Church History

The Church of St. James the Less, Est 1846

The building that is home to the Church of St. James the Less was added to the  National Register of Historical Places in 1974 and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1985.

The National Park Service’s official 1985 Statement of Significance reads: “This is the first example of the pure English Parish church style in America, and one of the best examples of a 19th-century American Gothic church for its coherence and authenticity of design. Its influence on the major architects of the Gothic Revival in the United States was profound.”

The building’s remarkable fidelity to Gothic design was accidental. When the congregation applied to its parent group in Cambridge, England, for a set of approved plans for its church, it was inadvertently sent measured drawings, prepared by G. G. Place, of St. Michael’s Church in Longstanton, Cambridgeshire, built c. 1230. Those plans were followed in every detail under the supervision of architect John E. Carver.

At the time, the church had a rural setting on the edge of a hill, north of Mount Vernon Cemetery and east of Laurel Hill Cemetery. Now West Hunting Park Avenue, a major artery, is just beyond the churchyard’s south wall, and industrial buildings lie to the west.

A parish hall – now the home of St. James School – was built on the opposite side of West Clearfield Street.

The Wanamaker Memorial Bell Tower and mausoleum was designed by John T. Windrim and built in 1908. It houses a set of J.C. Deagan tower chimes and a chime of bells by the McShane foundry.

The Church and parish school were closed in 2006, when, after a lengthy court battle, the local Episcopal diocese assumed control of the property. St James the Less had disaffiliated from the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania in 1999 over theological differences, and the Diocese sued the parish in 2001 to seize the property. The Pennsylvania courts eventually decided that while the Parish owns the property, there exists an “implied trust” in favor of the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania, and the congregation left.

In the summer of 2008, the Standing Committee of the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania voted to allow Saint Mark’s Church (Locust Street), Philadelphia, to adopt the Church of St. James the Less as a mission of Saint Mark’s.

Cemetery Visiting Hours

The cemetery is open to the public seven days a week from dawn to dusk. To make an appointment for a tour of the graveyard, please contact David Kasievich.

Living History – A Study of the Past Reveals What the Future May Hold

Servant Year member John E. Hager published a spiritual and photographic guide about St. James School’s parish, The Church of St. James the Less, designated a National Historic Landmark (1985).

In the guide, John shares an in-depth look at the church’s founding in 1846 and the purposeful choices made for the building’s design, construction, and use.

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