The Reredos at St. James’

The reredos, or back altar, at St. James’ Episcopal Church has evolved over the years – The reredos seen in 2013 is not the original that graced the sanctuary.

Childrens Window

1874-1891: No Reredos

Between the present church’s completion in 1874 and the enlargement of the sanctuary in 1901, the Children’s Window (today on the east side of the sanctuary) was in the south wall over the altar, as shown above. And before 1892, there was no reredos (or rood screen). Rather, as you can see, there was a type of mantle and a curtain behind the altar.


1892-1901: The First Reredos

In 1891, a new altar was planned, and the Christmas offering was dedicated to its construction. In February of 1892, the altar was completed, and the Skaneateles Free Press (February 27, 1892) noted:

“The handsome new altar just erected in St. James’ Church will be consecrated or blessed next Sunday morning, the exercises taking the place of the usual service. The altar is of oak, with mahogany panels, the top covered with Italian marble, and reflects credit upon its designer, Rev. F.N. Westcott, rector of the church. The joiners’ work was executed by Messrs. Edward Dent and Thomas Wilkins, and hardwood finishing by Frederick Williams, all local workmen, while the marble was furnished by T.S. Hubbell & Son of Elbridge.”

This reredos, shown above, was lower than the one seen today, given that it had to fit beneath the Children’s Window. Here you can clearly see the mahogany panels.

As for those who built it, Edward Dent was a contractor whose projects included a new interior for Theodore Specht’s “Hazelhurst” (today’s Athenaeum) in 1906 and a new interior for the Packwood House (today’s Sherwood Inn) in 1919. Thomas Wilkins was born in England; he came to Skaneateles when young and lived here for 60 years; he was probably the primary woodworker on this project.


The marble came from the firm of T.S. Hubbell & Son, founded by Theron S. Hubbell in 1844; his son, Elliston E. Hubbell, entered into the partnership in 1875. The firm also provided scores of stone monuments for the Lake View, St. Mary’s, Mottville and Shepard Settlement cemeteries.


1901-1925: The Second & Third Reredos

With the enlargement of the chancel in 1901 (as a memorial to Robert Minturn Grinnell), the Children’s window was moved to the left (east) and the Tiffany window was installed in the west. The reredos was raised and enlarged, becoming a “high reredos” as noted in the Skaneateles Press, October 4, 1907: “It [St. James’] contains many handsome memorials, the most conspicuous among these being possibly the new sanctuary, which was recently built and furnished with a fine altar and high reredos.”

This was the second iteration of the reredos: raised and “high,” with a statue of Jesus at the top. (But not the statue seen today.) Again, it was designed by the rector, the Rev. Frank Nash Westcott. Minnie Evans, in her A Reminiscence of St. James’ (1909), added this description:

“One feature in particular that should not escape mention is that pertaining to the reredos which rises in the semblance of a throne projecting some distance above the cross and whereon stands in bas-relief a figure of The Christ in majestic grace. Unlike the nave, this spot rejects all shadow; two large stained windows of recent construction admit the sun’s rays to play in myriad colors until all is enveloped in their soft golden light.”

In 1915, the reredos was again modified – the mahogany panels removed, oak inserted, and refinished – as below:

“The beautiful altar and reredos have been refinished to match the other woodwork in the church. The mahogany panels have been removed and oak panels substituted, thus making the sanctuary much more harmonious. Instead of three kinds and colors of wood, the reredos is now all oak and matches in color the fine old chestnut wainscoating.” — Skaneateles Free Press, April 29, 1915

(Also in 1915, the rood screen was added. There is a fuller account of that here.)

This was the third iteration of the reredos. The refinishing was donated by John E. Palmer, who had a paint & paper store in the Legg block (on the first story of today’s Legg Hall).

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St. James Reredos Current1925-Present: The Fourth Reredos with New Statue

Ten years later, in 1925, the reredos as we know it today came into being when the original statue of Jesus was removed from the reredos and replaced with a new statue, which was slightly larger and painted.

“A memorial to Rev. Frank N. Westcott… has been erected in St. James Episcopal Church. Skaneateles, of which he was rector for upwards of 30 years. The memorial consists of a statue of Jesus of the Sacred Heart. It was dedicated by the present rector, Rev. Donald C. Stuart. It was given by friends of Mr. Westcott.” — Auburn Citizen, September 24, 1925

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In summary:

1873-1892         No reredos
1892-1901         Low reredos
1901-1915         High reredos with mahogany panels, statue of Jesus in natural wood finish
1915-1925         High reredos with new oak panels, original statue of Jesus
1925-Present    High reredos with larger, painted statue of Jesus.


As I am no longer a member of the parish of St. James’ Episcopal, the entries here will be fewer and farther between. But I do plan to complete the book I am writing about St. James’, and to publish it some time in the near future. I would like to thank the Rev. Dr. Robert de Wetter, the Rev. Margaret “Toppie” Bates, the Rev. John Keydel, and the Rev. Dr. Becky Coerper for their encouragement, their counsel, their prayers and the freedom to roam about the church as I wrote about its history. And I should like to thank Brian Ackles, who served as Choir Director during my time at St. James’, for his example of how a true Christian gentleman conducts himself, who showed by power of example how we are called not just to talk about Jesus, but to behave as he would have us behave. Brian never had a negative word to say about anyone; his oft-repeated phrase of “open mind, open heart” is one I hope I will remember always.

John S. Furman, Esq., Lay Reader

I have written too little about John S. Furman, Esq., lawyer, Justice of the Peace, member of the Vestry and gentleman farmer, but hope to remedy that shortcoming with this short appreciation.

Before St. James’ Episcopal Church was first established in 1816, those few villagers of the Anglican persuasion met in a small building (on the site of the present church), the front of which served as the village post office and a store. In the back, benches were arranged for Sunday services, and W.J. Vredenburgh (the postmaster), Charles J. Burnett (Vredenburgh’s son-in-law), Samuel Litherland (Vredenburgh’s gardener) and John S. Furman acted as Lay Readers.

In 1806, John S. Furman came to Skaneateles from New York City where his father, Gabriel Furman, was an officer of the Mutual Fire Insurance Co., the oldest such company in the city.  John must have had an interesting boyhood; among the Furman’s friends and neighbors were the eleven children of William and Sarah Irving.

One son, John Treat Irving, graduated from Columbia College (Class of 1798) and studied law in the office of Josiah Ogden Hoffman, a New York State Attorney General  and one of the original justices of the New York City Superior Court. Also studying law with Hoffman were Alexander M. Beebe, Columbia College (Class of 1802) and James Kirke Paulding (whose sister Julia married John Treat Irving’s brother William). And another of the Irving sons, Washington, known to friends and family as “Wash,” studied law at Hoffman’s law office and then joined his brother John in his law office.

In 1806, John Treat Irving married Abigail “Abby” Spicer Furman, John S. Furman’s sister.

In 1807, Alexander Beebe was admitted to the bar, married Mary Margaret Roorbach, and moved to Skaneateles to become John S. Furman’s law partner. (The couple’s journey from New York to Albany was in a sloop up the Hudson River, and took an entire week.) Jonathan Booth, with whom Furman was boarding, built a law office for the two men.

Which brings us to a moment in 1807, while John Treat Irving was waiting for his case to be called in court, and used the time to write a letter to his brother-in-law, John Furman:

“Alexander [Beebe] arrived a few days since, and has given us most flattering accounts of your Land of Canaan, which like that of old appears from his description to flow with milk and honey. He has also made honorable mention of the eleven [law] suits in your register, detailed to us a particular history of the Booths, with whom you are domesticated, not omitting sundry anecdotes of the Vredenburgs, closing with an account of the large house which the head of the family has lately erected. So that you see we know the whole annals of the village. I understand that you are making great progress in your legal pursuits, having been very near making a speech on some celebrated occasion, and at all times evincing great intrepidity provided you are allowed to face the enemy with green goggles…

“I expect your father will return with Alexander. He has heard so much of your beautiful lake, and Swartwout and Beebe have expiated so handsomely on the beauty of its borders, the clearness of its waters, and the richness and abundance of its fish, that he feels quite curious to behold a spot that concentrates so many elegancies, comforts and pleasures.”

In 1810, Furman married Susan Booth and began dabbling in farming about half a mile north of the village. The endeavor was not without its misadventures. In July of 1810, the newspaper reported that a red heifer – “hole in the left ear, white between the horns and under the chops, and a little broke off the end of one horn” – had broken into his pasture, and that the owner was “requested to call, prove property and pay expenses.”

John and Susan Furman lived on West Lake Street. The family often came to Sunday services at St. James’ by boat, as the trip across the water was shorter than walking. Jonathan Booth lived nearby and on Sundays the Booths and Furmans occupied the southeast corner pew box at St. James’.

And on at least one occasion, church went to John Furman. In September of 1855, the Sabbath Schools of the village journeyed to “the beautiful grove belonging to J.S. Furman, Esq., lying at the foot and west margin of the lake.” And the report continued, “As the procession passed our office, with their best ‘fixens’ on, we should say there was several hundreds—all told—pupils, teachers and parents. The weather is very favorable to the fete, and everything would indicate a happy enjoyment by all participants.”

Alexander Beebe worked as a lawyer here for 15 years. But after the death of a child, he sought comfort in religion, becoming a Baptist. He moved to Elbridge in 1822, and then to Utica in 1825, where for 30 years he was editor of the Baptist Register.

Furman Law 1825

After Beebe’s departure, Furman gave up farming and returned to the practice of law. He was active with the Skaneateles Library Company, the Skaneateles Academy and the Skaneateles Temperance Society, and explored business opportunities. In 1825, he served as secretary of a company that hoped to link the Erie Canal at Jordan with a new canal, via Skaneateles Lake, to Port Watson (today’s Cortland) from whence boats could navigate south via the Tioughnioga, Chenango and Susquehanna rivers to Pennsylvania and Maryland. (That didn’t happen.)

Mary Elizabeth Beauchamp in her Recollections of the Parish of St. James, Skaneateles (1897) notes that John S. Furman was known always as “Squire Furman,” and was “a refined gentleman of the old school, and had fine literary tastes.” And she tells us one more story that is easy to believe:

John Treat Irving’s younger brother, Washington, didn’t spend much time with the law. He became one of America’s most famous writers, known for “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and “Rip Van Winkle,” author of biographies and histories, and U.S. Ambassador to Spain from 1842 to 1846. And at some time, Beauchamp tells us, Washington Irving found time to come to Skaneateles and visit his friends and relations, Alexander Beebe and John S. Furman.

I don’t know the date, but I imagine the conversations were fabulous.

Washington Irving

Portrait of Washington Irving (1830) by Gilbert Stuart Newton

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John Treat Irving’s letter to John S. Furman was reprinted in the Skaneateles Press, November 11, 1938

Peter and Geoffrey Shumway

A small gold plaque on a wooden choir stall commemorates the lives of Peter and Geoffrey Shumway, father and son.

Peter Shumway was the husband of Adele Shumway. They came to Skaneateles in 1959, after Peter retired from the U.S. Navy. A 1939 graduate of the Naval Academy, he served as a naval aviator and fought in the Battle of Midway, the turning point of World War II in the Pacific.

Peter and Adele’s son Geoffrey graduated from the Naval Academy in 1964 and served as a Naval Aviator in the Vietnam war. During his first tour, in 1967, he received the Distinguished Flying Cross for “heroism and extraordinary achievement” during an attack on the North Cam Pha bridge in North Vietnam.


After a tour stateside, Lt. Shumway returned to Vietnam. On June 25, 1972, while piloting an A-7 Phantom over dense jungle 60 miles southwest of Hanoi, he saw an enemy truck in a clearing and went in to attack. His wingman lost sight of him for a moment under cloud cover, then saw a ball of flame in the jungle. There was no response from Lt. Shumway’s radio.

In Skaneateles, Peter and Adele Shumway waited for news of their son; Geoffrey’s wife Kathryn and his children also waited, at their home in Sunnyvale, California. For several years, Geoffrey was listed as Missing in Action. Peter Shumway died in 1990, before there was any further word about his son’s fate.

In 1993, Geoffrey Shumway’s remains were found and returned to the U.S., but they were not identified until 2002, and today are buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Adele Shumway, who spent 30 years waiting to learn what had happened to her son, finally knew. She dedicated a small memorial to her husband and son at St. James’, where she sang in the choir, and died in 2008 at the age of 93.

Shumway Stone

The Tower Clock


An early view of St. James’ showing two faces of the tower clock

On the wall of the tower stairwell of St. James’ Episcopal Church, there is a framed note, neatly typed which reads as follows:

The Clock

E.N. Bowen    Oct. 1, 1926

Some facts about the clock that interested me: The strike weights weigh about 625 pounds, all on. The strike weight falls 4 feet each day, 28 in the week, 42 coils on the drum, 126 turns of the crank, say 20 pounds, total 2520. Some job I say.

I add 8 coils for a margin of safety, so at the end of the week the weight will be 7 feet from the bottom of the shaft, with 18 coils on the drum, good for a 3 days run. The time drum holds 30 coils, 7 days uses 26 coils, leaving 4 for a margin of safety. I wind twice a week, dividing the work, to make it easier, and to watch the clock oftener.

There are 73 steps from the first floor, to the clock room, 2 are ladders of 17 steps each. This clock was made by the Howard Co. of Boston.

I am using Nye Tower Clock Oil, cost $1.00 an ounce, on the small bearings only, ordinary oil on the larger ones. The pendulum is 7 feet over all, the ball 9 inches, it beats 40 to a minute. Ball weight unknown.

The time cable, is one fourth inch, looks as if it [has] been in use since the start. The strike cable has been renewed, a larger one put on; it is too large for proper use on the drum, and piles up three layers of 26 coils each; they do not fit in the grooves and are uneven, snapping into place, with some wear on the wires.

I like the job! Have had many puzzling problems since the above date, they spur Me on to overcome them, and it is a pleasure to win, as I did this morning. The clock stopped two days back, a careful overlook did not find a cause, at that time; this morning I did locate it in the pendulum rod where the impulse pin slides in the slot; a tiny drop of oil fixed it; that was worth dollars to Me.

E.N. Bowen   March 24, 1928

Bowen Bow Tie

The note’s author, Ephraim Nutting Bowen, was paid $25 a year by the Village of Skaneateles to keep our timepiece in working order for the public. Born in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, in 1848, Ephraim was the son of Ephraim and Martha (Livermore) Bowen. In a 1931 letter to a granddaughter, he described his childhood, including his family’s three years in Australia during the gold rush, in terms of his education:

“My schooling was very limited, beginning at Fitchburg in the old Academy, and up to 7, then three years in Australia in a tent, an old English man showed me how to write and figure a bit, then in Boston at the Quincy School two years, then at a school in Roxbury, two years, then at Washington in the grammar school, three years, and there I quit and joined the Army. You can see my education was somewhat scattered.”

In Washington, D.C., Ephraim Sr. had a fruit store on Pennsylvania Avenue. In the early 1860s, young Ephraim Jr. liked to walk up the street to the White House whenever public receptions were held; he was an admirer of President Abraham Lincoln.

When Ephraim turned 16, he enlisted in the First Regiment U.S. Artillery. As the war neared its end, most of the First Regiment’s Batteries were stationed in and around the District of Columbia, so it is likely that the young man didn’t go far from home.

After the war, Ephraim returned to Fitchburg and married Almira Lucinda Bancroft; their daughter Helen May was born in Fitchburg in 1873. By 1876, they were living in Elgin, Illinois, where their son George was born. (I am guessing, but fairly sure, that Ephraim was working at the Elgin National Watch Company at this time.) In 1884, when Walter Bowen was born, the family was in Fredonia, N.Y., and Ephraim was making his way in the world with bicycles – selling, repairing and promoting them.

On September 20, 1882, while living in Fredonia, he cycled to Erie, Pennsylvania, and back, a total of 101 miles, which he covered in 13 hours, 30 minutes. In May of 1883, he rode to Boston, a distance of over 500 miles, in eight days, “three of which were wet.” The local paper in Batavia observed his passing through:

Batavia on Bowen

By 1890, E.N. Bowen had established a bicycle repair business on Main Street in Buffalo, N.Y., and was inventing new devices to improve them. His “Buffalo Safety Bicycle Stand” was patented in 1891.

Bowen Bicycle Stand

A binder for handle bars and seat posts was patented by Bowen in 1900, and the patent assigned to George N. Pierce Co., a Buffalo manufacturer of bicycles (who later made the Pierce-Arrow automobile). A third patent was awarded Bowen in 1909, for transmission gearing, and assigned to Auto-Tri Manufacturing Co., a Buffalo company making a three-wheeled motorcycle.

In 1917, Ephraim’s son, George B. Bowen, came to Skaneateles and opened an automotive garage, taking over the business of the People’s Motor Sales Co.  He had run a garage in Marcellus, N.Y., for three years, “with best of satisfaction and success, an unusual workman.” Clearly he had inherited his father’s knack for things mechanical.

Bowen Almira Ephraim

Almira and Ephraim Bowen

In 1918, Ephraim Bowen sold his Buffalo bicycle business, and was semi-retired, listing his occupation as clock repair. He and Almira visited George in Skaneateles, and Almira was “so charmed by the cemetery” that she expressed a wish to be buried there. She died in 1922, and her wish was granted. Ephraim Bowen soon joined his son George in Skaneateles, and by 1925 was caring for the clock in St. James’ tower.

Bowen GAR

Ephraim Bowen in his G.A.R. uniform

He was a member of the Skaneateles post of the Grand Army of the Republic (the Civil War Union veterans’ equivalent of today’s American Legion).

Bowen Bird House

In 1925, he built a new house for purple martins in Clift Park. The Audubon Society collected door-to-door to raise the funds for materials, and Bowen built the 36-room bird house, each room six inches square and seven inches high, made of cypress with an oak bottom and cedar roof. The community was grateful and I’m sure the birds were as well.

In June of 1931, he wrote to his granddaughter:

“My life now is a very happy one, I have time to dream, and build castles in the air, and it’s fun… this growing old has its drawbacks, but it is interesting, too. I feel so well, never a pain, body clean inside and out,  mind a bit clouded at times, memory a rag, but eyes wide open to see the beautiful world around me.”

Ephraim Bowen died on February 9, 1936, and was buried on Lincoln’s birthday in Lake View Cemetery, next to his wife. The services were held in the Burrows Memorial Chapel, led by the Rev. Albert Fulton, pastor of the Skaneateles Presbyterian church.

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The St. James’ tower clock has a story of its own: The clock is a memorial to Mr. & Mrs. John Legg; Mr. Legg was a blacksmith, carriage maker and businessman who prospered in the village. His son-in-law and daughter, Mr. & Mrs. Joel Thayer, donated the tower clock in memory of her parents on Christmas of 1873. The clock was made by E. Howard & Co. of Boston, Massachusetts, and installed in the just completed church building in January of 1874, with the assistance of machinist Howard Delano of Mottville. Other E. Howard clocks have graced the Clock Tower Building on Broadway in New York, the Ferry Building in San Francisco, the King Street Station in Seattle, and Chicago’s Wrigley Building.

Our clock has had some adventures along the way. On August 17, 1881, the local press noted:

“Last week the weight attached to the striking part of the town clock in St. James’ tower, weighing nine hundred pounds, and suspended by a quarter inch wire cable, fell, crashing through two floors. It was nearly wound up at the time, and fell a distance of sixteen feet before striking the first floor.”

In September of 1890, ‘The Rambler’ wrote in the Skaneateles Press:

“I hear complaint that the trees growing in front of the tower of the Episcopal church obscure the face of the town clock from passers-by. Inasmuch as the village pays for the care of the time-piece for the benefit of the public, the face of the clock should be exposed for the benefit of all.”

In 1892, the bell which struck the hours was found to be cracked, and was repaired. In 1898, the clock faces were repainted and the numbers re-gilded.  And in 1967, the clockworks were repaired through the efforts of Windsor Price and Clifford Abrams, and Dale Abrams took on the duties of winding and tending them. (I’m not sure when the clock was electrified, but I’m working on it.)

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A few notes:

The Nye Tower Clock Oil that Bowen mentions was made from whale oil, and had a much finer viscosity than petroleum-based oils. It was ideal for small gears and bearings such as those in watches and clocks. The history of the company, which is still in business, is here:

George Bowen, the son of Ephraim Bowen, served as chairman of the greens committee at the Skaneateles Country Club, and has the distinction of being one of the few men, perhaps the only man, to ever hit a golf ball from the Country Club to the far shore of Skaneateles Lake. The long drive took place in 1945, and the ball was both hit and recovered in the presence of witnesses. Amazing, yes, but it was winter, and the presence of smooth, glare ice, upon which the ball bounced, skittered and slid to the eastern shore, helps to explain the feat.

I am especially grateful to the descendants of Ephraim Bowen for their generosity in sharing his photos and letters.