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.

First Church

A chapel (known as Salisbury Chapel) was first built on this 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.

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

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.

Second Church

Second church built by 1868.  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 on North Division St. was established in 1873 from a bequest of land by parishioner Benjamin Parsons as a parish cemetery.  It continues today as the cemetery of St. Peter’s, Salisbury Parish.

Diocesan 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

Building the third (and present) church began soon after the fire; the first service was held on Christmas Eve 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 Thomas Burns of Philadelphia; building contractor was Slemons and Jones

The building design is Italian Romanesque (“13th Century 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, 12th and Diamond Sts. In Philadelphia, built 1885 (no longer there).

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.

Pulpit installed in 1888 as a gift from the Church of the Annunciation in Philadelphia. 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 third story and the tower belfry were completed.

In 1915 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.  Below are some details about these accouterments:

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 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.”

The Parish House 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 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  1998 the bell was moved 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 2012 the console was replaced with a Rogers digital organ which was also connected to the existing pipes so that it combines digital with acoustical sound.