St. John’s was organized as a mission church in 1896, with Lewis Williams serving as its first Warden. Lewis Williams, his brother Ben and brother-in-law Dewitt Bisbee of San Francisco founded the Copper Queen Mining Company in 1881, which gave birth to Bisbee.
Dr. Frederick Sweet, chief surgeon at the Copper Queen Hospital, became the church’s second Warden in 1899. He had been arranging Episcopal services at Library Hall (on Main Street) since 1890. Dr. Sweet purchased the lots where St. John’s now stands for the sum of $1500. He established a building fund and had collected $2500 at the time of his untimely death in 1903. As a memorial to Dr. Sweet, the Copper Queen Mining Company donated funds to ensure immediate completion of the church under the condition that it be called “St. John’s Sweet Memorial Church.”
Construction soon began, and the church was dedicated on February 27, 1904 with the church’s first Vicar, Rev. Joseph McConnell officiating. The church’s centennial was celebrated on February 22, 2004 with a reenactment of the original dedication service. Current church members in historic dress portrayed the original participants at the service. The original participants included:
- Rt. Rev. John Mills Kendrick, Arizona’s first Episcopal bishop.
- Spencer and Lois Clawson—Spencer was Superintendent of the Copper Queen Mine, and Lois was church organist, raising $700 for the first organ. Many of the children baptized in the church were sponsored by the Clawsons.
- Lemuel and Isabella Shattuck—Lemuel was president of Shattuck-Arizona Mining Company, Miners and Merchants Bank, and the Anheuser-Busch franchise.
- James Jr. and Josephine Douglas, one of the first couples married in the Episcopal Church in Bisbee. Josephine was the daughter of Lewis Williams, superintendent of the Copper Queen smelter and James was the son of Dr. James Douglas, manager of the Phelps Dodge Mining Company. The couple combined Bisbee’s two founding families.
- J. J. and Katherine Muirhead—J. J. was Bisbee’s first mayor.
- Mary Howell, widow of Wes Howell, the mine foreman who discovered the “Glory Hole,” Bisbee’s first big ore deposit. Their daughter Lucy was the first child baptized in the Episcopal Church in Bisbee.
- Rev. Harvey Shields—pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church, who would later serve as St. John’s resident priest from 1905 to 1908.
- Mary and George Dunn—widow and son of Jack Dunn who discovered the first mineral outcropping in present day Bisbee.
- Lemuel and Ruth Overlock—Lemuel established a brokerage firm with offices throughout the southwest.
- I. W. and Camilla Wallace—I. W. was president and founder of the Citizens Bank & Trust.
- Horace and Anna Stillman—one of the first families to settle in the area. Horace organized the Warren Mining District and served as Bisbee’s first postmaster. His sister Clara was Bisbee’s first school teacher.