St. James' Episcopal Church
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The front of St. James' Church in Hyde Park
The interior of St. James' as it appeared in the 1960s
President Franklin D. Roosevelt, along with his son James, wife Eleanor, and mother Sara, attend church at St. James' with King George VI and Queen Elizabeth of England in June 1939
The cemetery at St. James' where members of prominent New York families, including the Roosevelts, are buried
Former president Harry Truman, his wife Bess, former president Dwight Eisenhower, and Governor Nelson Rockefeller of New York leave St. James' Church after the funeral of Eleanor Roosevelt, November 10, 1962
Backstory and Context
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The efforts to begin building what would become St. James' in Hyde Park began in 1770 when Dr. John Bard acquired land issued to him by a grant from the British Crown. The land, a part of the Five Partners Patent, was named Hyde Park, after Edward Hyde, Lord Cornbury and the Governor of the Colony of New York. After the death of Dr. John Bard in 1799, his son Samuel continued to pursue his father's dream of organizing a new parish. The property on which the parish was to be built was located south of the Bard family home and included the burial plot of Dr. John Bard and other Bard family members. The Bards and other Hudson Valley families such as the Livingstons, Hughes, and Bartons began raising funds to build the Protestant Episcopal Church.
The first St. James' was built in 1811. It cost $2701.75, was made of brick and stone, then stuccoed and painted yellow, and measured in at 30 by 50 feet. In 1832, the then rector of St. James', Reverend Samuel Roosevelt Johnson, called for a school to be built on East Market Street in Hyde Park which he deeded to St. James'. In 1839, a maintenance inspection found that that the church structure was failing and the building was razed. The first church service in the brand new Gothic Revival church, with a black walnut ceiling and an open-timbered roof, was held in November 1844.
Throughout the 1840s, the school in Hyde Park located on East Market Street continued to grow and acted as a Sunday School location, a Guild Room, a reading room, and a library for the town to enjoy. In 1857, a Swedish Gothic design chapel was completed on East Market Street. The chapel was used during the winter months as it was heated and the main church was not. The chapel continued to be used for those few months until 1955 when heating was installed in the church. In the early 1950s, the high-peaked roof that sat over the tower was removed and the original 1811 square battlement tower returned.
The family of President Franklin D. Roosevelt has long been associated with St. James'. Throughout his life, including during his presidency, Roosevelt served as a Vestryman and a Senior Warden. St. James' Cemetery, which began with Dr. John Bard and the Bard family, is now the final resting place of FDR's parents, Sara and James, his half-brother, four of his children, and some grandchildren. When Eleanor Roosevelt passed away in 1962, her funeral was held at St. James'. President John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy, Harry and Bess Truman, Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson, Dwight Eisenhower, and Governor Nelson Rockefeller all gathered in St. James' to remember the "First Lady of the World."
On June 10, 1984, a devastating fire broke-out in St. James', believed to be started by arson. The fire began under the bell tower and spread to the ceiling of the church; the organ pipes were melted, the altar destroyed, and most of the stained glass windows were shattered. Members of the parish opted to restore the church at a price estimated at more than $1 million rather than demolish it and build anew. St. James' continues to attract tourists and interested spectators with their annual Graveyard Tours. Each year different historical characters who are buried in the cemetery, from families such as the Bards, Livingstons, and Roosevelts, are portrayed by local actors who relay their life stories. More than 200 years after its creation St. James' continues to serve as a beacon in Hyde Park.
Kopser, Arnold. A Brief History of St. James’ Church. St. James' Episcopal Church. Accessed July 20, 2018. http://www.stjameshydepark.org/sjhistory.htm.
Faber, Harold. Parish to Rebuild - Fire Swept Hyde Park Church. The New York Times. July 22, 1984. Accessed July 20, 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/1984/07/22/nyregion/parish-to-rebuild-fire-swept-hyde-part-church.html.