Before St. John's was built on Bear Island, families wanting to
attend Sunday religious services rowed to Advent Cove on Meredith
Neck and trudged up the hillside to attend services at the white
frame Meeting House built in 1839. Now known as Meredith Neck Church,
it is still actively supported during the summer months.
In the early 1920s, interest arose from several sources in having
more regular opportunity for summer worship on the island. The Rt.
Rev. Edward Melville Parker, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of
New Hampshire, and the Rev.
Kenneth Ripley Forbes of Stamford, Connecticut, and Birch
Island, particularly desired that a summer chapel be built at the
highest point on Bear Island. An observation tower, built around
1900 by Ellery Channing Mansfield, was already standing at this
In 1926, Bishop Parker having died, a tract of land was purchased
by the Rt. Rev. John T. Dallas for the Episcopal Diocese of New
Hampshire. The tower was repaired and enclosed, and the sanctuary
built of local stone was erected between May and July 1927. Much
of the cost of $4,000 was donated by island residents. The chapel
was dedicated by Bishop Dallas in memory of Bishop Parker. The church
was intended to be a religious center for the somewhat scattered
island population regardless of religious affiliation.
Rev. Kenneth Ripley Forbes was Priest-in-Charge for weekly services
with two services sometimes held on Sundays. About ten minutes before
church convened, Rev. Forbes would tug on the rope which hung from
the tower bell to summon everyone walking up the paths. Boatloads
of worshippers from the Weirs, along with other craft, parked at
the church docks in Deep Cove. There was no church organ, and Mrs.
Forbes usually set the pitch for hymns with the congregation following
After the Benediction, everyone clambered up the tower stairs
to enjoy the 360 degree view for, in those days, no trees obstructed
it. The chapel trails, badly damaged by the 1938 hurricane, were
cleared by U.S. Forest Service woodsmen so that only the July,
1939, services had to be omitted.
Services were held sporadically following the resignation of Rev.
Forbes in 1939. World War II gas rationing further affected all
island functions, including church attendance as many had to forgo
vacations. In 1954, a proposal was made to form the St. John's-on-the-Lake
Association to provide funds to keep the church in operation and
to oppose the ordered closing of the church at the end of the season.
The association was organized that December and, working with the
Diocese, took over the church's financing needs and the obtaining
of services from clergy.
||In 1962, John Ripley Forbes, the son of the now deceased Rev.
Forbes, took on the position of President of the Association. Regular
services were held and conducted by clergy of various denominations,
making it a more truly ecumenical church. A new 200 pound bell was
donated in 1962 to replace the original tower bell, which had since
disappeared. This bell, next to last from steam locomotives from the
New Jersey General Railroad, still rings.
Around 1967, when Dr. Hopper was President of the Association,
the organ pictured was donated. It has been lovingly repaired and
In August 1976, the deed to the church was turned over to the
St. John's-on-the-Lake Association for $1.00 with the stipulation
that the church will revert to the Diocese if it is ever used for
other than religious purposes.
The chapel, beautiful in its simplicity, with altar and lectern
of white birch, contains ten Roman Arch memorial windows. Many other
memorials have been presented to the church, a tribute to many of
those who were key in the developing and maintaining the chapel
as a place for all to enjoy.
taken from Bear Island Reflections, available from the Bear Island