The Episcopal Church has had an influential presence in the Old Town community since 1845 when the Rev. John West of St. John’s Church, Bangor “solicited by a few zealous Episcopalians whom Providence had located there…commenced an evening service.” In April 1847, the Rev. Samuel Durborrow held services for several weeks in Old Town and then moved to Milford where the parish of St. James’ was organized that autumn and admitted into the union with the Diocese of Maine.
On November 6th, 1849, the parish of St. James’ in Old Town was organized at a meeting held at the Wadleigh School House. Father Durborrow was the first rector and Ira Wadleigh the first Senior Warden. Mr. Wadleigh was instrumental in the erection of the first church building constructed at the corner of Brown Street and new County Road (now Center and Main Streets where the present church stands).
Completed and free of debt, the first church building was consecrated by the Right Reverend George Burgess, first Episcopal Bishop of Maine, on February 2nd, 1853. Parish families included the names Burnham, Sewall, Hilliard, and Wadleigh. In 1854, the town clock was placed in the tower of the church steeple.
The church building had deteriorated by 1885 and meetings with lay readers were held for several years at the home of Dr. Benjamin Small on North Fourth Street. The first building was demolished in 1892 and plans for the present structure were designed by Henry Vaughn. Henry Vaughn is remembered for introducing English Gothic Architecture to America and whose work includes churches, chapels, academic buildings and the Washington National Cathedral.
St. James’, a shingled structure with a vaulted ceiling and richly painted interior, complete with pumpkin pine pews from the original church was consecrated on September 8th, 1894 by the Right Reverend Henry A. Neely, second Bishop of Maine. Extensive renovations were made to the undercroft of the building in 1952.
A potentially disastrous fire struck St. James’ Church on February 13th, 1953. Starting in an adjacent restaurant, the fire spread to the chancel wall and roof. The organ was destroyed but the stained glass window above the altar was untouched. Reconstruction and redecoration were begun under the leadership of the Rev. John L. Scott, Jr., the rector. Additional renovations to the building, including the restoration of the leaded glass windows, were done through the 1990’s. The church was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.