Grace Church in Salem

385 Essex Street Salem MA 01970 978-744-2796 The Rev. Deborah Phillips, Rector Mark Engelhardt, Lay Associate

Our History

Grace Church's Past: The Old Church

—From "Grace Church in Salem, The First One Hundred Years 1858-1958"by Lilly S. Abbott. Published by the Grace Church Centennial Committee, Salem, Massachusetts, 1958.



On Tuesday evening, August 31, 1858, a group of parishioners met in the lecture room of St. Peter's Church (Salem) with their rector, the Reverend George Leeds. A spirited, but friendly meeting was underway. Arrangements were being made for the immediate construction of an edifice to be known as "Grace Church."

In the street without, the evening silence was broken only by the sound of horse's hoofs drawing an occasional carriage over the cobblestone pavement. This meeting would not be interrupted by shouts of rejoicing that a ship long unheard from had finally made port. How empty the street was! Gone were the wind-burned sailors whose shoulders bore chattering monkeys. Gone also, were the accompanying parrots with their vocabularies of doubtful propriety. On the waterfront, the blending aroma of tea, spices, and sandalwood no longer permeated one's nostrils. The ships that brought fame and wealth to the hardy and adventurous sons of Salem no longer anchored in her harbor. Only coastal vessels bearing cargoes of coal and lumber now tied up at her wharves. Boston had long since superseded her as a port.

The sights, sounds, and smells of the seaport town, however, were being exchanged for those of a manufacturing city. Though the peak of industrial development was yet to come, thrifty, enterprising Yankees were settling within Salem's boundaries. Her population was increasing. The building trend was toward the western part of the city. People were developing a sense of community. They wanted to worship near their homes. Thus, an uptown church was a logical procedure. It had been talked of for some years.

On July 24, 1848, at a meeting of some of the parishioners at which the Reverend William Rause Babcock presided, the talk was translated into action by the appointment of a committee to consider seriously the possibility of establishing a second Episcopal Church.

On July 16, 1851, twenty-one persons plus the Ladies Sewing Circle had subscribed a total of five hundred and fifteen dollars for one year for the "support of public worship and the preaching of the Gospel, in Hamilton Hall, or in some place agreed on."

Seven years later, on June 7, 1858, the wardens and vestrymen of St. Peter's Church, and others interested, met in their vestry room and appointed a committee with the Reverend George Leeds to take whatever action might be necessary in forming a "second and distinct" parish.

At the time of the August 31 meeting, the Rogers Estate which was to become the building site had been purchased at a cost of eighteen hundred dollars. The land had been cleared of the buildings that occupied it. Construction could begin.

The Cornerstone was laid by Bishop Manton Eastburn, Bishop of Massachusetts on Tuesday, October 12, 1858 at four o'clock in the afternoon. The parish was incorporated by an act of the Massachusetts legislature on March 5, 1859. It's official name is Grace Church in Salem. Grace Church was consecrated on Ascension Day, Thursday, June 2, 1859 at 10:30 A.M.

By 1924 it was evident that the building which had housed the original congregation was no longer adequate. Its interior was shabby. Structurally, it was unsafe. It was possible to stand against one wall and shake the whole building. yet, people loved the old church. To tear it down was like wrecking one's ancestral home, so hallowed was it by traditions and by memories indescribably precious. But there was no choice. On April 20 at a special parish meeting, it was voted to erect a new church building.

Click HERE to learn about the New Church.