HERMON GAYLORD WOOD, son of Hiram and Mary (Sprague) Wood, was born 19 Jan 1831 in Camillus, New York. He was known throughout his life as either H. Gaylord Wood or simply, H. G. Wood. His father was a farmer and a miller, and for nearly 40 years Senior Warden of Trinity Church in Fayetteville, New York. He prepared for college at Cortland Academy in Homer, New York. He graduated from Hobart College in Geneva, New York in 1853 with a B.A. degree and studied theology at Hobart Divinity School under the Rev. Dr. William Dexter Wilson, Professor of Moral and Intellectual Philosophy, receiving a B.D. (Bachelor of Divinity) degree in 1856. He was ordained a deacon in May 1856 and a priest in June 1857 by the Rt. Rev. William Heathcote De Lancey, Bishop of the Diocese of Western New York. He was married to Mary Elizabeth Luff, daughter of Edmund M. and Eliza (Merrit) Luff of Sackets Harbor, New York, 2 June 1857 in Sackets Harbor. They had six children.
In July 1856, while still a deacon, Hermon Gaylord Wood was appointed Missionary at Christ Church in Sackets Harbor, New York. During his time there, he was awarded an M.A. degree from Hobart College in 1858. Shortly after his next appointment in November 1858 as Rector of Grace Church in Buffalo, New York, he solved a problem for the parish and discovered a life-long avocation. In his own words,
Although this parish was one of the first organized in the county, yet for more than 30 years it had suffered from want of a Church edifice. In February last, efforts were made to build a Church. With that earnestness of heart which characterizes every work of love, the members and friends of the Church united their energies and commenced the work. A lot 62x120 feet was given by a member of the Parish.... Although begun in the midst of a commercial depression, it has gone forward with a rapidity equal to our highest wishes. On the 31st of July, it was so far completed that we were able to open it for public worship. It is a Gothic structure, of wood. The inside dimensions are: Nave 27x57 feet; Chancel 18x18; Vestry-room 9x11; Porch 10x12. It has an open roof and an open bell turret surmounted by a cross. The walls are strengthened by heavy butresses. The windows are of stained glass, done by Mr. Thurston, of this city.
A year later, he was able to report "The Church begun last year is now finished, free from debt, and consecrated. The total cost has been about $3,000." It was later described by a local historian as "a true symbol of a united congregation, the pastor designed the building and the members assisted in constructing it." (Unfortunately, Grace Church was destroyed in a fire in 1921.) Hermon Gaylord Wood served Grace Church in Buffalo until November 1863.
In January 1864, he was given temporary charge of his boyhood parish, Trinity Church in Fayetteville, New York, where his father was in his 19th year as Senior Warden. By mid-August 1864, he was transferred to the Diocese of New York and was called as Rector by Christ Church in Herkimer, New York and appointed Missionary to the nearby village of Mohawk, New York.
While at Christ Church, he designed two more Episcopal churches, both in the Diocese of Western New York. For St. James Church in Cleveland, New York, a parish newly-organized in July 1867, he designed a Gothic structure of wood that might well have been identical to Grace Church in Buffalo--and perhaps too large for a rural village. Its new rector stated in his November 1868 parochial report, "This Parish is not quite two years old, ...yet it has a new and beautiful Church edifice, paid for and ready for consecration, which will seat some three hundred persons." The value of the church, organ, and bell was $8,008. (Today, it is the home of the Cleveland Historical Society.) At Trinity Church in Fayetteville, he conceived something much more ambitious--his first stone church. In June 1870, Trinity's rector advised the Convention, "The Parish has resolved to build a Stone Church edifice, in the style of early Gothic." In fact, the cornerstone was laid 9 August 1870. A year later, he wrote,
In the last report, it was stated that plans were maturing for the erection of a Church to be built of stone. I have the satisfaction of reporting that the edifice is enclosed and nearly ready for the windows. It is according to plans furnished by the Rev. Gaylord Wood, son of the Senior Warden of this Parish. The building is in the old English pointed style, antique form, and solid butressed walls of unhewn stone. The windows are by Sharpe of New York. The Building Committee, with unceasing energy, has labored to bring this noble work to completion.
Trinity Church in Fayetteville was constructed of gray limestone, with interior furnishings of black walnut, at a cost of $14,000. Although the open wooden bell tower collapsed in March 1923, it remains in active use as an Episcopal church.
In January 1871, Hermon Gaylord Wood, like many young Episcopal priests of that time, went West to serve under the Rt. Rev. Henry Benjamin Whipple, D.D., LL.D., Bishop of Minnesota and legendary Missionary to the Sioux and Ojibway Indian Nations. He was appointed Rector of the Church of the Good Shepherd in Faribault, Minnesota. He was also elected to the Diocesan Missionary Board and served as its Secretary. Shortly before his arrival in Faribault, Bishop Whipple had received a commitment from a donor in Chicago to build a chapel at Shattuck School, an Episcopal boys' school in Faribault. Diocesan historian the Rev. George C. Tanner chronicled the circumstances of it construction:
The corner stone of the Memorial Chapel of the Good Shepherd was laid by the bishop June 21st 1871. In the autumn of this year occurred the great fire of Chicago, in which Mrs. Shumway, in common with others, suffered great loss. Nothing daunted, she gave orders that the work should proceed, and the beautiful Memorial Chapel, erected at a cost of nearly $30,000, including its furnishing, was consecrated September 24, 1872. As a school chapel, there is none finer in America.
The Chapel of the Good Shepherd at Shattuck School was constructed of blue limestone in the English Gothic style. It was designed by New York architect Henry M. Congdon, well-known in his day. From Wood's later work, it is evident that he was familiar with the interior details of this building. Wood himself designed in 1874 a small chapel for an Episcopal mission in Wells, Minnesota affiliated with his parish.
After nearly four years in Minnesota, Hermon Gaylord Wood returned East with his family in November 1874, accepting the position as Rector at St. John's Church in Sharon, Pennsylvania and as Missionary in Mercer and Lawrence counties, with stations in New Castle, Greenville, Mercer, Stoneboro, and Pardoe, Pennsylvania, where he served until May 1887.
In 1877, however, a book was published in England that had a profound influence on Wood's thinking--Inductive Metrology, or the Recovery of Ancient Measures from the Monuments by Professor Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie (1853-1942), an English Egyptologist and a pioneer of systematic methodology in archaeology. His reading on the subject led him to the works of Sir John Gardner Wilkinson (1797-1875), a well-known English traveller, writer and pioneer Egyptologist of the 19th century, and of Charles Piazzi Smyth (1819-1900), Astronomer Royal for Scotland from 1846 to 1888, well-known for his many innovations in astronomy and his metrological studies of the Great Pyramid of Giza.
After traveling to Egypt in 1865 to obtain accurate measurements of the Great Pyramid, Smyth came to believe that a) it was not built as a tomb for the pharaohs, but rather as a storehouse for a divinely-inspired metrological system, and that b) the linear unit used in the design of the Great Pyramid is the "sacred cubit" of 25.0265 British inches. The sacred cubit divided into 25 equal parts results in the "sacred inch" (also called the "pyramid inch") which equals 1.00106 British inches. Smyth asserted therefore that the British inch was a measure given by God Himself to His ancient people and far more scientific than any other metrological system on earth.
Hermon Gaylord Wood accepted Symth's proposition wholeheartedly and became an active member in the International Institute of Preserving and Perfecting Weights and Measures, founded in November 1879 in Cleveland, Ohio, by Charles Latimer (1827-1888), an American civil engineer who was vigorously opposed to the introduction of the French metric system. In his capacity as Secretary of the Committee on Weights and Measures for the International Institute, Wood wrote,
It does not appertain to the Anglo-Saxon race to cut loose from historical antecedents. It is conservative in its customs, laws, religion and philosophy. Historical isolation is obnoxious to the Anglo-Saxon mind. It reveres ancestral lines, and whoever attempts to overthrow its metrology must expect an opposition natural and persistent.
Having accepted the sacred cubit as a Divine revelation, Wood turned his attention to the Temple that God revealed to Ezekiel in the Bible (Ezekiel Chapters 40-48), and having converted the letters of the Hebrew alphabet into numbers, determined that "the measures of the temple and city of Ezekiel are simple and systematic combinations of the numerical symbols of Elohim and Jehovah," (for example J=10, H=5, V=6). He published a well-received article on the topic in the July 1885 issue of The International Standard, the monthly publication of the International Institute. This work led him to investigate the floor plans of the great cathedrals in England--Westminster Abbey, Winchester, Rochester, Lincoln, Ely, and so forth--twenty-two altogether, with construction dates ranging from 1043 to 1685. He measured them all using circular or geometric units (degrees in a circle, etc.), time units (hours, minutes, etc.), and sacred units (numerical symbols of Elohim and Jehovah). He found a great many interesting numerical relationships, which he then traced back through Grecian and Roman architecture, through Stonehenge and the Mound Builders, to the Great Pyramid of Giza. He later wrote in his book Ideal Metrology in Nature, Art, Religion and History:
We cannot think this a series of accidental coincidences, nor can we believe that earnest men of faith would toy in work that was to be consecrated to God for the illumination and life of His people.... The cycle of what is divinely generated is reproduced in the numerical language of choir, transept, nave, aisle, doorway, window, column, arcade, gable and tower. Every feature has its unit of measure, its mystic symbolism.
On 9 May 1887, the Rev. Hermon Gaylord Wood was received into the Diocese of Massachusetts from the Diocese of Pittsburg. He was assigned first as Missionary at St. Paul's Church in Beachmont (Revere) and, within a few months, assigned also as Missionary at St. John's Church in Winthrop. He came to Massachusetts at a time of great expansion within the diocese under the leadership of the Bishop Benjamin Henry Paddock--from one end of the diocese to the other, missions were being founded, cornerstones laid, and churches consecrated. This was a trend that was going to continue for another decade. At the Annual Convention of the Diocese in May 1897, Bishop William Lawrence reported:
The celebration of the One Hundreth Anniversary of the Consecration of Bishop Bass [Edward Bass (1726-1803), first bishop of the Diocese of Massachusetts] has prompted the Rev. H. Gaylord Wood to make a study of the Convention Journals of this Diocese and draw up a statistical chart....
In 1820 we had of Parish Clergy one in 80,000 population; now we have one in 14,000. Then, the average number of Communicants to a Cure was 75; now it is 186.
In 1820 there was one Communicant in 560 of the population; now, one in 75, or seven and one-half times as many to every thousand of the population. Confirmations were then one in 6,000, now one in 1,000; Sunday-School Scholars then one in 3,000, now, one in 100....
The figures confirm the common impression of those who are most familiar with the Church in this Diocese. The Church is, we are grateful to say, becoming more and more the Church of the common people, gathering in large numbers of wage-earners and people of moderate means, and offering a home for thousands of English operatives.
This movement has made greater demands upon the Parish, calling for increase of plant, Parish Houses, and a variety of institutional enterprises. A Parish to-day is more of a missionary and evangelizing organization than it used to be.
During Hermon Gaylord Wood's first year as Missionary at St. Paul's Church in Beachmont in 1887-88, he initiated not one, but two, new church building projects--a new church in Beachmont was completed in June 1888 at a cost of about $3,000, followed by a new church in Winthrop in December 1889 at a cost of about $5,000. In each case, he credited another architect with the design--for Beachmont, William P. Wentworth (1839-1896) of Boston and for Winthrop, Willard M. Bacon (1860-1947) of Winthrop. According to parish records at St. John's Church in Winthrop, these architects did not actually design the structures; they drew up the plans to Wood's specifications for building permit purposes. The Boston Daily Globe reported at the time:
One of the prettiest church edifices erected for some time in this State is owned by the Episcopalians of Winthrop, and which is now almost completed and ready for occupancy...and is of the early English style of architecture. The roof of the church is open timber work, ceiling above. The interior walls are plastered and frescoed with float finish.
The ground floor consists of nave 24x50; chancel 24x20, and chapel, 16x29, inside measure.
The extreme height of the nave is 25 feet from the floor. The chancel has a side archway opening into the chapel. The chapel opens into the nave by two broad archways. The entrance to the chapel is by a porch, 6x10. The entrance to the nave is through the base of a side tower, 11.6x11.6. The edifice is lighted by groups of windows on either side, and a large west window and windows in the roof. The choir stalls are within the chancel, and have a seating capacity for 16 choristers. The entire seating capacity is 280.
What is remarkable about this description of St. John's Church in Winthrop is that it applies almost exactly to St. John's Church in Athol, completed October 1890; St. Andrew's Church in Ayer, completed December 1892; Emmanuel Church in West Roxbury, completed December 1893; St. Peter's Church in Jamaica Plain, completed February 1894; and All Saint's Church in Belmont, completed April 1897--each one designed by the Rev. Hermon Gaylord Wood. He also designed nave and chancel additions for Church of the Good Shepherd in Clinton, completed June 1892.
Responding to the needs of very small rural parishes, he created a series of smaller fieldstone church buildings in the Gothic style with a seating capacity of about perhaps half of St. John's in Winthrop--St. Anne's Church in North Billerica, completed 1889; St. Mark's Church in Foxboro, completed November 1893; St. George's Church in Maynard, completed August 1895; Trinity Church in Canton, completed September 1897; and St. Paul's Church in Hopkinton, completed December 1898.
In addition, Wood designed his own home in Winthrop (now 62 Temple Avenue), built by Charles P. Stowe of Winthrop and completed in July 1890. It resembles a church in appearance and its tower is capped by a curious feature--a pyramid.
In November 1892, Wood resigned as Missionary at St. John's Church in Winthrop, while continuing on at St. Paul's Church in Beachmont, to allow him to devote time to the work of the Diocesan Board of Missions. In its report to the Convention in 1891, the Board stated its primary objectives as "strengthening those [missions] which we already have, and so equipping them for their work, and so generously aiding them that they may do it in a large and effective way."
According to the centennial history of St. John's Church in Athol, the Diocesan Board of Missions was "invaluably active in guiding the little church in Athol in both the practical and more esoteric avenues of its existence." Board of Missions Treasurer John S. Blatchford attended parish business meetings, recommended the purchase of a larger parcel of land than the parish had originally agreed to purchase, and arranged for the Rev. Hermon Gaylord Wood, described as an "architectural consultant from the Diocesan Mission Board," to prepare plans for the proposed building. In addition, Blatchford facilitated a $1,750 loan for the project, about half the cost of the building itself. Most interesting, "the building committee reported at a church meeting...that the bid of Mr. C. P. Stowe of Winthrop has been accepted to 'erect, build, and completely finish up on the church property a church in accordance with the plans and specifications adopted by the parish.'" If the Board of Missions provided this level of assistance with building projects in other parishes, it could explain how these geographically diverse church buildings came to be nearly identical in form, fit and finish--inside and out. In the Diocese of Massachusetts, 13 churches have been positively identified as the work of Hermon Gaylord Wood.
The Convention Journal of 1897 reported Wood's resignation at Easter from Parochial work, "to serve temporarily wherever he may be needed." In fact, except for designing a small summer church--St. James in Burkehaven (Sunapee), New Hampshire, completed August 1898--he spent his retirement developing his ideas on inductive metrology and sacred geometry. In a race against all but total blindness, he published Ideal Metrology in Nature, Art, Religion and History in 1907.
The Rev. Hermon Gaylord Wood died 9 July 1913 at his daughter's home in Dorchester, Massachusetts. The Rt. Rev. William Lawrence, Bishop of the Diocese of Massachusetts, read the burial service at Wood's home, after which his body was taken to Fayetteville, New York for burial there in the Wood family lot at Fayetteville Cemetery. Obituaries subsequently appeared in The Church Militant and in various scientific and religious journals, each one emphasizing a different aspect of his multifaceted life.
He was the author of many articles and one book, including "The E. N. E. Trench and the Obliquity of the Ecliptic", The International Standard, Vol. III, No. 1 (March 1885), p. 55-61; "The Temple Vision of Ezekiel", The International Standard, Vol. III, No. 3 (July 1885), p. 197-210; "The Boston Cubit", The American Journal of Archeology and the History of the Fine Arts, Vol. 3, No. 3/4 (December 1887), p. 269-270; and Ideal Metrology in Nature, Art, Religion and History (1907). His inventions include an "Improvement in Cooking Stoves", Patent No. 40,788 (December 1863); an "Improvement in Rotary Engines", Patent No. 187,211 (February 1877); and a "Type Writing Machine" Patent No. 334,920 (January 1886).
1. Bennett, Mrs. Frank Silas History of St. Andrew's Church: Ayer, Groton, Forge Village 1892-1942 (Ayer, Massachusetts: St. Andrew's Church, 1944), 7-8.
2. Clukay, Phyllis Our Little Church on the Hill: A History of St. John's Episcopal Church (Athol, Massachusetts: Millers River Publishing Co., 1987), 3-21.
3. Hayes, Charles Wells The Diocese of Western New York: History and Recollections (Rochester, New York: Scranton, Wetmore & Co., 1904), 194.
4. Journal of the One Hundred and Sixth Annual Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Massachusetts, Which Meeting was held in Boston, Wednesday and Thursday, April
29 and 30, A. D. 1891 (Boston: Damrell and Upham, 1891), 80-81.
5. Journal of the One Hundred and Twelfth Annual Convention of the Diocese of Massachusetts, May
19 and 20, A. D. 1897 (Boston: Damrell and Upham, 1897), 117-118.
6. Journal of the Primary Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church, in the Diocese of Central New
York, held in Trinity Church and Grace Church, Utica, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, Nov. 10th, 11th, and 12th, 1868. (Utica, N. Y., Power Press of Curtiss & Childs, 1868), 116 and 132.
7. Journal of the Proceedings of the Twenty-Second Annual Convention of the Protestant Episcopal
Church in the Diocese of Western New York, Held in Trinity Church, Elmira, On Wednesday, August 17th, and Thursday, August 18th, A.D. 1859. (Utica, Printed for the Convention, 1859), 89-90.
8. Journal of the Second Annual Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of
Central New York, Held in Trinity Church, Watertown, June 14th, 15th, and 16th 1870. (Utica, N. Y., Press of Curtiss & Childs, 1870), 175.
9. Journal of the Sixteenth Annual Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church of the Diocese of Pittsburgh Held in Trinity Church, Pittsburgh, PA Wednesday & Thursday, June 8 and 9, A.D. 1881 (Pittsburgh: From the Press of Stevenson & Foster, 1881), 64.
10. Journal of the Seventeenth Annual Council Assembled in St. Mark's Church, Minneapolis. June 10th and 11th, A.D. 1874 (Minneapolis: Johnson & Smith, Printers, 1874), 59.
11. Journal of the Third Annual Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Central New York. 1871. (Utica, N. Y., Press of Curtiss & Childs, 1871), 56 and 151.
12. Lozner, Christine B. Historic Churches of the Episcopal Diocese of Central New York (National Register of Historic Places Multiple Property Documentation Form, 1996), Section F, 36 and 41.
13. Mehagan, Constance Moulton St. James Church Burkehaven: A Brief History (Burkehaven, New Hampshire: St. James Church, 1985).
14. Napora, James Houses of Worship: A Guide to the Religious Architecture of Buffalo, New York (Masters Thesis, University of Buffalo, 1995), 6.10 and 512-13.
15. Phoenix, S. Whitney The Whitney Family of Connecticut, and its Affiliations (New York: Privately printed, 1878), 792 and 1636-1637.
16. "Rev. Hermon Gaylord Wood" The Boston Transcript, Boston, Masachusetts, 9 July 1913.
17. "Rev. H. G. Wood," The Church Militant, Boston, Massachusetts, October 1913, 12.
18. "St. John's Mission Church, Winthrop" Boston Daily Globe, Boston, Massachusetts, 28 October 1889, 8.
19. Tanner, George C., "Bishop Whipple and the Schools at Faribault", Collections of the Minnesota Historical Society, Volume X. Part II. (St. Paul, Minnesota, Published by the Society, 1905), 702-703.
20. Wood, H. G. Ideal Metrology in Nature, Art, Religion and History (Dorchester, Massachusetts: H. G. Wood, 1909).
21. Wood, H. G. "Report of the Committee on Weights and Measures," The International Standard, Vol. III, No. 5 (January 1886), 494-497.
22. Wood, H. G. "The Temple Vision of Ezekiel", The International Standard, Vol. III, No. 3 (July 1885), 197-210.
Original author: Richard C. Dabrowski. This text is released under GFDL.
Special thanks to Ann L. Moore, Parish Historian, Trinity Church, Fayetteville, New York.
Photograph courtesy of Wendy Hoffman, Farmington, New Mexico.