Another landmark in Norwalk's West Main Street Historic District is now history and has been removed from our sight, but not from our memory. The rectory of St. Paul Episcopal Church stood at 85 W. Main for 140 years and now has succumbed to changing times.
The St. Paul congregation is one of the oldest organizations of any kind on the Firelands, and for many years the rectory was home to the parish's resident pastor. There are no prospects for a resident pastor in the foreseeable future and the house had suffered great damage from time and from accidents, so the decision was made to have it razed. Some people expect me to run around wailing and beating my chest, but I decided long ago that not every old building can be saved. If they must be removed, then that is the prerogative of the owner.
The rectory was built in 1867-68, mainly by a man with the interesting name of Salem Towne Howe. Howe was a contractor and builder for many years. He and his father, Baxter Howe, had enlarged the original Episcopal church building in 1853. Salem Howe also built the house at 55 E. Main and the second Methodist church building at One West Main.
It didn't really take two years to build the rectory. It appears that the brick work was done in the summer of 1867 and then it was finished early in 1868. In those days there was almost no construction work done in winter due to the weather. The cost of this building was $6,200, which is hard to relate to the time until we consider that the house at 132 E. Main was built at the same time for $6,000. This latter house seems much larger, but actually cost less than the rectory. I can offer no explanation.
St. Paul Episcopal parish was organized in 1821 after three years of informal meetings in private homes and in the first courthouse. A church was not completed and occupied until 1835. This stood on the site of the present church and in 1908 was moved back to make room for the stone sanctuary. The old church became the parish house and was destroyed by an arsonist in 1976.
Work began on the new church in August of 1908 and it was completed in 1909.
Thus, it celebrates its centennial next year. Just wet of it is a brick building known as the Benedict Chapel. Platt Benedict donated $1,500 toward this building in 1863, to be used as a Sunday School chapel. Benedict was an early and active member of the church and helped secure the Wet Main Street property.
Before there were any buildings on the lot, the rear part of it was used as a cemetery. This was the first cemetery for the village of Norwalk. It was used y the public and wasn't considered just a cemetery for Episcopalians. The first burial was Caroline Tice, who died in March of 1820, age nine months. Burials took place there until the early 20th century, though many of them were moved later to Woodlawn Cemetery and many were unmarked, and thus are non unknown.
Next year marks the centennial of the church building, and we can expect some appropriate commemoration of its centennial. The rector at that time was the Rev. Arthur Dumper, who in his seminary days had home-schooled Franklin D. Roosevelt at Hyde Park, New York. Dumper served in Norwalk from 1902 to 1911, and eventually became Dean of Trinity Cathedral in Newark, N.J., where he died in 1957.
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