St. John's Episcopal Church about 1905

The Episcopal Church in Bellefonte owes its early beginnings to the work of the Rev. Robert Piggott, who in the years 1825-1826, is known to have made the journey from Lewistown, where he was rector of St. Mark’s, to visit Mrs. Harriett Wilson and her sister, Mrs. James Gregg, recently of York, PA. With local encouragement, services were frequently held in Mr. Armour’s cabinet shop.

By 1828, the Diocese of Central Pennsylvania recognized the potential in Bellefonte and assigned a missionary to the churches of Bellefonte, Phillipsburg, and Huntingdon. The distances were great for that period, and yet the fledgling worshiping communities in these places grew. By the year 1831, a Bishop’s Council was organized at the Bellefonte church and the mission continued. (Every Episcopal Church has a Vestry, which is an elected body of 9-12 members who work with the rector in the administration of the parish. However, a mission church – a worshiping community which has not yet received parish status – has a Bishop’s Council, since the bishop of the diocese is technically the rector.)

Early in June of 1837, Bishop Onderdonk sent the Rev. George Washington Natt, a recent graduate of the newly opened General Theological Seminary in New York City, to St. John’s. He assumed his duties August 11 of that year, and within a year, a church was built on Jail Hill (High Street).

The journal of the diocese records that in 1838, St. John’s was presented for admission into the Diocese of Central Pennsylvania, and was formally received as a “parish in good standing” at the diocesan convention of 1839.

The cornerstone for the present building at the intersection of Allegheny and Lamb Streets was laid in 1869. Increased building costs delayed completion of the church and its consecration until 1871. The church was erected for the sum of $20,000, a large sum for that time.

The need for a rectory to house the priest and his family prompted Major W. F. Reynolds – who had also donated the land on which the church was built, and paid for the construction of the church – to have built the house next to the church on Lamb Street. This structure remains in use by the rector. Major Reynolds gave the house as a thank-offering and presented it to the parish on November 29, 1877. The parish hall was built and dedicated 30 years later in 1907.

Under the leadership of the Rev. James Laverty, rector from 1863-1868, work was begun at the “Agricultural College”, now Penn State University. That work was continued by the rectors of St. John’s until 1911, when St. Andrew’s in State College called their first rector.

One interesting note from early records shows that the women of the parish requested to have steam heat put into the building in 1884. That same year, “The Edison Electric Illuminating Company” built their second electric plant in the state at Bellefonte, and proposed to install electric lights in the church for $40. It was only after the insistence of W. S. Zeller and E. Garman that the motion was passed by the vestry.

St. John’s has known a rich and varied history. Today it stands not only as a reminder to the faith of our ancestors, but as a vibrant, active parish with a keen eye to the future, with renewed interest in reaching out to the community and serving the people of Bellefonte. St. John’s has been, and remains, an altar-centered, liturgical church, striving to make Christ known through worship, service, and evangelism.

Historical Documents

Plain Sermons on Personal Religion by the Rev. G. W. Natt, 1867

St John’s Centennial program 1937

St John’s Sesquicentennial program 1988

The Rectors of St. John’s

The Rev. Christopher Vinton Pyles, 2010 – 2017

The Ven. Canon Daniel Lee Selvage, 1991 – 2009

The Rev. John George McIntyre, 1986 – 1990

The Rev. David Scott Robinson, 1980 – 1985

The Rev. Canon Joseph Yates Seville, 1974 – 1979

The Rev. Harold Alfred Emery, Jr., 1968 – 1973

The Rev. Harold Harrison Hayes, 1964 – 1968

The Rev. Clarence Carl Reimer, 1949 – 1964

The Rev. Alfred Whitney Church, 1945 – 1949

The Rev. Vernon Alban Weaver, 1944 – 1945

The Rev. Francis Paul Davis, 1942 – 1944

The Rev. Herbert Kepp-Baker, 1941 – 1942

The Rev. Robert Thomas, February – August 1941

The Rev. C. Warren Newman, 1939 – 1940

The Rev. Samuel Hunting Sayre, 1938 – 1939

The Rev. Robert James Sudlow, 1934 – 1938

The Rev. Stuart F. Gast, 1928 – 1934

The Rev. Alex J. Kilpatrick, 1926 – 1927

The Rev. Alexander McMillan, 1925 – 1926

The Rev. Malcolm DePui Maynard, 1916 – 1925

The Rev. William C. Charlton, 1914 – 1916

The Rev. John Hewitt, 1908 – 1914

The Rev. Edwin G. Richardson, 1906 – 1907

The Rev. George Israel Brown, 1898 – 1906

The Rev. Robert Erskine Wright, 1893 – 1898

The Rev. William DeLancey Benton, 1891 – 1893

The Rev. James Oswald Davis, 1886 – 1891

The Rev. John R. R. Robinson, 1885 – 1886

The Rev. John Hewitt, 1877 – 1885

The Rev. Henry J. W. Allen, 1870 – 1877

The Rev. Byron McGann, 1868 – 1870

The Rev. James C. Laverty, 1863 – 1868

The Rev. George Field, 1857 – 1863

The Rev. James L. Hildebrand, 1854 – 1857

The Rev. George H. Walsh, 1851 – 1853

The Rev. George Washington Natt, 1837 – 1850