Parish History

"At Salem is his tabernacle." -- Psalm 76.2

Efforts to establish an Episcopal Church in Salem began as early as 1787, when the Reverend James Nichols, the first rector of Bethel Church (later St. James'), Arlington, Vermont, founded parishes at Sandgate, Vermont, and in the Camden Valley in the Town of Salem, New York.  The Reverend Mr. Nichols had been ordained in England for Litchfield County, Connecticut, and had a colorful history.  He moved to Vermont and was settled in Arlington in 1786 but was dismissed by the parish there in 1788 for "intemperance."  However, he continued to serve the parishes in Sandgate and Camden, as well as others.  In 1790 and 1792 he was one of just two clergymen to attend conventions of the Episcopal Church in Vermont (not yet formed into a diocese), preaching the sermon at the first convention which was held, ironically, in the church in Arlington.

In 1794, 60 people, including the jurist and legislator James Duane, subscribed to a fund to erect a church building for the Camden parish.  In addition, an application in 1795 to Trinity Church in New York resulted in a grant of $500 "to the church

Christ's Church in the Camden Valley burying ground might have looked like this church, which is typical of the period.  At the time the church was built, the Methodist preacher Philip Embury was already buried to the north of the church. Other early graves are found to the south.  In time,
James Archer and Col. David Gray, subscribers to the church building fund, and Sarah Hubbell, the wife of subscriber Abijah Hubbell would also be laid to rest here.  By the time the land was taken over by the Moravian parish as its cemetery in the 1830s, the church was no longer standing and graves now occupy its site.

  at Salem or Campden."  In an early ecumenical gesture, land was conveyed to the trustees of the Episcopal parish in 1796 by the Reverend Abraham Bininger, a Moravian minister who had settled in the Camden Valley, for the sum of five shillings.  This land was a portion of the property which the Bininger family actually held on lease from the same James Duane.  In a letter to one of his sons, Abraham Bininger wrote that "the building will be put up on the ground of the burrying (sic) place."  The church had already been built when the lease was executed and is the point of reference for the dimensions of the lot as it is described in the lease (see sketch).  Joseph Bininger, one of Abraham's sons, was one of the subscribers to the Camden church building fund and the name of Isaac Bininger, another of Abraham's sons, appears on several surviving documents as a member of the committee charged with raising funds for the new building. 

Some accounts also associate the missionary activity of the Reverend Philander Chase at nearby Hampton with this early parish foundation in the Camden Valley.  Around 1800, the parish faded from view and today there is no longer any trace of the church they built.  For the next 60 years, Episcopalians in Salem would travel to neighboring parishes, primarily Arlington, to worship.

The first services of the present parish were held in the old courthouse in Salem, beginning in early February 1860.  On several occasions, the Reverend Henry

Codman Potter (later Bishop of New York), came from Troy, where he was rector of St. John's Church, to officiate.  On one occasion his efforts on behalf of Episcopalians in the remote rural community were rewarded in a unique way:  when he asked the parents of an infant boy to name the child he was about to baptize, their response was "Henry Potter".  Parish records show that Dr. Potter baptized his namesake, Henry Potter Kegler, on November 20, 1860. The parish was incorporated on February 18, 1860, and the cornerstone of a modest red  brick church (the nave of the present church) was laid on September 10, 1860, by the Reverend Thomas W. Coit, Rector of St. Paul's Church, Troy.  The Right Reverend Horatio Potter, Provisional Bishop of New York, made several visits to Salem during 1860, baptizing 18 persons, confirming 21, and, remarkably, consecrating the swiftly built new church on December 13th of that same year.  Among those who were baptized on Bishop Potter's first visit were three of the children of local attorney Archibald L. McDougall.  Bishop

Potter also confirmed Mrs. McDougall.  In 1864, Col. McDougall was buried in Evergreen Cemetery as a war hero, having died of wounds received in Sherman's Atlanta campaign. 

There were several rectors in quick succession before the Reverend Henry M. Davis (always known as "Father Davis") became rector in 1863. During his tenure as rector he baptized 156 persons and presented 98 for confirmation.  His rectorate ended with his death on the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels, 1875.  The parish register records that he was stricken with a heart attack just before he was to present a class of confirmands to the Bishop of Albany.  An elegant chalice and paten still in use today and a stained glass window in the north transept of the church

bear testimony to his faithful service to Christ and his Church.  Fr. Davis' personal legacy to the parish continued through his family for many years.  His grandson, Charles D. Broughton, was born in Salem in 1874, just a year before the death of Fr. Davis.  Charles Broughton attended the parish school, St. Paul's Hall and later was sponsored for ordination by St. Paul's parish and was ordained in 1898 by the Right Reverend William Croswell Doane, the first Bishop of Albany.  Though he served other parishes (in the Dioceses of Albany and Western New York), he often returned to Salem to vacation and to assist at services at St. Paul's.  He died in 1962.

Fr. Houghton with members of his family: his wife, daughter, and mother in the front row, and his half-sister Emma behind their mother,  c. 1896. The identities are penciled on the photo by an unknown hand.

The parish acted quickly to fill the vacancy left by the death of Fr. Davis in 1875 and elected the Reverend John H. Houghton, assistant at Trinity Church, New York City, to be the new rector.  Fr. Houghton served as rector from 1875 to 1890, a period of remarkable vision and energy in the life of St. Paul's.  Styling himself "Priest of Salem," he baptized more than 300 persons and introduced such things as a cross, candles, and flowers on the Altar, innovations reflecting the influence of the "catholic revival" which was then spreading through the Church of England and the Episcopal Church in America.  In 1876, plans were made to enlarge the church building to accommodate the growing parish. For several months, services were held in the Masonic Hall while the stone north transept and tower were erected.  The tower was completed with the installation of a bell cast at the foundry of Meneely and Kimberly, one of several foundries in Troy and West Troy (Watervliet), New York, the premier bell casting region in the United States.  Weighing just under a ton, the bell was
given by Margaret Bool in memory of her husband, William.  It bears an inscription said to have been found on a bell in Wales:  "I to the Church the living call/ And to the grave do summon all."  

The transept and tower were the first stage in a never-to-be-realized plan which included a sacristy, chapel, baptistry, choir, and apsidal sanctuary. However, the only further addition to the building was the south transept, begun in 1888. In that same year, the parish was able to acquire a pipe organ, but it had to be placed in storage until 1890 because of delays in the completion of the transept where it was to be installed.  The tracker action instrument was built in 1855 by the firm of E. & G.G. Hook (opus 189) and purchased for the sum of $1,000.00 from the Unitarian Church in Dorchester, Massachusetts.  It was first used at St. Paul's on Sunday, February 23, 1890.

H.M. Congdon's design (c. 1885) for the completion of St. Paul's Church.
The present church consists of the nave, transepts, and tower porch shown in these plans.

St. Paul's Hall, c. 1890
Fr. Houghton's most ambitious project was the establishment of a school. In 1882, 32 local students enrolled in the parish school. Three boys were taken into the rectory as boarding students in 1883. As the number of boarders increased, the rectory was enlarged to accommodate them until, in 1886, the parish school was dissolved in favor of St. Paul's Hall, with 33 students and six faculty occupying a range of buildings attached to the rectory. The continuing success of the endeavor led, in 1890, to the acquisition of 300 acres in Rexleigh, about three miles south of Salem, and the development of plans for a splendid campus.  The fund-raising campaign for the new campus proclaimed, "Beside the still waters of the Battenkill, upon the bluff that rises from the stream, is one of
the noblest sites for a school imaginable."  The effort to fund a new campus was stymied by a weak economy, which also took its toll on enrollment.  When the school term was completed in June of 1893, St. Paul's Hall closed for the summer and
never opened again.  As late as 1895 the dream was not quite dead.  It was said then, "Some day may yet see Rexleigh crowned with buildings, and there another spring of learning from which our land may draw her increase."

In the meantime, Fr. Houghton, having become more and more occupied with school matters, asked for a curate, and the Reverend Harris C. Rush became assistant rector in 1889.  Fr. Houghton resigned as

                  Artist's concept of the proposed school campus at Rexleigh
rector in order to devote his full attention to the school in 1890 and Fr. Rush became the rector.  Several Tiffany windows in the church were installed during his tenure as rector which continued until his resignation in 1901.  Fr. Houghton accepted a call to St. Mark's Church, Denver, Colorado, and left Salem in 1892.

Detail of panoramic map of Salem, c. 1889, showing St. Paul's Church (5) and St. Paul's Hall (6).  Curiously, the church building is not depicted in its actual appearance at the time but as if it had been completed according to Congdon's design (see above).  Other buildings on East Broadway include the Washington County Court House (7) and the New England Presbyterian Church (4). 

The story of St. Paul's in the 20th century is the story of a rural parish, stepping back from the grand designs of earlier days. Decline and revival have been recurrent themes. A fire in 1912 caused extensive interior damage to the church, following

which a new floor, new pews, and electrical lighting were installed. Financial difficulties contributed to frequent turnover of the parish clergy and the Great Depression nearly forced the church to close. In later years, St. Paul's has often been served by the clergy of neighboring parishes, such as Greenwich, Cambridge, and Granville, or by part-time clergy who also hold secular jobs. For periods of time, able and faithful Lay Readers including Lawrence Andrews, John Briggs, John Thompson, and Floyd Cummings have ensured that divine service continued uninterrupted at St. Paul's.
After the parish school closed, the dormitory portion of the school building was demolished. Another section was retained for use as a parish hall and served that purpose for many years. However, by 1971 the building had fallen into disuse and disrepair. At that time, under the leadership of the Reverend Robert Cook, a decision was made to restore the old building and a bequest from the estate of Karl Burton enabled the parish to complete the work. The refurbished and renamed Burton Hall was dedicated in 1976. In addition to suppers and other parish functions, Burton Hall soon became home to various activities serving the larger community, including a thrift shop and a daily meal program for senior citizens.

In that same period, another innovation was introduced into the life of the parish, when the Reverend Guy Kagey instituted a weekly Sunday Eucharist and regular midweek services.  Fr. Houghton was the first "high church" rector of the parish, introducing color, symbol, and ceremony into the church building and its worship.  Nevertheless, with the exception of certain
major holy days, worship at St. Paul's was primarily a Sunday affair and Morning Prayer continued to alternate with the Holy Eucharist as the principal service on Sunday mornings.  During Fr. Kagey's tenure as rector, the Eucharist became the usual service on Sunday morning, and there were frequent, if not quite daily, celebrations of the Eucharist through the week. 

At the beginning of the 21st century, St. Paul's is a small but diverse and inclusive parish.  On a typical Sunday, newcomers to the community and people who have vacation homes in the area usually outnumber the long-time parishioners.  A variety of regional accents and even international accents are heard in the liturgical responses and in conversation at the hospitality hour following the service.  Worship is the focus of parish life.  The liturgy is traditional and

contemplative, and is enriched by fine music, accompanied on the parish's historic organ.  The parish priest, Fr. Gary Kriss, is a former cathedral and seminary dean who took early retirement with the intention of serving a small parish such as St. Paul's.  He is engaged in researching and writing a history of the parish which he hopes to complete in time for the celebration of the sesquicentennial of the parish in 2010.

Historical photos

List of the Clergy of Saint Paul's Parish

The 1888 catalogue of Saint Paul's Hall

Cemeteries in the Salem Area

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