St. Peter’s church was formed in 1852, when Mr. Joseph H. Dulles (great- grandfather of the Secretary of State John Foster Dulles) gathered a group of various denominations to worship on Sunday afternoons, using the Book of Common Prayer, at Indian Rock on the Narragansett shore. In 1856 the congregation began meeting in area hotels and residences. In 1869 the Trustees of St. Peter’s Chapel in South Kingstown incorporated to “maintain free public worship at Narragansett Pier.”
In July 1869 a frame church (built at a cost of $4,000) was opened for worship. On September 8 of the same year the building was destroyed by “a great northeast gale.” Only the cross was left standing. The next day the Trustees met in the ruins and resolved to rebuild.
The church is English Gothic. The present stone building was designed by the Providence architect Edwin L. Howland. He was awarded the commission over the then obscure architect Henry Hobson Richardson, whose rough sketch proposal is now housed among his collection at the Harvard Library. It was opened for worship on St. Peter’s Day – June 29, 1873, and it was consecrated as St. Peter’s-by-the-Sea in August, 1874.
The bell tower was built in 1889 and was designed by Charles Follen McKim of the architectural firm McKim, Mead & White, who also designed the Narragansett Casino, among their many outstanding contributions to architecture. Both McKim and White began their careers under Richardson. McKim spent many summers in Narragansett in his later years after reuniting with his daughter from a previous marriage.
The stained glass windows are particularly stunning – several of which are Tiffany’s. One of the windows is a memorial to Varina Jefferson Davis, the “daughter of the Confederacy,” who spent summers in Narragansett and died here. The pipe organ was a memorial gift in 1879, and it was completely rebuilt in 1997/1998.
A statue of our Lord and two bas-reliefs in the nave are the work of the internationally-known sculptress, Florence Brevoort Kane, who was a member of the congregation and a resident of Narragansett.
St. Peter’s was entered into the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.