By Mark Wallace
Episcopal Church was founded in 1847 and is the oldest church structure
in Vernon Township. It is a quaint church that sits below Route 94 on
the southbound lane in Vernon, NJ. It is a board-and-batten
construction with a belfry that is mounted at the rear of the building.
The church’s design is Carpenter or Rural Gothic. The congregation was
incorporated a year after it was built. It sits near a cemetery,
vicarage, parish house, and a new St. Thomas Church. This church is
said to be a sister church of Christ Church in Warwick, NY.
“Originally part of the Kimble tract, the chapel and cemetery parcels were purchased by Henry W. McCamley in 1845, and sold to the church. McCamley was a founder and vestryman of the church. This lot appears to have been occupied in the mid-1800s by a house built by blacksmith James Riley. The house became the Episcopal Vicorage.* The dwelling burned in January 1865. It is reported that in 1911, a new Vicrorage* was built.”
The first services of the Episcopal Church in Warwick were held during April 1854 in the Methodist Church and were conducted by The Rev. William H. Carter, rector of St. Thomas’s Church, Vernon, NJ. On July 17, 1864 services resumed at Christ Church in Warwick, after 4 years of not offering services, under the leadership of The Rev. Nicholas F. Ludlum, Rector of St. Thomas’s Church, Vernon. Mr. Ludlum held services at St. Thomas’s Church in the morning and at Warwick in the afternoon.” Mr. Wallace feels that Rev. Roberts was inspired by the design of Christ Church when he gave ideas for changes to them to design and build.
St. Thomas’s “Chapel” was used as a church
until 1971, when it was closed. It was reopened in 1981. In 1980, the
Rev. Ray Roberts led a project with the restoration team of Mark Wallace
and Steve Megna, two Technology Education teachers from Lounsberry
Hollow Middle School in Vernon. Wallace and Megna closed in the front
entrance, added a small entrance to the rear, and enlarged the alter
area. The original railing balustrades were said to be made by original
members of the church. This railing was moved forward two feet.
“The church was constructed at a cost of $1,500 in 1847 and was officially incorporated in May of 1848. Records of the parish date back to 1832. Many of the well-known families were early benefactors, such as Rutherford, Dekay, Price, Baird, Allen, and McCamley. After it closed in 1971, the chapel served as a home for the Vernon Township Historical Society from 1977 to 1981. St Thomas reopened for worship in 1981 and was rededicated in March 1983. It was used until the new church build next to it was ready to be used.”
The first row or two of pews were removed before Wallace and Megna started their work. The pews were ready to be tossed in the trash, but Vicar Roberts gave them to Mark Wallace for personal use. Mark took two pews and made one pew utilizing the ends from both. The pew was used in Mark’s home from 1982-2012 In July 2012 Mark asked the Vernon Historic Society if they would want the pew. They accepted the donation and the pew now sits in the Historical Society’s home at 293 Route 94 in Vernon.
Vernon Churchyard, c.1805
“Even though the earliest graves here date to c.1816, this burying ground was never formally set aside as a cemetery proper, but was always transferred with adjacent lands. Part of the land sold by the Kimble heirs to Robert A. Linn, he sold it to William Brown in 1845, who then sold it to Henry W. McCamley. McCamley subdivided the tract, selling the churchyard and an adjacent tract for a chapel to St. Thomas Episcopal Church; a parcel in the rear he sold to Dr. Carlos Allen; all transacted in 1847. It appears that the Episcopal Church subsequently deeded half the cemetery (the portion closest to the road, containing Methodist burials) to the Methodist Church.”
The bronze bell that hung in the belfry of St. Thomas Church was taken down, restored, and fitted in the belfry of the new Sanctuary. It rings once again with an electronic clapper.
“The bell is roughly twenty-four inches across at the base and weighs 275-290 lbs. The bell bears the following inscription, which wraps around its upper part: “MADE BY DAVID ROSS OF ELIZ TOWN NEW JERSEY 1795.”
“That the bell is some fifty years older than the St. Thomas congregation and original church.”
“This church was constructed in 1847 at a cost of $1,500 and was officially incorporated in May of 1848. Records of the parish date back to 1832. Many of the well-known local families were early benefactors, such as Rutherford, Dekay, Price, Baird, Allen, and McCCamley. This is the oldest extant church building in Vernon Township and is a landmark example of the mid 10th century Carpenter Gothic Architecture. This church was closed in 1971, then served as the home of the Vernon Township Historical Society from 1977 to 1981. St. Thomas reopened for worship in 1981 and was re-dedicated in March of 1983.”
This marker, celebrating the history of St. Thomas Episcopal Church, was placed in the year 2005. This marker is located on the lawn in front of the church on Route 94 South in Vernon Township.
After a theater group used the chapel and changed many of the historic features and design work changes made in the 80s, Mark Wallace was asked by the church property committee if he would put the chapel back together. He agreed but never heard from the church. Mark visited the church on July 13, 2011 and was disappointed to see that the exterior of the building is not being maintained. He believes the interior was put back together. Mark, now 55 and living in Wantage, still states that the St. Thomas Church restoration was his favorite project. Mark donated the pew to the Vernon Historic Society (7/2012) in memory of Vicar Ray Roberts. Mark would be glad to discuss the church with members of the church, community, and the Vernon Township Historical Society.
*Research has indicated that several terms have been used or misused: Vicarage, Parish House, Rectory.