St. John the Evangelist began meeting in the Third Street home of Peter and Harriet Quire in 1875. Peter Quire had worked with the Quakers in Philadelphia on the Underground Railroad prior to moving to the Point, a neighborhood first settled by the Quakers. By the end of 1875, the congregation had built its first church, now used as our Guild Hall.
From its very beginning, many of the members were of modest means, though supported by the generosity of some of Newport’s more famous residents, including the Astors, the Browns, and the Chanlers. The church also had an early connection with the Naval War College, two of whose founders served on the vestry. (Their portraits are in the narthex as one enters the church.)
In the 1890s, the church was in financial straits, and it looked as if it might close, until Captain (later Admiral) Alfred Thayer Mahan brought the plight of the young church to the attention of his friend Sarah Titus Zabriskie, who in 1893 donated $100,000 toward the building of the Zabriskie Memorial Church in memory of her late mother, Sarah Jane Zabriskie. The cornerstone was laid in 1894 and the church was consecrated in November of that year.
The church grew, and in 1922, St. John’s acquired Dennis House as its rectory, which was built c. 1740, with an 1870s addition by Charles F. McKim, and Grafton House, named for Bishop Charles Chapman Grafton, which was built in 1832 in the Greek Revival style. The Sisters of the Holy Nativity, an order founded by Bishop Grafton, were in residence for many years at St. John’s.
St. John’s carries on Peter Quire and Sarah Titus Zabriskie’s legacies today as we continue to gather and serve all sorts and conditions in the beauty of holiness.