Our ancestors, Anglicans, were worshiping in Amesbury as early as 1711. The congregation gathered in members’ homes; worship was led by laymen or clergy borrowed from other parishes. The first Church of England parish was built around 1745 in what is now known as Union Cemetery.
Around 1760, King George III’s Chapel was built in the Pond Hill section of town – which at that time was the center of Amesbury. Services were held there through the early years of the Revolutionary War. However, in 1778, the Rev. Moses Badger of Haverhill conducted a service which included prayers for King George III. The congregation no longer wanted to support England and Town authorities closed the Chapel and the parish disbanded. The Chapel blew down in 1810. There is no record of an active Episcopal community in Amesbury until after 1825.
In 1827, St. James Episcopal Church was first organized in the Mills section of Amesbury. St. James received its Charter on October 8, 1833. Services were held first in Franklin Hall, located in Market Square at the site of the current Associates Building, and then in the Vestry Building of the Calvinist Baptist Society on Market Street. The Vestry Building was purchased and moved to the present Main Street site in 1835. It was consecrated on October 22, 1836 by the Rt. Rev. Alexander Griswold, Bishop of the Eastern Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts.
By 1845, the parish had outgrown this building, and the first Building Fund Committee was established to procure funds for a new, larger Church. Within a year, the new church was built, and it was consecrated on November 5, 1846. The original building was sold to the Universalist Society for $24.50 and moved to Friend Street. The new church building cost $5,415.79.
On March 18, 1899, a fire started at the Opera House, directly across the street from St. James. Much of downtown Amesbury was left in ruins, including St. James Church. The parish resolved to build a new and larger Church. The current building was consecrated on May 7, 1903.
The building was damaged in another fire on April 30, 2001. St. James services were held at the Seventh Day Adventist Church on Main Street until Christmas of that year, while repairs were made.
In 2007, the congregation completed a significant restoration and reconfiguration of the Parish Hall, creating two Godly Play areas, a nursery and a toddler room. This project, performed almost entirely by parish volunteers, enabled St. James to offer its children age-appropriate opportunities to participate more fully in the life of the Church.
The Strategic Planning Team gratefully acknowledges the contributions of Edith Poor in the preparation of this history.