At the end of the nineteenth century, if a resident of Osterville wished to attend an Episcopal service, one had to travel ten miles to St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Barnstable, which was founded in 1888. This was not an easy trip at the end of the 19th century.
As Osterville grew, some of its Episcopalians came together and in the spring of 1903 they formed a summer chapel. A report by the first minister, the Rev. Joseph C. Ayer, Jr. stated, “In the late spring of 1903, an Episcopal Chapel was erected in the Wianno area of Osterville on a suitable lot which was given by Mr. Gordon Shillito and Mr. Thomas Gaff. Funds were subscribed, and a loan contracted so that the building might be put up at once.” This summer chapel, now somewhat enlarged, still exists as a church and was on the same piece of land as the current building. It was formally dedicated by Rt. Rev. William Lawrence, Bishop of Massachusetts, on July 3, 1904.
Thus, St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Osterville came into existence first as a summer chapel. It seems now amazing that this Chapel should have remained active and useful only in the summer months for 72 years, but such was the case. Mainly this was a reflection of the nature of the congregation for much of this period. Many of its members were summer residents who attended other urban churches most of the year.
The move to a full time church began in the 1960’s when in 1964, Mrs. Kathleen Jones Alexander undertook to leave her property on Wianno Avenue to the Diocese of Massachusetts for the benefit of St. Peter’s Chapel, with the understanding that she could occupy the property during her lifetime. A gradual movement to change the status of St. Peter’s from a chapel to a church resulted in a vote by the membership in 1975 to winterize the building and operate as a twelve-month facility. Mrs. Alexander generously agreed to the sale of her Wianno Avenue property with the proceeds to help finance the transition. Retired Bishop Nelson Burroughs of Chatham came every Sunday the first winter of 1975-1976 to conduct services. On November 13, 1976, St. Peter’s was admitted to a full parish category, the first instance of a parish in the Diocese being directly admitted without several years of trial mission status.
A new enlarged church and parish house were dedicated by Bishop John Coburn on July 19, 1981. The addition included a large parish hall, kitchen, restrooms, offices, and rooms for parish activities and ministries, such as The James A. Paul library. A new Casavant pipe organ was installed in 1986.
During the first decade of this century, parishioners noticed that the church building was literally coming apart. The original field stone foundation, so common on Cape Cod in 1903, had shifted and was causing serious structural problems. Ever resilient, a major renovation project began in earnest to lift the church building, pour a modern foundation with undercroft or basement. The church was lowered onto its new foundation and completely restored and renovated at a cost of over two million dollars. It was a monumental communal effort. Mr. Will Beebe oversaw the project.
St. Peter’s Church looks back over one hundred years with a mixture of wonder, satisfaction, and hope for the future.