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St. John's Episcopal Church; Beverly Eoff; Dr. John Eoff


-from "Robert W. Eoff : The Eoff Family in the United States" (Fourth Pamphlet), Eoff Park, Ind., 1906.

CHIMES FROM ST. JOHN'S


Organ's deep note 'neath tap'ring, spires
Enthralls the soil-exultant choirs
Like floating peals from distant bells
Chiming-the heart responsive swells.

Bishop Meade, in his "Old Churches and Families of Virginia," mentions Dr. John Eoff and Beverly M. Eoff, grandfather and father respectively, of the writer. The former donated the ground and built St. John's Church at Wheeling during the early part of 1800. The Doctor did not build this church under any particular stimulus of piety, but was instigated by his wife, Mrs. Helen S. Eoff, who was a distinguished churchwoman of that period and vicinity; her home was a rendezvous for the bishops and clergy of Virginia and the South, whom she entertained, as well as eminent gentlemen of letters in other professions, who were constantly coming and going — but of this zealous and devoted lady of the church, further reference will be made at the proper time.

Their son Beverly in his younger days was also profoundly imbued with the same sentiment and gave largely of his time and means in this small world and vicinage, for the advancement of the "One Catholic and Apostolic."

St. John's, usually termed by the irreverent as "Eoff's Chapel,'' was a wooden edifice erected strictly upon the principle of Euclid's First Theorem; that if one straight line meet another straight line, the resultant effect will he a right-angle — such was the general plan and architecture of St. John's. A cubic parallelogram set on one end constituted the tower, which contained a sonorous bell whose clangings awoke the impious at dewy morn clamoring for attendance at early service. Square panes of glass were set in lofty and wide rectangular windows. The interior presented the same severity of outline; there was not a curve, a point, or an arch. The little pipe organ was square.

Beverly made frequent trips to New York city where he saw many things. His discontent and disgust grew as he surveyed the cheerless and unlovely interior of this church, — whose liturgy has no equal, her prayers, invocations, the ever-changing beauty and solemnity of ritual, from the March Processional to the Hymn Recessional, impressed him forcibly with the imperative need of immediate change to accord with the spirit of the oblation of praise and thanksgiving.

Upon his return from one of these visits to the city, he closed the church and set to work at a complete transformation of its interior aspect. All the doors and windows were given gothic points. The chancel was surmounted by a graceful arch. The chancel-window and all the other windows were skilfully embellished with diamond-shaped cut paper of gorgeous hues, — red, blue, green, yellow, — in harmonious coloration, blends and distribution, which by day and by artificial light at night, gave the same effect as stained glass. The unsightly gallery at the rear of the church was taken out and a large organ of cathedral design, with pointed tips and spires, adorned the space from floor to roof. These, with many other minor improvements and changes, executed with judgment and good taste, effectively transformed chancel, nave and organ-space into places of correct architectural and ecclesiastical harmony and beauty.

St. John's in those days, fifty years ago, was "high church" in direct contradistinction to St. Matthew's, the parent church, which was decidedly "low." Some animosity and rivalry existed between the two parishes, but not much exhibition of these sentiments was betrayed, each being disposed to stand by his own church, ignoring the other. The quaint customs of the English Church existed in these old Virginia parishes. The psalter was read antiphonally by rector and congregation without stopping until the end, when either the Gloria Patri or the Gloria in Excelsis was sung both at morning and evening service. Beverly, who was musical director, organist, and arbiter elegantiarum, on one of his return visits from New York, made his choir sing the Gloria after every psalm, whereat there was a great uproar, but he stuck to his guns and his principles. He was critically exact in his tastes and judgment in the church music of those times. But at that period the music of the church was operatic, not ecclesiastical. The more impressive portions of the service were set to adaptations from popular operas. Now, musicians of fame employ their talents in noble composition for surpliced choirs, in swelling sequences of grandeur, filling nave and architrave, transept and chancel with sublime and pealing cadences.

The civil war brought fierce strife, unhappy dissension and division among the members of the congregation, until finally the property was sold, the church torn down and ground purchased in another street not far distant front the old site. After the lapse of a number of years a stone structure arose in modern elegance of design and proportion. In the front facade of the new church is a large and handsome memorial window of Robert C. Woods. The chancel-window is a memorial of Dr. John Eoff, symbolical of the Ascension. But dissension still abode in the congregation, the church passed into the hands of strangers and is no more known as St. John's.


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