St. John’s Church, a Virginia historical site, was established by the Diocese of Virginia in May 1848 as the second Episcopal congregation in Portsmouth. The original Greek Revival building was located near the corner of Court and London Streets. During the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1855, James Chisholm, the church’s first priest, remained in Portsmouth to minister to the sick. He died of the disease at the Portsmouth Naval Hospital; he was later added to the Episcopal Church’s calendar of saints.
Following the Civil War, the parish abandoned pew rents and welcomed all to worship with a sign declaring “All Seats Free”. In 1897, St. John’s applied for a building permit to construct the current Gothic Revival church building at the corner of London and Washington Streets. Built with rose granite from Salisbury, North Carolina, the worship space dwells between the magnificent Rose Window on the east façade and the glorious Tiffany Window above the altar depicting Jesus with his hands outstretched in welcome. Early 20th Century building additions were designed by Mary Brown Channel, Virginia’s first licensed female architect.
The adjacent memorial garden is open daily to the public as a peaceful place for rest and meditation and is the only active spot for the burial of human cremains within the Portsmouth Olde Towne Historic District.