That it was founded in 1866 with funds donated by a former slave is just one of the interesting facts behind the Saint James Episcopal Church on Grosse Ile.

The former slave, Elizabeth Denison Forth, donated her savings of $1,500 to build a church “where rich and poor alike could worship.” St. James will celebrate its 150th anniversary in 2018. Events will begin with a walking tour in January and continue throughout the year.

After gaining her freedom, Lisette worked as a domestic to John and Eliza Biddle. The Biddles were a prosperous family who lived in Wyandotte. Their children attended school on Grosse Ile at the present site of the church.
Kate Hartwell, St. James’s historian

Construction on the chapel began in 1866 and was consecrated in 1868. For many years it was the only Protestant church on Grosse Ile, and people of many traditions worshiped there together. The church was designed by Gordon Lloyd, the architect who designed Christ Church in Detroit along with many other buildings, including the Whitney mansion-turned-restaurant.

Hartwell describes the architecture of the chapel as “carpenter Gothic.” She explains, “The design is definitely Gothic, but the builders used whatever material they had, and Grosse Ile was very wooded.” One particularly outstanding feature of the chapel is its stained glass Tiffany window, which Hartwell says is one of the finest examples of stained glass in the country. St. James’s sanctuary was built in 1948 and dedicated to the brave men who died in World War II.

A viable member of the Grosse Ile community, St. James hosts two rummage sales each year, where people of all faiths chip in to help. Proceeds go to charity. Additionally, Thanksgiving run attracts nearly 100 participants and again, all proceeds are donated to various charities.

St. James Episcopal Church is located at 25150 East River Rd. Services, hosted by Rev. Philip Dinwiddie, are held Sunday mornings at 8:00 and 10:00 a.m.

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