HISTORY

St. James Episcopal Church was built in 1857, the third home to a congregation founded in 1762.  It is a significant and early example of 19th century Gothic Revival architecture in Western Massachusetts, constructed of locally quarried blue dolomite limestone with a central tower, pointed-arch windows, and exquisite stained glass.  In 1911, a parish house was added to the rear of the church building, in a complementary style with half-timbered elevations, dormers, and pointed-arch windows with finely detailed tracery.  Over more than a century and a half, St. James has been a distinguished regional landmark, standing at the gateway to downtown Great Barrington, at the intersection of two historic districts.

The church has a long tradition as a venue for both sacred and classical music, thanks to its fine acoustics, the size of the sanctuary, and the central location.  A number of professional music ensembles performed there regularly, including the Aston Magna Music Festival, Close Encounters with Music, and Berkshire Bach Society.

In 2008, the wall at the rear of the choir experienced partial collapse, creating a dangerous safety hazard and the building was condemned.  Financially unable to undertake the extensive renovation work required, the parish was forced to re-locate and the church was evaluated for demolition.  Local residents, upset at losing a much loved community anchor, advocated among church leadership and the Board of Selectmen to save the church.

In 2010, Sally and Fred Harris, former parishioners and Great Barrington residents, stepped in to rescue the historic church by creating a nonprofit entity to purchase the property and return it to public use as a multi-use cultural and educational center.  Over the next six years, the building has been stabilized, market and feasibility studies undertaken, architectural and engineering plans drawn up, with a focus on the preservation of the historic architecture and interior features.  Renovation and reconstruction began in 2011 and work is scheduled for completion by the end of 2016.