The history of Saint Mary’s commences in 1848 when Dr. Samuel McKenzie Elliott erected a chapel in the town of Castleton. The frame Gothic chapel was built on Dr. Elliott’s property, which was bounded by Bard and Davis avenues, Delafield Place and Richmond Terrace. The parish was incorporated on August 17, 1849, and the Rev. Henry B. Bartow, assistant at St. George’s Church, Manhattan, was called as the first Rector.
On January 7, 1851, the Rev. Henry Bartow was succeeded by the Rev. Samuel P. Parker. During his tenure, a handsome new stone church was built on an acre of land, which constitutes most of the present churchyard. Mr. William Bard and his wife deeded the property to the church, and much of the building cost was borne by the Delafield family. The church was completed and consecrated on May 26, 1853 by the Rt. Rev. Jonathan Wainwright, Provisional Bishop of New York.
Late in the year 1857, the Rev. Horace Edgar Pratt became Rector. In 1858, Mrs. William Bard gave a new rectory to the parish. It was built in the “American Gothic” style, and stood on the site of our present rectory.
In 1876, the Rev. George McClelland Fiske came to Saint Mary’s. He remained only four years and was succeeded by the Rev. Alfred G. Mortimer. During the tenure of Dr. Mortimer the choir and sanctuary were added to the building, giving it the appearance we know and love today. A new organ was built, and the first slate roof was given to the church. We also received our handsome old processional cross and our jeweled chalice.
In 1892, the Rev. George William Dumbell became Rector. He remained for five years, being succeeded by the Rev. George E. Quaile in 1897. It was during this period that St. Austin’s School became part of our history. Dr. Quaile was the headmaster of the school, and the boys from St. Austin’s provided the choir for Saint Mary’s. They sang the morning services and Evensong each Sunday. St. Austin’s School was housed in the Garner House (now called “The Villa” on the grounds of Richmond University Medical Center). In 1901, when neither Saint Mary’s nor our Diocese of New York could afford to purchase the school it was sold to Sisters of Charity for the former St. Vincent’s Hospital (now Richmond University Medical Center).
In 1901, the Rev. Francis LeJau Frost came to St. Mary’s. Dr. Frost served the parish faithfully for thirty-four years. At this time the parish entered into its greatest period of building. The present parish house (now named “English Hall”) was built in 1910 and enlarged in 1925. The chapel, with a choir room in the undercroft, was constructed and consecrated in 1914. In 1925, the present rectory and cloister were completed. Heavy oak paneling, forming a background to the High Altar, was given in 1908; a bellcote and bell in 1910; a carved oak pulpit, choir stalls and a corresponding lectern were also given during this period. In 1926, a richly carved and polychromed English oak reredos was installed behind the High Altar on the east wall. The same year, the Cisco Memorial Garden was given, and besides flowers, shrubs, trees, lawns, etc. it included a statue of the Blessed Virgin and a large bronze crucifix. Our present Cloister Rose Garden is a part of this complex and is now used in part for the interment of cremated remains. Sadly, Dr. Frost drowned on February 24, 1935 when the S.S. Mohawk sank off the Atlantic Highlands.
The Rev. Charles R. Fielding succeeded Dr. Frost in 1935. Fr. Fielding was no stranger to the parish; he had been as assistant priest to Dr. Frost for several years, and was an assistant professor at the General Theological Seminary in Manhattan. In 1940, he resigned for a professorship at the Union Theological Seminary in Toronto, Canada.
The Rev. E. Roland Taft became Rector in 1940, and at the outbreak of World War II, he left St. Mary’s to become an Army Chaplain.
The Rev. Orin A. Griesmyer was called as Rector in 1942. We were then struggling to pay off a $25,000 mortgage, and even the interest was a great burden, especially during the depression years. This was also the year of our First Annual Fair. Under Fr. Griesmyer’s leadership, the parish went wholeheartedly to work to pay off the mortgage on a five year plan and thus have the church free of debt for the Centennial Anniversary in 1948. Fate intervened, however, and on the morning of August 12, 1947- a morning long to be remembered in the history of St. Mary’s- the church building was gutted and ravaged by fire. The loss amounted to well over $200,000 partly covered by insurance, but falling short of the actual cost of restoration by many thousands of dollars. Staggered but undaunted, the parish went to work not only to rebuild the church, but also to complete paying off the mortgage. In 1952, Fr. Griesmyer resigned. In 1991, he was named Rector Emeritus.
The Rev. George E. Nichols succeeded Fr. Griesmyer. During his tenure, the membership increased and the parish operated free of debt. He was Rector for twenty-one years. During this time our fine Casavant organ was built and dedicated in 1967. Fr. Nichols was devoted to the parish, and was deeply loved by the community. After a brief illness, he died on April 28, 1973.
The Rev. William L. English succeeded Fr. Nichols, and he again was no stranger to the parish, having been curate to Fr. Nichols for six years. During this time, the parish house was modernized and extended, the rectory was modernized, a trumpet enchamade was added as well as a choir screen, and wrought iron fencing was installed around the grounds. On September 1, 1999, Fr. English retired after faithfully and lovingly serving Saint Mary’s for thirty-two years, being Rector for twenty-five years (the date of Institution was October 28, 1973). Upon the death of Fr. Griesmyer, in 2003, Fr. English was named Rector Emeritus.
The Rev. Charles McClean succeeded Fr. English in November 2000 and was installed as Rector on January 6, 2001. In April of 2001 Fr. McClean became ill and was unable to continue as Rector. At this time, the Rev. Richard Markham, who began serving as our Sunday assistant in 2000, celebrated at our Sunday Eucharists. Fr. Markham retired from active ministry in September 2009.
The Rev. John Dulfer served as Interim Priest from November 2001 until October 2002. During Fr. Dulfer’s time with us our parish transitioned from the 1928 BCP to the 1979 BCP.
The Rev. Dr. Richard Major served as Priest in Charge from October 2002 until May 2006 and was installed as Rector in May of 2006. Fr. Major resigned in July 2007. During his time with us Fr. Major researched the parish history, wrote a book, developed our parish website and he and his wife Kris had two children, Matilda and Oscar. Additionally, our parish received a gift of four beautiful church banners from a parishioner and the gold Griesmyer vestments given in memory of our past Rector, The Rev. Orin A. Griesmyer.
During Fr. Major’s tenure, The Rev. John Walsted, retired rector of Christ Church, made Saint Mary’s his home parish and began to assist at the Sunday and Wednesday Eucharist.
The Rev. John Stubbs served as Interim Priest from 2007 to October 2010.
The Rev. Kevin Fisher served as rector from October 2010 to July 2013. During this time, he and his wife, Jane, became active community members and helped foster relationships with community groups. Jane was instrumental in building up the Sunday school and youth groups.
The Rev. Horace Dagnall Free, Jr. served the parish from May 2015 until September 2020, re-introducing Adult Faith Formation and introducing Intercessory Prayer. He now resides and serves in the Diocese of Western North Carolina.