The History of Grace Episcopal Church
In the 1800's, West Farms was a mill town on the Bronx River. In 1835, the English Episcopalians had no Church of their own. Margaret Hunt and her family of Hunt's Point then residing in the village of West farms, sort to establish a Protestant Episcopal Church to serve those of that denomination in the area. In 1840, Miss Hunt successfully persuaded some of the men of the village to help undertake and promote the effort. This group of men wrote to the Bishop of New York requesting his aid for the establishment of a Protestant Episcopal Church. The Bishop responded by sending to them the Rev.J.T. Cushing who organized a vestry and around that vestry grew the first congregation of Grace Church West Farms.
On December 18, 1844, the congregation incorporated Grace Church into the church's name and it was thereafter known as GRACE CHURCH, WEST FARMS.On November 10, 1846 at a site on West Farms Road, the cornerstone of Grace Church was laid. In a few months following, the new frame Church,Gothic in style, arose on the site. On July 28, 1847, the Rt. Rev. William Heathcote DeLancey, Bishop of Western New York, consecrated the new Church.
On the heels of the Civil War, the great Depression affected all of West Farms and the Church. A mortgage was placed on the property to pay debts and to keep the ministry alive. In 1881, foreclosure on the mortgage of the Church property begun and the church was faced with the decision to merge with a wealthier parish or become a mission chapel.The congregation chose to remain independent.
Soon after, the Church receive notice that after January 1885, the old Church buildings could not be used as the new owners would not lease it or allow it to be used for religious purposes. Church services however, were held in the parish hall next door. In November 1885, the Church was able to secure a lease of the parish hall building and it's land for one year at a yearly rental of one dollar paid in advance. All of the Church furnishings were then moved from the Church to the parish hall. Services were held in the parish hall thereafter.
In February 1885, a generous financial offer was granted to erect a new Church. As luck would have it, the lots on Vyse Avenue were up for sale. John B Simpson purchased the land on which the present Church stands. Mr. Simpson deeded the land to the Church and By July 1885, plans for a single style building was designed.
The commission to build the original Church was awarded to a prominent architect, William A. Potter and builder, James E. Dolan. The cornerstone was laid on September 21, 1885, and in January 1886, the building was completed. On February 7, 1886, the second Grace Episcopal Church opened for worship.
As the third oldest Episcopal Church in the Bronx, Grace Episcopal Church, West Farms was the first congregation in the country to have candidates confirmed in the Cathedral. It was once dubbed "the Cathedral of the Bronx". In addition, on April 6, 1866, one year after the close of the Civil War, the Rev. Washington Rodman, the first rector of Grace Episcopal Church, West Farms organized America's first "the Home for the Incurables" which later became known as St. Barnabas Hospital.
On Monday, November 1, 1993, a devastating fire destroyed the 150-year-old shingle style Gothic Church and buildings. In the face of such loss, the faithful and tenacious congregation of Grace Episcopal Church, West Farms was determined to bounce back. In May of 1994, with the establishment of the Grace Rebuilding Fund, rebuilding efforts began. The official contract signed on December 20, 1994 secured the commission to rebuild to architect/engineer Andrew Robert Levenbaum, P.E. of Jadum Construction Inc.
However, with no place to worship during the rebuilding efforts, Grace parishioners worshiped at a nearby Aquinas Center until the arrangement ended. St Martha's Episcopal Church, having been without a priest, allowed Grace parishioners to worship with them. Grace Episcopal Church, West Farms worshiped with St. Martha's Episcopal Church until the opening of the new Church building.
Presently, through the gracious giving of others throughout the Episcopal community, a beautiful elegant, modern, two-story edifice now stands. On October 31, 1998, a dedication and consecration service was held in honor of the new church. Today, Grace Church still provides service and worship in the West Farms community. It is a source of faith and hope for many. Many participate in Our Lord Soup Kitchen, the food pantry, and the after school program weekly. Grace Church will continue to serve the community for years to come.