In 1871, the first Episcopal Church services in Riverside were celebrated in the parlor of the old Riverside Hotel (present site of the Town Hall) by the Rev. Charles B. Kelly, who visited the village each week from neighboring LaGrange. Later, the non-denominational Union Chapel on Barrypoint Road (now the Riverside Presbyterian Church) was rented for Sunday services.

The mission was briefly discontinued in 1876, but reorganized within months by the Bishop of Chicago. The liturgies of St Paul’s Mission continued to be celebrated in temporary rented quarters until 1882, when money was raised to begin construction of a permanent church building.

Church Construction
Renowned architect William LeBaron Jenney donated his plans for an English-style country church. Jenney was a parishioner who built the first steel-framed skyscraper and is credited with founding the “Chicago School” of architecture. Jenney’s plans were approved by Bishop McLaren, who laid the cornerstone on July 2, 1883.

William LeBaron Jenney’s 1883 rendering for St Paul’s Church.
Construction delays arose, and it was not until September, 1887, after St Paul’s Mission was canonically organized as a Parish, that building was resumed by the contractor G.W. Ashby with alterations being made to Jenney’s original design of the interior.

St Paul’s Parish under construction, circa 1887.
The first liturgy was celebrated in the completed church on June 24, 1888, the Feast of the Nativity of St John the Baptist. Three years later, all debts were paid and the church consecrated under the title and patronage of St Paul the Apostle on October 11, 1891.

View from east of St Paul’s Parish, circa 1900.

View from southwest of St Paul’s Parish, circa 1900.

Church Alterations
In 1896, the Guild Room was added to the west side of the church and served as a parish meeting room.

In 1930, the Rev. Roy B. Grobb, fifth Rector of St Paul’s began the first of two extensive alterations which significantly altered the sense of the Jenney building.

The basilican interior was transformed into its present cruciform shape. Ironically, the opening of the transepts was unwittingly consistent with Jenney’s original design.

The apse which formed the original sanctuary (the area now containing the platform behind the Central Altar) was razed, along with the 1896 Guild Room.

Two of the sacristy walls were removed. A platform and organ console were moved into half of the space, and a row of non-functional “display” pipes was installed to provide visual symmetry with the organ chamber on the left. Choir stalls facing each other were installed, as was the present Blessed Sacrament Altar.

The present chancel and sanctuary, sacristies, and organ chamber were added, along with the new Guild Room, Great Hall, and kitchen. At the same time, several small roof towers were removed, as was a porch on the southern side of the building.

Before his retirement in 1950, the same Rector further altered the church entrance by adding the central narthex and making a baptistry out of the former tower entrance. The church school and office wing, which stands to the west of the church, was added in 1957.

Church Restorations

The church interior.
Since 1982, some of the original function and feeling of Jenney’s interior design have been restored.

The baptismal font was moved out of the tower center aisle entrance, and the tower was converted to a shrine featuring an icon of the Mother of God along with an icon of our patron, St Paul.

The organ console was moved back to its original location in the transept, and the space vacated (location of the original 1883 sacristy) was converted into a Reconciliation chapel.

A free-standing Altar was installed in the crossing of the transept. A platform for the celebrant was built behind it in the original shape of the apse. A semi-circular wing wall was built around the back of the platform to suggest the wall of the former apse, and lamps representing the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit were installed above the wall to highlight the effect.

The wing wall suggesting the wall of the former apse, and lamps representing the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit above the wall.
In the early 1980s, restoration of the grounds was begun in the 19th-century landscape style of Riverside’s designer, Frederick Law Olmsted. This was accomplished under the supervision of John Kolar, then head of the Riverside Forestry Commission. The work is now being continued under the supervision of Kurt Dreisilker, Manager of Natural Resources, Morton Arboretum, Lisle, Illinois.<