From the 1840s – 1860s Brandon’s St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church at the Hill Block went through many changes


The story of Brandon’s St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church (now St. Thomas & Grace) begins with the mid-1830s formation of an Episcopal worship group at the Forest Dale home of Royal Blake. Beginning in 1839, Forest Dale worship is also referenced in annual convention reports of the Diocese of Vermont. With no ordained clergy then available, lay readers mainly provided services at the newly named St. Thomas’. By 1841, however, sufficient parochial growth allowed for engaging a priest, The Rev. Josiah Perry. Clearly a dedicated church structure was needed in Brandon, and in his report of a June 8, 1843 visit, Bishop Hopkins noted “a good progress made in the erection of a place of worship…” The ground chosen was at the southeast corner of a property facing Center Street, long owned by members of the Hill family and the site of a blacksmith shop (the site is now occupied by Crosby’s).

AN 1890S BIRD’S-EYE view of the Hill Block (right in front of the building in red, which was a blacksmith shop). The Hill Block burned down in 1943 and the site is now occupied by Crosby’s.

While it might be supposed the building was new construction, the Brandon town history published in 1961 has a contradictory story. Here it is claimed that the Hill Block “was the early Baptist Church moved from Park Street by John Conant and used as the Town Hall downstairs, and the Episcopal Church upstairs…” 

While documentation is elusive to support the former Baptist Church theory, St. Thomas’ did indeed partner with the Town of Brandon in dividing up the building. This split ownership arrangement lasted for several decades, though not without problems. For example, the 1847 St. Thomas’ annual convention report noted that on four occasions “the evening service has been omitted in consequence of disturbance from meetings in the room below the Chapel.” 

THE HILL BLOCK (far left) on Center Street in Brandon was the site of St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church. The building was erected in the 1840s and was lost in a fire in 1943. In addition to the church, the building was an early home to the Brandon Town Offices and later to F.J. Farr’s barroom and billiard hall. The Smith Block can be seen just to the right.

Coming years brought ups and downs, seeing the arrival and departure of several rectors, along with periods of vacancy in the position. Similarly, parishioner numbers waxed and waned, though, in general, developments were positive. Excitement marked consecration of the new Grace Church in Forest Dale in 1853, but it was a building which also reminded worshipers in Brandon of their own sanctuary’s shortcomings. 

By the late 1850s, however, brothers Chauncey Washington Conant and John Adams Conant had joined a swelling number of Brandon parishioners, becoming key players in unfolding events. In addition, The Rev. J. Newton also had arrived bringing new vibrancy, while the total number of adult and child members had swelled to 148. Clearly being limited to an “upper room,” as it was sarcastically termed in the 1860 diocesan report, was woefully inadequate for such numbers. 

ST. THOMAS & Grace Episcopal Church today on Conant Square. This Gothic structure replaced the Hill Block as the site of Episcopal worship in Brandon. It was designed by Bishop Hopkins and opened in 1863.

St. Thomas & Grace people know the outcome. A new decade saw construction of the Bishop Hopkins-designed Gothic sanctuary, which opened for worship in 1863 and still stands on Conant Square. Just before that transformative moment, the Bishop reported a May 13 evening service, noting with true understatement, “The little Church was crowded,” and recording eight adult baptisms and sixteen confirmations.

Vestry members wasted little time in ridding the parish of their “upper room,” selling it to F. J. Farr in August 1863. Having just built their own new structure, town officials followed suit, selling Farr the lower floor. Widely known for his musical talents, Farr was to open a barroom and billiards parlor at the site. Given his dance band fame, we might guess the former St. Thomas’ space also saw more than a few gala evenings. By 1867, however, “Fiddler” Farr, as he was sometimes called, had moved on to Ohio. He might be best recognized today as father of Albert Farr and grandfather of Shirley Farr, whose summer home the “Arches” is now Park Street’s prominent “Lilac Inn.”

The Hill Block building saw a variety of uses over coming decades until a sad loss to fire in 1943. That said, it continued to be called “old town hall” for many years. Amusingly, the author has yet to spot a reference to “old St. Thomas’,” perhaps reflecting the parishioners’ happiness to leave the place as a relic of their past.  

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