A Church is not just a building. It is a community of people who share their faith and their prayers. And that is the story of Church of Our Saviour, an Episcopal congregation that had its start in the earliest years of one of Chicago’s oldest suburbs – 150 years ago in the midst of the Civil War, in unlikely surroundings an under unusual circumstances.
Church of Our Saviour, at 116 East Church Street in Elmhurst, IL, has been housed in three beautiful buildings in its first 150 years and is blessed that it still has and uses two of them. It is a congregation whose experiences in the last century and a half closely mirror both the social and ecclesiastical history of its times, locally, regionally and nationally.
In the mid 19th century the Village of Cottage hill was established in the midst of the rolling prairies west of Chicago. In 1870, with the help of Bryan, Cottage Hill was renamed Elmhurst. One of the earliest residents was Thomas Barbour Bryan, the head of a prominent wealthy family. 1856 Bryan purchased 1000 acres at York and Saint Charles Road. There he erected a mansion he named ‘The Byrd’s Nest’ in honor of his wife, who’s maiden name was Byrd.
In 1862 Bryan began holding church services for his family, friends an neighbors in the mansion’s dining room. In 1865 Bryan built a freestanding chapel and named it the Byrd’s Nest Chapel. At the first service held there, on April 23, 1865, the 50 people attending grieved in prayer for Abraham Lincoln, slain nine days earlier.
A Congregation worshiped in Byrd’s Nest Chapel for 45 years, and while they lost their place of worship in 1910 the congregation remained strong and forward looking. The parish met in private homes until On January 6, 1914, the Feast of the Epiphany, Bishop C.P. Anderson granted the Byrd’s Nest Episcopalians permission to organize as a mission under the name ‘Church of Our Saviour’.
Later that Year, using stones from the recently razed Cook County Courthouse, a sturdy new church building went up at Church Street and Kenilworth Ave. The Chapel, once known as the Parish House but now called Plankey Chapel, was remains attached to the 1960 church building, and is presently used for services by the Church of South India, an Anglican Church affiliate.
In 1938 Mr. Mrs. John L. Greaves presented the church with one of the most significant gifts in its history when they had an exquisite white Italian marble Altar from Calvary Church in Chicago, a memorial to their son Walter, installed in the 1915 stone church. It replaced the church’s original oak altar and reredos, themselves notable pieces of ecclesiastical art, given to St. Andrew’s Church in Downer’s Grove. When the new church building was built in 1960, the white marble altar became its centerpiece, and the congregation went back to St. Andrew’s, retrieved and restored the original oak altar to the 1915 chapel, where it remains today.
On September 11, 1960 the cornerstone for the new church building was laid in place and formal dedication followed on October 15th of that year.
The design of the striking edifice managed to gracefully link the old Norman Gothic stone building with the ultra modernist, soaring A-frame of the new building. The interior floor plan, designed by Cooley and Borre of Park Ridge, was laid out in shape of a Greek cross within a 10 foot high stone wall forming a square. The new church was given the Honor Award at the 1961 National Conference on Church Architecture.