The people of Tacoma heeded Morris’s call. In just one week they completed construction of St. Peter’s Church, which was built in the popular Carpenter Gothic style. It was a community effort, and the local Hanson and Ackerson Mill supplied the needed timber. A $120 organ was installed in the building, and the church quickly became a center of religious and community activity. Early services were usually led by laypeople or traveling clergy, often of different religious denominations.
In 1874, a year after St. Peter’s opened, it received a monumental gift—a 965 pound bell, donated by the Sunday school children of St. Peter’s Church in Philadelphia. The bell was a surprise, and the church did not have a belfry in which to house it. To remedy this, the top of a nearby tree was cut off, and the bell was hoisted to the top (local sailors accomplished this arduous feat by using the rigging from their ship). When its rings were examined, the tree was estimated to be over 300 years old, so the St. Peter’s belfry acquired the designation of being “The Oldest Bell Tower in America.”
The church has undergone a number of transformations since its founding. In its early years, local women planted ivy to decorate the church, and it quickly spread all over (and even inside) the building, remaining to this day. The original tree bell tower was struck down during a storm in 1935, and was replaced by a derrick that stood until 1956. Substantial renovations took place during the 1950s, and the church was paced on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. It continues to serve the community in the 21st century, and is well-known in the area for being Tacoma’s oldest surviving building.