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Early History of the Church of the Atonement

On June 17, 1888 the Church of the Atonement held its first service in a butcher shop in the Edgewater Guild Hall, designed by architect Joseph Lyman Silbee, on the southwest corner of Bryn Mawr and Winthrop. The Guild Hall, pictured to the rights as it appeared in 1887, was a two and a half story brick and shingle building that contained retail stores on the first floor, and a hall on the second floor. The parish was first organized as a mission church.

Frederick W Keator led the new congregation. He was a close friend of the Rev’d Samuel C Edsel, the founder of St Peter's Episcopal Church here in Chicago. Keator was a lawyer and served as the lay reader at Atonement. Until the church edifice was built Mr. Keator held services each week in the Guild Hall building.


Keator entered Western Theological Seminary, and in 1891 was ordained a priest by the Rt Rev’d William Edward McLaren, the bishop of Chicago. Fr. Keator then became the priest-in-charge at Atonement. On Oct. 30, 1894 he married Emma Victoria Lyon, who was a member of the Church of the Atonement. Fr Keator left Atonement in 1896 to become the rector at Grace Church in Freeport, Illinois, and in 1899 he became rector at St John’s Church in Dubuque, Iowa.


Just after having served as a parish priest for 10 years, he was consecrated bishop of the missionary diocese of Olympia, Washington on Jan. 8, 1902. This is the picture of Bishop Keator to the left appeared with his obituary notice when he died on Jan. 31, 1925.

In early 1889 Edgewater developer J. Lewis Cochran donated land on the southwest corner of Kenmore and Ardmore to provide a permanent home for this new congregation. He also donated $3,000 toward the cost of the church's construction.


Construction on the new building began in the fall of 1889 and the cornerstone was laid on Nov. 30, 1889. The names of all the children in the church school program were signed on a sheet of paper and placed in the corner stone. The dedication of the new church took place on June 21, 1890. In addition to the money donated by Cochran, the congregation raised $5,000 toward the cost of the construction of the new church.​

William Pretyman, a decorative artist and member of the congregation's building committee, provided the original stenciled decorations for the interior of the new church. Early histories of Atonement state that it was through his efforts that Henry Ives Cobb was invited to submit building plans for the proposed church. Cobb's architectural works included the Newberry Library in Chicago, and the original University of Chicago buildings.



William Pretyman House at Hollywood and Kenmore Avenue (Burnham and Root, architects)

In 1896 after Father Keator left Atonement, the Rev’d John Monroe Dempster Davidson became the priest-in-charge at Atonement. His name is usually seen simply as J.M.D. Davidson. He came to Atonement from St. George's Church in Chicago where he had also been the priest-in-charge. Two years after his arrival Atonement became a self-supporting parish on May 23, 1898. At that point Father Davidson became the first rector at Atonement. Under his leadership the parish published a monthly newsletter called The Clarion. These were published up to the time of Father Dean Rice. Our parish archives holds many bound copies of The Clarion.



Henry Ives Cobb & his proposed plans for a new church building. (circa 1888-89)

In 1901 the parish built a parish house next to the church. After it was completed, Fr. Davidson described it for the parish in the November 1901 issue of The Clarion:

“The building is two stories and basement, 73 by 35 feet, and is constructed of the same material as the church (Darlington sand stone) up to the second story and finished to the roof in stucco, tinted to match the stone...On the first floor is a large audience room, designed to seat 200 people with stage at the rear the stage is a room fitted for a Sunday School Library. At the front near the entrance, and separated by a rolling curtain from the main part is a room to be used for classes and weekday services. The remainder of the lower floor is...a vestibule...and an ample the second floor. The second story is arranged into a rector's study, guild room, choir room, music and vestment room, kitchen, pantry, store room and lavatories. The basement is arranged with a view to future use as a gymnasium. The whole building is lighted with gas and electricity and heated with steam. The architect was Mr. Myron H. Church.”



Church of the Atonement, Parish House (circa 1901)



Kenmore Avenue (circa 1900)



Church and Parish House between 1910-1919

We have no pictures of Fr. Davidson, and when he left Atonement in 1903 The Clarion gives no mention of his departure. He then spent a year with the Chicago City mission and lived on Warren Boulevard on the city’s west side. In 1904 he became the rector at St. Paul's Cathedral in Oklahoma City.


The Rev’d Charles E. Deuel, who was the first dean of St. Michael's Cathedral in Boise, Iowa, announced to his congregation on April 15, 1903, that he had been called to be the rector at the Church of the Atonement. While he had been at St. Michael's he oversaw the building of the Cathedral Church, a project that prepared him for his time at Atonement. During his time as our rector, the church debt was paid off, and the church was enlarged and consecrated by Bishop Charles Palmerston Anderson on April 28, 1912.

Current parishioner, John Waters, who helped to preserve the extensive archives of our parish, prepared the drawings below that show the changes to the church edifice and parish house over between 1901 and 1924. 



Architectural Drawings by John Waters



Pridmore's proposed design 1919-1920



Architect John E.O. Pridmore

In 1919, the church was enlarged to the form we see today. The designer was the local architect, John E. O. Pridmore, a longtime member of the parish. 


Pridmore was active in architectural practice over a period of fifty years, and while he designed varied types of buildings, was best known for his church and theatre work. Some notable Chicago examples of his work are the old Cort Theatre (demolished), The Vic, Princess,

Harding, Clark, Adelphi, Sheridan, and Nortown Theatres. He was also architect of the Iroquois Memorial Hospital and the Austin Hospital and St. John’s Chapel at the University of Illinois , along with the Bush Temple of Music which was once a piano showroom. Pridmore's work also includes a number of housing structures, including “The Manor” at the southeast corner of Bryn Mawr and Kenmore. 



The church interior after the 1919-1920 alterations


Rectors of The Church of the Atonement

  • Frederic William Keator (1855–1925) Lay reader/Priest-in-Charge 1888–1896, Bishop of Olympia (Washington), 1902–1925

  • J. M. D. Davidson (1854–1931) Priest-in-Charge 1896–1898, Rector 1898–1903

  • Charles E. Deuel (1864–1932) Rector 1903–1914 

  • Frederic Sydney Fleming (1886–1956) Rector 1915–1927

  • Alfred Newbery (1889–1937) Rector 1927–1937

  • Calvert Buck (1895–1969) Rector 1937–1943

  • James Murchison Duncan (1902–1968) Rector 1943–1950

  • Robert Leonard Miller (1914–1992) Rector 1950–1958, Canon to the Ordinary, Diocese of Chicago 1961–1978

  • Dean Paxton Rice (1932–2003) Rector 1958–2003, Dean, Chicago-North Deanery 1969–1991

  • John David van Dooren, Rector 2005–2017, Dean, Chicago-North Deanery 2013–2017

  • Erika L. Takacs, Rector, 2018–2022, Chicago-North Deanery 2020–2022

  • Dan Puchalla, Interim Rector, 2022–2023




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