Holy Trinity Episcopal Church
|History of the
Episcopal Church in Swanton
and Highgate Falls, VT
Discussion regarding the building of a meeting house at Swanton Falls had begun in 1822 and the building was completed in 1824 with an agreement between the Congregationalists, Methodists, Episcopalians, and Quakers that each would share equal rights to the pulpit.
The Episcopalians held services there occasionally for a few years in the meeting house which is now the Swanton Christian Church. Bishop John Henry Hopkins from Burlington visited once or twice a year, to preach to the people.
The Society of Episcopalians adopted the name Christ Church. It was served from 1824-1826 by The Rev. Joseph H. Covell. The Congregational Church purchased the Episcopal right to the Meeting House in 1827.
Mr. Hoffman and his family, who seemed to have been the mainstay of the church at the time, returned to New York in 1828-9, and for the next few years little if any use of the building was made by the Episcopal Congregation, though it evidently survived, for in 1832 Rev.Anson B. Hard was appointed rector. He apparently was unable to revive enough interest to have a viable church and departed in 1834.
The name Christ Church must have been withdrawn, or relinquished, for when the church next became active it was under the name of Holy Trinity.
Holy Trinity Episcopal Church of Swanton, VT was established in 1867 and it owes its beginning in a very large degree to a persevering, tenacious, loving woman named Olive Barker (Sawyer) Stone.
Olive Barker Sawyer was born in the small hamlet of Tinmouth in southwest Vermont on March 10,1833. Though there was no church in the community, there was an active house church, and she was baptized and confirmed by Bishop Hopkins on one of his regular visits to the area. Henry Martyn Stone lived in Swanton, more than 100 miles to the north. It would be interesting to know how Henry and Olive happened to meet in those days of dirt roads and horse drawn vehicles. They were married and lived in Swanton.
Olive Stone was born, raised and confirmed in The Episcopal Church. Henry's family were equally staunch Congregationalists. One of her sons wrote "she suffered a mild form of persecution at the hands of her husband's family. They were thoroughly Puritanical and had absolutely no use for any other religion. They made scathing remarks about the church, criticized the use of written prayers, and the wearing of the surplice." Nevertheless she took her children to a church four miles away to be baptized.
The church "four miles away" was St. Johns' Episcopal Church in Highgate Falls. No doubt she attended services there whenever possible, though it must have been a tiring journey back and forth by horse and buggy. It may well have been on such trips that she made the plans that would eventually lead to the building of a church in Swanton. It was 1867, when her eldest son Charles was thirteen years of age, Emily nine, Edward three, Walter one, and George on the way, that her plans finally were achieved.
At that time there was a vacancy at St. John's in Highgate Falls. During the summer the congregation was introduced to The Rev. J. B. Pitman, of Northfield, who had given up his ministry for reasons of health, and was acting as the special agent of the Church Book Society. He was urged by his bishop the Right Reverend John Henry Hopkins, and fellow clergy, to accept the call of rector of St. John's which included the establishment of a mission at Swanton Falls. He accepted the call and assumed his duties Sunday, August 4, 1867. Morning services were held in Highgate Falls and evening services in Swanton Falls at 2:00 at the Academy Hall (presently the town clerk's office).
As soon as he became rector, Rev. Pitman began to baptize any who had not been admitted to the church. He also formed, and instructed, a confirmation class of seventeen adults who were to be confirmed by Bishop John Henry Hopkins on Sunday January 5,1868. Because of the size of the class, and the limited space at Academy Hall, arrangements were made to use the Methodist Meeting Hall. Constr uction at the hall delayed the ceremony a month to February 5. In the meantime Bishop Hopkins made a visit to Plattsburgh, where he contracted pneumonia, and died on January 9, 1868, so the confirmation service had to be postponed indefinitely.
The following June the Right Reverend W. H. A. Bissell was elected, ordained and consecrated Episcopal Bishop of Vermont. On July 5th 1868, Bishop Bissell celebrated what is believed to have been the first Episcopal Communion in Swanton. Eighteen adults and three teenagers received the Sacred Rite of Confirmation. Holy Communion was offered immediately afterwards. Again the use of the Methodist Meeting Hall was extended to the growing Episcopal Congregation.
The parish in Swanton grew more quickly than the one in Highgate Falls, due perhaps to the fact that Swanton had become an important railroad town. In any case it was decided that Rev. Pitman should reside in Swanton. A house, with the land on which the present church buildings are located, was purchased from Mr. George Blake, and his wife Mary, to be used as a rectory. The house at 40 Grand Avenue still exists, being reunited with the campus in 2006. Rev. Pitman, and his family moved in on May 1, 1869. Seven years later the house was sold and property split, so a church could be built.
A wooden church, the building becoming the parish hall 30 years later, was erected in 1876, at a cost of less than $2,000. It had seating for about 150 people. Rev. Pitman resigned possibly due to recurrence of earlier health problems. Several interim rectors conducted services until September 1888 when the Rev. Josiah Swett, D. D. accepted the call. He remained until his death in January 18 90. One of Rev. Swett's first official acts was to arrange the consecration of the church, on September 9, 1888, by the Right Rev. W. H. A. Bissell, Bishop of Vermont. This rectified a longstanding oversight caused by the temporary and uncertain nature of the leadership during the preceding years.
The lack of a rectory undoubtedly made it difficult to attract and keep a permanent rector. Once again the generosity of the Stone family was manifested. On October 8,1894, their oldest daughter Emily Olive (Stone) Beebe died in Minneapolis. As a memorial to her, Henry and Olive built a house on First Street to be used as a rectory. The house, located at 46 First Street was sold to Herbert C. Skeels in 1917. If there is one significant fact more than any other in the history of Holy Trinity, it is the love and devotion of her parish families, Burt, Kidder, Laselle, Tobin, Bell; but most of all the Stones, who gave generously of their time, talents and resources to build a beautiful edifice in which to gather together in the name of Christ to worship God.
Henry Martyn Stone and his wife Olive were the most active and dedicated of all the parishioners, members from the outset. Henry M. Stone served on the first vestry, and had been a part of the small group of believers assisting Rev. Pitman in establishing the parish.
Three of the Stone's sons entered the priesthood and their second son, Edward Sawyer Stone, was appointed rector of Holy Trinity in 1905, a post he filled, despite many years of illness, until his resignation due to failing health in 1923.
Henry M. Stone died August 16,1908. Within the next year his widow, and her surviving sons and daughter, made plans to have the present church designed, financed, and under construction. The contractor was E. M. Prouty. The cornerstone was laid on September 22,1909 and dedicated "To the Glory of God in Memory of Henry M. and Olive B. Stone A.D. 1909" in the presence of many local dignitaries, visiting clergy, friends and numerous school children who were given time off to witness the ceremony. The church was consecrated by Bishop Right Reverend Addison C. A. Hall on the Thursday following Trinity Sunday May 26,1910.
The new building in English Gothic style is constructed of rough-cut native red marble supplied by the Barney Marble Company of Swanton. The interior roof and lower side walls of the church are finished in cypress and Georgia pine stained a dark brown shade. A wall of plaster, painted a buff color, extends from the wainscoting to the ceiling. Natural light enters the sanctuary through leaded glass windows, most of which are stained glass memorial windows, depicting Old and New Testament themes.
Separating the chancel and nave, is a rood beam, surmounted by a crucifix, and the figures of the Blessed Virgin on one side and St. John on the other. The altar of white Vermont marble incorporates three delicate della Robbia inserts. There is no "east" window in the chancel, instead there is mounted on the wall behind the altar a triptych depicting our Lord in Glory surrounded by adoring angels. Five years after the church was built, a former parishioner, James Monroe Bell, presented a fine pipe organ built by Hall & Sons, Boston in memory of his wife, Eva M. (Laselle) Bell.
Olive Barker Stone, who played such a prominent part in the establishment and construction and furnishing of both the original church and the new one, departed this life on November 2, 1913.