Norwalk a century ago was a booming place. The year 1908 saw good news and bad news as usual. The bad news that year was the destruction by fire of the Wheeling and Lake Erie Railroad shops west of North Pleasant and North Jefferson. The good news included the formation of our present Chamber of Commerce, and the beginning of work on the present Episcopal church building on West Main.
The congregation of St. Paul Episcopal Church dates from January of 1821 when 18 local citizens enrolled themselves as member and friends of the Protestant Episcopal Church. Small worship services had been held since the year 1818 and the 1821 meeting formalized the new parish. One of the founders was Platt Benedict, whose family was the first to settle in Norwalk.
Some of the earliest worship services were held in the Benedict cabin, and then in the first courthouse until the first church, a frame building, was completed in 1835. This first church served until 1909 and we remember it as the parish house which was destroyed by an arsonist in 1976. This church stood on the site of the present building, and was moved back onto the northeast corner of the cemetery to become the parish house.
In the summer of 1908 the plans and provisions for a new church building were ready, and work started in July to move the wooden church back and begin excavating for the new stone building. The new church was a wondrous improvement, but there were the usual nay-sayers who preferred to keep the old church and its attendant memories. Their basic objections were fueled when it was found that four or five fine maples would have to be cut down to accommodate the old church after it was moved. No doubt, though, those feelings healed with time.
The new building was completed and dedicated on Nov. 21, 1909, by Bishop Leonard from Cleveland. Two items not yet in place that day were the reredos, given in 1926 by Mrs. Susan Gardiner in memory of her husband, Edmund G. Gardiner; and the statue over the main entrance of St. Paul the Apostle. The latter was a gift of Architect Henry Congdon of New York City. It was carved by Lee Lawrie, a recognized American sculptor.
Total cost of the church was estimated as $45,000 to $50,000 in 1909 dollars. This was a large amount even then, when the country was just coming our of a national financial depression in which some banks failed and several of the bank officials were indicted and tried for various irregularities. The architecture is described as "English Gothic of the perpendicular period." I've also heard it described as Gothic Revival. Whatever the proper wording, it is truly a beautiful design and has the distinction of being built of sandstone from Amherst in Lorain County, not far from Norwalk. The church property is on the National Register of Historic Places as part of the West Main Street Historic District.
The church rector at the time of this construction was Rev. Arthur Dumper, who later became Dean of Trinity Cathedral in Newark, New Jersey, where he dies in 1957. He returned to Norwalk in 1921 to consecrate the fully paid-for church he had built thirteen years earlier. As a young seminarian he had taken time off from classes at Kenyon College to do some private tutoring. From 1893 to 1896 Arthur Dumper was the home teacher of Franklin Delano Roosevelt at Hyde Park, New York, and stressed with him the study of science and natural history. FDR's collection of Hudson River birds can still be seen in cases in the main hall at Springwood, the Roosevelt estate.
There will be many activities at St. Paul Episcopal Church in the coming weeks. Attend if you can, and I hope that you'll be impressed with the interior as I am each time I see it.
Next week: More stories of St. Paul Episcopal Church.