Parish History

The first worship services were held at St. Mary’s by-the-Sea on July 23, 1882, and the newly built timber chapel was formally consecrated a month later on August 20th. St. Mary’s received its first year-round missionary, The Reverend Charles T. Ogden, in the winter of 1883.

Construction of St. Mary’s by-the-Sea, the village of Northeast Harbor’s first church, was the labor of the village’s farmers, fishermen, and summer residents, who pooled skills, time, and finances to create a house of worship to replace earlier gathering places, primarily schoolhouses in the nearby villages.

St. Mary’s by-the-Sea was the inspiration of The Right Reverend William Croswell Doane, Bishop of Albany. First travelling to Northeast Harbor in 1880, Bishop Doane conducted services in the living room of Daniel Kimball’s South Shore Road boarding house and later in his own new summer cottage, “Magnum Donum.” Encouraged by the attendance, the Bishop proposed and received commitments for a chapel. His daughter, Margaret Harrison Doane, and Stephen Smallidge, one-time keeper of the Bear Island lighthouse, donated the land. Gifts of money, primarily from the growing summer community, and materials and craftsmanship from the local community made the Bishop’s vision a reality.

 St Mary's by-the-Sea Original Timber Chapel

St. Mary’s By-The-Sea original timber chapel

Photo Courtesy of the Northeast Harbor Library

St. Mary’s first rectory was built in 1886 on land donated by Daniel Kimball. A parish house was completed in time for Christmas of 1896 with funds raised by the St. Mary’s Benevolent and Building Society Church Fair. Parish community outreach started as early as 1887 with the formation of the St. Mary’s Sewing and Knitting Society, today’s Episcopal Church Women, fundraisers and distributors of clothing in the diocese.

Stained glass

Another milestone in 1887 was the completion of a chapel in Seal Harbor for the mission of St. Jude organized a year earlier. Under the mission of St. Mary’s until 1900, St. Jude’s was made independent and then was reunited with St. Mary’s in 1905 when its missionary replaced St. Mary’s rector.

By 1899 even the four additions made to the St. Mary’s chapel in its first sixteen years were not enough to hold the growing summer congregation, nor was the timber structure comfortable in the winter’s cold. Bishop Doane contributed additional land, and the present Gothic-style stone church was completed by the summer of 1902. Today’s St. Mary’s by-the-Sea houses all of the memorials from the original timber chapel, including the treasured lighthouse window inscribed, “The Lord shall be unto thee an everlasting light, Isaiah 60:19.” The window was given in memory of Mary Spring Perkins, wife of Bishop Doane’s half-brother, whose bequest was the largest donation toward the original timber chapel.

St. James-in-the-Woods, a third chapel, was built on the road to Somesville (another village in the Town of Mount Desert) in 1903 for a small community of quarrymen and their families. Used intermittently, it was secularized and sold in 1987.

In the fall of 1931, the Seal Harbor schoolhouse was moved to a site on Lower Dunbar Road in Seal Harbor. Named St. Jude’s Chapel Guild House, this former schoolhouse was used as a winter church and fellowship space. After January of 1994 the Guild House was little used; it was secularized and sold in 2001.

The Parish Center in Northeast Harbor was remodeled in 1912 to create a chapel, complete with chancel, choir and vestry, that the congregations of St. Mary and St. Jude could use in the winter months.

Since the first sermons offered by Bishop Doane, the Parish of St. Mary and St. Jude has welcomed many distinguished preachers. And more than 21 missionaries and priests have served as Rector — some briefly, others for more than a decade.

Gunnar Hansen’s 1981 history of Saint Mary’s by-the-Sea

Gunnar Hansen's History Book Cover
images of inside both churches