On Sunday, May 7, St. Peter’s Episcopal Church at 45 W. Winter St. in Delaware will celebrate its 200th anniversary. Here is the story of St. Peter’s leading up to this day.
In 1804, Colonel Moses Byxbe came to central Ohio from Berkshire, Massachusetts armed with a number of land grants given to him as payment for his service during the Revolutionary War. He and a handful of other pioneer visionaries saw promise here, and in 1808 they signed the legal documents mapping out the future city of Delaware, Ohio.
Among those founders was William Little of Connecticut, a saddler by trade, who had arrived in the territory after a brief stay in Worthington, Ohio, south of Delaware and a town founded by his own brother Nathaniel on behalf of the Scioto Company. William came seeking his fortune as a merchant, not as a saddler, and started a mercantile business with goods he bought in Worthington.
Mr. Little was quite successful, despite being in competition with Colonel Byxbe’s similar enterprise. He kept his competitive edge by making annual buying trips to Philadelphia where he stocked up on bolts of velvets, silks, satins and common cloths as well as shoes, crockery, hardware and medicine. The merchandise was carted by wagon back to Delaware at the rate of $20 per hundred pounds.
William was soon prosperous enough to build a brick store on the southwest corner of Sandusky and Winter Streets, where the Delaware County Bank stands today. It must have been a very interesting place to visit — many Delaware residents had little cash, so they bartered produce for items. Native Americans within a 50-mile radius traveled to Little’s store to trade cranberries, maple syrup and furs for supplies.
Mr. Little also owned a large tract of land at the west end of Winter Street, from which he began quarrying the blue limestone that forms the bedrock of Delaware County. The 12-acre Blue Limestone Quarry (now Blue Limestone Park) would play a very important role in the development of the city.
William was a man of faith. As such, his was among the first of the eleven signatures on an Instrument of Parochial Associations drawn up in 1817 in Delaware, when St. Peter’s Episcopal Church was incorporated.
‘The Great Apostle of the Wilderness’
Philander Chase was born in Cornish, N.H. in 1775. As a teenager and student at Dartmouth College, he was profoundly influenced by a copy of The Book of Common Prayer, the bedrock text of the Episcopal church.
At that time Episcopalians were few in number and carried little influence, having split from the English Anglican Church after the Revolutionary War. (noteworthy members were George Washington and two-thirds of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.) By the time Mr. Chase was in his early forties, he had been ordained and served as rector of churches in New Orleans and Hartford, Connecticut.
In 1817, he answered the strong call he felt to expand the church into the western territories. Braving torrential rains, fast-moving rivers and nearly impenetrable forests, he and his family traveled to Ohio, establishing Episcopal parishes along the way, which included Worthington and Columbus.
In the nine-year old frontier town of Delaware, he found an eager audience which was accustomed to hearing sermons delivered in the town courthouse. Plans for St. Peter’s Episcopal Church began then.
Reverend Chase became Bishop Chase in 1818, head of the newly-formed Diocese of Ohio. To fill the need for trained clergy, he sailed to England to raise money for a theological seminary in Central Ohio. He was successful, and returned in 1823 to established the seminary he named Kenyon College.
He also brought back a wooden model of a typical English parish church for his parishioners in Delaware. It was to be the template for a new St. Peter’s Episcopal Church.
The first building, constructed in 1825 on land donated by William Little, was very simple and had no basement. It served its purpose, however, and in 1827 charter members William and his wife Catherine Little helped organize the first Sunday school in Delaware County.
In 1844, the original building was removed and the cornerstone laid for a full-scale rendition of the English model in blue limestone from Mr. Little’s quarry. Construction was completed in the early summer of 1846, along with a brand new bell installed the tower to ring out over the town.
The first wedding was held soon after the work was finished. On August 27, George W. Campbell married William Little’s daughter, Elizabeth. After the ceremony, the couple planted a rose bush at the northwest corner of the church. The “Wedding Rose” still blooms there every year in June.
A History of Tradition and Inclusion
By 1884, St. Peter’s Church had outgrown its original interior space, and underwent a complete redesign. The most dramatic changes were the creation of a “recessed chancel” and a center aisle separating the pews.
This building had a basement, where the original building did not. In 1955, the basement was turned into a large, open room. The “Undercroft” has been used ever since as a free meeting space for Delaware organizations and groups, a site for most congregational gatherings and business meetings, and for many years as the location for monthly free community meals.
By the early 1970s, girls were among the youngsters serving as acolytes, and the first female Interim Rector was appointed not long afterwards. The Rev. Bettina Gale Anderson became the first woman to serve as full-time rector at St. Peter’s in 1987, and held that post for many years.
Since 2005, St. Peter’s has been part of the Partners-in-Ministry-in-Liberia (PIMIL), founded by the Reverend Abeoseh Flemister. PIMIL is a cooperative effort among individuals and corporations to support the educational needs of Liberian children struggling under economic hardship. The church also helps sponsor the education of a Liberian nursing student every year.
St. Peter’s has a strong community service presence in Delaware. Among its daily commitments to local residents are:
• Andrews House, owned by St. Peter’s, which offers the community eight small social-services agencies, two service-oriented businesses (our resident partners), free meals, free legal advice and a medical clinic.
• Family Promise, co-sponsored by St. Peter’s, provides temporary shelter and food for families in need, and also helps them re-establish their independence.
• People In Need, part of the Mid-Ohio Food Bank, is a focus of St. Peter’s charitable giving and member support. Volunteers from the church often work there, and others collect, pick up and deliver food to PIN every day of the week.
• St. Peter’s’ meeting space is used seven days a week by the Delaware AA and NA support groups.
Everyone is welcome to join the congregation for services each Sunday, or just to drop by for a chat about what St. Peter’s does for others. For information or an appointment, call the church at 740-369-3175.