The first record of Episcopal services in Ashland came from the Diocesan Convention Journal in 1859. The Rev. John Points held services monthly, with eight or nine communicants present. At that time, Ashland was a small village where residents of Richmond spent their summers. Sometime during the summer of 1865, a congregational meeting was held and a vestry was elected, the first steps toward forming an independent congregation.
The name for the parish, St. James the Less, came as a result of the link with St. James in Richmond. The parish’s patron saint was one of Christ’s apostles. The true birth date of the parish is fixed as May 18, 1866.
The first resident priest of St. James the Less parish was Melville Boyd, whose ministry began in September of 1875. In 1878 construction began on a church building on Center Street at a cost of $1,250. It was consecrated on February 8, 1880. Due to the efforts of the Ladies Aid Society, $600 was raised toward the building of a rectory in 1883. One of the early rectors was Sewell S. Hepburn, 1903-1905, the grandfather of actress Katharine Hepburn.
In 1930 the area’s first children’s choir was started by Mrs. Betty Dugdale. In 1935 it was renamed St. Cecelia’s Choir, after the patron saint of music, and it continues to this day.
In October 1926, Dr. G. MacLaren Brydon took charge and served the parish for 23 years. He was a resident of Richmond and commuted to Ashland for services. He usually rode the streetcar until the line was taken up in the 1940s. At his retirement he was made rector emeritus, and the last service in which he participated was the consecration of the new building on Beverly Road only a few months before his death in 1963.
When Lawson Cox was rector, plans were formalized to move the church and parish house. Groundbreaking was on January 20, 1957. On June 1, 1958, Bishop Goodwin dedicated the new building with many clergy of the Diocese present.
Two parishioners who were instrumental in the new church building were Christopher Chenery and Edward Newman. Mr. Chenery had spent his childhood in Ashland and supported the church financially even after moving away. Mr. Newman served as senior warden for 28 years and was a man who was generous with his time, talents and money.
In 1991 the building was expanded to accommodate additional classrooms and a larger parish hall.
St. James the Less has traditionally been dedicated to serving the community. For many years, the Sunday school classrooms were used by Kiddie Kingdom childcare. The Chenery Fund, an endowment created from the winnings of famous thoroughbred racehorse Secretariat, donates outreach funds
lo local charities. Since October 2006, St. James the Less Free Clinic provides health and dental care to needy residents with eye care provided at Shiloh Baptist Church. (For more information, visit the Hanover Interfaith Free Clinics home page.)
(Above text by Kristine L. Holt. From: Ashland, Virginia, 150 Years, 1858-2008, Ashland Sesquicentennial Committee, 2009, p. 33-34)