubenville Herald-Star issue of Sept. 19, 1964, on its feature page carried an article written by Barbara Parker, entitled “Rich Memories Recalled by Visit to Old St. James Episcopal Church.”

The pictures accompanying the story by Miss Parker show St. James Church and the graveyard in which are monuments inscribed with the names famous in the country’s and the state’s earliest history.  This old sanctuary with its cemetery is on County Road 26, formerly known as the Fernwood-Bloomingdale Road.

Miss Parker’s history undoubtedly derived from Joseph B. Doyle’s “The History of the Church in Eastern Ohio” describes the road one must travel to visit the site of the oldest Episcopal church in Ohio as “scenic” and the small now-deserted edifice as “nestled among the trees on a knoll.”
Briefly, the history she gives is this:

A group of loyal churchmen had been meeting in the home of  Mrs. Mary McGuire, three miles out of Steubenville where the county home now stands, and Dec. 1, 1800, under the ministration of the of the Rev. Dr. Joseph Doddridge, pioneer missionary and medical doctor, had organized and thus became the finest Episcopal parish of the Church in Ohio.  By 1816 this group was ready to build a church and it was ready for use on Bishop’s first visitation, May 17, 1819. On the day it was consecrated in 1825 hundreds of people thronged the church and the surrounding groves, traveling from many miles around to receive the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Communion.

It is hard for us now to conceive how important the rural areas then were.  At one time, 1826, St. James had more communicants than St. Paul’s in Steubenville and more than the growing Trinity Church in Cincinnati.  In fact when the first convention of the Diocese of Ohio met at Worthington, Ohio, in 1818, of the 11 lay delegates, four were from St. James and one Charles Hammond, afterwards famous jurist and editor of the Cincinnati Enquirer, was elected secretary.

In 1837, a much larger brick structure was consecrated, replacing the first edifice.  The present small frame building was consecrated in 1864.

Miss Parker’s article concluded with this statement”

“There is interest among certain area people to preserve the church s an historic site.”

St. Paul’s Church, Steubenville, has two memorials related to this ancient church.  One is a plaque to the memory of “The Rev. Joseph Doddridge, D.D. 1769-1826.”   The First Christian Minister in Steubenville.  A Tireless Episcopal Missionary in the Ohio Valley, 1792-1826.

The other is a double lancet window, stained glass, Tiffany-made to the memory of Patience and Benjamin Doyle.  Patience was the daughter of Mrs. Mary McGuire.  The Doyles were among the signers of the first organization of St. James Church in 1800, but a few years later affiliated with St. Paul’s churchmen.  (A deleted account appeared in The Herald-Star, June 21, 1921.)

On Christmas Day, 1966, we made a pilgrimage to this most ancient shrine of the Episcopal Chruch in Ohio.  Our way led over dusty country roads.  We met no cars.  The road seems to be monopolized now by the gigantic equipment of the strip mine machines.  Our way led past ranges of upheaved terrain, acres of barrenness.  One could hardly imagine the road as ever having been “scenic.”  The grove and rich meadow and farm lands have been ploughed into by the dinosaur shovels and tossed up in ranges of slag-covered hills and broken rocks.  No spot for a man, bird, or beast is left by this engine of progress, the stripping shovel.  Today, the cauldron of unholy broil is quiet.

These outraged lands offer only a temporary nestling place for the derelict that was the first Episcopal sanctuary of the Church in Ohio.  It still stands, a trembling relic now.  Its doors fly open to the gusts of wind, its shattered windows admit the owl, the bat, hornets and dust.  Its piled-up pews offer no welcome to worship.

The cemetery still adjoins:
A God’s acre of quaking images,
Some broken and overturned.
But still testifying to the great faith
Of those who built the first sanctuary
For the church in Ohio.
Their anchorage now is times.
Those relentless engines
That bite into the green earth,
Lift woods and rocks from their mold
Will soon toss these sacred memorials
Into ranges of rubble.

As we leave, frustrated, saddened, we pause to read the plaque of the monument upset, and in two parts now, but legible, still telling its brave story:

“St  James Episcopal Church, Founded in 1800.  The first Organized  Parish of the Church in Ohio.”

Mrs. Elizabeth  J. Timberlake
Steubenville, Ohio

Steubenville Herald-Star
May 22, 1967

The historic St. James Episcopal Church on Fernwood Road was leveled by fire of suspicious circumstances about 11 p. m. Sunday.

The 30 by 40-foot frame edifice, founded in 1800 but unused for years, was burned to the ground in spite of the efforts of the Wintersville Volunteer Fire Department to save it.  Chief W. E. Ekey said the fire department was called at 11:02 p.m. by Ed Beekman, a Boich Mining Co. employee.

Sheriff’s deputies said a coal company watchman found everything in order when he passed about 9:30 p.m.  The watchman had placed logs across the entrance to the church driveway so he could determine readily whether any vehicles had entered the property.

Noticing a glow in the sky about 11 p.m., he returned to the scene, found the logs moved aside and the roof of the church ready to collapse, deputies reported.  They said there had been no fires in the building and no electrical service to it.  The state arson investigator has been contacted.


 Centennial Celebration at St. James Church

 (Steubenville Weekly Herald Star, Dec. 7, 1909) Historical Sermon by Rev. H. Gaylord. On December 1, 1800, Rev. Dr. Doddridge, priest in charge of what is now the parish of Christ Church Wellsburg and St John’s Brooke County (WV) made an agreement with a number of persons in this vicinity to conduct services of the Protestant Episcopal Church at the residence of Mrs. Mary McGuire who lived on what is now a portion of the Infirmary farm in Cross Creek Township. While services had been held by the same minister at the present site of Steubenville as early as 1796 and at intervals thereafter, yet the date above given represents the first organized movement of the part of the lay members towards the regular and permanent administration of their church.  Mrs. McGuire afterwards removing some miles farther west the services were continued at her residence and the organization thus formed grew into the parish of St James, near the Wayne Township line.

Accordingly appropriate services were held in the sacred structure on Sat morning last, conducted by Rev. H.L.Gaylord, now in charge of the church, in connection with St. Stephen’s parish, this city. Morning prayer and the Ante Communion services were said, the object being to have the proceedings bear as close a relation as possible to those held a hundred years ago.

(The sermon) We are assembled to celebrate the One hundredth Anniversary of the organization of the Parish of Saint James…the same religious organization as your ancestors did a century ago. My brief residence in your vicinity and my unfamiliarly with the noble history that surrounds this place, impressed me seriously with my unfitness for the honor, and the impropriety of laying strange hands upon your sacred records, for they are indeed sacred records.  They are far more sacred to you who sit here today, absorbed by the living, loving memories of departed relatives and those of long ago, whose mortal bodies lie buried beneath the withered and faded grass of your church yard, every inch which has been hallowed by the consecrated lives and dying virtues of the dead committed to its keeping.  The names, the memories, this building, and those graves belong to you; but the moral influence and religious impulse, that breathe from these, like the sweet odors of the June roses, reach out beyond the contracted circle of their native garden spot, to purify and enrich the world.

(The church history) In the year 1816, as a compromise between the parties situated on the Fernwood side of the Creek, the site on which we now stand, was purchased from a Mr. Elliott. He secured it from Mr. Daniel Dunlevy and a church structure erected, and the Rev. Dr. Doddridge continued as it pastor until the year 1822.  The following is a list of the subscribers in 1816:

Wm. McConnell                Robt Maxwell                  

Samuel Tipton                  John Cunningham

Alex Cunningham            Geo Mahan        

Andrew Elliott                  Gabriel Armstrong

John Foster                       Benjamin Doyle

Wm. White                        Thos White

John McConnell                James Strong

Hugh Taggart                   Richard White  

James Dugan                    William Graham

Daniel Dunlevy                 John McCulloch

(Some of the pastors listed in the church records) Rev. Mr. Morse followed Dr. Doddridge 15 yrs. Rev. Gray 15 yrs. Rev. Gray organized the first Sunday school at Cross Creek about 1854, now held at Long’s Church. Later pastors were; Hollis, Fearns, Christian, Lewis, Webb, Coleman, Copeland, Rev. Rambo, Hillyer, Brewster, Pitts, Grange, Williams, Bendict, Young and Cowling. The register shows at one time as many of 106 were in good standing listed in 1842.  The following is a list of those in attendance at the first meeting in the year 1800, one hundred years ago today: George Mahan, Wm. Whitecraft, Eliott Kelly, Geo. Halliwell, Wm. McConnell, John McConnell, Benj Doyle, Joseph Williams, John Long, Mary McGuire, John McKnight, Frederick Albright, William McConnell, John Scott, George Richey, Moses Hanlon.