The historic Church of St. John the Evangelist is located in the village of Tannersville in Greene County, New York. It is bounded by Philadelphia Hill Road to the west, and by woodlands and scattered cottages to the north, south and east.
The church, constructed in 1885, long served the residential enclave known as Philadelphia Hill. The community originally consisted of a group of individuals from the city of Philadelphia who had typically spent their summers at the Blythewood boarding house operated by Alexander Hemsley (1834-1904).
The Blythewood resort had been established in the late 1870s by Hemsley to assist his wife, who suffered from tuberculosis, in taking advantage of the crisp mountain air. Within a few years of opening the Blythewood advertised itself in 1879 as being “beautifully situated in the heart of the Catskill Mountains.” It was “open for Boarders the 1st of June. It is accessible from Catskill village, by two daily lines of stages. The house is new, has all modern conveniences, and is comfortably furnished throughout. There is abundant shade, fine lawn and croquet ground on the premises. Good trout fishing in the neighborhood during the season. Comfortable private conveyances can always be furnished for pleasure parties, and will be sent to meet guests on the arrival of cars or steamboat, when desired. Post-office and Telegraph Station within half a mile of the house.”
In 1883 Hemsley acquired 43 acres of land in the town of Hunter, which was subdivided and sold in parcels to many of the guests at Blythewood as sites to build summer cottages. As part of the new development 1.5 acres was designated for the construction of a summer chapel. The chapel lot was centered within the developing community.
Noted architect William Halsey Wood (1855-1897) designed the church, while his brother, Reverend Alonzo Lippincott Wood, Sr. (1852-1911) served as its first minister. William Halsey Wood would later marry Florence Hemsley, daughter of Alexander Hemsley, at the church in November 1889, the first wedding conducted at the church. Alonzo’s family, including his three sons, would serve the congregation at the rural church for over 75 years.
William Halsey Wood, the church architect, was born on April 24, 1855 in Danville, New York, the son of Daniel Halsey Wood and Hannah Bell Lippincott. The family moved to Newark, New Jersey shortly after William’s birth and William was almost entirely educated at the Episcopal parish school of the House of Prayer in that city. At the age of 15, Wood entered the architectural profession in the New York office of John F. Miller. He received further architectural training with Thomas A. Roberts, in Newark, New Jersey, eventually joining Roberts as a partner in the firm of Roberts, Taylor & Wood. After the firm dissolved within a few years, he went into business on his own, and practiced alone for the remainder of his career, eventually establishing offices at both Newark, New Jersey and in New York City. His church, library and building designs can be found across the country, including in the states of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Alabama, Tennessee, Ohio, Missouri, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. Wood passed away at 41 years of age on March 13, 1897 from tuberculosis and is buried at Saint James the Less Episcopal Churchyard in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Alonzo L. Wood, the church’s first summer minister, was born at New Providence, New Jersey in 1852. He was made deacon in the Episcopal Church in 1876 by Bishop Odenheimer and became an ordained priest in 1879 by Bishop Seymour. He served nine years as curate at the House of Prayer in Newark and then became rector at St. John’s at Woodside, Newark. On leaving St. John’s in 1892 he became rector of Tompkinsville, Staten Island, where he remained until 1908. After resigning that parish, he performed missionary work for the dioceses of Vermont and Pennsylvania. Father Wood for many years served as chaplain for the Hospital of St. Barnabas in Newark. He was the author of A Ritual Catechism and Brief Devotions for Young People. Wood passed away at Tannersville, New York at 59 years of age on August 24, 1911 after a lingering illness. He is buried in the churchyard of the Church of St. John the Evangelist in Tannersville.
The single-story church design “features the mixture of textures and natural materials indicative of the Victorian architecture. The use of native stone blended with stylized half-timbering and wood panel work [that] created a naturalistic form intended to allow the building to recede into the wooded building site.”
The Church of St. John the Evangelist is listed on the National Register of Historic Places “as an outstanding example of late nineteenth century Victorian ecclesiastic architecture in the community of Hunter.” It “stands today virtually intact from its construction more than one-century ago. The building retains an outstanding degree of architectural integrity as well as an intact rural setting. The building is a local landmark and an important reminder of the prosperity and spiritual commitment of the Hemsley family and the enclave of Philadelphia Hill."