Worship at St. Ann’s began in a pine grove near the present site of the Kennebunkport Inn in 1883. Services were led by The Rev. George J. Prescott of Boston, who was assisted by the Rev. John A. Bevington of Wareham, MA. Two years later, the construction of a church was proposed by Mrs. Frank G. Ilsley of New Jersey, and a conceptual drawing was made by Henry Paston Clark (1853-1927), a Boston architect who had designed many of the shingle homes in the area. Funds were raised and the cornerstone laid on August 22, 1887 on a site donated by the Kennebunkport Seashore Company. The church was consecrated by the Rt. Rev. Henry Adams Neely, DD, Bishop of Maine on August 24, 1892, and has been in continuous use as a summer chapel since that date. It is one of 18 historic summer chapels in the Diocese of Maine.
The construction of the church, its continual restoration and preservation, the lovely gardens, and many of the special features have been made possible through the generous gifts of members of St. Ann's, and those who have worshiped or visited over the years. A more in depth history of the church and selected features follows. Click here to learn how you can make a special gift to St. Ann’s in honor or memory of a loved one.
Construction, Restoration, and Preservation
Henry Paston Clark, a noted Boston architect of the era, donated his services as architect for the church. Several building sites were proposed and there was discussion early on about a wooden structure. However, the gift of land by the Kennebunkport Seashore Company carried with it the rights to gather and use the stones at hand for construction, making construction of a stone chapel feasible. The large sea-washed stones were hoisted and dragged to the church site during the winter of 1886-1887, and work on the building was begun May 27, 1887. Both interior and exterior walls are of this local stone. The nave roof is framed with hard pine hammer beam trusses and its floor is of cleft slate. The chancel is lined with buff Scotch fire-brick and has a white marble mosaic floor. The rood wall, altar steps and foot pace are of polished Italian marble. The Rt. Rev. Henry Adams Neely, DD, Bishop of Maine laid the corner stone of the church on August 22, 1887. When the church was completed and free of debt five years later, Bishop Neely returned for the consecration.
The south transept and baptistery were added in 1920, the construction of which was made possible by a gift from Nathaniel Wilson of Washington, DC in memory of his wife, Annie Edwards Wilson. The building of the north transept, made possible through the gifts of Erickson Perkins and others, began in 1925, and brought the seating capacity of the chapel to 350.
It was more than a hundred years before there was a need for major restoration, which began with the chapel roof. Preservationists were brought in to evaluate the property and it was determined that the subsurface footing as well as the walls of the church required stabilization. A capital campaign was launched in 2004, and a substantial portion of the restoration work was completed during the winter of 2005-2006. As the work progressed, it was discovered that the bell systems and carriage in the chapel tower had deteriorated to such an extent that they, too were lifted out and restored, affording the opportunity to complete structural work in the tower. The stained glass window frames were replaced and the windows restored, and restoration of the chancel, transepts and sacristy followed. The restoration was made possible through the generosity of the many people who worship and enjoy the beauty of St. Ann’s. However, funds are now required to protect this investment and insure regular maintenance in the years ahead. Towards this end, the Preservation Endowment has been established to ensure the preservation of this historic summer chapel.
The same sea-washed stones that grace the exterior were also used for the interior of the church and sacristy. The altar, which was rebuilt in 1900 as a memorial to Bishop Neely, was made of polished Siena marble with a two-inch slate mensa with five crosses cut thereon. Due to severe Maine winters, the altar began to disintegrate and was replaced in 1959 with an exact replica made of polished light pink granite cut from Maine quarries. The pews are of oak, and were designed especially for St. Ann’s Church, as were the clergy stalls. Many of the fixtures and furnishings were made possible through special gifts, and several are of particular note.
The Stained Glass Windows
There are twenty-fivestained glass windows in the church proper and an additional six located in the sacristy, many dating from the turn-of-the-century. Of particular note is the trio of windows on the north transept wall, given in memory of Samuel Howell Jones, Jr. and Rees Lockwood Jones. The anchor, crown and lilies, and cross subjects feature shells and glass ‘jewels’ in the design. They were reputed to have been produced in the studios of Louis Comfort Tiffany, but later thought to be the work of Walter Cole Bingham who also worked in New York City and was known to incorporate shells in his windows.
The Bell Tower and Organ
The one-ton bell, cast in Louvain, Belgium in 1882 is one of a peal originally made for the Battell Chapel of Yale University. Found not to be in perfect harmony with the set, it was sold to Blake Brothers of Boston, and purchased by Dr. Henry G. Clark (father of the architect), Susan L. Clark (sister of the architect), Charles C. Perkins, Hartley Lord, Horatio Perkins, J.A. Titcomb and other prominent members of the summer colony. The bell was removed, and its mechanical system and carriage were restored in 2006, as part of the overall restoration project. The Tennyson Chime bells, cast in Loughborough, England were the gift of Erickson Perkins in 1923.
The replacement of the original 100 year old organ in 1994 was made possible through a number of memorial gifts in addition to a generous lead gift in thanksgiving for the life of Dorothy Walker Bush by her family. It was built by the Allen Organ Company, the largest builder of church organs in the world. Designed specifically to meet the needs of the church, the instrument utilizes the latest in digital technology to create the sound of pipe organs. The advanced technology, which was pioneered for the U.S. Space program, is especially well suited for St. Ann’s as the church is closed during the cold winter months. The instrument has a wide variety of tonal colors, making it ideal for church services, weddings and concerts.
The Outdoor Chapel
Until the 1970s, St. Ann’s Chapel shared the property on the point at the mouth of the Kennebunk River with a private residence and grounds once owned by inventor Arthur Atwater Kent. In 1920, Kent acquired the property adjacent to the residence, overlooking the harbor. It was on this site, once used as a fort to protect ships moored in the harbor during the War of 1812, that the Outdoor Chapel was constructed in 1974 in memory of Margaret Woodbury Strong of Rochester, NY and Kennebunk, ME. The purchase of the land in 1970 was made possible by a loan from the G.H. Walker Foundation, repaid with funds from Ms. Strong’s legacy gift to St. Ann’s and a gift from George Elliott from the sale of “Braemar,” the home once used as the rectory. The Outdoor Chapel was designed by architect James Sidford of Albany, NY and Boothbay Harbor, ME. It is said that the sweeping vista from the chapel, overlooking the Gulf of Maine towards Mt. Agamenticus and Portsmouth Light in the west and Portland Light and Boone Island to the east, is the approximate size of the Sea of Galilee. The outdoor cross was presented by Dr. and Mrs. Laman H. Bruner, the then chaplain of St. Ann’s. The benches have been given by various friends and family of St. Ann’s, whose names are noted on brass plaques affixed to the bench ends.
The Gardens and Columbarium
In addition to a peaceful seaside sanctuary, the grounds surrounding the chapel provide respite along the seawalls and in the colorful gardens. These gardens are maintained by members and friends of St. Ann’s through contributions. Of particular interest is the Memorial Rose Garden just as you pass through the entrance gates, donated in memory of Roy and Madeline Peers by their family. In 2009, the Vestry approved plans to construct a columbarium between the chapel and the rectory. The columbarium will provide a place for the interment of ashes, as well as for quiet reflection and meditation, and is expected to be completed within the next few years.
The identification of a patron saint for the church narrowed to a choice between St. Peter and St. Petroc, a disciple of St. Patrick for whom a church similarly situated at the mouth of the Camel (Allen) River in Cornwall, England had been named. Apparently, the similarity of rocky ocean settings motivated that choice. A deadlock ensued and the church was subsequently named St. Ann’s.
Little is known of St. Ann, the mother of Mary and grandmother of Jesus as revealed in a third century Greek manuscript known as the Gospel of Saint James. It is believed that her conception was divine, just as with Abraham’s wife, Sarah, and that in thanksgiving, she and her husband, Joachim, dedicated their daughter’s life to the service of God. She is the patron saint of Brittany, France, whose rocky coastline projects into the Atlantic and the Canadian province of Quebec. The Feast of St. Anne is celebrated on July 26.
The rectory was built in 1891 for the Nesmith family of Lowell, MA and purchased in 1910 by Arthur Atwater Kent, a noted inventor who, among other things, invented the first affordable radio and the automobile ignition system. Kent named the home “At Water’s Edge” and was responsible for acquiring the land around the home on which had once been situated a fort guarding the mouth of the Kennebunk River during the War of 1812. The property was acquired by the church in 1970 through a loan from the G.H. Walker Foundation, with the home replacing the earlier rectory, “Braemar”, sold at about the same time. The rectory has undergone recent restoration and modest renovations, with an eye to preserving the original character and charm of this gracious summer home.
There have been many important and prominent men associated with St. Ann’s Church, beginning with the Rev. George J. Prescott, who served as the first chaplain, followed by the Rev. Charles L. Short who served from 1896-1901. The Rt. Rev. Henry Adams Neely, Bishop of Maine, presided over the laying of the cornerstone in 1887 and again, at the consecration of St. Ann’s in 1892. The Rt. Rev. John P. Tyler, Bishop of North Dakota served during the 1920s, sharing the services with the Rt. Rev. Benjamin Brewster, Bishop of Maine as well as the Rev. Dr. Percy E. Edrop. Dean Chester Emerson, from Cleveland, OH served from 1942 to 1962 and was followed by the Rev. Dr. Laman Bruner, from Albany, NY, the longest serving chaplain, from 1963 to 1989. Starting in 1985, services were shared with the Rt. Rev. John Maury Allin, 23rd Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church (1973-1985), who remained in charge until 1995. The Very Reverend M. L. Agnew, Dean of St. Mark’s Cathedral in Shreveport, LA began sharing services with Bishop Allin in 1993, and succeeded him as chaplain in charge upon his retirement in 1995. The Reverend Dr. Peter Cheney, Executive Director of the National Association of Episcopal Schools, began sharing summers with Reverend Agnew in 2002. He succeeded Reverend Agnew upon his retirement in 2o14.