History of St. Peter’s Church, Salisbury Parish
St. Peter’s Church, Salisbury Parish is descended from the original Stepney Parish, established in the colony of Maryland in 1692 as part of the Church of England. The Mother Church of Stepney Parish, Old Green Hill Church, is still standing downriver on the bank of the Wicomico River 14 miles west of here.
A chapel (known as Salisbury Chapel) was first built on this hilltop site in 1768, a simple brick colonial church with clear glass windows, box pews, a gallery on three sides, and a simple chancel with a wooden cross. There has been continuous worship at this site since 1768. Salisbury Chapel was a chapel of Stepney Parish when it was established, and the Rector of Stepney Parish, the Rev. Alexander Adams, was most likely the first priest of the church. He died September 1769. The two original acres of glebe lands surrounding the church were eventually sold to help with repairs on the church, including land along Main and Division Streets. After American Independence, by 1791 Stepney Parish became a parish within the Diocese of Maryland, a diocese of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the U.S. In 1827 Stepney Parish was divided and the church in Salisbury became the Chapel of Ease of Spring Hill Parish (St. Paul’s in Hebron was the main church of Spring Hill Parish). A parochial school was established around 1842. By 1843 the church was called St. Peter’s Chapel. In 1857 under the direction of the Rector, the Rev. Augustus White, an organ was installed in the church and a bell tower with a tall steeple topped with a gold cross was completed – the steeple was said to be seen for miles as one approached the town. Fire on August 9, 1860 destroyed the colonial church. Few items were salvaged: 2 solid silver candlesticks, an instruction card, an ancient bookmark. The Civil War prevented it from being rebuilt.
The Second Church was built by 1868. Different from the first Colonial Church, the Second St. Peter’s Church was built in the Romanesque style, with a large rose window on the west wall, three stained glass windows on the east wall. Pews and communion rail were of walnut and the columns led the eye to a beamed ceiling. A bell tower contained a large, deep-toned bell used to call members to services, and to serve as the town’s fire alarm. In 1868 the General Convention approved the division of the Diocese of Maryland and the parish became part of the new Diocese of Easton. Parsons Cemetery was established in 1873 from a bequest of land by parishioner Benjamin Parsons and that became a parish cemetery. Around the time that Wicomico County was formed, the Diocese of Easton’s Annual Convention established Salisbury Parish in 1879, separating it from Spring Hill Parish and declaring the boundaries of the parish to be “within the corporate limits of the town.” During the period of 1883-86 a chancel was added to the second church with an elegant marble altar, a Sunday School room was built underneath the chancel, and the graves in the surrounding churchyard were moved and reinterred in Parsons Cemetery. The Great Fire of Salisbury, Sunday, October 18, 1886 destroyed the second church. Only the candelabra, cross, an eagle lectern and a few holy vessels (on display in the Parish Museum) were saved. All that remained were four roofless charred walls.
Third Church (Present Church)
Building the third (and present) church began soon after the October 18, 1886 fire; the first service was held on Christmas Day 1887, and the structure was completed in 1888. The present church was built on the same foundation as the second church. Architect for the present church building was the renowned Charles Burns of Philadelphia; building contractor was Slemons and Jones. The building design is Italian Romanesque (13thCentury Lombardy); the interior is a traditional basilica plan. The building was planned to resemble another Episcopal church designed by architect Burns: the Church of the Annunciation, 12thand Diamond Sts. In Philadelphia, built 1885 (no longer there). St. Peter’s Pulpit, still in use today, was installed in 1888 as a gift from the Church of the Annunciation.
After the 1868 fire the bell was recast in 1888 in Baltimore and since the bell tower was not completely rebuilt, the church’s bell was installed instead in the Courthouse a block away. The Baptismal Font was installed and dedicated in 1894. Around 1894 a storm blew out the rose window and damaged the unfinished bell tower.
Once the debt on the church was paid, on St. Peter’s Day, June 29, 1901, the Bishop of Easton, the Rt. Rev. William Forbes Adams, consecrated the building to the service of Almighty God. In 1914 the bell tower’s third story and belfry above were completed.
In 1916 the church was redecorated to resemble how it appears today. Installed at that time were the Rood Beam, the heather brown floor tiles, the chancel floor of Tennessee marble, oak choir stalls and pews, a new altar of American Caen stone, and the handpainted triptych above the altar. New wiring and light fixtures were added. A new Sunday School room was also built under the Sacristy.
The Parish House adjacent to the church was built in 1924. It houses the offices, library, nursery, and parlor on the first floor, classrooms on the second floor, and a large hall, kitchen and choir room in the basement. The Parish House was remodeled in the 1980s and the Parish Hall renovated in 2017.
The Parish Museum complete with artifacts and items of historical interest is located in the Parlor Room. Memorial windows in the church were mostly installed individually and in groups in the early half of the 1900s.
In 1996 the bell was moved from the Courthouse building to its present location in St. Peter’s bell tower with the stipulation that the bell was to continue to ring the hours for the city as had been done for 100 years at the Courthouse. The inscription on the bell from Isaiah 51 reads: “Hearken unto me, ye that follow after righteousness, ye that seek the Lord.”
In the late 1970’s a Moeller pipe organ was installed. In January 2018 a new Anglican style Walker digital organ was installed.
St. Peter’s Episcopal Church has a vibrant congregation of more than 180 active households with an average Sunday attendance of 150. Open every day for public prayer St. Peter’s continues to worship in the Anglican tradition; its mission is to know and to share the love of Christ. All are welcome at St. Peter’s. Sunday worship is at 7:45am, 9:00am, and 11:00am (8:00am and 10:00am in summer). Visit our website: www.stpeterschurch.net
St. Peter's Church Architecture
The Romanesque Revival brick church faces southwest with the gable roof oriented on a southwest/northeast axis. Built in several stages between 1887 and 1924, the common bond brick church rests on slightly raised foundation with an excavated cellar. Following a traditional basilica plan with a center nave and side aisles, the main block was erected after the October 1886 fire.
The southwest elevation of the 1887 main block is a symmetrical brick facade of seven-course common bond walls that rise to a medium pitched gable roof the covers the center nave and shed roofs that protect each side aisle. The roofs are sheathed with a combination of slate and asphalt shingles. Fixed in the center of the nave is a large double-door entrance accessed by a set of stone steps. The replacement doors, made of mahogany, are topped by a round arched colored glass transom. Surrounding the entrance doors is a corbelled and recessed brick surround. Flanking the entrance are narrow round arched colored glass windows filled with colored glass and sandstone sills.
Two molded brick beltcourses stretch across the nave with nine decorative terra cotta panels fixed between. Rising atop the beltcourses are brick pilasters that flank a large, round colored glass window which is accented on four corners by terra cotta panels. The round window is set within a brick recess. The gable end of the nave is finished with a pediment of corbelled brick that frames a tympanum enriched with a Star-of-David set in glazed headers. A wooden crown molding finishes the edge of the roof.
Each side aisle is defined by a single round arched door opening framed by corbelled brick, and two round arched windows filled with colored glass. Sandstone sills accent the window and door openings. The corner of each aisle is accented with a brick pilaster that rises to a decorative brick cornice which trims the edge of the shed roof.
Attached to the northwest corner of the main block is a four-story entrance and bell tower laid in seven-course common bond. The west wall is pierced by a series of round arched window openings on each story, which is defined by horizontal bands of decorative brickwork. The first floor is pierced by a single round arched window opening framed by a decorative arch of brick and a sandstone.
The triptych on the east wall, painted on oak panels, was created by Chapman Decorative Company, Philadelphia under the “personal supervision” of the architect for the remodeling project, Frank R. Watson of Watson and Huckel, Phil. Central panel: “Calvary Triumphant” Our Lord stands with outstretched arms against a cross of gold, in the attitude of King, Lord and Bishop. St. Mary and St. John stand in reverence and adoration. Side panels: St. Peter and St. Paul. Base of triptych: Moses, apostles, evangelists and martyrs. Rood and rood beam installed 1915: top of the rood is a painting of the Heavenly Dove and at the ends of the arms are the Angels of the Resurrection. At the center are the three nails surrounded by the crown of thorns. At the base of the cross is the Lamb of God. The Altar, installed in 1915, is made of American Caen stone; the tabernacle with the Reserved Sacrament is in the center of the altar below the cross. The lit Sanctuary Candle to the left of the altar signifies the presence of the Reserved Sacrament in the tabernacle. Chancel floor of Tennessee marble was installed 1915. Seven lamps hung over sanctuary rail in 1915, symbolic of Rev. 4:5 “In front of the throne burn seven flaming lamps, which are the seven spirits of God.”