St. Paul's Episcopal Church

Statement of Significance Summary

St. Paul's Episcopal Church, built in 1836, is the oldest surviving church and one of the oldest public buildings in the town of Royalton, Vermont. It is significant for its architectural design as well as its association with the social history of Royalton village. The church is a rectangular, one-and-one-half story, hewn post and beam, clapboarded building, three bays wide and three bays deep. A projecting, three story bell tower with a flat, bracketed roof dominates the central bay of the front facade. St. Paulís qualifies for statewide significance under National Register Criterion C for its reflection of the distinctive characteristics of nineteenth century early Gothic Revival religious architecture.

Significant exterior stylistic details include gothic arches with louvered shutters and a trinity window. Significant interior elements include wall and cornice paper stenciling, a pipe organ, ingrained carpet, and kerosene lamps. St. Paul's was updated between 1880 and 1900 to include more elaborate interior Queen Anne style elements, an event which marks the changing architectural tastes of local parishioners. These newer features include leaded stained glass windows, wood window and door surrounds, pews, and first generation electric light fixtures.

St. Paul's also qualifies for local significance under National Register Criterion A for its long association with the development of community life. The architectural merit and longstanding civic associations of St. Paul's Episcopal Church assures its eligibility under Criteria Consideration A. St Paul's Episcopal Church is eligible under the multiple property listing X and meets the registration requirements. No outbuildings have ever been associated with St. Paulís Church, and the possibility of historic archaeological remnants is very remote. The building has undergone superficial changes in its history but still retains its aspects of integrity including location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling, and association.


In 1832 the Protestant Episcopal Diocese of Vermont officially split from the Eastern Diocese. The forty year old John Henry Hopkins, a lawyer by training, a parish priest in Pittsburgh, and later an assistant at Trinity Church in Boston, was named as the first Bishop of Vermont, a position he held until 1868. Bishop Hopkins was a noted architect, and he played an active role in supplying architectural plans for some of the churches built in the diocese during his tenure. One of Hopkins' most notable accomplishments is his ìEssay on Gothic Architecture, the first serious treatment of Gothic Revival architecture to be published in the United States. Bishop Hopkins began preparing his treatise on Gothic Revival church architecture in 1831 while he was in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and published it in 1836, although it had been completed long before. In this work, he recommends the Gothic Revival style for churches of all sizes and degrees of complexity because ìthere is no other style of architecture which admits such variety, which is so beautiful on any scale, and which is so little dependant on size for its effect...The distinctive characters of the style may be preserved in union with the utmost simplicity.

St. Paul's was constructed in 1836 according to the principles described by Hopkins in his essay. Despite the fact that the essay was published the same year the church was built, it is clear that Hopkins had begun to implement his architectural ideas immediately following his election four years earlier. In his treatise, Hopkins counsels church builders to manage with translucent, painted shades over clear glass windows until they could afford the upgrade to real stained glass. Shades fitting this description have recently been found at St. Paul's. This suggests that the congregation was influenced by Hopkins' specific ideas about window treatments and that the eventual replacement of the clear glass windows with stained glass was expected. In his essay, Hopkins condems flashy interior decor and churches with too many windows. He recommends the use of flat ceilings for small churches, and the use of such decorative shapes as lancet arches, gothic windows, and foils, the lobe shaped curves formed by the cusping of a circle or arch. He also recommends that congregations show their devotion by building the most expensive churches possible. St. Paulís is a small, austere building located in the center of Royalton.

The most obvious exterior Gothic Revival elements adorn the upper two stories of the bell tower. The second story of the front tower facade is decorated with a trinity window, a triangular shaped window filled with diamond shaped panes overlying an inverted trefoil. Gothic arches with removable louvered shutters conceal the bell on each side of the third story of the tower. The three story bell tower breaks the low horizontal plane of the one-and-one-half story building, and directs the eye upward. The pitched roof augments the Gothic Revival feeling.

Historic documents concerning the original appearance of the church describe dark brown exterior paint, and a low, wood balustrade with tall, slender newels around the flat bell tower roof; these Gothic Revival elements, however, are no longer present. Christ Church of Bethel, sister parish to St. Paulís, is the only other Gothic Revival Episcopal church dating from this period in the area.

Built in 1846 for an expanding congregation, Christ Church has elaborate Gothic Revival decorations, including gothic arch windows and doorways, and quatrefoil windows around the bell chamber of the central, projecting, flat roofed, three story bell tower. These two churches share the basic design features of other Gothic Revival churches in Vermont, including gable front orientation, pitched roofs, central square bell towers, gothic arches and foil motifs. Interior elements also contribute to the architectural significance of St. Paulís Church. The original wall and cornice paper fleur-de-lis stenciling is still present in the sanctuary and the chancel, although the wall stenciling in the sanctuary has been obscured by later coats of paint. Portions of the original ingrained carpeting are still located under the pews. The two kerosene lamps that lit the sides of the chancel are still functional.

By 1842 St. Paul's Church had acquired a one-manual, tracker-action pipe organ built by William Nutting, Jr., a self-taught organ-builder. It is believed to be the earliest extant example of his work in Vermont. In 1972, the organ was featured by the Organ Historic Society and played during their annual meeting. In the 1880s and 1890s the church interior was updated with Queen Anne style details. A large stained glass window was installed in the center of the rear chancel wall in 1885. This design of this ìAll Saintsî window consists of a gothic arch enclosing a banner which reads ìBLESSING/AND GLORY/AND HONOR/BE UNTO/ OUR LORD/FOR EVER/REV: XII./R/AMEN.î and is surrounded by geometric interlocking crosses.

The original twenty-over-twenty, double-hung clear glass windows in the sanctuary were replaced with two styles of stained glass windows after 1891. The two windows on the front facade and the two windows in the third side bay have simple, abstract designs of circles and diamonds. The other four windows, in the first and second side bays, are more elaborate, incorporating arches and foils into the abstract pattern of circles and diamonds. The simple woodwork of the window and door surrounds throughout the church interior was replaced at this time by more intricately styled Queen Anne woodwork, decorated with flutes and corner block paterae. New wood pews decorated with corner rosettes were also installed after 1891.

An electric system was installed in 1898, reflecting the technological advances of the late nineteenth century. The building still retains five first-generation carbon-filament light fixtures. These subdued, decorative elements of the church reflect Bishop Hopkins' belief that churches should be solemn and precious, as well as the Episcopalian principles of conservatism and propriety.

Historical Associations

The Town of Royalton was settled in 1771 and its first village, Royalton, was founded shortly after. Important public buildings were erected in the center of town on the village common, reflecting Vermontís historic settlement patterns. By 1850, when the Vermont Central Railroad came through the town, the population of Royalton Village was 300. Train tracks were laid directly adjacent to the oldest structures in the community. Royalton built a depot, but prosperity eluded the village. The newer village of South Royalton, founded in 1808, had success with the railroad, however. Its busy depot began to draw commerce and inhabitants from the older village, and South Royalton has remained the commercial center of the township ever since. In the 1830s and 40s, Vermont experienced an increase in church divisions as reform movements and religious fervor became more widespread.

In October 1835, at the peak of the villageís importance, Royalton Episcopalians formally broke from the larger congregation in the neighboring town of Bethel. St. Paulís Episcopal Parish was organized in Royalton by Richard Bloss, Benjamin Rice, Stafford Smith, and Nathaniel Sprague. In May 1836, the fledgling parish was reorganized with new members Joseph A. Denison, Franklin Joiner, and L.W. Kendall. The same day, a building committee consisting of Richard Bloss, L.W. Kendall, and Nathaniel Sprague was chosen to oversee the construction of a parish church. Church lands were deeded to the parish the next day by Richard Bloss and Elizabeth Sprague. Construction began in September and was mostly complete by November. The first service was held in St. Paulís Episcopal Church on Christmas Eve, 1836, officiated by Reverend James Sabine of Bethel. Bishop Hopkins visited Royalton and consecrated St. Paulís Church in November 1837. The congregation numbered 30 at this time.

From the beginning, the small congregation of St. Paulís Church depended heavily on lay leadership. During much of the nineteenth century when the parish was only able to support a clergyman part of the year, townsmen took on the reading duties. In March 1838, Bishop Hopkins named Richard Bloss and Nathaniel Sprague as lay readers. Reverend Sabine and Reverend B.C.C. Parker each officiated sporadically over the next year. In January 1838, Royalton joined with the community of Randolph to acquire a shared clergyman, and after that one clergyman divided his time among up to four neighboring parishes. Reverend James Sabine was rector from 1836 to 1845, followed by Reverend Dexter Potter from 1838 to 1839, Reverend Nathaniel Sprague from 1839 to 1844, Reverend John Sabine from 1845 to 1846, Reverend Joel Clapp from 1844 to 1847, Reverend Josiah Swett from 1844 to 1868, Reverend C.R. Batchelder from 1868 to 1871, Reverend Moses P. Stickney from 1871 to 1887, Reverend George A. Wilkins from 1892 to 1894, Reverend J.B. Trevett from 1895 to 1897, Reverend G.B. Clark from 1897 to 1899, Reverend C.H. Wells and Reverend G.B. Johnson from 1889 to 1904, and Reverend William B. Reynolds from 1905 to 1922. Reverend Frederick Marcy DeForest was rector steadily from 1922 to 1941. After his death, the periodic pattern of services was resumed.

Parish organizer Dudley Chase Denison sustained the parish as a lay reader from 1846 to 1873, while maintaining his duties as a lawyer, United States District Attorney, and United States Representative. Taking up where his father left off, lawyer Joseph D. Denison served St. Paulís Parish from 1873 to 1895. During this time the small church received many gifts from the prominent Denison family: a communion set from the family of Dudley Denison in memory of Eunice D. Denison in 1874, the chancel window designed and donated by Clara D. Denison in 1885, a pew inscription plate from Mrs. E.M. Gallaudet in memory of William Denison in 1892, a brass tablet in memory of Rachel Chase Denison by her nine nieces in 1893, a prayer book and hymnal from Alice Denison in memory of George Stanton Denison in 1895, vases and an altar desk from Professor Charles S. and Alice Chase Denison in memory of Jeanette B. Denison in 1901, and chancel furniture from Clara D. McClellan in memory of Alice Denison, Dudley Chase Denison, and Rachel Chase Denison in 1905. The stained glass windows and the new pews are also credited to the Denison family.

The Rix family also supported St. Paul's Church. The Rix's, businessman William and his talented wife Katherine, were ardent unionists who found themselves trapped in Alabama when the Civil War erupted. The family fled back home to Royalton at the first opportunity, where they were regarded as prominent citizens, historians, and intellectuals. In 1901 Katherine Fletcher Kendall Rix donated an altar book to St. Paulís in memory of William Rix. Their daughter, Katherine Kendall Rix married William Skinner, a Junior Warden of St. Paul's parish. Royalton has always supported St. Paulís Church. From the outset, the small congregation joined with other parishes to maintain a clergyman, while townspeople conducted the regular business of the parish. In 1970, the Right Reverend Harvey Butterfield, Bishop of Vermont, indicated that he wished to close and deconsecrate the church for lack of a congregation. Eighty townspeople reacted to this news by signing a petition of protest. Bishop Butterfield instead formed a committee, Daniel Abbott, Roger Henry, Ray Nash, Bertha McKnight, and Sandra Walton, to assess the congregation. At the request of this committee, St. Paul's Parish was reorganized in 1971, although services remained irregular. In January 1996, the Diocese of Vermont finally deconsecrated the church. According to Episcopalian policy, deconsecrated churches are removed completely; the slate is wiped clean.

The loss of St. Paul's Church, listed on the Vermont State Register of Historic Places as part of the Royalton Historic District, would jeopardize the character and integrity of the entire historic district. It is a local landmark, occupying a prominent location in the village center. A devastating fire in 1840 burned many important public structures on the common, leaving the church and an inn as the oldest public buildings in Royalton. The church serves the whole community as a reminder of Royaltonís heyday in the early 19th century. Many townspeople have an important personal connection with the building; they were baptised, confirmed, or married in St. Paul's Church.

The Royalton Historical Society intervened with the Diocese on behalf of the community and gained title to the property in August 1996, saving it from demolition and continuing to assure its availability to townspeople for special events including weddings, funerals, and other community functions.