The Finials are Back at St John’s Episcopal

December 22, 2017

The final step in the restoration and painting of the Parish House of St John’s Episcopal Church at 27 Devens Street  began in late November  with the installation of three new finials on the third floor dormers.

The work began over a year ago with the start of St John’s capital campaign and a consultation with historic paint consultant, Sara Chase.  The original, wood-frame chapel was built in the mid 1870s, designed by the important architectural firm of Ware and Van Brunt.  Sara’s task was to find evidence of the original paint colors.  When that attempt was unsuccessful, Sara Chase developed three color schemes that would be consistent with the Victorian preference for earth tones and colors which highlight the decorative woodwork of this Carpenter Gothic building. According to the Boston Landmarks Commission, the Parish House is the only example of the stick-style in Charlestown.  All together, seven different colors have been used in the color scheme that was ultimately chosen.

A substantial amount of restoration was completed on the original flush boards,  horizontal and vertical boards, the apron panels with X-shaped “stick” ornamentation,  and water table boards.  What is a water table board doing between the first and second floors of the building?  At the turn of the 19th century, needing more room and not wanting to disturb the pyramidal roof of the original 1½ story wood-frame chapel, the parish simply picked the entire building up and built the first floor in brick underneath!

Restoring wood that is well over 125 years old is challenging but the finials on the dormers were a particular puzzle.  The wood was so deteriorated, the actual shape of them was difficult to determine.  Instructors from the North Bennett Street School were called in to help.  Researching other Carpenter Gothic examples and studying the remains of the existing finials, replacements made from mahogany were fabricated and painted in the same terra cotta color on the underside of the dormer roofs.  Next time you walk down Devens Street, take a look at this well preserved part of Charlestown’s history.

St. John’s Episcopal Church, is a welcoming Christian community serving persons in Charlestown and surrounding communities.  Sunday worship services are at 8 am and 10 am, with nursery care and children’s programming starting at 9:45 am. The Rev. Thomas Mousin serves as rector of the parish.