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Parish History


19th Century

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. 

20th Century

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. 

21st Century

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 Book

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.

The original church in the late 1800s.
The interior of the original church.
A group photo of the construction crew.
The completed church in the early 20th century.