A Brief History of St. John’s Episcopal Church

For over 125 years, hundreds of members have given freely of their time, talents and funds to provide the campus, buildings and furnishings we enjoy today. While you are here, we invite you to pause and offer a prayer of thanksgiving in appreciation of all of our generous benefactors.

The Founding Families

In 1856, there were only eight families scattered along the lower Indian River. John Houston (pronounced “Howston”) and his family were the first settlers in this area; he named it Arlington. Later, in 1870, when the local residents requested a post office, Mr. W.H. Gleason named the area “Eau Gallie” (Indian and French words meaning “Rocky Water”), possibly because of all the coquina rocks visible in the clear Indian River Lagoon at the time.

In 1883, Alexander and Henry Hodgson, two bachelor brothers, visited Eau Gallie. When they later returned to Montreal, Quebec, Canada, they spoke with so much enthusiasm about Eau Gallie that they persuaded their brother John Hodgson, age 34, and his family to also move here.

So, in 1884, the family left Montreal and moved south to Florida. With the three brothers were John’s wife Annabella, their two children, Annabella Florence and John Kingan, and their aunt Jane Kingan, age 65. After their move here, the Hodgsons had two more children: Elizabeth Isabelle (1889 – 1912) and Gordon (1891-1892). St. John’s first parish register shows three baptisms, seven confirmations, one marriage and eleven burials for the Hodgson family. John’s wife Annabella died in 1892, not long after her baby son Gordon and her aunt Jane Kingan also died; the three stained glass windows behind the altar are dedicated to Annabella, Gordon and Jane.

John Hodgson was described as a man of “liberal culture, dedicated opinions and outspoken in their utterance”. He was reliable, held in high esteem and had a tireless and persistent personality. To wit, when he died in 1918, every business in the area closed for his funeral here.

However, with those esteemed qualities, came also impatience. In 1890 a Sunday trip to church in Melbourne took all day. Hodgson counted 29 people in Eau Gallie township who wanted an Episcopal church and he began petitioning the Bishop.

Charles Young, one of the 29, had married Mary J. Houston, granddaughter of the first settler. On April 6, 1897 she signed away her dower rights to a portion of land on Young St. to the “Protestant Episcopal Church of the Missionary Jurisdiction of Southern Florida” for the purpose of build-ing a church already named St. John’s.

With the land committed, John persisted with letters to the Bishop and articles in local papers. In 1896 he heard that the “mission at Eau Gallie” had been assessed $3 at the South Florida Episcopal Conven-tion. He was jubilant; it meant they were being recognized as an actual church!

 The Church Structure: 1897 – 1961

The Cornerstone was placed on April 26, 1897; the church building was completed by late November, 1897. On February 20, 1898, with Archdeacon Brown officiating, St. John’s was officially ‘open’.

This building fronted Young Street; it was the only building on the narrow dirt road and there was little traffic. Surrounded by palmettos, scrub palms and oaks, it was barely visible to its neighbors.

It was built of varnished heart pine in the “carpenter gothic” style of the day; the style represented an upside-down ark. The stained glass windows were designed and constructed in the old style (glass painted and fused on glass).

The pews were of pine, stained dark. John Hodgson was opposed to having people “own” their pews and have ownership passed down through family generations. And so “open” pews have remained a hallmark of St. John’s to the present day.

There was no water on the premises, so fire was a constant fear. Thus, for years whoever took care of the altar also took home the communion silver and linen. John Hodgson quietly made this one of his duties for 18 years.

The choir sat to the left of the altar and the “foot-pumped” organ was placed as per the organist’s wishes. And finally, the church was wired for electricity in 1921.

Building for the Future – From Mission to Parish and the 1961 Addition

Though incorporated in 1959, St. John’s was still a mission. In 1961, the members applied to the Diocese for Parish Status, which was granted May 27, 1962.

At the same time, they began the planned worship space expansion. The original pine building was moved farther back (north) on the property and the A-frame addition was constructed and completed in time for services at Christmas, 1962. This expansion increased the total seating capacity from 85 to 220. And above the entryway, a small choir loft was built, with the organ console located at the west end.

On the east side of the original church are stained glass windows depicting Matthew and Mark. On the west side are two more – John (without a beard), and Luke. At the stairs to the choir loft on the west side there is a stained glass depiction of the Jesus as the Good Shepherd. This stained glass piece stood over the original door.

An Austin pipe organ with over 1500 pipes was moved from St. Paul’s, Winter Haven to St. John’s. The parishioners built a new addition to house it and they installed it in 1967. At the time, it was the largest pipe organ in Brevard County. In 1983, while the organ and console were removed for rebuilding, members extended the loft by about 8 feet and upon its return, installed the console in the center.

Other Structures / Our Campus

In 1955, St. John’s acquired 2 lots west of the church and built a parish house during 1955-57. In 1964, 7 classrooms, 2 wash-rooms and the covered walkway from the church to the hall were added. During 1976-77, the parish house was expanded with an enlarged kitchen, an outer office, copier room, washroom, the new Rector’s office and the inner courtyard. On March 6, 1978, the hall was dedicated as Lelia Hall, to honor her father, Meritt Preston.

St. Nick’s house on Young Street east of the church was acquired in 1963 and what became the west end parking lots were acquired in 1980. Between 1965-1985, St. John’s acquired on Shady Lane, James’ House, the ‘Flower’ House and adjacent parking lots. In 1997, on the south side of Young St., the church acquired the land now encompassing the parking lots and the park overlooking the Eau Gallie River and Yacht Basin. The land was cleared and the park, gazebo and parking areas were created and completed by 2002.

The Memorial Garden, set amid old oaks behind the church, was consecrated in 1977. This beautiful, secluded area honors our deceased parishioners whose names are inscribed in plaques on the north wall.

St. John’s Episcopal Church is listed in the National Registry as an historic building.

For 246! pages of more details, we invite you to read “The Mission of St. John’s”, published in 1981 by Miriam Hicks.  The book is currently out of print, but some additional information is available by clicking here.