ST. JOHN'S HISTORY
The first thing you’ll see at the front of our building is a sign trumpeting its status as the oldest Episcopal Church building in Indiana. Indeed, it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Naturally, any story as long as ours will have too many twists and turns to include in a parish profile, but here are a few of the historical highlights we treasure and share with visitors.
Note: Should you visit, you’re welcome to spend some time in our library with The Story of St. John’s and its People: 1837- 1987 by Fern W. Brill (1903 - 2003), parish historian and member of St. John’s for over three decades. It is a major source for this document.
Missionary Bishop Jackson Kemper established St. John’s as a mission station in 1835, and gained early support from city founder Maj. Ambrose Whitlock. Our first priest, one Melancthon Hoyt, also taught at the one-room city schoolhouse, where he proved an especial tormentor to a young truant named Lew Wallace (more on him in the community profile).
Over the next two years the congregation grew, and in the summer of 1837, they laid the cornerstone for a small, simple frame building in Greek Revival style at the corner of Market and Water streets, next to Whitlock’s land office.
In 1867 a bell tower was added, along with a $320 bell that was guaranteed for one year “not to crack if rung properly.” It’s still rung every Sunday morning to this day!
In 1872 the building was moved, bell tower and all, three blocks to its present location on Green Street. The process took several months, as the cart wheels got stuck in frozen mud until spring. The following year, a stained-glass window of St. John was installed, twelve feet high, towering in total some twenty feet above the altar. It was donated by the brother of the Rev. Isaac A. Hagar, whose sudden death that year of tuberculosis, at age 36, ended a brief tenure as St. John’s priest that had seen weekly attendance grow nearly fivefold in four years.
On Easter Sunday in 1883 our marble baptismal font, carved by Crawfordsville’s Sidney Speed – son of John Speed, of Underground Railroad fame – was blessed by the bishop.
In 1917, the building was raised to add an undercroft with a kitchen. In the 1950s, as the congregation graduated from mission to parish status, the building gained its present cruciform configuration, with the expansion of the sanctuary, basement, kitchen, and classrooms. In the space of a few decades, the square footage had gone from about 1,400 to 5,800!
Since then, we’ve moved the altar off the east wall to the crossing, and added a columbarium in the south transept to house the remains of dozens of our faithful.
In 1988, we nearly doubled that square footage again by adding our extra-liturgical gathering space, Whitlock Hall. Named, of course, for the major himself – who wound up serving as senior warden until 1863 – the hall is a living testament to St. John’s strong attachment to its heritage and history.
With its large gathering space and well-appointed kitchen, Whitlock not only hosts church functions, but also offers its space at a nominal cost, serving more than a dozen local nonprofits. The lower level has our choir practice room, church offices, the vestry meeting room, and library. Best of all, thanks to careful planning, generous support from the congregation, and income from the sale of an apartment building, Whitlock Hall was built debt-free!
The church property is an L-shaped lot – that apartment building accounts for the notch – with our buildings covering most of the long leg, and the short leg comprising a small parking lot and grassy area where we sometimes have outdoor services (it’s called the Wheat Field; you’ll have to ask).
This link takes you to the county assessor’s map and assessed value information for the property: Beacon - Montgomery County, IN - Report: 54-17-32-443-024.000-030 (schneidercorp.com)