Sketch St. Peter’s (1826) | Drawing (1835) | Sermon early history | Early history (1734-1976) | Organ history | Organ pictures | Architecture | History update to 2013 | Chronology of rectors | Memorial garden article | Parish Profile (2004)
St. Peter’s Church: 175th Anniversary in 2001
For 175 years, the building that gave Hebron’s Church Street its name has been an inviting beacon to those seeking a house of worship and the fellowship of a Christian community. The joy of marriage, the newness of baptism, the pride of first communion, and the grief of death are all etched into this place. Through celebrations and sorrows, this unique church has stood constant, ready to receive all, as our Lord teaches us to do. We thank God for St. Peter’s: the building and the people who have brought life and shared Christ’s love within these walls.
Built of Local Materials
Ninety-two years after the parish began in 1734, St. Peter’s Church combined its size (58 families) and resources ($5,460.69) to build a church befitting its growing importance in community life. The church was built of bricks made in a local kiln with woodwork done by a local builder. The structure was consecrated October 19, 1826, by Bishop Brownell, who described it as “the second most beautiful church in the diocese” (next to Trinity Church, New Haven, which it resembled).
The exterior of the church was thought to have been modeled after an Italian church seen by the Reverend Samuel F. Jarvis of Boston. “Jarvis’s Folly,” as St. Peter’s was called by some, was replete with Gothic battlements, turrets and pinnacles. These did not weather in the New England climate and were removed within 30 years, leaving the church with a more Federal-style appearance. The only major features still reminiscent of the original architecture are the ornate pipes of the Johnson organ.
Sometime during the 19th century, the church was whitewashed but that “improvement” was left to slowly disintegrate, leaving the original brick color and texture. Some of the white can still be seen under the eaves and in other protected areas.
Designed to Ward Off Evil
The interior of the church was much different in 1826 than today. Two main aisles, rather than one, led straight from the present arched rear doors to the altar wall. We’re told that churches of this period had two aisles because of the superstition that “devils could not turn corners.” Having side aisles allowed the people, the coffin, the bride, etc., to turn a corner before approaching the altar, thus ridding themselves of Satan and his cohorts. The west wall was dominated by a high center pulpit, with an “eye of God” painted above it. The pews were painted a sage green (and in 1900 stained a golden oak).
The Johnson Organ
A new addition in 1860 was the organ. It was built by William Johnson in Westfield, Massachusetts, and shipped by rail to Andover. From there it was hauled by ox cart to its destination. Its placement required that the large east window be blocked up, and the balcony pews removed.
The building undertook a renovation in 1871 when the high pulpit was removed and a smaller wood one and a brass lectern was installed within the chancel rail. (The railing bordered a much larger area than it does today.) The west wall was frescoed to give the effect of a recessed chancel. The stained glass windows, designed by the Tiffany Company, were let into the altar wall at this time. The windows on the front-facing eastern wall still retain their original plain glass. A furnace was installed and the three-pew arrangement was converted to two, with a center aisle, as it remains today.
In 1938, money was raised to restore the interior of the church, in which the altar was enlarged and the pews were painted white. Choir stalls were added in the front, and later, the narthex (vestibule) was enclosed to conserve fuel.
Structural Improvements; Equal Access
In the late 1960’s, the chainplates and tie rods were added to reverse the bowing of the side walls. In 1976, the altar was detached from the reredos into a V, permitting the celebrant to face the congregation. During the ’70’s and ’80’s, several fund drives enabled repairs to the bell tower, the roof, the parking lot, and the complete repainting of the interior. In addition to continuous painting, repair and beautification, in 2001, a long-awaited equal access walkway was completed, providing the church both a visual and physical accessibility that reflects our mission:
Following the example of Jesus Christ, we welcome all people, without prejudice. We strive to be a parish where each individual gives freely, feels loved, welcomed and needed; and has the opportunity to follow Christ — to learn, to grow, and to form deep and lasting friendships.
To that end, we live out our commitment to helping people in need, and we provide support, programs, and facilities for all people who come among us, helping to bring the joy, peace, and love of Jesus Christ into their lives.