The following is a brief history of our last 100 plus years, it is not all-inclusive but represents some of the high points in St. Paul’s Episcopal Chapel history…
Mindful of the Past with an Eye to the Future
St. Paul’s Episcopal Chapel, 1902-2007
St. Paul’s Chapel, Magnolia Springs, Alabama, proudly marked the centennial anniversary of its consecration in 2002. St. Paul’s was consecrated in 1902 after being built from pine timber taken from the land where it now resides. The Chapel is listed with the National Register of Historic Places and the Baldwin County Historic Development Commission.
Not long after Magnolia Springs was settled, Miss Gertrude Smith, originally of Hinsdale, Illinois, moved to the area. Upon finding no Episcopal churches close by, she invited people into her home where she taught Sunday School classes and read sermons written by ministers.
Near the turn of the century, Mr. and Mrs. Otis Lyman donated land for the church and a community hall. Sunday School meetings were later held in the Community Hall. Occasional services were conducted by visiting clergymen from Mobile on their way to St. Peter’s Church in Bon Secour.
Initial construction of the Chapel occurred in 1901 with funds raised by Miss Smith, her sister Ida Gates, Mrs. Max Skiba, and many others in the community. Some of the descendants from these founders are still active in the Chapel today. Miss Smith’s half brother, Fred Babcock, and his sons Lyman and Charles built most of the Chapel structure.
The original wooden building has a very high and sharply peaked roof with heart pine paneling encasing the walls and ceiling. The altar has a wooden cross and is aesthetically pleasing in its simple design. Upon completion of the Chapel, a cross of magnolia leaves, which has aged to a mellow shade of brown, was hung above the Chancel and still endures today. In 1981 a strikingly sculpted rendition of “Christ Calling the Fisherman from the Sea” by church member and artist, Mary Rapp, was inset in the gothic window behind the altar.
The Rt. Rev. Robert Wood Barnwell consecrated the Chapel in 1902. Later that same year the Bishop confirmed the first confirmand in the Chapel.
Spanning the Years
During the ensuing years, the membership has sometimes been a small, but very loyal and dedicated group. The Chapel weathered the hurricane of 1906 but required resetting on a strengthened foundation after the hurricane of 1916. In 1977, the Chapel celebrated the 75th anniversary of its consecration.
In the time after that, the Chapel membership increased to the point that the addition of a small parish hall, office, restroom, and kitchen was built to the rear of the Chapel. The Rt. Rev. Charles F. Duvall dedicated this building in 1982. This new space served its members well, although it was eventually outgrown.
During the period of the 1990’s, St. Paul’s Chapel enjoyed the growth upsurge that the rest of lower Alabama experienced. In 1991, for the first time, the Chapel had its own Vicar, The Rev. Stan Persons, III. The congregation started realizing that changes would have to be made to accommodate the larger membership and crowded Parish Hall.
The late 1990’s was a time of major decisions for the congregation. A larger parish hall and kitchen facilities were essential as well as the much-needed Sunday School classrooms. Prayers were said, many meetings held, and hard-thought decisions concluded that now was the time to start a capital improvement program. With the leadersip of the Vicar, The Rev. Hoyt Massey, a building fund committee was organized which culminated with the congregation prayerfully pledging the funds to build the new facility.
In July of 2000, the Vicar, The Rev. John W. Phillips, II, and the congregation officially launched the new building during a groundbreaking ceremony with the builder and architect in attendance. The new facility was to include four to five Sunday School classrooms, a commercial grade kitchen, parish hall, sacristy with storage spaces, a nursery, vesting room, office and library spaces, restroom facilities, and a small courtyard.
The new facility was designed in a way that the Chapel would be preserved in its original state. The new construction would blend in and augment the structure already existing. This goal has been successfully attained with construction being completed in late June of 2001.
The Rt. Rev. Philip M. Duncan, II, with the assistance of The Rev. John W. Phillips, II, dedicated the parish house and the other new additions at 4:00 PM on August the 5th, 2001. The ceremony ended with the Lord’s Prayer and the Bishop’s blessing of the people. Afterwards the children’s Sunday School class sang for the assembly, and our talented members hosted a reception.
In 2004, St. Paul’s called its first full-time Vicar, The Rev. George G. Riggall and his wife, Marguerita, to serve at the Chapel. With Fr. George’s leadership and congregational participation, the Chapel has seen more growth and outreach on community, regional, and national levels.
We now look to the future again, while mindful of the past, as we ready ourselves for the next step in the progression of the Chapel’s life – bringing St. Paul’s to Parish status. (Note: In the Spring of 2008, St. Paul’s became a full Parish of the Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast!)
Thanks be to God!
Note: historical accounts in this article came from a condensed and adapted version of “St. Paul’s Episcopal Chapel” by Myra and Henry Davis.
Priests that have served at the Chapel:
Pre 1902: The Reverend Louis Tucker
Pre 1902: The Reverend Gardner C. Tucker
1902-1917: The Reverend Howard R. Walker
1919-1929: The Reverend James F. Plumer
1929-1930: The Reverend Joseph Fulford
1930-1931: The Reverend Richard Brown
1931-1934: The Reverend William A. Thompson
1935-1937: The Reverend Thomas D. Byrne
1938: The Reverend Robb White Jr.
1939-1941: The Reverend Clyde L. Jardine
1943-1959: The Reverend Joseph P.C. Wilson (Archdeacon)
1946-1947: The Reverend Joseph R. Horn
1959-1967: The Reverend Frank Stanford (Stan) Persons, III
1967-1969: The Reverend Dick Gilchrist
1969-1971: The Reverend Richard Cobbs
1971-1996: The Reverend Frank Stanford (Stan) Persons, III
1996-2000: The Reverend Hoyt Massey
2000-2002: The Reverend John W. Phillips, II
2002-2004: The Reverend Taylor Abbott (Supply Priest)
2002-2004: The Reverend Frank Mathews (Supply Priest)
2004-2013: The Reverend George G. Riggall
2013-present: The Reverend Aaron Smith
Bishops that have served the Chapel:
1862-1900: The Rt. Rev. Richard H. Wilmer
1891-1900: The Rt. Rev. Henry M. Jackson
1900-1902: The Rt. Rev. Robert W. Barnwell
1902-1928: The Rt. Rev. Charles M. Beckwith
1920-1938: The Rt. Rev. William G. McDowell
1938-1968: The Rt. Rev. Charles C. J. Carpenter
1949-1953: The Rt. Rev. Randolph R. Clairborne, Jr.
1953-1981: The Rt. Rev. George M. Murray
1981-2001: The Rt. Rev. Charles F. Duvall
2001-present: The Rt. Rev. Phillip M. Duncan II