History

 

In 1889, parishioners of St. John’s Episcopal Church, Norristown, felt the need for a new Episcopal Church in the town’s West End. This resulted in the establishment of All Saints’. The Rev. Isaac Gibson, rector of St. John’s, inaugurated a movement to establish a new church in August 1889 and a mission Sunday School was set up in Chain Street School, with sessions beginning Sept. 8, 1880.

On Nov. 5, 1889, the vestry of St. John’s purchased the six lots where All Saints’ now stands. Encouraged by the growth of the Sunday School, St. John’s vestry appointed a building committee for a chapel on the Haws Avenue site and a cornerstone was laid July 13, 1891. All Saints’ Chapel was dedicated Jan. 31, 1892 by the Rt. Rev. O.W. Whitaker, Bishop of the Diocese of Pennsylvania and regular services began in February.

In 1897, the chapel congregation unanimously voted to form an independent ongregation. Following adoption of a charter Dec. 29, 1897, the Standing Committee of the Diocese approved Jan. 4, 1898 and the first All Saints’ vestry was elected the same month. The church was incorporated in April 1898.

A parish house was dedicated Jan. 22, 1901 and on July 4, 1901, the parish house was destroyed by a lightning strike. The church was also severely damaged. Dedication of a new parish house took place Jan. 13, 1903 and just one month later, the church rector, the Rev. W. Herbert Burk, suggested the parish establish a mission at Valley Forge. Following parishioners’ unanimous acceptance of the idea, the cornerstone was laid for the Chapel at Valley Forge in June 1903, with a temporary chapel opening that September. This brought All Saints’ from a mission congregation to a mother parish within 14 years.

A ground-breaking ceremony was held July 27, 1904, following approval of plans to enlarge the church to include a larger sanctuary, choir and transepts. The cornerstone was relaid Sept. 17, 1905 and the new addition was used for the first time April 2, 1906.

The All Saints’ buildings, with two minor exceptions, were constructed between 1891 and 1905, during Norristown’s “golden age.” Virtually all of the buildings and most of their original appointments were the gift of one benefactoress, Elizabeth M. Swift, whose name never appeared on her donations during her lifetime and, in only one obscure location afterwards

Total cost of the chapel and its furnishings was $7,588.61. A brass plaque in the southwest corner of the nave records that “the interior of this Chapel was completed in loving memory of Mary A. Swift by her Daughters, Christmas Day, 1891.”

In 1896, alterations included a bell tower and organ chamber, replacement of the original Tudor window frames with Gothic window frames, 10 new stained glass windows, ash wainscoting in the choir and nave, Gothic panels over doorways, frescoed decorations on walls, paint and carpeting. All of the improvements, aside from the organ,were donated by Miss Swift.

The church became cruciform with the addition of the choir, sanctuary and transepts in 1904-1905, with a $22,00 project underwritten by Elizabeth Swift, bringing All Saints’ to its present form.

In 1898, the year of its incorporation, All Saints’ was given the stone rectory. In 1912, the rectory was enlarged. The garage was added in 1913. The original rectory, the additions and three lots were donated by Miss Swift. In 1964, the rectory was completely modernized by Miss Kathryn Levering.

The parish house was completely remodeled in the late 1950s to meet the congregation’s needs and tastes. A ramp, permitting access for the handicapped was dedicated in May 1987.

All Saints’ came to be known as one of the “Seven Churches on the Hill” with its regular participation in joint holiday ecumenical services with the six other Protestant churches in the neighborhood. Always a progressive parish, it had the first vested choir, the All Saints’ Choir of Men and Boys, in Norristown in 1895. In the late 1890s, All Saints’ instituted the first graded Sunday School in the Diocese of Pennsylvania. Other firsts include: the first female acolyte order in the Diocese of Pennsylvania, the Easter Order, with the first females serving Easter Day April 9, 1950; the first woman elected to the All Saints’ Vestry in 1951, when few other parishes in the Episcopal Church accepted women as vestry members; and that woman, LaRue Taliaferro, was sent as the church’s first female convention delegate to the Diocesan Convention in 1957.

 

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