St. Paul’s is located on the bluff in the Uptown district of Port Townsend, across from the historic Bell Tower. A short distance from the bluff is the heart of Downtown. The area surrounding the church remains primarily residential, but includes several other churches and is three blocks from Lawrence Street, the hub of the small Uptown business district. St. Paul’s church building, the oldest in Port Townsend, is on the Historic Tour route. The Church is generally open to visit Monday through Thursday from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00.
St. Paul’s began as a Sunday school run by Mrs. W.H. Taylor in her home in 1858. Success of the Sunday school grew until, in 1860, missionary Bishop Thomas F. Scott sent the Reverend D. Ellis Willis to conduct services at the Jefferson County territorial courthouse.
Beginning in 1861, Alfred Tucker and a shipwright, Sam Brooks, built the “carpenter gothic” style church on donated land. During the four year construction, lay readers and visiting clergy continued conducting services in the courthouse. St. Paul’s was the third Episcopal congregation in the state of Washington and the first to build its own building, which makes St. Paul’s the oldest Episcopal church building in continuous use in the state.
Serving as the major port for sailing vessels entering Puget Sound, Port Townsend was grateful for Captain J.W. Selden’s gift of a small bell to be rung from St. Paul’s belfry during foggy weather so ships could find the harbor. It was believed this bell was the inspiration for the old hymn “The Harbor Bell” but doubtful. The bell fulfilled its mission as a fog bell for many years, and the was restored bell still rings in St. Paul’s belfry every Sunday.
In 1882, the congregation, finding its church in the path of an impending street regrade, placed it on rollers and moved it to the new (and present) location closer to the center of the uptown district. The church soon had a rectory built and a parish hall barged in from some location now forgotten.
When Dr. Brooks Baker arrived from Hawaii in 1890, he found a self-supporting parish in a prosperous city of 7,000 residents. But after the boom of the early 1890’s, the local economy crashed. St. Paul’s, no longer able to support itself as a parish, was forced to return to mission status. During the next hundred years, volunteers and priests cared for and kept the mission going. In the 1920’s St. Paul’s supported an active Sunday school, and between the two World Wars military personnel of the coast artillery at nearby Fort Worden and the Coast Guard took an increasingly active part in the life of the church. During the 30’s and 40’s, twenty people in the congregation for Sunday services was considered a large number, but with the period of financial growth after World War II, St. Paul’s began to grow and regain its financial stability.
The church experienced a surge in membership during the late 1980’s and early 1990’s as a result of an influx of people moving to the Quimper Peninsula. In October of 1994, St. Paul’s regained parish status and began plans for a new parish hall to be completed in 1998. In recent history our previous vicars include: Warren R. Fenn (1950-1959); Benjamin Spinks (1962-1964); Roger Burger (1965-1969); L. Walter Truit (1969-1989); and James Phinney (1990-1994 and as Rector 1994 -1997). Gail Helgeson was St. Paul’s first women Rector from 1998 to 2004. Joan Anthony held the Priest-in-Charge position from August 2004 to September 2005. Father Phillip Paradine was the Priest-in-Charge until June 2006. Elizabeth Bloch was rector from June 2006 to June 2013. The Rev. Dianne Andrews is the present Rector and began in September 2013.
PRODIGAL SON WINDOW
The large window over the altar, with its representation of the Return of the Prodigal Son, was installed in 1897. It was given by Ann Van Bokkelen, daughter of H.J.J. Bokkelen, who in the early eighteen-sixties was one of the most active in the establishment of St. Paul’s Church. The window was given in memory of her brother, John A. Van Bokkelen, who lost his life in the tragic bridge disaster of 1896 in Victoria, British Columbia, which took so many lives. It is regarded by experts as one of the finest examples of this type of painted glass to be found in the Pacific Northwest.
In order to make a place for the window, the chancel had to be rebuilt and a new altar constructed, as the original altar was too high. The symbolic ornaments were removed from the original altar and placed in the newly constructed one; the original altar, which is said to have come from England and to have been built of mahogany, was afterwards taken out and burned in accordance with church practices concerning discarded objects which have been consecrated.