An Episcopal Church With a Rich History of Service to God
History of St. John's
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, a farmer and a lawyer, 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 Secretary...a vestry of seven was appointed, consisting of John A. Peterson, John E. Meade, William Gilliam, Charles Friend, 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. The 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 Episcopal 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, eventually escaping to the ironclads moored in the river. When General Grant's troops headquartered at the Manor, the Church was used as a signal station, a jail, later a theater, and a dance hall. Most of the wood pews, flooring and furnishings were salvaged to build tent platforms, and to use as firewood. It was left in tragic disrepair. Despite the poverty of her faithful members, repair of the church began immediately after the hostilities ended in 1865. 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 and used for special service like Christmas Eve and Easter.
In the early 1890’s, a mission was established for a new Episcopal Congregation, a black congregation with students seeking Episcopal Orders, from the Bishop Payne Theological Seminary in Petersburg. The congregation lasted until a hurricane destroyed the little church, called Christ Church in 1898.
St. John’s Episcopal Church was rebuilt in 1895, the roof raised, and the style converted to a Gothic Revival architecture. A balcony was removed from the western side on the inside of the church, and an entrance porch was added, looking similar to the original porch on the "Malvern" house in Charles City County. In 1954, the entrance porch was rebuilt and made into an enclosed Narthex or foyer.
In 1916, with 60 communicants, the transepts were added anticipating significant growth with an influx of people with the opening of the Gun Cotton plant built by DuPont to supply the material for the WWI war effort. Growth was forthcoming and the congregation grew exponentially.
The lights were given by Tubize Silk Co., and in 1926, an Apse holding the altar was built and the memorial stained-glass windows were placed, along with a pipe organ given by Mary Eppes in memory of her sister.
In the old cemetery, beside and behind the church, are graves of many old distinguished families of Hopewell and its surrounding areas. There are also the graves of James Madison Ruffin, who was at one time a slave of Dr. Richard Eppes, serving as Sexton at St. John’s under Dr. Eppes direction. Another grave is of Paulina Epps, daughter of Madison, also a slave of the Eppes family who was a faithful member of the Congregation until her death.
A Memorial Garden has been created between the church and the parish house, Ribble Hall, was built in 1933, named for a beloved Rector, the Rev. Frederick Ribble. A church school building, Eppes Hall, was built in 1960, and a copper Celtic cross was erected on the church roof.
St. John’s has served City Point, Prince George County, and the City of Hopewell, following her mission to minister to the people and to be a focal point around which the lives of her members could revolve. Through its continued service of worship, fellowship, education, outreach and pastoral care, St. John’s has made and continues to make a mark in Hopewell, Prince George and Chesterfield Counties.