Anna Eliza Hunt is the main founder of All Saints’ Church in Chelmsford. She had many clergy and lay supporters for what they ended up calling “The Great Work” of teaching Christians and establishing a church, but it was Anna’s vision, initiative and drive that started and drove the effort to completion. Sadly, no photograph of Anna has been found to date.
In the 1850s Samuel and Elizabeth Hunt moved from Charlestown to Chelmsford with their seven children, including Anna Eliza. Anna’s uncle Benjamin Hunt also moved up and attended the Chelmsford Acadamy. Anna, born on May 1, 1928, was in her early twenties.
Anna believed Chelmsford at the time did not offer sufficient children’s religious education. She decided to start a Sunday School and soon had enough students to need a permanent space. The little red schoolhouse near the common was not in use on Sunday’s and was made available by the town.
Near the end of the 1850s, Anna wanted to add Sunday services for the students. She contacted Rev. Theodore Edson of Saint Anne’s Episcopal Church in Lowell and asked about possibility. The answer was a very swift “yes”. First, the Sunday school visited St. Anne’s and then, on July 15th, 1860, Rev. Edson came to the little red schoolhouse and held the first Eucharist service. Anna contacted other Episcopal priests and was soon able to schedule services every few weeks. The St. Anne’s choir joined Rev Edson on the journey a couple times and the service was held on the Green.
The services did not go unnoticed. The town leadership belonged to other established churches in town. They were not keen on a new church forming. Anna’s Sunday school was blocked from using the schoolhouse. They moved outside, but that, in New England, isn’t ideal. They moved into the parlors of a number of households, but each time they did there was community pressure on the homeowner’s social and business life. The school needed a new, public and stable place to meet. They found that the town hall, by charter, had to allow church services as long as the timing did not conflict with town business or other already scheduled services. Anna asked for and was allowed to use the Town Hall basement for the Sunday School and occasional services. Eventually, the Sunday School was evicted from Town Hall with the town saying the charter forbid it. While this was not accurate, the Sunday School left.
Once services and town pressure began, Anna and Rev. Edson knew then would eventually need to buy land and build a church. They began to make contact with high profile Episcopalians nearby and as far as New York. They talked about the Great Work of bringing Christ to the countryside of a growing Chelmsford. Anna went on trips to visit clergy, bankers, lawyers and others armed with her vision and letters of introduction from Rev. Edson and others. She was able to gather substantial support. Rev. Edson told her to start looking for property, have faith that any lacking funds would be provided and to be completely secretive about what the property would be used for.
On May 20, 1867, the parish of St. Anne Chelmsford was organized. (The name was changed to All Saints, Feb. 28.) In 1868, Anna purchased the property on which the church now stands, at the comer of Lowell and Billerica streets. A house (now a Real Estate office) and five acres were purchased of Mrs. Lydia S. Morse, wife of the Rev. Horace W. Morse, the Unitarian minister. In this house a chapel was neatly arranged, and called Emmanuel Chapel, where services were held by clergymen and lay-readers from Lowell and elsewhere, until the church was built.
The laws and custom of the time did not allow for women to be on a church vestry or vote at an annual meeting. Anna continued to run the Sunday school, coordinate visiting clergy services and gather support for a proper church building with full time clergy. One Rev. required at least a dozen in attendance for them to travel to Chelmsford for a service. Anna reported having to borrow a baby or two in order to meet that condition. Rev. Benjamin Cooley to become All Saints’ first rector in 1875. The church cornerstone was laid in 1879 and the church was completed and consecrated in 1882.
Anna signed over the property to the church Vestry but continued to attend and teach for many years. She moved to Concord briefly and was gifted a photograph of those that attended her Sunday School. Anna passed on Jan 13th, 1912. She is buried in the Hunt family plot in Chelmsford’s Forefathers’ Burial Ground.