In the late 1800s, Rye Beach and Little Boars Head were popular summer residences for wealthy families from New York as well as St. Louis, Chicago and other mid-western cities. Church services were important to these summer residents who united together to build this chapel. Until St. Andrew’s was built Episcopal services were held at the Casino, the social center for the nearby Farragut Hotel, beginning July 17, 1864.
Generally, people brought their household staffs and lived in the hotels and boarding houses along the beach, the last of which are the Wentworth by the Sea and the Drake House. Some of these servants and employees of the hotels were African-Americans, who used St. Andrew’s for their own worship services and meetings.
Since many of these vacationers stayed at the Farragut Hotel for the summer, the land for the chapel was donated to the Bishop of New Hampshire by the owners of the Farragut, Frank A. and Elizabeth Philbrick. Although the building of the chapel was not yet completed in 1877, the first service in the chapel was held on August 4, 1876. The chapel was completed in 1877 when the bell tower and bell, cast by the Holbrook Company were added. The church is reported to have cost $4,000 to build.
The Farragut was located in today’s large vacant field at the south end of Church Road. Church Road at that time was a lane in a forest of trees with a wooden sidewalk leading to the chapel. Many people arrived by horseback or coach from the hotels, requiring the stone platform in the churchyard wall. The wooden gate at the entrance to the churchyard, common in English churches but rather unique in the country is called a lych gate. It originated in medieval churches as a shelter for caskets before proceeding into the church.
St. Andrew’s, designed by the architectural firm of Walter T. Winslow and George H. Wetherell, is a unique example of a small rural stone chapel embellished by wooden trim, which owes much to both the Stick Style and late Gothic Revival style. Country English parish churches inspired the design of St. Andrew’s. The interior is meant to look like a boat built upside down to incorporate the decorative wooden trusses which support the heavy slate roof. Thirty-six long metal bolts hole each beam together.
The walls are constructed of stones that may have been dragged from the shore. Each wall has five protruding round stones to form a cross.
Initially, the windows were covered with white cotton cloth and decorated with floral arrangements. Painted and stained glass windows were installed later but only one painted window remains today. It is located in the Sacristy behind the organ. (The Rogers electronic organ was installed in 2000.)
The chapel has two Tiffany windows including the magnificent rose window on the rear wall. It was designed by Charles Platt and executed in the copper foil technique by Tiffany and Company in 1909 to honor Richard Hoffman, an internationally acclaimed pianist from England. He served as organist and choirmaster at St. Andrew’s for 27 years using a pipe organ that was pumped by a young boy. The other Tiffany window is the fourth window on the north side.
The chapel features a window by John LaFarge, whose windows can be seen at Trinity Church, Copley Square, Boston. The LaFarge window is the fourth window on the north side.
The first window nearest the main door on the south side is in memory of Ogden Nash, renowned poet and secretary of St. Andrew’s for 25 years. Note the profile and eyeglasses in the lower right-hand corner of the window. A replica of the U.S. postage stamp dedicated to him is hanging on the wall of the Sacristy.
The three windows behind the altar were originally shown at the Philadelphia Exposition in 1876 and brought to St. Andrew’s. The middle window was enlarged when it was installed at St. Andrew’s. They were given in memory of a young boy who lived only 4 years. Connick Associates of Boston crafted the remaining windows between 1958 and 1971.
One decorative item of note is the bas relief of St. Andrew located near the pulpit. It was created by parishioner and internationally renowned sculptress, Malvina Hoffman, who wrote the first history of St. Andrew’s. She was the daughter of Richard Hoffman.
The cemetery contains the tombs of Frank A. and Lizzie B. Philbrick, the donors of the property and their heirs. It was enlarged in 1997 to hold new graves arranged around a wrought iron Celtic cross. The granite table is in memory of the Reverend Robert W. Golledge, who served this chapel for 40 years.
During its history, the chapel has served as the chapel for the girls’ school at Stoneleigh Manor and later served the same function when that building was used as a military recovery hospital during World War II.
St. Andrew’s-by-the-Sea was placed on the National Register of Historic Places by the U.S. Department of Interior in 2002. Since then a multi-stage restoration has been undertaken. The wood interior, stain glass windows, and Lych gate were recently refurbished. In 2017 the chapel was chosen to receive a $50,000 LCHIP grant to support the replacing of the 140-year-old, original slate roof. With that and additional funding in place, the new roof was finished in 2019, helping to secure the historic building for future generations.