St. James' Episcopal Church and Shelburne Parish trace their history in Loudoun County back to the 1700s. The first church in Loudoun County, called the "Chapel of Ease for the comfort of the people above the Goose Creek," was built in 1733, a log structure near the Big Spring about two miles north of Leesburg. No trace remains today of this original church or its graveyard.
Shelburne Parish was created out of the western portion of the Parish of Cameron in 1769. Before the establishment of Shelburne Parish, the Chapel of Ease was served by visiting ministers: The Rev. Charles Green and The Rev. James Scott, from Pohick Church in Truro Parish. Its first rector was The Rev. Dr. David Griffith, a distinguished churchman, who served from 1771 to 1776. A physician before his ordination, Dr. Griffith left the parish to serve as surgeon and chaplain in the Continental Army. He was a close friend of George Washington, and after the Revolution he became the rector of Christ Church, Alexandria. A leader in the early church in Virginia, he was, in 1786, the first man elected bishop in America. Unfortunately he died before funds were found to send him to England for his consecration.
The first church in Leesburg to be called St. James' was completed in 1812 after many years of arguments over its location in the parish. The building was erected on Church Street, and services were held there for 83 years. This "first church was built of brick and quite small, the windows not arched and there was a yard in front." The original building was torn down in 1836 to make room for a larger structure of colonial design with a high pulpit, chancel without recess, and a gallery on three sides, with choir and organ in the rear balcony. This new St. James', consecrated in 1838, was further enlarged in 1848, including a vestibule, bringing the front even with the street. The adjacent graveyard of this church may be seen today, and construction of a columbarium was completed in 2011 on this site.
The first St. James' Church Rectory is located on Loudoun Street between Wirt and Liberty Streets. The original house was built between 1806 and 1810, and served as the rectory from 1839 to 1856. The St. James' rectory was the house immediately to the east of the Janney House on Cornwall Street until 2008.
In 1895, the cornerstone was laid for the present building. This building was designed by Washington architect Leon Dessez. The first service was held in 1897, and it was consecrated in 1905. The building was damaged extensively by a fire in 1929. Fortunately, because of the thick stone walls, the basic structure withstood the flames and the Nave was restored to its present form.
In the following years, St. James' has been expanded several times. The addition of the Fellowship Hall occurred in 1931, and was extended in the 1950s through a bequest from Mrs. Roberta L. Rittenhouse, whose name it bears. More recently, in 1972, the house beside the church, formerly the home of John Janney, was remodeled and connected to the church by the construction of a stone and glass arcade. It is here that we find the church offices, the Janney Parlor, the Preschool office and some of the Preschool classrooms.
In 2005, St. James' acquired properties along King Street for the needs of future generations; in 2007, this acquisition was complemented by the purchase of the Seccombe House located at Wirt and Cornwall Streets, which now serves as the current rectory. The former rectory was renovated in 2008 and dedicated as the Parish House, where music ministers, the Parish Library, and other classrooms and meeting places are found.