In an idyllic setting on the banks of the east branch of the Chagrin River in Kirtland Hills stands a little church with a big back story.
Originally built in 1893, what is today known as St. Hubert’s Episcopal Church was moved twice to arrive at its current location. The building is a gem—embellished with beautiful paneling and stained-glass windows made in Munich, Germany.
The altar at St. Hubert’s Episcopal ChurchThe church stands on a large lawn and is bordered by decades old shade trees. A gentle river flows just a few feet away from the church’s south door.
The setting is pastoral.
Built to serve hotel guests during Little Mountain’s heyday as a resort for wealthy Clevelanders, the church has traveled considerable time and distance to reach its present location.
Little Mountain is the highest point in Lake County. It was once home to five grand hotels, and in the early 1890s a need for a church was seen. Episcopal Bishop James Leonard authorized construction of a church to provide a place of worship located within walking distance of the hotels.
Known originally as the Church of the Transfiguration, the building was designed by 23-year-old Wilbur M. Hall and was constructed in 1893 local builder William Reynolds.
The design was quite simple. The church was painted light cream with olive trim and had a red roof. It cost $700 to build and was used only during the summer months.
Born in 1848, Bishop Leonard was a native of Southington, Connecticut. He graduated from St. Stephen’s College in 1866 and the Berkeley Theological Seminary several years later. His first assignment as a clergyman was in Brooklyn N.Y. where he remained from 1872 to 1880.
He then served as a rector in Washington, D.C. This assignment had great impact on his life. He made a number of very influential friends, including John Hay, an erstwhile Clevelander who eventually served as President Theodore Roosevelt’s secretary of state.
Leonard was elected Episcopal Bishop of Ohio in 1889, beginning a tenure that lasted 41 years until his death in 1930.
Dan Schoonmaker, Rector of St. Hubert’s for more than 20 yearsThe popularity of Little Mountain began to wane by the turn of the 20th Century.
The whole area reverted back to nature more than a century ago—now home to towering white pines, diverse plant communities, unique geological formations, and abundant wildlife.
Access to Little Mountain is closely controlled now, although Holden Forests & Gardens hosts guided tours several times a year at Holden Arboretum. The only sign that the Church of the Transfiguration was ever there is a plaque on a stone that marks its original location.
While the other structures on Little Mountain were destroyed long ago, the church survived by virtue of moving to a new location early in the 20th Century.
The final service held on Little Mountain in 1905.
In 1916 the unused chapel was moved to a girl’s summer camp on Salida Road in Mentor, where it was destined to remain for a dozen years.
Falling into disuse once again, a movement began to find a new location for the church to accommodate summer residents of Mentor, Kirtland Hills, and Waite Hill.
A committee was formed to accomplish this task. Margery Gundry Kingmade the move possible when she generously donated two acres of land on what is now Baldwin Road along the Chagrin River in Kirtland Hills as a site for the relocated building.
The plan was ambitious. It called for a new roof, a cellar, a drive, parking spaces, and a complete refurbishment inside and out as well as landscaping.
This did not come cheap. The total cost ran to $15,500 in 1929—the equivalent of $261,000 today.
Perhaps the earliest known photograph of what was then the Church of the Transfiguration, Little Mountain, 1893, thirty five years prior to its new location and new name, St. Hubert’s ChapelMany of the families who supported this enterprise remain active in the life of the church to this day. The church was given a new name, St. Hubert’s Chapel, and it continued to operate from June through September.
The church was rededicated on June 3, 1929. Its wandering over, the church has remained in this location for nearly a century.
There are photos displayed in the church on the day of its dedication, which visitors today would plainly recognize. While the church has since undergone several renovations, this was handled very carefully and did not substantially alter the character of the building.
The biggest change is the pavement on Baldwin Road.
St. Hubert’s Chapel became St. Hubert’s Episcopal Church in the late 1970s.
One thing that has not changed is St. Hubert’s commitment to the community. This is manifested in outreach programs, art shows, summer concerts, and even a car show.
Now in its third century of service, the church strives each day to live up to its invitation, “All Are Welcome.”
Recently retired after a 37-year career teaching public speaking, Tom Matowitz has had a lifelong interest in local and regional history. Working as a freelance author for the past 20 years he has written a number of books and articles about Cleveland’s past. He has a particular interest in the area’s rich architectural history.