Reminiscences of Old St. Paul’s
by Mr. John W. Chester
Much against my wish, Dean Edwards has induced me to inflict upon you my crude story of St. Paul’s Church, the mother church of the diocese and which I have attended all my life and served as vestryman for twenty-seven years, having been Secretary, Treasurer and also Treasurer of the Building Fund till after the Cathedral was completed.
I go back to 1802 when Detroit was a small village of about 1,000, having board walks, the streets not paved but beautiful trees everywhere.
The first services were held in what was called the Council House, the Rev. Mr. Cadle officiating. In 1827 Bishop John Hobart laid the cornerstone and in 1829 consecrated the first St. Paul’s Church which was built on the east side of Woodward Avenue between Larned and Congress. It was a plain brick church 5Ox9O feet, the entrance being through one door in the center into a narrow vestibule with a square tower in two sections. Then there were two aisles with pews by the side walls and two rows in the center. There were three galleries supported by square posts. The chancel was very small with the pulpit back of the communion table. As the organ and choir were in that end of the church there was a wooden partition or screen back of the pulpit, while an each side were curtains that could be pulled aside when they sang, then pulled together when they were afflicted with an uninteresting speaker, and they could have a chat. Oil lamps were on the front of the gallery. All the pews bad cushions. Mr. Comps was the Sexton, a most faithful man but peculiar, in that he bad most remarkable feet. They were very long and flat and turned out like a frog’s He always wore carpet slippers. Rev. Richard Bury was Rector from 1830 to 1834 and was followed by Rev. Addison Searle from 1834 to 1836 Bishop McCoskry was consecrated in 1835 and held the peculiar position of Bishop and Pastor till in 1863 when the Rev. M. C. Lightner was called. He served till 1869 when he became Rector of Grace
In 1851 the church was pulled down as the new one was being built on the corner of Congress and Shelby and while it was building services were held in the Fireman’s Hall, corner of Jefferson Avenue and Randolph Street. The cornerstone for the church was laid August 11,1851, by Bishop McCoskry, assisted by a large number of clergy who assembled in a brick house just east of the church and which later became the rectory. It was occupied at the time by the Bishop. It was a beautiful clear day Fortunately for me there was a pile of sand in front and as a small boy I witnessed the laying of the cornerstone from that advantage. Unfortunately the rec ords that were put in the cornerstone were in an earthen jar and when it was opened after the church was pulled down in IS99 we found the contents a mass of pulp as the moisture bad gone through the stone and rock.
The church was consecrated in December, 1852. Bishop McCoskry preached the sermon and congratulated the congregation that he was able to do so as it was all paid for.
The choir was in a gallery at the south end, while the chancel was at the north. The pulpit was a high, round one, standing on the gospel side and well forward. There were three aisles with pews along the walls and two rows in the center. At the north end of the wall pews were three large square ones. There was a passage at the back of the center pews but in time more seatings were required so two rows of large, square pews were put in, the ones next the wall being comfortably upholstered in red plush. I know that at times some of those occupying them allowed themselves to be over come by Morpheus. The roof was supported by arched beams, the ceiling was painted blue.
The choir consisted of Mrs. Adrian Terry, her daughters, Kitty and Madge, Dr. Terry and Mr. Charles Adams. Let me here say that Dr. and Mrs. Terry, her daughters and Mr. Charles Adams sang for years and never accepted any recompense, making it a service of love. Later Mr. Schober, Mrs. Wright, afterwards Mrs. Mansfield, Mrs. W. J. Chittenden and Mr. Charles Thompson composed the choir and they were the best quartette that ever sang here.
The Rev. Mr. M. C. Lightner was called in 1863 and after he left, for a time the blind preacher, Mr. Milburn, officiated. Of course there was always someone with him, but be could repeat all the service, even to the psalms. He was a very attractive sermonizer and knew a large portion of the congre gation, recognizing them by their voice. The Rev. Mr. Frisbie who is the oldest of the clergy in the city and a most lovable man, also officiated for a time.
It was during the late unpleasantness with the South that the Ladies’ Aid Society of the church took an active part in working for the soldiers. At first they made underclothing and linen covers for the bats as the British wore in India but they soon stopped that as the men put them to other use. They also made lint by scraping linen, old in preference to new, as it was softer. This was done not only at their meetings but everyone did it at home. You must know that in 1861 there were not the medical appliances or conveniences that came into use later. There were also committees that took their turns with all other denominations in meeting troops going to the front or returning and serving them meals in the second story of the freight depot of the Michigan Central Railroad, the troops coming at all hours of the day and night. There was still more work for the ladies and young boys for at Christmas all turned out to make wreaths, stars, crosses, hoops, etc., to decorate the church, the boys helping by cutting the greens, bringing them to the ladies and making themselves generally useful. If the days were stormy, sleighs were sent for the ladies and even lunch served. Then the congregation felt a personal interest in the decorations. It was delightful, the sweet smell of the pines.
Rev. Dr. Thomas C. Pitkin came in 1867 and remained till 1877. He was a most scholarly man, and one in whom you could confide and be strengthened. Again I want to speak of the work of the ladies of St. Paul’s Guild who gave a Martha Washington Tea Party at the Detroit Opera House April 19th and 20th 1875, which was one of the most successful and artistic entertainments given. It was surprising the quantity and the quality of the dresses that were worn for all who took part were wearing their great grandmother’s or some other person’s great grandmother’s clothes, while one young man wore the velvet small clothes, vest with threads of gold in it, knee buckles and diamond stick pin of his great grandfathers. There were tables with an endless variety of old things. Mrs. Thomas C. Pitkin was the president and guiding spirit. The graceful Minuette for the first time was danced. It met with such approval that it had to be repeated each evening.
On September 17th 1879, Samuel S. Harris was consecrated Bishop in St. Paul’s Church. He died in London, Eng land, August 21st 1888, and was buried from St. Paul’s with interment in Woodmere. The full boy choir went to the cemetery and sang two hymns and the effect in the still clear day with the choir and clergy all in white and the concourse of people in black about them formed a scene never to be for gotten.
Rev. Rufus W. Clark followed Dr. Pitkin in 1878 remain ing till 1906, and it was through his foresight that this church was built as he worked for years to get the church moved to its present site. His first real work was to change the chapel in the basement of the church so it was lighter and more comfortable. Let me here state the altar with reading desk and altar rails were brought from the old church on Wood ward Avenue. Dr. Clark was a great organizer and infused new life into the various organizations and particularly the Sunday School. As we had Sunday School in the afternoon a choir of boys was formed simply for the Sunday School and they sang with only a melodian accompaniment, played by one of the girl scholars, but they did so well that the organist, Prof. J. C. Batchelder, one of the finest organists that was ever in Detroit, took them in charge, got the consent of the vestry to put them in vestments and had choir seats installed. Then Dr. Clark had afternoon service and the novelty of a boy choir filled the church; later they sang at all the services. At this time the organ was enlarged, taken from the gallery and placed each side of the chancel; the pulpit changed to a square one and placed on the choir platform. This was discarded for a beautiful brass one, given by Mr. T. H. Eaton, Jr., in memory of his mother. Prof. Batchelder, with the assistance of Harry Wright, now a clergyman, developed a really fine choir which was continued till 1906 when it was succeeded by a mixed choir.
Dr. Clark was an enthusiastic member of the Sunday School Institute and yearly through his efforts all the Sunday Schools in the city, of the Episcopal Church, marched with their ban ners to the Detroit Opera House. This service was very inter esting and inspiring to hear. Over a thousand voices, led by a cornet, sang our beautiful hymns.
Prof. Batchelder had a fine influence on the young men as by his assistance, a number of the choir entered the ministry and after he left St. Paul’s it was through his work and self sacrifice and also the help of Mr. Daly that the memorial church for Dr. Clark at Romeo was built.
In preparation for the removal a lot with a large residence was bought at Hancock and Woodward Avenue on January 18, 1892. As the house had large rooms a Sunday School was started which was quite successful; the ladies also held their meetings there. In March, 1895, was begun the erection of the Chapel and Church House, the Chapel being a memorial to his mother by Theodore H. Eaton, Jr. The first service was held February 16th 1896. The chapel had two rows of seats with aisles in the center with a transept. As you entered from Hancock Avenue on the right was a large room which could be thrown into the chapel by a rolling screen. There was a, gallery at the south end and also over the transcept The chancel was at the north end with the large stained glass window, brought from the old church which was the gift of Wm. Lyon, at one a time a vestryman. It represented three scenes in the life of St. Paul.
At the head of the stairs leading to the front gallery was a large room fitted up with the beautiful wood from the house that was torn down. This was the study.
The chapel was connected with the Church House through the transept. On the first floor was the choir and robing room, on the second were large rooms each side of the hall used by the various ladies’ organizations.
With the consent of Mrs. Eaton and family tile present changes were made.
In 1906 St. Joseph’s Church united with St. Paul’s, Dr. Samuel S. Marquis becoming Rector. In the fall a committee of about fifty was formed to solicit pledges for the building of the Cathedral and in the spring the ground was broken, Mr. Theodore H. Eaton, Jr., turning the first sod, followed by Dr. Marquis who turned up a generous spade full, showing that he had not forgotten his early life on the farm. The cornerstone was laid in 1908 by Bishop Williams, assisted by a large number of the clergy. They came out of the chapel with the vestry, bringing up the rear and Mr. Theodore H. Eaton, Jr., having the copper box with its contents to be, placed in the cornerstone.
After various delays caused by strikes at the quarries, the building was finished and dedicated May 17th, 1910, but not consecrated as it was not nor is now paid for. May 17th, 1910, was a beautiful, clear, mild day. The long line of clergy, with their various colored hoods, was a very inspiring sight. The procession came out of the chapel on Hancock Avenue, led by a crucifer to the front door of the Cathedral where the Bishop knocked for admittance and the usual questions being answered, the doors were opened and the Bishop and others were received by the Rector and Vestry. They proceeded up the center aisle, repeating the service. The sermon was preached by the Bishop.
In April, 1910, Grace Church, with Rev. Dr. John McCarroll as Rector, united with St. Paul’s and brought their beautiful altar, the circular window and the Tefft window which were placed in the north transept and for that reason the transept is called Grace Chapel. As the proceeds of the sale of their church, corner of Second and Fort Streets, were given to the Building Fund, it made them very large contributors.
As Bishop Williams had accepted the church as his Cathe dral, he appointed Dr. Marquis as Dean and Dr. McCarroll as Canon.
Mr. Everett Smith was assistant for several years till he went West as a missionary. He was given a saddle, bridle, blankets and other necessary articles for Western life when one had to be in the saddle and amongst mining camps. Later Mr. Smith was connected with the Board of Missions in New York.
Mr. S. Arthur Huston followed Mr. Smith January 16, 1907, and he was a good worker and organizer in the Sunday School and with young men. He married Miss Brotherton and later received a call to Cheyenne, Wyoming. Mr. C. C. Purton came next in 1914, but only remained two years when be ac cepted a call to Christ Church, Detroit.
As Dr. Marquis for several years had gone through a great strain with accidents, severe sickness, himself and in his family, he felt the need of rest, and so asked for a vaca tion of one year, which was granted by the vestry. To fill his place the Rev. Frederick Edwards came. The congregation was so well pleased with him that at the end of the year they gave him a call as Rector, which he accepted, as Dr. Marquis had resigned.
January 1st, 1917, with a choir of forty voices and a large number of the clergy, the Bishop inducted Frederick Edwards as Dean, Dr. Marquis as Honorary Canon and Dr. McCarroll as Senior Canon in Residence. It is hardly necessary for me to say that Dean Edwards has stirred up the congregation, particularly the voting, to take a more active part, and may his future work come up to his desires is the wish of yours truly.