A Bit of History
For over 130 years, the Episcopal Church of St. John the Baptist has stood as a witness to the Glory of God and an attestation to the faith of its parishioners from all of the villages in the Town of Wakefield as well as many surrounding communities in New Hampshire and Maine.
Its history began on July 7, 1875, when Rebecca Maria Phippen Dow, a prominent resident of Wakefield and a very devout Christian lady, died. A few hours before her death, Mrs. Dow had expressed a wish that an Episcopal church might be established in the Village of Wolfeborough Junction (now the Village of Sanbornville).
Mr. John W. Sanborn, Superintendent of the Eastern Railway, Conway Division, being anxious to build up the railroad center of Wolfeborough Junction, had generously donated land "up on the hill from the Junction" to be used for a church building and rectory. Determined to carry out the wishes of her grandmother, Miss Harriette Low enlisted the help of her aunt Harriette Dow and other members of her family. Through their tireless efforts and very generous donations from the Low and Dow families, ground was broken on November 28, 1876, and on May 21, 1877, the cornerstone was laid as a memorial to Rebecca Maria Phippen Dow "in recognition of her beautiful Christian character." Thus the Mission Church of St. John the Baptist was completed and the church building was consecrated on September 14, 1877, by Bishop Niles, the third bishop of New Hampshire.
The lovely gothic architecture of the church building is further enhanced by the 14 beautiful, irreplaceable stained glass windows. Fittingly, the East window over the altar is dedicated to the memory of Rebecca Maria Phippen Dow, 1783-1875, and the two sections of the West window are memorials dedicated to her daughter, Harriette Dow, 1819-1904, and her granddaughter Harriette Low, 1842-1884. Five of the side windows are also memorials to several of Rebecca's children and grandchildren.
The bell in the church tower was a gift of the Low family in 1877. One side is inscribed with the name of "William C. Low, Jr., a very small boy," and the date. The other side has the inscription "The Voice of One Crying in the Wilderness." The bell is known as a bidding bell inasmuch as it is rung prior to each service or public worship. The bell is also rung at significant times during the Eucharist and on special occasions.
Unique to the church is the only pipe organ in the Wakefield area. The George S. Hutchings, tracker organ was built in 1894. In 1924, it was moved here as a gift from The Holy Name Episcopal Church in Swampscott, Massachusetts. In 1992, restoration work and installation of 122 additional pipes was completed. The organ was dedicated to Arlyne D. Stevens in honor of the 35 years she faithfully served as our church organist. In 2006, the organ was completely removed and restored in the Gorham, Maine shop of David E. Wallace, Pipe Organ Builder. Every piece of the organ was refurbished and 2 ranks of pipes, an oboe and a mixture (not yet installed), were added. The wind chests were completely rebuilt and the façade was restored to its original configuration.
On June 14, 1961, the status of St. John the Baptist Mission Church was changed to that of a Parish and the Rev. Henry Dymoke Gasson was installed as its first Rector. The church building is in the National Register of Historic Places.