Project Canterbury

The Story of St. Mary's

The Society of the Free Church of St. Mary the Virgin, New York City 1868-1931

Edited by Newbury Frost Read

New York: Published for the Board of Trustees, 1931.


From this point for almost a year and a half it unfortunately happens that no records seem to have survived. Probably the organization of the Parish was not in running order, and the meetings that were held were of so informal a nature, and were so fully concerned with the great business of trying to build the Church, that no records were kept. Or it may be that they were kept by one of the Trustees who subsequently was not made secretary, and who neglected to turn them over to his duly appointed successor. Whatever the reason may be, no records have come to light until we reach those contained in the first minute-book, which commences with the Meeting of Wednesday, the 4th May, 1870.

This was held at 11 Wall Street in the office of John W. Pirrson, Counsel for the Trustees. At this Meeting Willett Bronson and William P. Hallett, the architect were also present, although none of the three was a member of the board. The practise of having others than Trustees at Meetings, has been long since discontinued, but it was occasionally indulged in during the early days. Of the seven Trustees, five were present at this first recorded meeting: "William Scott, H. K. Leonard, Bowie Dash, William P. Lee, Rev. Thos. McK. Brown."

Mr. Scott presided and "Mr. Brown was appointed secretary pro-tem." The first business recorded lends color to the belief that no regular minutes had been kept prior to this meeting, for "Mr. Lee stated that the Trustees had been duly incorporated on or about the 5th day of December, 1868, and laid before the meeting the following certificate of the Secretary of State, which was on his motion ordered to be incorporated in the minutes of this meeting:

[22] "State of New York
Office of the Secretary of State

It is hereby Certified That the Certificate of Incorporation of 'The Society of the Free Church of St. Mary the Virgin' with the acknowledgment thereto annexed, was filed in this office on the Fifth day of December 1868.

"Witness my hand and the seal of office of the Secretary of State at the City of Albany, this Fifth day of July one thousand eight hundred and seventy three.

"Aaron S. Wood, Deputy Secretary of State."

In explanation of the date of this certificate, it may be mentioned that the handwriting in which it has been copied into the minute-book is quite difEerent from that of the person who wrote the contemporary record, and space had been left for its inclusion. It seems probable that the original copy of the certificate was lost between its date of issue in December, 1868, and the commencement of the minutes in May, 1870, and that three years more were allowed to slip by before another copy was obtained. When it was finally secured it was written into the space which had been left, and which was not adequate, so that the writer had to do some strenuous condensing to get it in.

The Reverend Flavel S. Mines resigned as a Trustee at this meeting, and his resignation was accepted without comment. Willett Bronson was promptly elected to fill the vacancy on the Board.

Mr. Lee moved the election of the three officers, and William Scott, having received all the six votes present, was declared the President of the Board for the ensuing year. Willett Bronson received four of the six, and was elected Secretary; and Henry K. Leonard was made Treasurer when five of the six votes were cast for him.

Immediately upon the completion of this first formal organization, the real business that had brought these men together and that held them together, was resumed, and what was called "the subscription paper for loans upon the property of the Church," was produced. The same procedure was followed with this as with the copy of the Certificate of Incorporation, but unfortunately it was never afterward transcribed, and the page left blank to receive the names of those who lent money to build the old St. Mary's remains blank to this day.

Whoever they may have been, their proffered loans to the amount of $32,000 were accepted, and were secured by a mortgage in trust to [22/23] some suitable person or persons. A payment of 50% of the loans was requested, and the President and Treasurer were authorized to issue the bonds of the Corporation for such loans.

Some of the financial transactions of those early days sound strangely enough to us now. William Scott had advanced $3,000 to the Church, and had only been able to collect donations amounting to $800 toward its repayment. With his usual generosity, to which St. Mary's owed so much in its infancy, he offered to free the Corporation from this debt, and to take his own chances of securing some part of its repayment from such contributions as he could collect. His only stipulation was that he should be held harmless from the claim of James Webb, the builder, who would seem to have accepted a note endorsed by Scott for some of the work already done on the Church.

The settlement of this claim of Webb's reads today almost like a humorous after-dinner story. He was to subscribe for $3,000 of the bonds of the Corporation, secured by the mortgage in trust, "and to be paid the balance of his claim within such time as may be agreed upon." From the available records, it seems probable that the work of building had progressed very slowly, if at all, during the year 1869, doubtless due to the gold panic, which culminated in Black Friday, for we find at this meeting that Mr. Scott offered to pay the full $8,000 which he had subscribed at once, and evidently on the basis of this munificent action, Hallett the architect, was requested to submit his specifications "for the work and materials" necessary to complete the Church. He submitted the following estimates, which were accepted:

"Geo. Riker, for Carpenters, labour and materials $7,573
"Rollins for Stone Mason labour and materials $7,950
"Cone for Painting, labour and materials $400
"Slack & Booth Glass labour and materials $450
"Kennedy, Slate Cutting labour and materials $1,340
"At the suggestion of Mr. Pirrson there was added for plumbing $250


Evidently with a view to easing the situation after the recital of such figures, Hallett stated that the carpenter would take a note of the Corporation with an endorsement for his last payment, and that the [23/24] stone mason would probably do the like. Henry K. Leonard offered to endorse both notes.

When we consider that the total of the two principal items in the erection of the Church building, is about equal to the yearly cost of the music in the present St. Mary's, we can only marvel at what has been done, under God's providence, in sixty-two years; and at the vision and courage of those few men who had to resort to such shifts in order to raise for the erection of that first small Church a sum not much greater than is now sometimes spent in one year on repairs to the present building.

The next meeting of the Trustees was held on Monday, the 6th June, 1870, and in the absence of Wm. Scott, the President, "Mr. Brown was called to the chair". The order of business to be followed at subsequent meetings was decided upon, and "pending the adoption of By-Laws, the ordinary rules of deliberative bodies govern the deliberations of this body".

Henry K. Leonard, the treasurer, "reported that he had collected towards subscriptions as follows: Dr. Dix $500, Miss Folsom $500, Bronson $500, Leonard $1,000, Mr. Pirrson $1,000, Mr. William Scott $1,400." From this total of $4,900 he had paid out on account of work done $3,975.

A week later, on the 13th of June, another meeting was held, at which there were present "Brown (without any title at all this time) Lee, Leonard and Bronson". It was principally important for the following resolution, moved by Leonard, seconded by Bronson and put by the Chairman, Lee: "That the Rev. Thomas McKee Brown Priest be appointed Minister of this Corporation with all the rights, privileges and powers appertaining to the office of a Rector of a Church in union with the Convention of the P. E. Church of the Diocese of New York." Presumably "Brown", the only member present not connected with the motion, voted in favor of it, for we read that it was carried unanimously.

The Minister was also given power to call a meeting.

At this same meeting Bronson was "requested to take immediate steps to procure a place for the congregation to hold services and to carry on the services of the congregation." The second portion of this request seems to be slightly ambiguous.

[25] Here and there throughout these early records we come upon mysterious entries which present, after this lapse of time, considerable difficulty to elucidate. There was one such in the previous meeting, when the payment of dues was left to the judgment of the Treasurer; and one in this, couched in the following cryptic words: "that 25 copies of a certain paper be prepared, and circulated."

At the meeting held the 4th August, 1870, Henry K. Leonard tendered his resignation as Treasurer, giving as the reason that he expected to be out of the City for the rest of the summer, and on the motion of Mr. Brown, William Scott was elected in his stead. Curiously enough, Scott was actually away at the time and it was arranged that Bowie Dash should act for him.

In this capacity, Dash reported at the next meeting, 20th October, that the receipts from the subscriptions had been $16,000.54, and that the disbursements had been $15,440.50.

The meeting of the 18th November, 1870, marked another step toward the realization of the dream of these courageous men, for it was the first held "in the Church Reading Room". One likes to think that this fact was some compensation for the necessity of discounting a note for $2,000 which the Trustees were obliged to issue to augment the balance of $560.04 carried over after the payments of the last month to the workmen on the new church.

Here, again, we encounter one of those entries which the lapse of time has rendered well-nigh unintelligible: "Mr. Bronson moved the Builder be instructed to employ Mr. Coggers to put up the new building at the cost of $775." Subsequently this motion was amended to include a fence. What kind of building and fence could have cost only $775, even in 1870?

At this same important meeting the Rector was first referred to as "Father Brown." Under this title, which is several times repeated, written out in full, without the usual abbreviation, evidently in a daring spirit amounting to bravado, he, "Father Brown", is authorized to buy an organ "for $300 cash now in his hands" and for further payments of $200 a month. Unfortunately the full cost of the organ is not mentioned.

Father Brown was further "authorized to employ an organist at $400 a year."

There is a record that the Committee of Two in charge of collecting the money to build the Church were authorized to accept Pirrson's offer [25/26] to make himself responsible for $500, which he was to collect from parishioners and friends. This arrangement sounds strangely to us now, and savors a little of the old farmer-general system of France. What with subscriptions for the bonds, contributions for running expenses, the inevitable appeals for special objects, and these private subscription lists, the members and well-wishers of St. Mary's must have been rather frequently importuned to contribute.

Upon motion of Bronson at this meeting, Wm. Scott became Mortgager in Trust for the $32,000 in bonds, and the necessary application to the Court to issue the Mortgage was authorized.

It is worth noting how frequently the word "authorized" appears in the records. From the very beginning of St. Mary's the matter of authority was settled and recognised; and nowhere do we find that it was a matter of discussion.

On the 2nd December, Robert F. Carson was hired as Sexton for one year at the annual salary of $500. This appears to have been the only business transacted at the meeting, which was held at 8 P.M. at the Church Reading Room, but an adjournment was taken to the next day, Saturday, at 1 P.M. in the office of Wm. P. Lee when the important business of issuing the sixty-four $500 bonds, secured by the $32,000 mortgage, made "to Wm. Scott, Esq., Counsellor at Law" in trust, on "the Church edifice and three lots of land situate on the Southerly side of West 45th Street, distant 350 feet Easterly" from 8th Avenue was finally arranged. The property, it may be said, measured seventy-five feet on the street by one hundred feet five inches deep, and was known by the street numbers 226, 228 and 230 West 45th Street. The site, in the rear of the Astor Hotel, is now covered by The Booth Theatre.

On the Patronal Festival, Thursday, the Eight December, 1870, the Church was opened, and was dedicated by the Right Reverend Horatio Southgate, sometime Bishop of Constantinople, who officiated in the absence of the Right Reverend Horatio Potter, DD., LL.D., D.C.L. Bishop of New York.

An account of this significant, and, as it was to prove, most important service, appeared in The New York Herald of the following day. As it is apparently the most complete that has survived it is transcribed below, although it leaves much to be desired, and is very different from what that great newspaper would publish today about a far less important event.


"Opening of the Church of St. Mary the Virgin--Bishop South-gate's Sermon on the Virgin Mary.

"The opening service of the Protestant Episcopal Church of St. Mary the Virgin, in Forty-fifth Street, near Broadway, took place at one o'clock yesterday morning. The Pastor of the Church is the Rev. Thomas McKee Brown, formerly assistant to the Rev. Dr. Ewer of Christ Church.

"The Chapel is quite an imposing edifice of the advanced Gothic style. It is built of red Nyack stone, trimmed with sandstone, is 100 feet in length, 54 feet in width and 56 feet in height, and consists of a nave, one aisle, and a chancel 31 feet by 29, with a transcept 32 by 36 at its left. At the southeast corner of the edifice is a tower, which, when completed, will be 150 feet high. Over the main entrance is a large stained glass window, and the chancel is separated from the nave by a screen, with stalls within for the choir. The organ occupies a recess at the right. The roof internally is a single-span high-pointed arch, without the beams. On the roof in a small casing is a 'Sanctus' bell. The altar is reached by a gradual ascent of steps and is surmounted by a large cross, with large candles on either side. The church, which is as yet in an unfinished state, will seat about 600 and has cost thus far $50,000. It stands upon three lots which have been presented by William B. Astor, and will have cost when completed $75,000.

"The service was attended by a large and fashionable congregation, and in the chancel were Dr. Staunton, Rev. Mr. Betts, of Columbia College, and other divines of note. Dr. Cutler officiated at the organ, and the choir of Christ Church sang the choral service in a superb manner.

"Rev. Mr. Brown made several announcements, and read a letter from Bishop Potter expressing his regret at not being able to attend the dedication of the Chapel.

"After the reading of prayers and the singing of a hymn, Bishop Southgate preached upon the text found in the Acts 1., 14:--'Mary, the mother of Jesus.' He said it was something novel to hear a sermon on that theme from a Protestant pulpit, and many think it might lead us into the errors of Roman Catholics. He would hope, however, that they should not labor under such an impression. While avoiding the extravagant worship of Roman Catholics of the Virgin Mary, it is a fair presumption that her selection for the high honor of being the Virgin Mother of God was an indication of her preeminent sanctity among women.

"After a dissertation upon the ancestry and character of the Virgin Mary the speaker concluded by saying that our love and honor must be measured by those we have for Christ, and that person is not a true Christian who does not regard her as a Saint and preeminently the best of her sex."

[28] There have probably been preached in St. Mary's better sermons than this, certainly there have been sermons better reported; there have been Patronal Festivals far more splendidly observed and more numerously attended; but a feeling akin to awe comes over one as one thinks of that first Service, and all the results that, under God, were to grow out of it in the years that were, and are, to come.

The article is in some ways not too flattering, nor does it appear to be the work of one profoundly versed in Church matters, and the quoted time of the opening is probably not correct. The Dr. Staunton mentioned was the father of the Reverend John A. Staunton, Jr., who served the Parish as Curate from 1893 to 1898. The description of the Service of Dedication may be justly called meager, probably because of the writer's unfamiliarity with it, and he is not over particular to get the full names of those who took part, nor is he quite accurate about initials or the use of capitals, but no doubt he did the best he could, and we are grateful to have his "story", which is here exactly copied from the newspaper.

It did not occupy a very prominent position in the issue of "The New York Herald, Friday, December 9, 1870, Triple Sheet", being, in fact, close to the bottom of the third column of the tenth page. As those who are old enough will remember, The Herald of that day consisted of twelve pages--hence the words "Triple Sheet" in large type at the head of the front page--of which two or more were filled with advertisements in microscopic type. On the remaining nine and a fraction there was sufficient news to justify the obscure position accorded the article on the opening of St. Mary's, even if it had not been considered a "Chapel."

In that issue a page and more was allotted to the news from France. On the previous day Orleans had been occupied by the Prussians, and the Germans (not synonomous names in those days) were approaching Blois. The Prussians had sent a flag of truce into Paris, which was expected to capitulate within a few days. Bismarck and Napoleon filled many columns of the news.

Another page was devoted to affairs in Russia and the Eastern Question. Large headlines proclaim "England's Humiliation in Face of the Gortchakoff Diplomacy" and "Earl Granville's Retreat from His First Position" and "British Indignation". War between Great Britain and Russia was confidently predicted.

[29] In the same issue was reported at length the Opening by King Victor Emanuel of the first Parliament of United Italy. Prussia had announced her intention of annexing Luxembourg, and serious consequences were expected.

Nearer home, President Grant had delivered his Message to Congress on the Canadian Fisheries Matter, and much space was devoted to the strained relations between Washington and London which were anticipated as the result.

Smallpox was spreading in Brooklyn to an alarming extent, and much was published about the disease and means of curbing it. And "in the United States Circuit Court Judge Woodruff, in the case of Brown and Kruger vs. Fisk and Gould, granted an order yesterday empowering the defendants to examine Mr. Zandt, who is now in Berlin, in relation to the gold transactions on Black Friday in Wall Street, (the 24th September, 1869) between the parties in the suit. The plaintiffs claim $2,500,000 being the difference between the purchase and sales of gold in which they were interested on that day."

It is not remarkable that such an event as the opening of a small church by a few enthusiasts should be crowded into an inconspicuous position amid such a galaxy of world news. The wonder is that it was mentioned at all, just at that time.

But the far greater wonder is that this handful of men, and their young leader, should have had the faith and the daring to persist in the face of such conditions at home and abroad; Black Friday but fifteen months past, and Napolean III., the erstwhile New York policeman, about to be driven from his tottering throne.

How far away these events seem now! To us they have already become History, and it is as difficult to picture Jay Gould or James Fisk, Jr., in a prosaic court in New York, as it is to picture Von Moltke reading "Little Dorrit" under the walls of Paris, as he waited to give the signal for his guns to open fire on the City. The Canadian Fisheries dispute, and smallpox in Brooklyn; how far away from us they are now, and how old they make the ever-young St. Mary's seem!


Beginning with January, 1871, the Meetings of the Trustees were held on the second Monday of the month, and this custom has prevailed [29/30] to the present time. At the first meeting of the new year Rollins the stonemason presented a bill for "extras" amounting to $500. It was of course certified by the architect, but Rollins had to be content with payment in the form of a Church note.

In spite of the somewhat old-fashioned formality and restraint of the language of the Minutes, it is not hard to see that all was not running smoothly with the young organization. On the 8th March, 1871, Henry K. Leonard resigned as a Trustee in a letter that is such a model of brevity that one cannot forego the conclusion that it meant more than it said.

At the same time James and Edward D. Webb brought suit against Wm. Scott and H. K. Leonard for payment of their bill for labour and materials furnished in the erection of the Church. There were various meetings between Francis Tillon, Attorney for the Webbs, Pirrson, Counsel for the Corporation, Scott, Counsel for Wm. Scott, and Fr. Brown; and at length the Rector was able to announce that a settlement of the suit had been concluded by the Corporation's delivering to James Webb its bond for $10,000, secured by a mortgage on the Church property, payable on or before the expiration of five years with interest at the rate of 7 per cent, payable semi-annually. This was, of course, a second mortgage, and indicates to what condition the finances were reduced. The balance of the debt, amounting to $239.50, was covered by a note at 9 months, with interest.

During these trying times, frequent Special Meetings were held at the call of the President, and it was not unusual to gather the Trustees twice within a week. They met, as might be expected, at various homes and places of business, but we find that they came together on the 20th March, 1871, in the Vestry Room. This is the first mention of this place, and we may conclude that it had but recently become available.

In September of this year Rollins, the stonemason, was again asking for payment, and on the 16th Dash moved one of those resolutions which sound so strangely now to those of us who only know these very different times: "that the Trustees pay Mr. Rollins $500 cash, provided he will take a note for 6 mos. for $750 and 12 months for $750 or $1,000 cash for the 2 notes." In the argot of this day that might be described as "some discount!"

At the Meeting of the 9th October By-Laws were adopted. They [30/31] provided, amongst other things, that Stated Meetings were to be held at the Church, but that the President might call Special Meetings, which could convene elsewhere; and that any Trustee absent from two successive meetings, unless excused by a majority of the Trustees, ipso facto ceased to be a member of the Board. Under this latter provision, due notice having been given him, James Geddes Day ceased to be a Trustee. He appears not to have attended a Meeting since the Incorporation.

Dr. Edward H. Clarke was elected a Trustee at this Meeting.

It might be thought that the financial burdens and problems, settlement of which had been only temporarily arranged, would have caused a lull in contemplated outlays, but this seems not to have been the case, for seven days later, on the 16th October, 1871, we find Wm. Scott, the President, appointing "Mr. Brown" and one other a Committee to confer with Webb and Rollins on the subject of the foundations and structure of the School house. This little incident is splendid evidence of the personality and ability of Fr. Brown. Within a few days of settling their bills, in a manner that can hardly have been satisfactory to them, we find these contractors willing to estimate upon additional work under the direction of Fr. Brown. Within a few days of having had to accept a five year bond in payment of labour and material, they are conferring about further expenditures.

As another instance of the straitened financial circumstances of the Parish and those dependent upon it, we find at this time the curious motion "that the Sexton of this Church may demand from any strange undertaker attending to a funeral in the Church a sum not exceeding $10 for his trouble in opening and cleaning the Church."

At the Meeting of the 11th December, 1871, which was the first held in "the Clergy Rooms of said Church," John B. Murray was elected a Trustee to fill the place of James Geddes Day, "Whose place had become vacant by operation of the By-Laws."


On the evening of the 8th January, 1872, the Trustees gathered for what must have been a very anxious meeting. Willett Bronson, the Secretary, was unable to be present but he transmitted, through Dr. Edward H. Clarke, a letter which the latter read. It was actually a financial report, and begins with the suggestion that a Treasurer "be [31/32] appointed who will be able and willing to fulfill the duties of the office." From this we may conclude that William Scott had found his position as President of the Corporation so onerous that he had not been able to devote sufficient time to his duties as Treasurer. There is just a hint that the arrangement of combining the positions of President and Treasurer in the person of the Rector's father-in-law was not considered wholly satisfactory by some of the other Trustees.

The report goes on to say that immediate action must be taken in regard to the finances of the corporation. Of the $32,000 worth of bonds authorized to be issued against the mortgage, $28,000 have been taken by friends--the hope is expressed that these friends will not ask that interest be paid on their holdings "for an indefinite period." A little later in the evening this optimistic aspiration was completely eclipsed by Murray's suggestion "that an effort should be made to induce the present holders of the Bonds and Mortgages on the Church to cancel the whole indebtedness."

The friends who subscribed for this original bond issue, with the amount each subscribed, are as follows: Wm. Scott, $8,000, Wm. H. Scott, $1,000, James Scott, $1,000, Bowie Dash, $2,000, Willet Bronson, $1,000, John W. Pirrson, $2,000, Benjamin G. Arnold, $500, Adam Norrie $500, Alfred W. Hoyt, $500, James Taylor, $4,000, Morgan Dix, $1,000, Eliza J. McCook, $2,000, Mary Sheldon, $500, John Downey, $500, Francis Murray, $500, Helen E. Folsom, $1,000, H. K. Leonard, $1,000, and Edward H. Clarke, $1,000.

Of the $4,000 worth of bonds not held by friends, that is, not paid for, $3,000 had been issued as collateral for debts to T. W. Rollins, the stonemason, and to Bowie Dash. In addition the Corporation owed $19,868.49, beside a number of bills for work on the Church presented by Fr. Brown but not itemized in the Minutes. For the payment of these debts the Trustees had the remaining $1,000 worth of bonds--and then their own pockets and their friends!

It does not surprise us, in the face of such a report, to learn that "Revd. T. McKee Brown was appointed Treasurer." The young Church was facing a crisis which the abilities and resources even of William Scott were insufficient to weather; only the dynamic personality of the Founder could prevail. And he added the financial helm to the more important one he already held.

On the 11th March, 1872, William P. Lee tendered his resignation as [32/33] a Trustee because he felt he could not render the services that were justly to be expected of him.

The Minutes of this meeting contain a copy of a long agreement entered into between the holders of the bonds, the Corporation of the Society of the Free Church of St. Mary the Virgin, and John B. Murray, under the terms of which the Altar and "the marble work thereunto belonging" now being erected by John B. Murray, should be and shall be "explicitly released from the operation" of any "liens, mortgages or other encumbrances made or suffered to be made hereafter upon the said Church premises". While we may possibly be slightly amused with the tautology of this document, which repeatedly sets forth that no liens or mortgages on the Church are to be considered as covering the Altar, we cannot but admire the reverence of men, hemmed in as these men were by financial difficulties, who could go to such lengths to safeguard the symbol of their faith from contamination.

Two other matters of importance were recorded at this meeting of 11th March, 1872: Bowie Dash resigned as a Trustee; and the Reverend Mr. Noyes was welcomed, "he having kindly offered his gratuitous clerical services."

The ever-pressing problem of money seems to have been somewhat relieved, doubtless through the exertions of the new Treasurer, for we find him reporting to the Meeting of the 13th May, 1872, "that of the $2,000 required to be raised by 1st Sept. to cancel the floating debt all but $400 had been secured." At the same time a Committee reported that the cost of flagging the side walk in front of the Church (how strangely "flagging" sounds now!) would be $433 and that $300 of this amount had already been subscribed.

It was decided at this Meeting to build a rectory on the vacant strip of land to the east of the Church, and Wm. Scott was instructed to prepare a release for the Bond holders to execute. The object of this was evidently to free that portion of the property so that a mortgage could be raised upon it to help finance the new rectory.

An incident occurred at this Meeting which shows that there have been changes in the last fifty-eight years in the matter of property boundaries, as in other matters. The school house had evidently been built with so little regard for the meets and bounds, that a part of it projected on to the land of Mr. Kissam. To remedy this defect, the Trustees entered into [33/34] a lease with Kissam "for ten or twenty years at a nominal rent to be surrendered when the Church rebuilds the school house." To anyone familiar with the present value of real estate in the vicinity of Times Square, and the basis on which it is held, such an arrangement is well-nigh inconceivable.

In the autumn of this year we find another of the mysterious entries: "that the claim against Mr. G. be put into the hands of Mr. John A. Beale for collection." Who was Mr. G., how much did he owe the Church, and why did he not pay it?

In December, 1872, a committee was appointed to consider the qualifications of several men and to recommend two as Trustees to fill the vacancies created by the resignations, in the previous March, of William P. Lee and Bowie Dash. Another Committee was appointed "on the subject of the Rector's salary and the proper mode of making legal provision therefor." It appears that Fr. Brown--who begins to be occasionally referred to by that title now--had given his services without compensation. The project of giving him a Rectory had to be abandoned temporarily owing to Webb's refusal to release the lien of his mortgage covering the strip of land on which it was to be erected.


On the 22nd January, 1873, the Committee appointed to nominate two Trustees reported, and Edward C. Robinson and William M. Caldwell were elected. The other Committee on the subject of the Rector's salary also reported its recommendation "that the Minister in charge of the Free Church of Saint Mary the Virgin receive a salary of three thousand dollars for the year ending December 8, 1873." There appears to have been but one slight blemish in this otherwise admirable report, and that was its reticence on the subject of obtaining the $3,000. Perhaps for this reason the report was "accepted, without any action being taken thereon."

When the matter came up again, however, at the Meeting of the 18th February, action was taken which sounds so strangely to us now that it may be interesting to transcribe it in full: "A Resolution was passed that a subscription paper should be prepared and handed around to procure subscriptions for a salary of $3,000 for Rector's salary from July, 1873 to July, 1874. On motion of Mr. Bronson, Mr. Robinson was [31/32] appointed a committee of one to procure subscriptions and report at next regular meeting." It will be noticed that the original recommendation to pay the salary for the year 1873 had not been followed, as it was evidently thought that some months would be needed to obtain the subscriptions.

There is no record of the result of Robinson's efforts, but we may assume that he had given satisfaction, for on the 12th May, 1873, Fr. Brown resigned as Treasurer of the Society, and Edward C. Robinson was elected in his stead.

Attention has been called from time to time to the business-like and formal nature of some of the proceedings of the Trustees. Pioneers as they were in a work beset with problems and difficulties, constantly hedged about by financial anxieties, they nevertheless recorded their transactions with a formality, not to say solemnity, that is at times almost overpowering. Nowhere is this more clearly instanced than in the Meeting of the 10th November, 1873, where eight closely-written pages of a large book are devoted to clearing the past records of any apparent irregularities, and providing a method of procedure for the future. It appears that under the By-Laws "passed on or about the 9th day of October, 1871" it was provided that Meetings were to be held at the Church. Owing to the exigencies of building and organization, however, some had been held elsewhere, and two pages are devoted to setting this right. Then the matter of Trustees who may be guilty of the crime of two unexcused absences is gone into, and that is put right. This last seems to have borne special reference to James Geddes Day, who was considered to have resigned in October, 1871, because he had not attended meetings. He had died since that time, and a long preamble and resolution was spread upon the Minutes excusing him by implication, and by direction any others who may have committed the same offence.

Having thus repaired the omissions of the past, the Trustees looked to the future and proposed new By-Laws were read.

The first, and perhaps the most important article of the new code provided that "The Minister in charge of the Church shall be the President of this Board." The Treasurer and Secretary were to be elected for one year at the Annual Meeting; and Wm. Scot was made Vice President for life and was to preside at meetings when present. It was further provided that the Annual Meeting was to be held on the [35/36] 8th day of December in each year, or within a week of that date and "The Holy Communion on that day shall be celebrated for the objects of the Parish and as far as possible the Trustees will be present at such Celebration."

No record of St. Mary's is more significant or more important than that. With it in mind, one can understand why the Church has flourished and grown, in spite of the mean financial shifts that attended her beginning, or the opposition of a later date, or even the indifference of today.

On Monday, the 8th December, 1873, being the Patronal Festival, at 7:30 P.M., in the Clergy Room, the first regular Annual Meeting was held. The new By-Laws having been unanimously adapted, the old By-Laws of October, 1871 were rescinded. These sound men of business were not running any risk of falling between two stools: they took on the new and then put off the old. Under the By-Laws, William Scott was in the chair, and the elections were held. Edward C. Robinson and Willett Bronson were respectively elected Treasurer and Secretary for the ensuing year.


Although it is not definitely recorded, it seems to be clear that William M. Caldwell, who was elected a Trustee in January, 1873, did not assume the duties of the position, and at the Meeting of the 12th January, 1874, his place was considered vacant, and James Burt was unanimously elected.

Financial difficulties could not long be kept out of sight, and at this meeting we find the new experiment of a Finance Committee being resorted to. It was named by Fr. Brown and consisted of James Burt, Edward C. Robinson, Willett Bronson, Charles E, Buckley and Charles C. Bostwick. They were to serve until Easter and were to endeavor to devise "ways and means for obtaining money to pay the Rector's Salary of $3,000 and any taxes and assessments that may be due and interest upon that portion of the debt upon which interest has been heretofore paid." This record seems to express an unpleasant situation very delicately. Evidently the running expenses of the Parish were eating up all its income, and something had to be done about those ever-present worries, interest and taxes.

In the brief minutes of the Meeting of 9th February, 1874, we find the first reference to a matter that has engrossed much time and attention [36/37] since. "Rev'd. Mr. Brown made an informal report of collections for January and February." The Treasurer happened to be absent from that Meeting, or the report would probably have been a very formal one indeed.

Finances were by no means improving, and when, a month later, the Reverend McWalter Bernard Noyes asked for a stipend he had to be regretfully told "that the financial condition' of the Parish will not warrant their undertaking new responsibilities."

On the 9th of March, 1874, Fr. Brown laid before the Board a letter he had received from the Diocesan Committee on the Maintenance of the Bishop and John B. Murray, acting as a Committe with power, sent the following reply:

"March 12, 74
"Rev'd. Benj. T. Haight, D.D.
"Reverend & Dear Sir

"At a meeting of the Board of Trustees of the Church of Saint Mary the Virgin, held on the evening of the 10th inst. at the residence of Wm. Scott, Esq., their President, the Circular of the Special Committee appointed by the last Diocesan Convention to apportion among the Parishes a sum which, with the Episcopal Fund, would meet the amount pledged by the Convention to be paid to the Right Reverend Bishop Potter, was referred to me with instructions to promptly respond to it (which is done by the enclosed check) at the same time to express the sense of the Board, collectively and individually, in assurances, of their profound veneration, affection and esteem for our excellent and faithful Bishop. It may not be inopportune at the same time and in this connection to express to you, Rev. and dear Sir, as a member of the last three conventions our astonishment and regret at the course pursued towards this Parish in refusing its admission, first on a mere technical objection, over which the convention had no jurisdiction (I refer to the absence of Revenue Stamps, which has been decided to not invalidate written Instruments,) and secondly on an ex post facto Canon the application of which we are advised is clearly illegal, as it is arbitrary and unjust. Our insignificant contribution is therefore a warm hearted free will offering to our beloved Bishop.

"We thank you for the opportunity of making it, independently of any consideration respecting the convention, by whom we are not otherwise recognized.

"I Remain Reverend and Dear Sir
"Your very Sincere & respectful
"Friend & servant

"John B. Murray."

[38] That able letter will repay careful reading. It explains much that might otherwise be obscure in the constitution and early history of St. Mary's.

In May, 1874 the Committee on Taxes and the Committee on Incorporations rendered their reports. The former had been making strenuous attempts to have the Church exempted from paying any part of the cost of opening Broadway, which had been levied against the adjacent property owners in 1868, and had called upon John Jacob Astor and others for help, but had not succeeded. Such being the case, their suggestion that each Trustee, except Fr. Brown, pay $50 toward the levy and interest was adopted.

The committee with the mysterious name, "Committee on Incorporations," was working to induce or, through action of the State Legislature, to compel the Convention to admit St. Mary's into union with it. Their report, which is long and would not make very interesting reading today, explains that a Canon provides that the Certificate of Incorporation of such a Church as St. Mary's must bear on the face of it certain information which assuredly is not contained anywhere in St. Mary's Certificate of Incorporation. Their original idea appears to have been to seek special legislation, but further consideration and the advice they obtained convinced the Committee that it would be safer not to do so. The recommendation contained in their report was to wait quietly in the hope that the Convention would amend the Canon. The Committee was continued for another year, and, as might be expected, when such a difficulty had to be met, Fr. Brown was added to it.

Before the end of the year, St. Mary's was admitted to union with the Convention, and became a recognized Parish of the Diocese of New York. And now the most serious storm that had yet gathered over it, threatened St. Mary's, and for some months its very existence hung in the balance. It will be remembered that a second mortgage on the property of the Church in the sum of $10,000 had been given to James Webb in the spring of 1871. The Bond contained the usual clause providing that in the event of default in the payment of the semi-annual interest for thirty days, the principal should then become due. The interest should have been paid in October, 1874, but was not, and Webb began suit to foreclose the mortgage and sell the Church. Several meetings were held, and two committees were appointed on successive months to negotiate with [38/39] Webb, but each failed to effect a settlement and each asked to be discharged. Whatever the Contractor's own disposition may have been, his attorneys were determined to have such compensation for themselves as made the terms they proposed not only excessively burdensome but actually humiliating to the Church.


After much negotiation, the Board proposed to Webb terms that seem fair and reasonable. They were rejected, apparently by his attorneys, and the following ultimatum was delivered: that the principal sum of $10,000 had, by reason of default in the payment of interest, become due on the 4th November, 1874, and that the property would be sold under foreclosure unless $1,000 and all interest was paid at once, together with "an extortionate charge made by the Plaintiff's Lawyer"; $3,000 to be paid on the 4th April 1876; $1,000 a year thereafter until the 4th April 1881, when the final payment of $2,000 was to be made.

Such was the position of the Trustees that they had no alternative, in order to save the Church, but to accede to these demands, and they gratefully accepted the offer of Willett Bronson to lend a sum from $1,800 to $2,000. As, according to the terms of the proposed agreement, $1,000 was on account of principal, and $350 was interest, it is not hard to see why the demand of Webb's lawyer was described as "extortionate."

Before, however, this arrangement, which bore so heavily upon the already encumbered Church, had been concluded, the matter became known to Bowie Dash, who bought Webb's mortgage for $9,000, of which he supplied $7,000 and Bronson the $2,000 he had already offered to lend. The report of the Committee, in which this action was made known to the Board, glows with gratitude that breaks through all the business-like formality of its phraseology, and bears striking testimony to the weight of anxiety that had been lifted from their hearts.

This generous action was consummated the 12th May, 1875, and as the default had been made the 4th October, 1874, we can see that the danger of the dread foreclosure had been hanging over the Trustees for more than seven months.

At a Special Meeting held the 7th May, 1875, Edward C. Robinson resigned as Treasurer and as a Trustee.

[40] At the next Regular Meeting, the 14th June, Fr. Brown was unanimously elected Treasurer, and was instructed to report to the Board once a month. What a tower of strength that man must have been! As soon as he was elected, Fr. Brown moved that placards in regard to the alms and offerings of the people be prepared and placed on the backs of the seats and elsewhere in the Church.

After the summer recess, the Trustees met on the 26th October, 1875, when Fr. Brown in his capacity of Treasurer reported that the balance on hand amounted to about $50. At this meeting we find the first reference to the music of the Church, in the form of handsome and flattering resolutions of thanks to Wm. C. Rhodes "for his increasing and successful labor in securing and managing the choir," and to Theodore Babcock, Jr., "for his many kindnesses in assisting the services of the Church by his valuable labor at the organ."

On the 8th November, 1875, Bowie Dash was elected a Trustee. He had served in that capacity from the date of the Incorporation, October, 1868, until his resignation in March, 1872. At this time it was apparently thought that he would be willing to resume the duties.

William Scott was planning a journey of some months in Europe, and prior to his departure was made the subject of the following Resolution: "That the thanks of the Trustees and of the congregation are due and are hereby tendered to him for his generous and constant attention to the interests of St. Mary's." He richly deserved this tribute for one reason, amongst many, that he alone of the original Trustees had stood beside Fr. Brown for the first four years.

By this Meeting the balance on hand had climbed from $50 to $184, but as $100 of this was due for the music the financial situation could not be accurately described as very strong yet.


At the Meeting of the 10th January, 1876, the resignation of John B. Murray was received and assented to with great regret. So pleasant appear to have been the relations between Murray and his associates that they invited him to dinner "on any day next week, except Friday."

[41] The expectation in reference to Bowie Dash was evidently not well-founded, as Bronson reported that he declined to again become a Trustee.

The Reverend McWalter Bernard Noyes was reelected assistant minister for another year, and the Secretary was instructed to so notify him and at the same time to express regret that no salary could be paid to him.

The Meeting of the 12th March was concerned with the matter of the salary of the Minister in charge of the Church. There is no evidence to show what amount, if any, Fr. Brown had been receiving up to this time, but now the Finance Committee recommended not only that he be paid $2,000 a year but went so far as to recommend that this sum "be a positive lien upon the property of the Corporation." This figure did not seem satisfactory to Dr. Clarke, who amended it to $2,100, with the same provision of lien. Bronson would not agree to this, and proposed that the salary be fixed at $3,000 a year, but that only $2,100 of that amount become a lien. This arrangement having been agreed to a further Resolution was passed: "that the Treasurer be directed to pay if possible $175 per month to the Minister in charge from out of the first receipts of each month's income." Those two words, "if possible," in their context, give a graphic picture of the financial position of the Church eight years after it was founded.

Several matters of importance were decided at the Meeting of 10th April, 1876, but none was more important for St. Mary's than the election of Col. James Burt as Treasurer to succeed Fr. Brown. Almost immediately there is evidence that a man of financial knowledge and ability had taken charge of the money matters and before the end of the year they were on a new and very different footing. The old days of muddling confusion and passing mortgage interest payments were over, and from that time to the present moment St. Mary's has been fortunate in having as Treasurers devoted men of marked ability.

At this same meeting the envelope system was adopted, and the new Treasurer, within an hour of his election, was given authority to take the necessary steps to inaugurate the system for the support of the Church that remains to this day.

"The net receipts from the Stabat Mater for the last two Sunday nights were ordered handed over to the choir master for musical [41/42] expenses." In this resolution one seems to see again evidence of the financial acumen of the new Treasurer.

At the last Meeting of the spring, 12th June, 1876, Fr. Brown reported that the gross receipts from Easter to that date amounted to $1,085.09, and the disbursements had been $682.62. One wonders what the feelings of the present Treasurer would be if he had to face the long lean months of the summer with a balance of $402.47 in the bank, and no corporate credit.

Apparently Fr. Brown was to have a holiday of five weeks during August and part of September and Fr. Noyes was put in sole charge of the Church, with the compensation of $20 a Sunday. A present "(in addition to his salary) " was voted Fr. Brown of $500, of which $100 was to be paid in cash "and the balance in three installments of 3, 5 & 7 months respectively." Just what this installment arrangement was is not clear, but it probably represented the best practical mark of affection that the financial position permitted at the time.

When the Trustees resumed their meetings in the autumn of 1876, they plunged at once into the matter that must have been very much on their minds for a long time: the funding of the Church debt. They estimated that $25,000 would be sufficient for this purpose, and they proposed to raise that sum by mortgaging the property. Many meetings were held, and there were many obstacles to be overcome. The matter engaged most of their attention for six months, but before it was concluded a few other events must be noted.

On the 7th December the Board was brought up to full strength by the election of two Trustees: Dr. Meredith Clymer and Beverly Chew. As we trace the greater growth of St. Mary's, from these small beginnings, we shall have many occasions to refer to Beverly Chew. In this place it is only needful to note the beginning of a faithful service that was to extend over forty-five years, and establish a record that remains unchallenged.

One of the earliest annual financial reports that has survived is that of 1876, and it would seem to be of sufficient interest to transfer to these pages.

On the 11th December, 1876, a system was first adopted "for the allotment of seats at the High Celebrations" on Sundays, "it being understood however that no proprietary right or right of pew holding shall be conferred by such allotments." There was some question as to the wisdom of this measure, and it was adopted only for two years.


In the report of the January Meeting of 1877 occurs the first reference to the musical director, who for so many years worked faithfully and successfully to make the music of St. Mary's one of its notable attractions. "It was moved by Mr. Burt seconded by Mr. Brown that the matter of giving public recitals of the 'Stabat Mater' be referred to a Special Committee consisting of Revd. Mr. Brown, Dr. Clymer & Mr. Chew, and that they consult with Mr. Prentice & the choir."

Meanwhile the engrossing subject of funding the debt went steadily forward. The Mutual Life Insurance Company of New York agreed to lend $25,000 to the Corporation, taking as security a mortgage on the Corporation's property, or, in other words, on the Church. In order to [43/44] effect this the consent of John Jacob Astor and his wife had to be obtained, and a Committee was appointed for that purpose. For some reason not now clear they were not at first to approach Col. Astor direct, but were to solicit his consent through Mr. Nash and Dr. Dix, who were in turn to bring Fr. Brown into the negotiation; when the matter should reach this point, it would then be time to bring the Committee on the scene. We are not altogether surprised that such a mode of procedure failed, or that the Trustees at last instructed the Committee "to approach Mr. Astor directly without further consultation or co-operative action with Mr. Nash or Dr. Dix." This sensible plan being followed, William Scott and Willett Bronson called upon Astor, who promptly acceded to their wishes "and agreed to sign any paper that his lawyer Mr. Southmayd would draw up."

The path now seemed clear, but some difficulty arose which is only described, vaguely enough, as "an obstacle"; to remove which Samuel P. Nash was "employed as Counsel at such salary as he should think fit to charge." From the very unusual indefinireness on this head, it seems probable that Nash was thoroughly to be trusted or that the "obstacle" was a serious one.

While these other matters were going forward, efforts were being made to get the outstanding bonds into the possession of the Corporation. On the 7th of December the Secretary reported "that Mr. Hoyt had given up the whole of the principal and interest of the Bond for $500 held by him, that Mr. Burt had purchased the $500 Bond held by Jno. Downey & accrued interest thereon for $450 for which sum with interest from Dec. 15/76 Mr. Burt was ready to transfer the Bond & all accrued interest thereon to this Corporation and that the Trustees of the Estate of Miss Helen Folsom were willing to give up the interest on the $1,000 of Bonds held by her to Dec'r. 7, 1876 but had expressed strong doubts as to their willingness to give up any portion of the principal thereof." Evidently Dr. Clymer knew G. W. Folsom, one of Miss Folsom's Trustees, and at his suggestion Fr. Brown and Willett Bronson got in touch with Folsom and asked him to accept $500 in full for the Bonds. Unfortunately there is no record of the outcome of this negotiation, but it probably succeeded, as did nearly everything Fr. Brown undertook.

The status of the Bonds having been arranged, the "obstacle" removed, and the consent of John Jacob Astor and his wife obtained, there [43/44] remained nothing but the petition "to the Supreme Court of the State of New York for an order authorizing this corporation to mortgage its lands to the Mutual Life Insurance Company of New York for a loan of $25,000."

This was granted in due course, and on the 5th April, 1877 the Trustees met to take the final step in the negotiation, which had engaged so much of their time and attention for the past five months. The post of Trustee was no sinecure. For seven months of one year the Board was bending all its energies continuously to prevent the Church's property being sold under foreclosure, and within eighteen months it began a series of delicate and protracted negotiations to fund the debts.

Unfortunately, and deeply to the regret of the compiler of these notes, the Minute Book, so carefully kept by Willett Bronson, the Secretary, contains no entries after that of the Meeting of the 5th April, 1877. It stops at the point of reciting the phraseology of the mortgage agreement between the Mutual Life Insurance Company and the Corporation. What happened, or where the conscientious secretary kept his records for the five years and eight months more that he retained the post, is only conjecture. The absence of the Minutes was discovered more than forty years ago, but diligent search then and since has failed to disclose them. We must go on without them and pick up as many threads of the missing narrative of those years as we can.

Project Canterbury