An Episcopal missionary station was founded on Nantucket Island in 1838 by the Diocese of Connecticut. The following year, Trinity Episcopal Church was constructed on Broad Street, using timbers from a former Friends’ Meeting House on the site. When this building was destroyed by the Great Fire of 1846, Trinity Parish was formally dissolved, and a group of parishioners banded together to form a new church.
The new congregation purchased land on Fair Street and erected a simple vertical-boarded building which was consecrated in 1850. The construction of the building almost exactly coincided with the precipitous decline in the whaling industry, which thrust the island into a deep depression. Population dropped from almost 10,000 in 1840 to 6,000 in 1860, and, at its lowest, 3,450 in 1880. From 1859 to 1872, there was no rector. Dedicated laymen continued to read services. In the summers, occasional visiting clergy would celebrate the Eucharist.
In the late 1800s, Nantucket enjoyed a modest land boom when it was discovered as a vacation spot. Miss Caroline L.W. French, a summer resident from Boston, approached the vestry of St. Paul’s Church and offered to build a new, more substantial stone church as a memorial to her father, Jonathan French. The old frame church building was sold to a parishioner, placed on rollers, and moved to Beach Street, where it was converted to a summer house.
The cornerstone of a new building, our current church building, was laid on September 5, 1901, and the new church was consecrated for use the following June. Tiffany Studios was commissioned to design and execute nature scenes for the east and west memorial windows.
As the years passed, an adjacent house and cottage were purchased as a rectory. In the 1960s, the area beneath the church was excavated and a large meeting room, kitchen, and choir-vesting quarters were created. What had formerly been the choir room was remodeled into a small chapel with colorful stained glass windows by the Willett Studio in Philadelphia. In the late 1980s, a house on the other side of the church was purchased and a parish house and parking lot were created.
In 1998, the rectory was moved, from a location adjacent and connected to the church building, 50 feet to the north to create space for a garden between the two buildings.
The rectory itself was renovated in 2001, and a two-story addition was built at the rear. In 2005, the cottage, which began its life as a stable, was renovated as housing for staff.
As the plant has grown, so have programs and membership expanded.
More recently, the Vestry performed a full evaluation of the condition of our 100+ year-old Church and decided that it was time to bring the church infrastructure and facilities up-to-date. During 2012 and 2013, we held a capital campaign and raised over $2.2 million from parish members and public funding sources. These funds were used to add a new 1000-square-foot fully accessible entrance (the Daume Entrance), install a lift in the new entrance, renovate our sacristy, and renovate the nave pews, knees, and kneelers. In our undercroft, Gardner Hall, we added a commercial kitchen, fully accessible rest room facilities, and a new high-efficiency heating system. The building's wiring and plumbing infrastructures were upgraded to modern code.
As a result of these modifications and the earlier rebuilding of the rectory, our campus is in excellent condition. In the immediate future we plan to make some minor improvements and put a new roof on our parish house.
Our Former Rectors
St. Paul’s has enjoyed the leadership of 31 rectors beginning 1838 with the missionary station described above. The rectors, interim rectors and their tenure are as follows:
1.Moses Marcus 1838-1841
2.Frederick W.J. Pollard 1841-1844
3.Thomas Salters 1844-1846
4.Ethan Allen 1846-1855
5.Charles H. Canfield 1856-1857
6.Noah Disbrowe 1858-1859
(St. Paul’s had no resident rector in the years 1860-1871)
7.Samuel Meade 1872-1875
8.William L. Hooper 1875-1876
9.Levi Boyer 1876-1883
10.H. Warren Fay 1883-1885
11.Charles F. Sweet 1885-1887
12.Charles P. Little 1887-1893
13.Edward C. Gardner 1893-1896
14.J. Cullen Ayer, Jr. 1896-1899
13.Edward C. Gardner 1899-1900
15.John C. Gill 1901
16.George H. Patterson 1901-1903
17.H. H. Ryder 1903-1911
18.Edward L. Eustis 1911-1913
Samuel Snelling 1913 (Minister in Charge)
19.Charles Mallory 1914-1917
20.Samuel Snelling 1917-1924
21.Lucien Rogers 1924—1927
22.Chauncey H. Blodgett 1927-1938
23.Barrett P. Tyler 1938-1939
24.Daniel A. Bennett 1939-1943
25.Richard A. Strong 1943-1949
26.Bradford Johnson 1949-1972
27.Herbert Stevens 1972-1985
Katherine C. Black (Interim) 1985-1986
John D. Wing (Priest-in-charge) 1985-1986
28.Douglas G. Tompkins 1986-1993
29.Andrew Foster 1993-1998
Joel Ives (Priest in charge) 1999-2002
30.Joel Ives 2002-2006
William Eddy (Interim) 2007-2008
31. Eugene C. McDowell 2008-2014
The foregoing history of St. Paul’s was excerpted in part from the book, St. Paul’s, 1839-214, 175 years on Nantucket, written by Bob Ford in 2014. Copies of the book are available in the Church Office for purchase.