ST. JOHN'S EPISCOPAL CHURCH, the oldest church edifice standing in the Cleveland area, claims 1816 as its founding date, at the same meeting at the home of Phineas Shepherd in BROOKLYN as TRINITY Parish. When Trinity moved to the east side of the CUYAHOGA RIVER in 1826, several Brooklyn families left and in 1834 founded St. John's. They met in the Columbus Block in OHIO CITY until occupying the basement of their new church on the corner of Church and Wall (W. 26th) streets. A founding member of the parish, Hezekiah Eldredge, architect and master builder, contracted to construct the building of gray sandstone in the Gothic style, completed in 1838.
A fire in 1866 left only the exterior walls standing. The reconstruction steepened the pitch of the roof and arranged the interior on a cruciform plan. In the late 19th century, a Gothic Revival parish house was added to the west of the building. In 1953 a tornado destroyed the roof and chancel, and the resulting restoration returned the interior to its original rectangular plan.
The church is said to have been a key point on the Underground Railroad. Fugitive slaves hid in the tower until seeing signals from the lake, calling them to the last leg of their escape. Two parishes organized in the 1870s out of missions of St. John's: All Saints and St. Mark's. By the 1960s the older, wealthier element in the parish was gone. A group known as the INNER CITY PROTESTANT PARISH formed and met at St. John's. Two congregations, one older, conservative Episcopal and the other more active and interdenominational, existed side-by-side until the late 1960s, when the Inner City Parish merged into St. John's. In 1981 structural deterioration and a failed furnace forced the congregation to stop meeting in the building during the winter months. A $100,000 renovation of the structure was completed in 1985 and in 1995 the congregation was raising money to restore the finials to the church's belltower. The congregation had about 80 members in 1995 and was led by Rev. James G. Greer.
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Finding Aid for the St. John's Episcopal Church Records, WRHS.
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See also RELIGION, EPISCOPALIANS.