History of St. James' Episcopal Church
In the late 1700’s Dr. Daniel Burhans, an Episcopal priest from Connecticut, made a tour of northern Otsego County and visited several settlements in the area. Upon returning to his native Connecticut and his teaching position at the academy in New Lebanon, Dr. Burhans persuaded his headmaster of the academy, Daniel Nash, to study for Holy Orders. Daniel Burhans, a graduate of Yale University, completed his study in two years and was made a deacon in the Episcopal Church in 1797 by Bishop Provost. Four years later, in 1801, Daniel Nash was ordained as an Episcopal priest by Bishop Moore, who was the second Bishop of New York.
Daniel Nash began his thirty-nine years of missionary work in Otsego County as a deacon in 1797. Daniel Nash had a great influence in the establishment of several parishes in Otsego County and was in fact referred to as the Rector of Otsego County. Among the several churches which were the direct result of Father Nash’s missionary work in Otsego County were Christ Church in Cooperstown (1811), Saint Matthews Episcopal Church in Unadilla (1814), and Emmanuel Church in Otego (1834). Father Nash, who devoted his life to the ministry in Otsego County, died in 1836 and is buried in Christ Church Yard in Cooperstown.
In 1839, shortly after the death of Father Nash, The Reverend Andrew Hull received a missionary appointment from the Diocese of New York for both Otego and Oneonta. Father Hull initially conducted services in the village schoolhouse in Oneonta on alternate Sundays. Shortly thereafter, a small chapel was built on Main Street where services were held. Among the first members of this parish were William Angell, Carlton Emmons, Roderick Emmons, Dr. Samuel Case, Dr. Joseph Lindsey and William Fairchild. The first confirmation class in the parish was confirmed by The Right Reverend Benjamin T. Onderdonk, Bishop of New York, in 1840 and was comprised of Edward Graves, Almira Michael and Maria Fairchild. Father Hull left Oneonta to go to New Berlin and the chapel property passed from the members of the church, being used for a variety of purposes thereafter.
During 1853-1854, Bishop Wainwright made two visitations to Oneonta. Services were now being held more regularly as the population of the area began to grow more dramatically, largely due to the opening of the Albany and Susquehanna Railroad. Between 1865 and 1868, parish services were held in the Free Will Baptist Church at the corner of Main Street and Maple Street. Priests who served the mission in addition to Father Hull during this early period were The Reverends Stephen Parker, Daniel S. Little, Edward N. Goddard, George W. Foote, George W. Ferguson and Lewis Lighthips.
In 1869, The Right Reverend William Croswell Doane, First Bishop of Albany, made his initial visit to Oneonta, at which time he celebrated the Holy Eucharist and confirmed three people. A total of thirty-five people were confirmed between 1839 and 1870. On April 7, 1870, Bishop Doan gave his consent for Saint James in Oneonta to become a mission under the canon law of the Diocese of Albany. On the fourth day of April in 1871, the mission became legally incorporated as the Parish of Saint James Episcopal Church. Bishop Doan returned to Oneonta approximately one year later, where on June 27, 1871, the cornerstone for the present church was laid. Under the leadership of The Reverend Daniel Duroe, the church tower was completed, as was the sanctuary. In the early years of the parish, membership grew rapidly and the number of baptisms rose steadily, as entire families joined the church. The first wedding conducted in the present Saint James Church was the marriage of Mr. And Mrs. Alonzo Alger. On September 1, 1889, The Reverend Ernest Hartman became the priest-in-charge at Saint James Episcopal Church. Father Hartman recorded on the seventh day of November in 1890 that, "The church being entirely paid for was set apart by Bishop Doane from all worldly and unhallowed uses and solemnly consecrated to the service and worship of Almighty God." In 1892, ground was broken for a rectory, which was located on the present site of The Great Hall. The rectory was occupied by June 1, 1893. From the time the current church was constructed in 1871 until the turn of the century, nine members of the clergy served the parish: The Reverends Robert Washbon, John H. Fitzgerald, Edward Goddard, John B. Calhoun, John Brewster Hubbs, Charles D. Flager, Daniel Duroe, Earnest Hartman and John Evans Bold. The Right Reverend Croswell Doane was Bishop of the Diocese of Albany from 1869 to 1913. The first Rector of Saint James Episcopal Church in the twentieth century was The Reverend Thomas G. M’Gonigle who served the parish until 1904. Following Father M’Gonigle was The Reverend Robert Lacey who left the parish after only two years of service due to ill health and died shortly thereafter. Following the death of Father Lacey, the congregation commissioned the Gorham Silver Company to design and manufacture a chalice, paten and bread box in his memory. These appointments are still used in the parish today. For the period 1907 to 1910, The Reverend Edward S. Barkdull was the Rector of Saint James, followed by The Reverends George C. Dickerson, R. Augustus Forde, L. Curtis Denny and W. Hubert Bierck. While Father Denny was Rector of Saint James Episcopal Church, the cornerstone in the first parish house was laid. The parish house was located on Elm Street between the church and the rectory. This event took place on May 26,1923. The Right Reverend Richard H. Nelson, Bishop of the Diocese of Albany, presided.
The Reverend Alfred J. Miller became Rector of Saint James Episcopal Church on March 1, 1929. Father Miller served during the depression years when the church was struggling with a large mortgage. During this period, the parish worked together in alleviating the financial difficulties. Through the combined efforts of the Afternoon Guild and the Evening Guild, several fund-raising activities were organized to help settle the outstanding mortgage. As a result of these efforts and the generosity of the members of the parish, the mortgage was satisfied and many meaningful memorials were established at the church. The stained glass windows within the church are considered by many to be the most significant gifts of this period. The General Memorial Window is particularly meaningful to the parish because it reminds the congregation of an early evangelical gesture at Saint James. Around this time, there were approximately twenty-two Russian families who settled in the Oneonta area and were in search of a church were they could be communicants. Father Miller and the congregation at Saint James Episcopal Church welcomed them as part of their parish family. The Russian members of the congregation at Saint James made many generous contributions for the General Memorial Window, which is located behind the acolyte’s bench in the church.
Following Father Miller, The Reverend Dr. Louis Van Ess served as the Rector of Saint James Episcopal Church. In addition to serving as Rector, Dr. Van Ess was Professor of History at Hartwick College. The tenure of Dr. Van Ess covered the World War II years and the period of euphoria, which followed. While at Saint James, Dr. Van Ess established an endowment fund for the parish, provided many memorials of true artistic value and made provisions for a new rectory. The first ordination at Saint James Episcopal Church occurred while Dr. Van Ess was the Rector. This was the ordination of The Reverend Richard Day in 1953. Dr. Van Ess was an avid collector of fine art and much of his collection is still housed at Saint James. Among the pieces of fine art provided by Dr. Van Ess to the church is the "Madonna of the Pinks" which now hangs in the church, wood carvings of the apostles Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and the cross placed on the altar wall, Italian angel candlesticks that are in the Columbarium Room and several Della Robia pieces on display in the church. Dr. Louis Van Ess retired as the Rector of Saint James Episcopal Church on June 12, 1960, and died on September 24, 1960.
The Reverend Richard H. Frye became rector of Saint James Episcopal Church in the summer of 1960. In 1963, Father Frye oversaw the construction of the new parish house. During this construction, services were held at the Hartwick College chapel. The parish house included space for classrooms and social rooms, as well as storage and game rooms. The dedication of the new parish house was held on May 23, 1964, and the blessing of the new building was on May 24, 1964. In 1971, Saint James Episcopal Church celebrated the centennial of its legal incorporation as a parish. In honor of the 100th anniversary, Father Frye prepared a history of Saint James. As a part of this history, Father Frye wrote…
"While no individual can give an unbiased opinion of the age in which he is living, or speak without personal prejudice about that for which he is in part responsible, the writer of this brief history would hope that the history of Saint James in the 60’s and early 70’s might indicate a few specific accomplishments. The first of these might be an acknowledgement for the fact that the Church exists for others and not for itself. Early in the decade, we realized that people were no longer willing to give time in church functions for that which counted for little, but that any number of individuals could be counted on for worthy projects. We gather for that which offers legitimate Christian involvement and witness. The second accomplishment of the 60’s has been in the area of community service. No church in Oneonta serves the community with more willingness and Christian integrity than does Saint James. There are few organizations in the city that have not used our facilities at one time or another."
In 1977, under the direction of Father Frye, the Dewar Fund was established as a result of a bequest left to the church by Mrs. Jessie Dewar. While the bequest from Mrs. Dewar was unrestricted in nature, the Vestry of Saint James voted not to use the income from the endowment for operating expenses, instead to make contributions from the income to organizations in the community and throughout the world for a variety of charitable purposes. The Dewar Fund Committee, established in large part by Father Frye, exists to evaluate requests for grants from the Dewar Fund income and to distribute the funds. Establishment of the Dewar Fund Committee was only one example of the charitable activities continuing with Saint James Episcopal Church under the leadership of Father Frye. Other examples include the food pantry, the work of the Christian Outreach Committee, regular contributions to the local Family Services Association and active participation in ecumenical activities benefiting the entire community.
The Holtkamp Organ Company of Cleveland, Ohio, designed a new organ for Saint James Episcopal Church in 1982. The organ was first played on Thanksgiving Day in 1983. In 1988, the installation of a Columbarium with 64 niches was begun. It was completed in the spring of 1990. The Columbarium is located in the rear of the church and is enhanced by a centerpiece icon painted by Mark Bayer, a well-known local iconographer. During the tenure of Father Frye, several other improvements were made to the physical structure of the church, including a new heating system, the creation of a parking lot adjacent to the church, new carpeting in the nave of the church, the acquisition of a customized van purchased jointly with Aurelia Osborne Fox Memorial Hospital Nursing for residents to use for weekly and parish activities on weekends, installation of a sound system to help the hearing-impaired, and the installation of a new slate roof on the church.
During the thirty-two years in which Father Frye served as rector of Saint James Episcopal Church, there were 257 baptisms, 269 confirmations and receptions, 135 marriages and 418 burials. There were also three ordinations at Saint James Episcopal Church while Father Frye was the rector. Geoffrey Allen Boland was ordained a priest at Saint James in 1974. David Robinson was ordained a priest at Saint James in 1977. Mark Robert Cole was ordained a priest at Saint James Episcopal Church in 1989. Several Associate Rectors have served at Saint James Episcopal Church during Father Frye’s tenure as rector.
The Curates at Saint James have been the following: Father Joseph Sitts (1968-1970), Father Geoffrey Boland (1974-1976), Father David Robinson (1977-1981), Father Stephen Ayers (1983-1986), Father Mark Cole (1989-1993), Father Robert Harvey (1997-1998) and Mother Carola von Wrangel (1999 to 2001). The Reverend Joel MacCollam served the parish during Father Frye’s brief illness and Mr. William Ackerson was Lay Assistant to Father Frye for a time in the mid-1980’s. The Reverend Richard H. Frye retired as the rector of Saint James Episcopal Church on January 31, 1992.
The Reverend William E. Pilcher assumed the position of Interim Pastor of Saint James Episcopal Church on February 1, 1992, and served until Father Cole was installed as rector in 1993. During Father Cole' tenure at Saint James Episcopal Church, the Mission Program and The Lord’s Table were instituted. Father Mark Cole served as rector until he resigned from the priesthood in August of 2000. Ms. Carola von Wrangel (August 1999 to August 2001) was ordained a deacon in March 2000 and a priest in August 2000. Saint James Episcopal Church supported Peter Mayer through his seminary studies. He was ordained a priest in Washington, D.C., in January 2002. Another parishioner, Richard Knudsen, was ordained a deacon in June 2001. Most recently, Suzanne Cole, another long-time parishioner, was ordained a priest in November 2002. Two parishioners, Charles and Polly Bailey, have become permanent deacons. Currently we have one parishioner in the program for the Diaconate, Vicky Hunter.
The Reverend Robert F. Haskell was designated Priest-in-Charge in January 2001. He continued to serve the parish until October 2003, when the Vestry called Father Kenneth E. Hunter to become the rector of the parish. Currently under Father Hunter's oversight the parish continues to thrive and grow.