St. Stephen's Episcopal Church
St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church – A Brief History
by Alan Dinn
In 1890, there were only two churches on our peninsula – the Old First Church, down by the Mill Pond, where the Baptists still held services, and the Methodist Church, recently moved to the site now occupied by the Public Library. A third congregation would soon join them.
That same year, Rebecca (Newbold) Wysong and her husband, Dr. D. Preston Wysong, were living in Manhasset, across North Hempstead Turnpike (Northern Boulevard) from Christ Episcopal Church where Rebecca’s brother, the Rev. Charles L. Newbold, was the Rector.
In 1891, Dr. Wysong was invited to move his medical practice to Port Washington. He had a house built on the east side of Carlton Avenue, just south of Stannard’s Brook – the land behind his house is still known by locals as “Wysong’s Hollow.” The family missed the Sunday School at Christ Church for their boys. So that fall Rebecca Wysong started Sunday School classes in their Carlton Avenue home. Several children from the neighborhood joined the Wysong children for Bible stories and hymn singing.
Within a year, several mothers of the Sunday School organized as a Women’s Guild, and Rebecca Wysong’s brother came over from Manhasset to baptize some of the children and to conduct services.
In 1896, the Women’s Guild bought a lot on the corner of Jackson and Covert Streets and built a small wooden chapel there; the first service at “Christ Church Mission Chapel” was held on August 9, 1896. The following year, Frances DuPuy of Philadelphia gave the chapel a reed organ that had belonged to her late brother, B. Stephen DuPuy; as a result, the congregation voted to rename itself “St. Stephen’s Chapel.” Miss DuPuy later gave other gifts to the chapel, including an alms basin that is still in use.
In 1905, St. Stephen’s was incorporated as a parish and called the Rev. William Nies as our first Rector. In the same year, the parish bought the current plot of land on Carlton Avenue and moved the building to that land. The first service on the new site was held on Christmas Eve, 1905. Mr. Nies was a man of many talents; in addition to his duties as rector, he played the organ and directed the choir.
In 1908, the present stone building was started. It was about half as long as it now is, with a large window at each end of the building, and the entrance on the south side near the rear. It was dedicated in 1910 and consecrated in 1916. The window at the east end was replaced by the St. Stephen window in 1922, and the current altar was installed in 1934; both were donated by the same person.
Mr. Nies resigned in 1913 and went on to become Archdeacon of the American Congregations in Europe. He was succeeded by the Rev. George Groves.
Our third rector, the Rev. Walter Bentley, came to us in 1920. He was another talented man. He was born in England and had been a Shakespearean actor on tour in the US when he heard Bishop Phillips Brooks preach in Boston, and that inspired him to become a priest. While at St. Stephen’s, Bentley produced and starred in two Shakespeare plays at the high school (now the Landmark on Main Street) auditorium to raise money for our new Parish Hall. The large stage in the upper hall is a testimony to his planning.
(Two side notes about Mr. Bentley. First, he was one of the founders of the Players Club of Port Washington. A few years later, some of the members of the club broke away and formed the Port Washington Play Troupe. Second, his father-in-law, Frank M. Chamberlain, who lived with the Bentleys in his later years, was the oldest Civil War veteran in Port Washington at his death in 1934. Chamberlain is buried at Nassau Knolls.)
Mr. Bentley resigned in 1925 and was succeeded by the Rev. William Dietrich. During his term, the old chapel building was demolished; it was replaced by the current Parish Hall, which was dedicated in 1927.
Our fifth rector, Dr. William J. Woon, was also an Englishman. He had served in the Royal Navy Submarine Service in World War I, and came here in 1932. During World War II, on his initiative, the church sent Christmas cards to all of our parishioners in the military. After the War, he helped start the annual Blessing of the Fleet. In 1955, the church was expanded to its present size, with a chapel underneath. Dr. Woon retired in 1959. The Parish Hall was also expanded in 1962.
Dr. Woon was succeeded by two more long-term priests, the Rev. Fred Rapp and Fr. Kurt von Roeschalub. then by Mother Barbara Hutchinson, Fr. Stuart Huntley, and Fr. Gary Parker. Our current rector, Mother Lauren McLeavey, came to us in 2019.
St. Stephen’s has a long tradition of working with other religious organizations to meet the spiritual and physical needs of our community. As early as 1930, we held joint Easter sunrise services with the Lutherans, Methodists and Baptists. Since the 1940s, we have participated in the ecumenical Thanksgiving Eve services. We have joined with other local clergy in the annual Blessing of the Fleet (which was started in 1945 by our own Dr. Woon). We have partnered with the two Roman Catholic parishes and the Lutheran congregation to help people who suffered material losses from fires and storms. We have offered our facilities to other religious groups when they needed space during rebuilding programs.
We have also worked outside our own community with programs as diverse as resettlement of Vietnamese refugees, development of microloans for Ugandan women, and working to ensure fair treatment of international seafarers.