In July 1859 John Calvary Middleton, a young, enthusiastic candidate for Holy Orders established a mission at Washington Hall on the Stonington side of the Mystic River. A Sunday school and library were soon established and named St. Mark’s. The Sunday school met intermittently during the Civil War, and in October 1864 a permanent mission was established, with the Rev. Alonzo Sears named deacon-in-charge.
The communicants organized the parish of St. Mark’s in February 1865 and purchased part of the present Pearl Street lot later that year. The total cost of the church was almost $9,000, which members paid off in 1873. Out of debt to the Missionary Society of the diocese, St. Mark’s was officially a parish, as opposed to a mission. Looking back in baptismal, confirmation, marriage, and burial records shows that many of the personalities guiding St. Mark’s in its early decades are among the honored historical names of the community, many of which you can see adorning street signs in the area.
Three more times over the first hundred years of the church’s existence did it find itself reverting to mission status, as it fell into debt to the diocese. Each time, St. Mark’s parishioners rose to the challenge, paid the debt, and became a parish once again. The population in the New London area exploded in the years leading up to and following World War II, with Electric Boat and Phizer hiring new employees as fast as they could. This population growth affected St. Mark’s as well. In the early 1950s, the church was raised two and a half feet in order to create the present-day Undercroft space below the church structure. That additional space proved inadequate. In 1962, construction was completed on the education wing, which housed the burgeoning Sunday School.
Since 1859, Mystic has had an Episcopal presence. St. Mark’s is the only active church to be depicted in the large diorama of 1870s downtown at the Mystic Seaport. Through financial troubles and multiple hurricanes, the witness to the God made known in Jesus Christ has thrived in the little church on the Groton side of the Mystic River. This witness continues to this day and will continue tomorrow.
(Text paraphrased and expanded from Mrs. Virginia B. Anderson’s pamphlet about the history of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church.)
(Pictured above: detail from collodian glassplate stereograph by Everett Augustus Scholfield. Interior of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church circa 1870. Possibly the Rev. Orlando F. Starkey; Exterior of St. Mark’s circa 1870. Accession numbers 77.160.2062 and 77.92.351 respectively. Mystic Seaport Museum, Inc. Used by permission.)