History of Saint James’: Organists

In 1982, the late Jeanne Davis compiled personal reminiscences of Saint James’ congregants, mostly elder, as part of a nationwide Episcopal celebration reminding us that our church is a body of people with rich and varied gifts.  The following is taken from these recollections found in “Gifts of the Generations” (St. James’ Church, September 1982).

“Many remembrances of personalities center around the organists and choir members.  Among the organists was Charlotte Holt, daughter of the Rev. George Washington Nelson, Rector 1880-1903.  Also, Dr. Bromley, organist during the early tenure of Mr. Bowden, organized a boys’ choir made up in part of boys from Stuyvesant School.

Street, T William
Professor T. William Street

“Perhaps best remembered, and longest serving organist is Prof. T. William Street.  [He and his wife, Mildred Grace Street], were a British couple, both excellent musicians with their share of eccentricities.  Mr. Street was a strict disciplinarian and made particularly good use of the boys choir.  However, he had some difficulty staying awake, particularly on warm Sundays before the church was air-conditioned.  Mr. Bowden would often have to rouse him to respond to musical cues in the service, and on one occasion Mr. Street nodded forward onto the keyboard with ear-shattering results.

“Mrs. Street had a powerful voice and took her church activities very seriously.  She sat in the first seat of the choir, and on at least one occasion, was said to have taken the Prayer Book from Mr. Bowden and found his place for him.  She was very prompt in her responses in the Psalms and other parts of the service, often being a word of two ahead of the congregation.  On one occasion, Taylor Keith, home for the holidays from the Navy, decided to race Mrs. Street to the responses, much to the amusement of the congregation.”

Street, Mildred Grace
Mildred Grace Street

Mr. Street composed music; Mrs. Street wrote the words; she was also a gifted poet and with the help of [Annie Camden Spilman] published a volume of her poetry, Life’s Memories 1896-1941, 96 pages, available in church archives.  The first two verses of “An Easter Prayer” follow:

O Risen Christ prepare my soul
To meet Thee Easter Day;
Receiving Thee through Bread and Wine
Thy holy chosen way.
The beauty of the flowers of earth
Are symbols so divine;
So make my soul as beautiful
My heart as pure as Thine.

Mildred Grace Smith died in 1956 at age 76; T. Willie Street died in 1957 at age 84; both are buried in Warrenton Cemetery.  There were no heirs; they left their few possessions to friends and his engraved gold pocket watch in the care of Mr. Bowden; it remains at Saint James’.

Jim Laster
Jim Laster, of Winchester, plays the organ at Saint James’ during a Christmas concert in December 2015.

Organists of Saint James’ – A Partial Listing

  • Ferdinand Bartenstein | 1848
  • *Charlotte C. Ball | 1849-1868 (?)
  • Dr. Phillips | 1870
  • Fannie Horner | 1872
  • R. G. Page | 1873
  • Dr. Louis Bromley | 1920
  • Charlotte Holt | 1923-1924
  • Katherine Fox Bowman (sub.) | 1923-1924
  • Katherine Allen | 1925
  • Annie Day
  • K. B. Austin | 1928
  • Prof. T. William Street | 1929-1957
  • R. L. (Shirley) Gray | 1957-1963
  • Gladys Schwab | 1963-1968
  • Edna Hulfish. (sub.)
  • Dr. Westevelt Blanchard Romaine | 1967-1969
  • Trevor Lee | 1969-1977
  • Julian Mason | 1977-1980
  • James Westerhouse | 1980-1984
  • Mary Lu Hartsell | 1984-1992
  • Michael Sherlin | 1992-2006
  • The Rev. Richard Ford | 2006-2013
  • Jesse Ratcliffe | 2013-present

*An early original document in church archives relates to Miss Ball’s salary.  It reads:

Warrenton Va. June 14th 1859 – Received from Vestry of St. James Church, eleven dollars and fifty cents on account of Organist’s Salary

1859 Receipt
June 1859 receipt regarding Charlotte Ball’s salary

Note: On February 7, 1868, a letter was sent to organist (presumably Charlotte Ball) regretting inability to pay amount due her.

Compiled: History Committee – Richard Gookin     March 2016

Sources: Church archives; “Gifts of the Generations”; 1989 organ dedication program; Mrs. Street’s poetry

File: Music at Saint James(2)