With its unusual combination of Greek Revival and Gothic Revival architecture, St. John’s feels “not too big, not too small, but just right.” The Monroe County History of 1877 states that St. John’s has “one of the nicest interior structures of any building in the state.” It is also listed as both a State and National Historic Site.
St. John’s Episcopal Church was incorporated in 1840, with the building completed and consecrated in 1842. At that time it was smaller, ending where the chancel steps are now, with no tin ceiling – that was added in 1877 – and with frosted windows. The building was constructed of dolomite stone quarried from north of the Village of Honeoye Falls. In 1899 a Hook and Hastings tracker organ (Opus 1816) was purchased and is still used today - one of the few still in existence.
The congregation was founded in the late 1830’s and the church building was built in the early 1840’s. The first wedding was performed in 1856. The Hook & Hastings tracker pipe organ currently in use was installed in time for Easter 1899.
The first congregation, a small group of Episcopalians, met in the late 1830’s in what was called a “Church Society”.
The ‘society’ chose a rector and wrote a Certificate of Incorporation on June 29, 1840.
The first two of five parcels that makes up the property that St John’s owns today was obtained in September 1840.
In 1841, there were twenty families enrolled in St John’s, consisting of sixty adults and thirty children.
On April 26, 1842, a deed to the church was presented to The Rt Rev William H DeLancy, the first Bishop of the Diocese of Western New York (the Diocese of Rochester was not formed until 1933). The building at that time was small, only 36 X 62 feet and did not include the chancel.
The first wedding was performed on September 2, 1856.
On July 3, 1875, a gift was given by Sarah Rand to make improvements to the church including the addition of the chancel. A house on Monroe Street to be used as a Rectory was also acquired in 1875.
From its beginning as a “church society,” meeting in Honeoye Falls’ first brick schoolhouse in 1840, to the present-day community of friends and neighbors, St. John’s Episcopal Church has been part of local history.
More information about St. John’s history is available in a lovely booklet prepared by one of our more beloved parishioners, Mrs. Helen Cooney, several years ago. Unfortunately Mrs. Cooney passed away in February of 2003. However, printed copies of her work are available through the Parish Office, located in the Carriage House.
One of the most special pieces of the St. John’s campus is our historic set of bells. You may hear the bells on Sunday mornings, or at various times during the week. What do you know about our bells and our bell ringers? Let’s start with the facts. The bell tower was added to the church building in 1855. Our set of 16 bells was made by Meneely/Wvelt in Watervliet, NY and installed in 1927. Technically, our bells are really chimes, in which the bell swings just enough for the clapper to strike but does not swing from side to side. Each bell is affixed to a lever, which, when pressed, bell to strike the clapper. Of the 750 known sets of chimes in the US, only 72 sets have 16 or more bells. Ours are considered to be in excellent condition.
The bells are played by striking the lever, or pushing the lever manually. Each lever is marked with the musical note of that bell, as well as a number. Our current “main” player is Maggie Gibbons, who has been at it for 10 years. The bells used to be played via a small keyboard at the organ. Over time, the connection to that keyboard was lost, and Maggie went up into the tower with an electrician to figure out if the bells could be reconnected. The short answer: not easily.
Nevertheless, Maggie was hooked. She has since transposed many hymns and other songs to be played manually, using a number system. She admits that all one sees when looking at the transpositions is a string of numbers and letters corresponding to each lever; one has to know the rhythm of the songs to really play the tune. For that reason, she has tacked up the Westminster Carol and has Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee ready to go for anyone who tries the bells for the first time. Both tunes are easy to play. Most recently, Maggie’s grandson Jack Ingle gave the bells a try during our Fall Flea!
There is no heat or cooling up in the tower, so one must be willing to bear the elements. Maggie keeps gloves up there to warm her hands in the winter. Playing is physically strenuous, and she only plays for about 15 minutes at a time. Maggie shared that mice or squirrels once ate one of her books of music, and “it really freaked me out.” However, she is intrepid and keeps climbing that ladder. When asked about the non-hymn music she plays, Maggie said: “Sometimes I run off the rails and play other things. A little bit of whimsy. I always do Happy Birthday dear Jesus on Christmas Eve.”
Recently, Chris Baron has joined Maggie in the bell tower. Chris enjoyed listening to church bells as a kid and says they always brought a sense of peace and curiosity as he tried to figure out the song being played. When he heard our bells being played, he asked who was playing. “That’s Maggie,” people said, and Chris replied: “Who’s Maggie??” Soon, he was following her up the ladder, and he thought it was fantastic! He says, “It’s a very heavenly sound. It’s subtle, but you hear it very far away. It’s peaceful and enjoyable. I’m cheating when I play. Maggie has
written down the notes and the numbers of each lever, and I’m reading those. She made it easy. I can do Amazing Grace, but I’m learning the timing on others. I need to listen to the hymns so I can get the timing better. Maggie is a great teacher—very funny! She’s got a very cheerful, upbeat attitude, and encourages me not to give up and to keep trying.”
Amen to that! If you’re interested in learning more about the bells, please speak with Maggie or Chris. They’d be happy to give you a tour and teach you how to play too!