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St John’s, Decatur Releases New History Book

Parishioners Aaron Akins and his mother, Janice Akins, have authored a new history book about St. John’s Episcopal Church, Decatur, IL. Through a gracious memorial gift from the late Vincent and Ettie Cooling, a beautiful full-color glossy page book has been written and published.

The 840-page book, The Definitive History of St. John’s Episcopal Church, provides background and meaning to the people and details that surround the building at the corner of Church and Eldorado Streets in Decatur. Although it is a culmination of the church’s past and present, it is also a historical book filled with stories from Decatur and across the United States. The authors have included short biographies for the 58 rectors who have tended to St. John’s in its 166 years. Nearly 800 people are listed in the index and the Works Cited covers 90 pages.

A theme at St. John’s through many years has been the Biblical verse of “What Mean These Stones” which was the subject of the Dedication Sermon of the stone church in 1892. Aaron Akins believes that in 2021, few stones have been left unturned.  He had written St. John’s History in 1999 as a high school project, but had always wished for a more comprehensive volume. When the pandemic began, it seemed time to begin the new project.

Research included studying each page of the twenty-two archival binders that the Akins put together and have maintained since 2000. The binders contain bits of church history from many printed sources. In addition, they worked with parishioners, former rectors, church blueprints, photos, and Decatur historical references. The two also studied more than 3000 newspaper articles. Important Decatur buildings that were included are the former Carnegie Library, old Decatur High, and the Transfer House. The current church office, The Bacon House from 1882, which is located next door to St. John’s, was also researched. In addition, many new photographs were taken along with drone pictures.

The main church has changed little since 1892.  In 1892, the corner lot of Church Street and Eldorado was thought to be one of the best sites left to build on. Members of the church included well-known members of Decatur’s history such as banker L.L. Burrows and Admiral C.B.T. Moore. Other notable figures in St. John’s history include Harvey Firestone Jr. and former Illinois Governor Oglesby from the 1800s.

Along with pictures, graphics, and historical references, full copies of important church papers, histories, and cookbooks are also printed in the book. 3-D computer renderings of the church’s progress throughout the years fill several pages and show the growth of the church and its buildings.

Every graphic in the book has a purpose and reflects people, activities, and work that was important. Talents from around the globe contributed to the making of the book, including graphic artists, painters, and architects from Armenia, Bangladesh, Canada, and India. A Canadian artist painted a new watercolor of the present church which is on the book cover.

Janice and Aaron felt that the book was almost a mission in some ways. They were able to fill in lost pieces of history, give extra credit to those who deserved accolades, and talk with special people from the past.

One of the most interesting encounters happened after the book was published.  Aaron wanted 3-D renderings from the original blueprints and found an architect who offered to do that for an affordable fee.  The expert spent hours making sure everything was just right.  His last message related that his family had just been through a terrible 2020 Armenian war and the work and the Akins’ support of his efforts had helped him rebuild his business and his family’s security.

The history book project is not a fundraiser and copies are being sold at cost which is $90.00. Please contact the St John’s office.