Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Friday, January 05, 2007

The Early Years of Grace Church, City Island -- Once a Church in Pelham

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City Island once was part of the Town of Pelham before its annexation by New York City in the mid-1890s. In the early 1860s, the family of Rev. Robert Bolton (who built Bolton Priory and Christ Church in Pelham Manor) developed a new Episcopal Church on City Island. This is a brief history of the early years of that church.

According to tradition, in the mid-19th century, perhaps as early as 1849, one of the Rev. Robert Bolton's daughters who lived with the family at Bolton Priory in Pelham Manor named Adele rowed a little boat across the waters off Rodman's Neck to City Island to bring the Gospel to inhabitants of City Island. Cornelius Winter Bolton, one of Adele's brothers, preached to the islanders until about 1857 when the islanders arranged for the Rev. M. M. Dillon to minister to their needs.

In about 1862, the congregation began constructing a lovely church building. According to a brief history of the church on its Web site:

"In his [Rev. M. M. Dillon's] report in 1862 he made the following references to the work on City Island: 'A church is in the process of erection; $1,358.00 has been most generously contributed for this glorious purpose by the young ladies of the Pelham Priory, exclusive of $600.00 promised by the Islanders, one of whom, Mr. G. W. Horton, gave the land and $100.00 towards the funds. Miss Adele Bolton by her own efforts collected $944.00 for Grace Church. The building will cost $3,000.00. Already there is a good and active congregation and a flourishing Sunday School.'

Local ship carpenters were hired to build the church and all you have to do is look upward to see their craftsmanship. With hand cut beams and rafters, if you turned the church on its roof, it would resemble a ships hull."

Source: Grace Church City Island, History (visited Dec. 14, 2006).

An image of the church, showing it about a decade after the island was annexed and became part of City Island, appears immediately below.

One of the more interesting aspects of the lovely church is the stained glass alter window. It is the only original stained glass window created at the time the church was built that remains today. It was created by John Bolton, who was a stained glass apprentice to his older brother William Jay Bolton (known as Jay). According to the history of the church that appears on its Web site:

"At the time the church was built all of the stained glass windows were created and installed by John Bolton (younger brother of William Bolton). Today, the only Bolton window that remains is the altar window. William Bolton (with whom John apprenticed) is know for bringing the art of figural stained glass to the Americas and in fact created the first figural stained glass window in America, which resides in our sister church, The Parish of Christ the Redeemer, in Pelham, New York.

Grace Church recently asked David Fraser, Executive Director and Senior Conservator of the Brooklyn Stained Glass Conservation Center, to perform a condition survey on our Bolton Altar window. We were very glad to hear that we have one of John Bolton's few figural windows, that it is in very good condition for its age (although in order to preserve this state, it will have to be removed for restoration), and the most important fact, is that according to Mr. Fraser, we have a National Treasure gracing our Altar."

Source: Grace Church City Island, History (visited Dec. 14, 2006).

In 1886, D. Appleton and Company published a book edited by James Grant Wilson entitled "The Centennial History of the Protestant Episcopal Churc in the Diocese of New York 1785 - 1885". In that book there is a brief history of the early years of Grace Church on City Island. The entry reads as follows:


Was organized in 1862. The first services were held in May, 1861. The church was built in 1863. The rectors have been: Rev. William V. Feltwell, 1868; Rev. George Howell, 1871; Rev. Joshua Monsell, D. D., 1874, and Rev. John McCarthy Windsor, since 1885, and at present, incumbent. A rectory was procured in 1868. There is record of 108 baptisms and 87 have received confirmation. The record of communicants is incomplete; the present number is 52. The wardens in 1862 were George W. Horton and Charles Stoltz, Jr.; in 1872, George W. Horton and E. L. Worden, and Jacob Ulmer, junior warden from 1882. The church lot was given by Mr. George W. Horton and his wife, Margaret, of City Island, and the church was erected largely under the generous auspices of the Misses Bolton, of Pelham Priory. For several years it was part of the property and under the control of Christ Church, Pelham, whose assistant ;minister resided on the island and officiated as its pastor. Thus, Rev. Mr. Bartow, Rev. Mr. Cheevers, and Rev. Mr. Feltwell were successively in charge, the latter becoming its rector in 1868. The records of the parish have been imperfectly kept; and the testimony on which the above facts are based, gathered chiefly and necessarily from persons connected with both churches, is, in some respects, conflicting."

Source: Wilson, James Grant, ed., The Centennial History of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of New York 1785-1885, p. 356 (NY, NY: D. Appleton And Company 1886).

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