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Saint Paul’s began as a simple wooden structure in Eastchester in 1700, built by Puritans who were against the Church of England. The British then established the Anglican Church of Westchester County in 1702 in an attempt to get better control of the colony.
In 1763, Eastchester was a large and prosperous town. In celebration of the end of the French and Indian War, the town began building a large fieldstone church near the original structure, inspired by the architecture of Christopher Wren. Wren had designed many of London’s buildings after the Great Fire of 1666.
The Revolutionary war interrupted the building of the church. The large stone structure was used as a field hospital for the American, British and Hessian armies during the war. The congregation continued to worship in the wooden building until the wood was needed for firewood.
After the war, the tower was completed and plaster ceiling and walls added. It was consecrated as St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in the early 1800s.
In the early 1900s, the surrounding town had become more of an industrial area. St. Paul’s fell into disrepair. FDR’s mother, Sara Delano Roosevelt, spearheaded a campaign to restore the church.
The same firm that had worked on Colonial Williamsburg restored St. Paul’s to its original appearance in 1942. The congregation continued to shrink as people moved out of the area, however, and in May of 1977, the last service was held.
The church was de-consecrated so that the Federal Government could purchase it and transfer ownership to the Department of the Interior. Today, the National Park Service runs a visitor center out of the old carriage house and conducts ranger-led tours of the church and cemetery.
I met Scott and Tiff from Raven About The Parks at the visitor center (this was their 353rd NPS unit visited!) We watched the short film and then followed the ranger into the church. We toured the parishioners boxes, the pulpit, rang the bell (a cousin to the Liberty Bell) and learned about the church’s history.
The ranger took us upstairs to the balcony where the poor parishioners used to sit. He played a song on the original pipe organ and then took us behind the organ to peer up into the tower. Then we went outside amongst the 250 year old gravestones and found the marker for the Hessian soldiers’ mass grave.
Location: 897 S Columbus Ave, Mt Vernon, NY 10550
Designation: National Historic Site
Date designated/established: July 5, 1943
Date of my visit: September 21, 2019