History of St. James’

In the fall of 1842, the Rev. Gregory Bedell, then Rector of the Church of the Holy Trinity in West Chester, conducted a service of worship in the home of Dr. Andrew Wills for a group of Episcopalians living in Downingtown. That was the beginning of St. James’ Church. That same year, the Downingtown Episcopalians invited the Rev. William Augustus White of Boston to come to Downingtown as the rector of a new Episcopal church to be named after the Apostle James.

A new church home

Plans for the building of a church were drawn up, and on June 20, 1843, the cornerstone of the church building was laid. The building itself was completed in just four months and was consecrated on October 26, 1843, by Bishop Onderdonk of Pennsylvania. Early records indicate that “the church edifice belonging to this parish is neat, substantial and commodious, and built with good materials.”

Rev Agustus White, First Rector St. James' Church
The Rev. William Agustus White, First Rector 1843 – 1845

The final cost, including the land, was just under $2,000.

St. James' Church 1843
St. James’ Church with Masonic Hall – 1843

The first building was of classical design, with no steeple and no stained glass windows. In 1874, the graveyard, which had been behind the church building, was removed to Northwood Cemetery in compliance with a town ordinance of that year decreeing that the burying of the dead within borough limits was forbidden.

Growing, thriving and doing God’s work

In 1863, the church building underwent a major renovation. The church was enlarged, the wings, sanctuary and steeple were built, various memorial stained glass windows were put in place, and the church building took on the appearance it has today.

St James Church 1956 Addition
Laying the 1956 addition cornerstone. Rev. Alfred Hail.

Over time, an office wing and a parish hall were added to the original church building. A community Nursery School (today’s Saint James’ Preschool) came into being under the rectorship of Richard Lee Bartholomew, rector of St. James’ from 1962 until 1992. He also presided over the building of St. James’ Place, a housing facility for low-income elderly tenants, which opened its doors in 1979. Since that time, its forty apartments have always been filled.

St. James' Church 1993
St. James’ Church 1993

Our many outreach activities continue to touch the Downingtown community, and our growing preschool and Christian education programs help to insure our future.