DonnaBy Donna Esslinger

Nestled within the undulating curves of the Magnolia River, the beautiful town of Magnolia Springs developed from a Spanish land grant in the year 1800. By the end of the War Between the States, the little hamlet rapidly became a primary destination for the families and descendants of many of the soldiers who had fought on both sides. Families from Vermont, Chicago, St. Louis and other points north built homes, inns, and businesses along the river’s edge and were joined by native Alabamans and transplants from other Southern locations. With the beginning of the twentieth century, the water, from the many natural springs along both sides of the river, was officially declared “the purest in the world” by several chemical companies in Chicago.

Not long after Magnolia Springs was settled, Miss Gertrude Smith (a native of Hinsdale, Illinois) moved here and, finding no Episcopal church in the area, began having Sunday School classes in her home. Near the turn of the century, Mr. and Mrs. Otis Lyman donated land for a church and a community hall (until the church was completed, Sunday School was held in the community hall). With funds raised by Miss Smith, her sister, Ida Gates, and others in the community, the present church was constructed by 1905, with all labor donated by those who would attend. Its design influenced by Late Gothic Revival, the structure was built of heart pine, cut on the property where the church was placed. At some point after the completion of the chapel, a cross of magnolia leaves was put high above the altar — it remains in place today continuing to mellow to a lovely aged patina! Descendants of those who built the simple pine chapel include our dear friend Maude Skiba whose personal history is inextricably interwoven with the Chapel and the Springs. The chapel was well built, having withstood hurricane after hurricane, including the particularly violent hurricane of 1906. In 1916, the building was placed on a strengthened foundation after yet another Gulf Coast hurricane.

During the 1960s, the Diocese suggested closing the little Chapel but The Reverend F. Stanford Persons, who served St. Paul’s, begged to have the Chapel remain open — and so it did. By 1982 it was necessary to add a small combination parish hall-kitchen-office-restroom facility. But, by the 1990s the growing congregation realized that more space was necessary and construction began on our new Parish Hall with its fully equipped kitchen, classrooms, restrooms, offices, sacristy and vesting room. Dedicated by Bishop Phillip Duncan on August 5, 2001, assisted by the Chapel’s then priest, The Rev. John W. Phillips (whose grandfather had ministered at the Chapel in decades past), the new facility blended masterfully with the style of the historic Chapel. The original structure is now listed on both the Alabama State Register of Historic Places and the National Register. Over the 113 year history of St. Paul’s, twenty-two priests have been entrusted with the lives of the Chapel‘s congregants. The Rev. George G. Riggall answered our call in 2003 as our first full-time priest, and we became a full parish a short time later(after over 100 years as a “mission” of first the Diocese of Alabama and then the Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast). In 2013, The Rev. Aaron Smith joined us as our second full-time rector and a new era began at St. Paul’s as we continue to grow and expand as a close knit Parish family!

God bless and keep you all. Donna