On Monday evening December 6, 1858, Mr. Henry Porter Baldwin brought together in his home on Woodward Avenue above George Street (now the Fisher Freeway Service Drive) twenty-one of his neighbors, to discuss with them the formation of a new parish. Mr. Baldwin had removed to his present home in 1855, and had realized more and more the urgency of planting the Church in this rapidly growing neighborhood, which was then several blocks beyond the city border and considered out in the country. In the spring of 1858 Mr. Baldwin purchased the apple orchard across Woodward Avenue from his house for $12,000. He offered this splendid piece of ground, 125 feet on Woodward Avenue and 175 feet on High Street [now Fisher Freeway], for the site of a church, a chapel, and a rectory; further, he had obtained plans for these three buildings. Moreover, he pledged $1,000 toward the chapel, and a brick rectory to be built entirely at his own expense on the south side of the lot, provided a subscription of $7,500 in all could be raised to erect the chapel.
This first meeting was speedily followed by another. One week later the subscription committee showed pledges amounting to $7,600. Articles of Agreement were drawn up, and signed by twenty of those present; the day following five more names were added. St. John’s was organized. The Articles of Agreement being thus signed, attested, and duly recorded, the first parish meeting was held on St. John’s day, December 27, 1858, for the election of a Vestry.
The 125 seat Chapel was completed in November of 1859 but immediately proved too small, so a week later the Vestry voted to begin raising money to build the larger church building, seating 1300, which opened for worship 20 months later. Both buildings were designed by the architectural firm of Jordan and Anderson.
In the 1880s a 3 story brick Parish Hall building was built and served the parish until 1971. The current Burton Ministry Center is a 2016 renovation of the 1971 office building which provides classroom and assembly space, a handsome library with a pewabic tile fireplace, and the parish offices.
In 1936 our church and chapel were moved 60 feet east to accommodate the widening of Woodward Avenue. It is at that time that several updates were made to the church under the direction of architect Wirt Rowland which reduced seating to 800 people.
Art and Architecture
The design of St. John’s is Victorian Gothic. The exterior is rubble limestone quarried in the downriver area and brought upstream by barge. The trim is Kelly Island sandstone. The north and south side walls and roof are supported by buttresses and hammer beam trusses. The tower and belfry rise 105 feet and the building, including the chapel, is 170 feet long and 65 feet wide. A large number of gargoyles may be seen in the roof lines and in the base of the hood moldings of the windows and doors. Gargoyles are common to early European church structures where they serve as downspouts. St. John’s gargoyles are solely decorative; some are severe, some are impish, but all are a source of interest and conjecture.
The memorial stained glass windows, were installed at various times from 1880 to 1954. They offer interesting examples of the changing styles and techniques in stained glass art during that period. The upper parts of the windows are the original grisaille and colored glass. Above the west gallery is the “Triumphant Christ” window, (the newest stained glass window in the church) dedicated in 1963 in memory of the Reverend Canon Irwin C. Johnson, tenth rector of St. John’s from 1934 to 1962, and John L. Edwards, organist and choirmaster from 1905 to 1947.