Franklin County, Ohio
Genealogy and History


St. John's Episcopal Church
Worthington, Ohio

Written by Phillip W. Hull, Rector

(Note: Rev. Hull was pastor at the time he wrote this, which seems to be contemporary with the actual publishing dates of the "Ohio Source Records" publication of 1937-1944. He was definitely the pastor in 1941 when the church celebrated its 125th anniversary)

On February 6, 1804, there was founded in "Worthington and parts adjacent" in the new State of Ohio, St. John's Church the oldest Episcopal Church west of the Allegheny Mountains. St. John's Church was incorporated by act of the legislature, in 1807 and became the second religious organization incorporated in Ohio.

Under these articles of incorporation St. John's remained an independent religious organization for more than a century. The parish was governed by three trustees who at times could be very autocratic. In 1919 these articles were changed by the state legislature so that St. John's could conform to the constitution and canons of the Episcopal Church and come into union with the Diocese of Southern Ohio.

In the fall of 1803, James Kilbourne, a friend of Alexander Viets Griswold - later to become bishop of the Eastern Diocese, led a band of one hundred settlers who were churchmen from Simsbury and Granby, Connecticut, to Ohio and founded the village of Worthington in Sharon Township, Franklin County, Ohio.

The village was named after Worthington, Connecticut, where James Kilbourne was confirmed, served as lay reader and later was ordained deacon.

Under the Articles of Agreement one town lot of one acre on the village green and one farm lot of one hundred acres were set apart for a Protestant Episcopal Church, Similar lots on the north side of the highway were allotted for a school. The first log cabin - which was erected immediately after the arrival of the settlers in 1804, served as both church and school. The two farms lie immediately west of the village on either side of the road and extend to the Olentangy River.

The log cabin served for a church until 1808 when the Worthington Academy, a two story, red brick building, was built on the village green. Worship services were conducted in the academy for over twenty years. The present red brick church was started in the summer of 1827 and the first service was held in January, 1831. The building was erected by the church members themselves who were master workmen. But the financial limitations of the community prevented them from securing the materials which had to be bought and delayed its completion. The interior with its four columns supporting the roof (solid trees) and rear gallery is supposed to he copied from a London church, the rough design of which Philander Chase gave to John Snow, the architect and builder. The church has been in continuous use and is in a splendid state of preservation.

Behind the church is the old parish burial ground where lie the bodies of the pioneers with the grave of James Kilbourne in the center. Burials have not been made here since the Civil War. The angelus bell is rung every day at noon. In 1918, a beautiful marble altar and step with oak reredos were given by Florence R. Vance. The reredos consists of three panels which contain oil paintings. The central panel is a very fine portrayal of the reigning Christ. In 1926 a modern brick parish house as erected south of the church on the village green by Herman E. Vance, vestryman and senior warden for twenty-five years.

Among the members of the original colony were the following persons who settled in Worthington, many of whose gravestones are in the graveyard beside the church: James-Kilbourne, Thomas T. Phelps, Abner Pinney, Russell Atwater, Jedediah Norton, Job Case, Levi Hays, Levi Buttles, Jeremiah Curtis, Zophar Topping, Ebenezer Street, Nathan Stewart, Roswell Wilcox, Lemuel Kilbourne, Jonas Stansberry, Abner P. Pinney, Josiah Topping, Azariah Pinney, Moses Andrews, Samuel Sloper, William Thompson, Alexander Morrison, Sr. Alexander Morrison, Jr., Samuel Beach, John Gould, Ezra Griswold, William Vining, John Topping, Israel P. Case, Israel Case, David Bristol, Glass Cochran, Lemuel G. Humphrey, Ambrose Case, Jacob Mills, James Allen, Nathaniel W. Little and Ichabod Plumb.

James Kilbourne was the first minister of St. John's Parish and served for several years. He was a farmer, mechanic, mathematician, business man, soldier, and minister. He was the inn "keeper and banker and his home still stands after 128 years. In later years James Kilbourne was a member of Congress and introduced the "Land Grant Bill" whereby public lands were appropriated to establish and support state universities.

Philander Chase, who resigned the rectorate of Christ Church, Hartford, Connecticut in 1817, came to Ohio, bought a farm south of Worthington (known today as Chaseland) and became the first rector of St. John's Parish. The next year a convention of the scattered churchmen in Ohio was held at Worthington and he was chosen the first bishop of the new Diccese of Ohio. He continued to serve as rector of St. John's until 1822. During this period he started a boys school to educate men for the ministry of the Church in his farm home. This was the humble beginning of Kenyon College and Bexley Hall at Gambier, Ohio.

The late Dr. George F. Smythe in "A History of the Diocese of Ohio" writes of the beginning of St. John's: "For a quarter of a century thereafter, Worthington was the most important place in the history of the Episcopal Church in Ohio." And again: "To Ohio Churchmen, the public square at Worthington is, as it were, their Plymouth Rock."

The village of Worthington was laid out in May, 1804. Today Worthington is a village of fifteen hundred population within two miles of Columbus. In 1804 Columbus had not been settled, but in 1812 Worthington lost to Columbus in the choice of the state capitol.
(Excerpts from Tri-Community News, Gahanna, Ohio, May 19, 1939)

This was originally pub. in "Ohio Source Records" The Ohio Genealogical Quarterly which was in print between 1937-1944]

St. John Episcopal Church Cemetery
St. John Episcopal Church Cemetery
The church is located at 700 High St.
Worthington OH 43085

From the Historical Marker on site:

Saint John's Church of Worthington and Parts Adjacent
In October of 1803, members of The Scioto Company, led by James Kilbourne, came from Connecticut and founded Worthington. On February 6, 1804, the Articles of Agreement establishing St. John's Church of Worthington were executed. St. John's, which had been planned in Connecticut prior to the Company's departure, became the first Episcopal church established in the Northwest Territory and served as the founding church for several Episcopal churches in Ohio. James Kilbourne served as the church's first Deacon. Reverend Philander Chase, the first Rector of St. John's, became the first Episcopal Bishop of Ohio and founded Kenyon College. St. John's Church and graveyard are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

(Reverse side)
Church and Graveyard
This Gothic Revival style church was completed in 1831. The first settlers brought an altar, which is still in use. A bell brought with the settlers served the early school and church in a log cabin located on the northeast quadrant of the Village Green. Today the bell is in the bell tower of Kilbourne Middle School. The present church bell was purchased in Pittsburgh and first tolled here in 1833. The church graveyard was established with the burial of Captain Abner Pinney on November 23, 1804, and served as the community burial ground in the early nineteenth century. James Kilbourne is buried in the graveyard. There are 317 documented burials including five Revolutionary War and seven War of 1812 veterans.


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