The history of the Episcopal church in Carlisle began in 1751 when Richard Peters, an agent for the Penn family, reserved a lot on the town square, measuring 180 by 200 feet, for the use of the Church of England. A missionary priest, the Rev. George Craig, who celebrated the first Eucharist in Carlisle on Trinity Sunday, 1752, described the setting as, “a place where they have no church, and no missionary ever was before.”
St. John’s Parish was established in 1755 by the Rev. Thomas Barton, as part of a three-parish circuit mission supported by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, the famous missionary arm of the Church of England. Barton describes Carlisle as, “the very frontier of Messiah’s kingdom…the remotest part of the West.” The other churches in the circuit were St. John’s, York and Christ Church, Huntington, near York Springs, organized in 1747. The Rev. Barton and his successors rode this seventy-mile circuit for fifty years.
Carlisle’s first services were held in a temporary log building. However, in 1761 construction began on a small stone church and proceeded erratically, the victim of Indian wars and the delay caused by the Revolution. When finally completed in 1768 the building was used until 1825. St. John’s was first incorporated under Pennsylvania law in 1794, and obtained its present charter in 1826.
The present church, constructed using the material from the first church, was consecrated on July 8, 1827 by Bishop William White. The building, whose rough stone walls were plastered inside and out, had a tower at the east end. In 1861 the original tower and organ loft were removed, the present tower at the west end built, and the simple exterior was decorated in the bracketed Norman style. This expanded building was consecrated by Bishop Alonzo Potter.
The papers of the St. John’s Episcopal Church are comprised of records from the founding of the church up through the present day. They have been arranged into fourteen record groups as follows: RG 1 – Parish Registers; RG 2 – Vestry Minutes; RG 3 – Annual Meeting and Parochial Reports; RG 4 – Registers of Church Services and Guests; RG 5 – Financial and Legal Papers; RG 6 – Physical Plant; RG 7 – Correspondence; RG 8 – Personnel; RG 9 – Societies and Associations; RG 10 – Printed Materials; RG 11 – Miscellaneous; RG 12 – Historical Data; RG 13 – Photographs; RG 14 – Artifacts. The description for each record group appears before its inventory.