Holy Trinity Episcopal Church

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History of the
Episcopal Church in Swanton

and Highgate Falls, VT

Based on
Winston G. Hewlings' writing in
"The History of Swanton Vermont"

...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 Congregational 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The name Christ Church must have been withdrawn, or relinquished, for when the church next became active it was under the name of Holy Trinity.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.Top

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 Congregationals. 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.Top

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 Highate 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, l868. Because of the size of the class, and the limited space at Academy Hall, arrangements were made to use the Methodist Meeting Hall. Construction at the hall delayed the ceremony a month to February 5. In the meantime Bishop Hopkins made a visit to Plattsburgh, where he contracted an illness, 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 a more 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, it is occupied by attorney George F. Spear. Rev. Pitman, and his family moved in on May 1, 1869. Seven years later the house was sold so that a church could be built.Top

A wooden church, the building now used as a parish hall, 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 recurrance 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 1890. 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 thing more than another that stands out in the history of Holy Trinity, it is the love and devotion of many parish families, Burt, Kidder, Laselle, Tobin, Bell but most of all the Stone family 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. They were actively involved from the outset. Henry M. Stone was a member of the first vestry, and had been a part of the small group of believers to assist 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.Top

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 lower side walls to the roof. Natural light enters the sanctuary through leaded glass windows, most of which are stained glass memorial windows, depicting Old and New Testament themes.

Seperating the chancel and nave, is an unpretentious 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.

Many of the appointments in the church such as the altar rail, lectern and pulpit, as well as ornaments have been made as gifts.Top

Rev. Edward S. Stone who was greatly loved and respected by parishioners was rector of the new church during this important period of its growth and development. He was a victim of tuberculosis which necessitated periodic hospitalization and eventually forced him to resign on January 2, 1923. He lived in the house pesently owned by Richard and Marilyn Foster on Grand Avenue. His death occurred in October 1927.

Rev. Arthur French, of Phillipsburg, Quebec, who was retired, performed priestly functions until November 1924 when Rev. Vernon A. Weaver of Sheldon became pastor. Mrs. Hilda Wheelock (wife of Ed), played the organ in those days.

From the time of the resignation of Fr. Edward Stone in 1923 until the arrival of Fr. Alan Bragg in 1962 no significant changes seem to have been made to the church property. Attendance apparently fell to quite low levels at times and revenues were often insufficient to cover operating expenses. Fortunately there have always been a faithful few who loyally and generously responded when needed; none more than Donald E. Wood, a long-standing and loyal servant of his church who was first elected to the vestry in 1938.

Fr. Bragg, who had begun his ministry as a missionary in Africa was nearing retirement when he came to Swanton and served well past that time before finally taking his leave in May 1973.

During his rectorship the original pews, which had served in the first church, were replaced. He also arranged to have the present red carpet installed. One of his desires was to have things liturgically correct, and he was instrumental in having a credence table placed in the chancel, as well as an aumbry of white Vermont marble to match the alter. During the same period new lighting fixtures, the gift of the late Bishop Quimby, a summer resident, were installed in the nave.Top

The Rev. Benjamin O. Chase was a chaplain in the U. S. Navy before assuming his duties here in June 1973. He attracted many young people and the parish grew under his direction. It was with a great sense of loss that his resignation was accepted after almost five years in February 1978.

Six months later Bishop Kerr recommended The Rev. James A. Kelsey, another energetic young priest. His father had been a priest before him; he had grown up in Vermont, and had recently graduated from General Seminary in New York. Fr. Kelsey, who took up duties in August 1978, continued the programs so successfully initiated by his predecessor, and the parish continued to grow under his guidance. It was a sad day when he announced that he, his wife Mary, and their three children, all of whom had been born in Swanton, had decided to "move on". He conducted his final Eucharist at Holy Trinity on May 12, 1985.

Molly Comeau had studied for years and served as a voluntary assistant to Fr. Kelsey who was her mentor. She was ordained a deacon and eventually a priest. Upon Fr. Kelsey's departure, she became the unanimous choice of the parish for its next rector. She was the first female Episcopal priest in Franklin County, and the first woman to preside as full-time rector of a parish in Vermont.

When The Rev. Judd Pealer came to us, he continued the regional ministry started with Fr. Chase known as the "Yoke" which included Alburg and Swanton. Under Fr. Kelsey it was known as the "Cluster" and added Sheldon and Highgate. Fr. Pealer shared duties and pulpits with The Rev. Brad Clark and added Enosburg and Richford to the cluster and called it the "Confederation".

The Rev. Evelyn Manzella was our last full-time priest; she served Holy Trinity exclusively. She was an award winning preacher and made many connections with the youth.

The Diocese shared The Rev. Marsha Hoecker as our half-time priest and half-time Canon for Youth Ministry for the Diocese. She organized and led a trip to the National Cathedral in Washington D. C. for the acolytes of Vermont to celebrate Vermont Day. Approximately 80 acolytes and 25 adults journeyed by coaches and camped at the Cathedral School for Girls and the St. Albans School for Boys. The acolytes brought their robes and banners and processed at the Sunday morning service, a great experience was had by all. Later she offered a trip to the children and chaperones throughout the state to the outdoor Cathedral in Boston bringing food and feeding the homeless gathered there for the Sunday afternoon service.

In 2001 "Parish receives an unexpected fortune" was announced in the Burlington Free Press article of January 27, 2002. When Harold Arthur Perry, a long-time resident of Swanton, died in the early hours of May 2, 2001, at the Vermont Respite House in Williston. He was 80 years old and worth more than $8.3 million.

He left no survivors. His will was simple: Pay off the bills and give the rest, about $7.7 million, to benefit the struggling Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Swanton.

"He didn't want recognition for anything, he was always that way," said Georgette Lauzon, a friend and neighbor who acted as Perry's legal guardian in his last weeks.

He was born Sept. 28, 1920, in Swanton, the only child of Harold and Cora Perry. His father died when Perry was 15. Perry graduated from Swanton High School in 1938. After serving in WW II, he returned to Swanton and graduated from the University of Vermont with a B.A. in Commerce and Economics.

Perry started work at the Burlington office of General Electric the same year...His devotion to his mother, widowed at 55, was apparent. He commuted at least 80 miles round-trip each day rather than have his mother live alone. He faithfully brought her to Sunday services at Holy Trinity Church, just a few blocks from their village home.

Months after his mother's death in early 1970, Perry wrote his will. He had ceased attending Holy Trinity, but bequeathed his estate to the Episcopal Diocese of the State of Vermont to establish the Cora E. Perry Memorial Fund. He gave no explanation and never spoke of his plans. The money was to be "prudently invested" and the earnings given to Holy Trinity to be used for its "stablishment and beautificaion".

"Its obvious to me that Mr. Perry wanted to do two things. He wanted to honor his mom and he wanted to do something local." said Bishop Thomas Ely, who leads the the diocese. "Now they're expected to be good stewards of this generous bequest, which in some ways, has added a lot of responsibility."

You will find a record of the priests that have served at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Swanton.Top

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