St. Mark's Episcopal Church

Matagorda County Historical Marker Narrative


St. Mark's Episcopal Church


2200 Avenue E

28░58'54.00"N        95░58'17.35"W







By Mildred Phillips Hicks and Louise Brown Barr

August 24, 1986

One of the most beautiful structures in Bay City, Texas is St. Mark's Episcopal Church on the southwest corner of Avenue E and Sixth Street. The solid red brick building with its twin towers, glowing windows, and placid cloistered courtyard suggests a small church in the English countryside which might have stood for centuries.

St. Mark's however is not an ancient church. Its organization as a Mission occurred in May 1895, less than one hundred years ago and only a few months after Bay City itself was established as a town and the seat of Matagorda County in 1894.

Previously the county seat had been on the southern edge of the county at the old Gulf Coast town of Matagorda. Matagorda suffered a severe loss with removal of the county seat to Bay City--not only loss of the county seat and many citizens, but also loss of a large part of the congregation of the oldest Episcopal Church in Texas--Christ Church, Matagorda.

It was these members of the mother church who moved to Bay City in 1894 and 1895, along with those already living on northern Bay Prairie and at Caney who gathered for the first Episcopal worship services in Bay City.

Matagorda County citizens had decided that a large and imposing stone courthouse should grace their new Court Square in Bay City and proceeded with plans for its erection. Meantime a two-room frame building which had served as a grand jury room was hauled from the town of Matagorda and set up in the square, the first temporary courthouse.

Among county officials crowded into it were George Austin, County Clerk, and Judge T. J Hamilton, then county Attorney. The Austin and Hamilton families were among the first to move from Matagorda to Bay City and help establish St. Mark's Mission.

The need for more office space for county officials was met when Judge Hamilton constructed a two-story frame business building across from the square. This building served as a courthouse and center for all community gatherings and entertainment until the new courthouse was completed. Bay City's first Sunday-school and church services, including St. Mark's were held there. Alma Austin Doubek, daughter of George Austin, attended the meetings and recalled in later years their stark simplicity and crude furnishings. Seats, she said, were made from planks laid upon beer kegs.

The Reverend John U. Graf, rector of Christ Church, Matagorda, came as Priest-in-Charge to shepherd the little group of Episcopalians in Bay City. He directed the organization of the mission church in 1895 with John Francis Holt, a Matagorda County rancher as senior warden, and William E. Austin and John W. Gaines members of the vestry. Austin and Gaines were among the first lawyers in Bay City. William E. and George Austin were brothers.

John Pierce Gaines, infant son of John and Lorene Gaines was probably the first Episcopalian to be baptized in Bay City. The Rev. Graf performed the ceremony at the courthouse April 14, 1895.

After a brief but eventful year, the Rev. Graf was succeeded by the Rev. John H. Birckhead as Priest-in-Charge, and in 1896, St. Mark's Mission was formally affiliated with the Diocese of Texas.

The Rev. Birckhead served both Christ Church and St. Mark's for four years. One of his last official acts before he resigned in 1900 was to register the burial in the Bay City Cemetery of Judge Thomas J. Hamilton, September 5, 1900.

In December 1900, the Rev. John L. Sloan arrived in Bay City to take charge of St. Mark's. Having served as rector of Christ Church Matagorda, 1890-1892, he was already well known to Bay Citians and remembered with affection as "Father John."

It was the Town Company's policy to donate building lots to all early organized church congregations. The present site of St. Mark's (Lots seven and eight, Block 62) was deeded to Bishop G. H. Kinsolving and his successors by David Swickheimer of the Town Company.

With the coming of the railroad to Matagorda County at the turn of the century, and sudden development of rice growing as a lucrative major industry, Bay City's growth and economy surged forward.

Under Father John's leadership, construction of St. Mark's first rectory and church buildings began. The frame rectory which faced on Avenue E was later moved and altered and is still in use as attorneys' offices in Bay City. A long frame church building, erected at the same time faced on Sixth Street. On Easter Day 1901, the first services were held in this building, a joyous occasion, fruit of much toil and sacrifice. Five years later on St. Mark's Day, April 25, 1906, Bishop Kinsolving consecrated the Church.

However, a vicious hurricane on July 21, 1909 destroyed all of the church buildings in Bay City including that of St. Mark's along with its mission records.

Less than a year after the storm and before its effects had disappeared, the undaunted little congregation began to rebuild. Materials salvaged form the wreck of the old building were used to erect a parish house to serve also as a temporary place of worship.

To make room for the new and larger brick church building, the parish house was moved back some feet farther south on Avenue E. Four classrooms and a study were eventually added to the parish house.

It continued for many years as a center for both church and community-related activities until major expansion of the main church building in 1954-55 included a new parish hall. The old parish house was purchased by the Presbyterians at Old Ocean, Texas and is still in use there.

Bishop Kinsolving placed the cornerstone of the present building November 23, 1910; the building was completed early in 1911 and consecrated the same year.

This was when most of the lovely stained glass windows which adorn St. Mark's church were installed. The windows memorialize lives of men and women who were importantly linked with the development of Bay City and Matagorda County; names of some of their descendants are to be found on St. Mark's roll today.

Father John labored and led, ministering to his people and teaching pupils in private schools. His Episcopal school was the only one in Bay City that prepared students to meet college entrance requirements. The newly opened public schools were not yet accredited and other private schools offered no high school work.

Bishop Kinsolving in his report of 1905 wrote, "Mr. Gordon at Matagorda and Mr. Sloan at Bay City are both doing a fine work along educational lines, but it must be very onerous to combine the occupation of the priest with that of the school teacher." Nevertheless, Father John prepared his students well and instilled them with high ideals. Many were inspired to become dedicated community leaders.       

In 1913 St. Mark's became self-supporting and was admitted into the Diocese of Texas as a Church. St. Mark's and other church congregations held the usual fund-raising fairs, entertainments, suppers, and special events to help equip and furnish their young churches. The youth of St. Mark's undertook a number of projects and once addressed Bay City's enduring problem with mud.

Frequent rains turned the town's broad unpaved streets into muddy rivers. Boardwalks laid higher than the streets in front of business establishments around the square provided some relief. But sidewalks were desperately needed, and eventually they came. One of the first resulted from the efforts of St. Mark's young women. They raised the money for a sidewalk to be laid from the corner of the square to the corner of the church so that the church might be reached without walking through dust and mud. Father John, stepping on the slabs would call the names, "Net-Let-Annie-Alma..." thus recognizing those young women who had initiated the project.

It was probably about 1918 that Kate Rugeley and her son Walcott, St. Mark's first acolyte, attended a worship service at Christ Church, Houston. There they saw a vested choir following a like-vested acolyte carrying a processional cross. They were impressed with the dignity and simplicity of the identical vestments and wished to add this beauty to St. Mark's worship services.

So the ladies of the parish started making vestments, and Mr. J. W. Rugeley, inspired by the enthusiasm of his young son, made a wooden processional cross, carving the letters IHS from the lid of a cigar box. This processional cross was continued in use at the church school services after acquisition of a brass memorial processional cross, and is still in use today, being the cross carried for all graveside services.

Similar was the fashioning of St. Mark's gold and silver communion chalice. It was completed and dedicated in honor of the same Mrs. Sargent's 80th birthday. All joined in giving of their own treasure--spoons, rings, pins, and bracelets--as a lasting tribute of love to the church and all those who labored with the honoree.

After serving St. Mark's parish as rector and the community as a teacher for seventeen years, the Rev. Sloan resigned in 1918 to accept a call to St. Mary's parish in Houston. He served a number of churches in the Diocese of Texas and finally became archdeacon of the Diocese. He died in Houston, August 21, 1930.

For a number of years thereafter, St. Mark's was closely linked to the Mother church. Records of the two churches are commingled, and the priests were shared by both congregations. Rectors of St. Mark's since Father John have been: J. Mervin Pettit, 1919-1923; W. W. Daup, 1923-1924; Paul E. Engle, 1925-1941; E. Lucien Malone, Jr., 1942-1944; Aubrey C. Maxted, 1944-1958; F. Parke Smith, 1958-1962; Milton McWilliams, Jr., 1962-1986.

Since its organization, St. Mark's has been a vital part of religious and civic life in Matagorda County and beyond, joining others in efforts to show God's love for the world.

The congregation was led by Father John in a missionary outreach to the community of Collegeport, also in Matagorda County. St. Paul's Mission was organized there and a new church building erected. Bishop Kinsolving consecrated both it and St. Mark's in 1911.

Eventually, the congregation at Collegeport dwindled and the building was deconsecrated and moved across the Bay to Palacios where it became St. John's Mission. It was dedicated by Bishop Quin in 1927. St. John's congregation grew under leadership of the Reverends Engle and Maxted, and Rev. Maxted took the lead in physical work, helping to build a parish house at Palacios. St. John's is an active church today (1986).

Also, one of the first acts of the Rev. Pettit who followed Father John as rector of St. Mark's was to accompany Bishop Clinton S. Quin to the town of Gulf, which was built by the Texas Gulf Sulphur Company five miles from Matagorda and is no longer in existence. Their visit resulted in assignment of a clergyman at Gulf.

During the Rev. Pettit's rectorship, two events occurred which were to have a profound influence on the future life of St. Mark's: First, a small reed organ, worn from many years of use, was replaced with a Pilcher pipe organ--the first pipe organ to be installed in Bay City--thus bringing to the church and the community glorious performances of sacred and classical music not experienced before.

Second, a fine (for then) brick home in the same block with St. Mark's Church and located on the corner of Avenue E and Fifth Street, was purchased for use as a rectory. In 1958 this building was turned over to the women of St. Mark's to be operated as St. Mark's Thrift House with Mrs. D. M. Curtis as founder.

For nearly 30 years the Thrift House has served as an extended arm of St. Mark's selling used clothing and household goods at modest prices, supplying the needy at no cost, and supporting the church with generous cash donations for response to appeals for help both near and far.

The physical appearance of St. Mark's has been altered as necessary since 1911. Along with the new brick parish hall added to the church structure, 1954-55, the church interior was refurbished. A wood beam type ceiling was suspended under the original ornamental pressed tin ceiling which had rusted badly. A new parquet type oak floor was applied over the old pine floor. The interior was refinished, and the lovely leaded glass windows were all reworked.

In 1964 property west of the church was acquired for a parking area. Then a bequest by Pauline and Gus Brown in 1965 inspired and enabled major alterations and additions in 1975.

The old entrance to the church on Avenue E was closed in to form a chapel; the front of the church was extended toward the street, and a new entrance opened upon a covered cloister leading to the parish hall. A tower matching that of the church arose over the parish hall. At the same time, parishioners raised a face-lifting fund for renovating the interior of the parish hall, and for landscaping the grounds. A parish library was organized and opened.

The Stewart Savage Memorial Courtyard was also created, its serene beauty provided a place to pause for quiet contemplation. Stewart Savage was the father and grandfather of present St. Markans and the grandson of Norman Savage, said to have owned the first herd of cattle on the Matagorda area plains.

Property on Fifth Street west of St. Mark's Thrift House was acquired in 1976. A massive wooden cross rising above a grass covered berm overlooks the park-like area where outdoor church services and activities are held, and neighboring families picnic and play.

Finally, a carillon was given by members of the congregation as a memorial for David McWilliams, son of the Rev. and Mrs. McWilliams, who died November 2, 1978 and had spent much of his young life in loving church service at St. Mark's.

St. Mark's celebrated its 90th Anniversary on May 24, 1986, with the dedication of a Historical Marker granted by the Texas Historical Commission.

The Reverend Milton E. McWilliams, Jr. and his wife, Gretchen, came to St. Mark's from St. Francis Church, Houston in November 1962. Shortly thereafter he was appointed Dean of the Southwest Convocation, Diocese of Texas, which is composed of 13 churches. These past 24 years of their lives have been spent in devoted service to God as shepherds of St. Mark's. Their lives and works have made God's love known to many throughout the community and the Diocese of Texas. The Rev. McWilliams will retire on September 7, 1986.



 Taken from the earliest surviving register.


   1   Walter F. Arlitt

   2   C.L. de St. Aubin

   3   Mrs. C.L. de St. Aubin

   4   Mrs. George Austin

   5   Julia H. Austin - Mrs. George PoseyŚmarried 9-7-21 transferred to Christ Church, Houston

   6   William E. Austin (died Dec 10,1931)

   7   Mrs. William E. Austin

   8   Mrs. C. F. Baker

   9   Mr. Sherman Baker

 10   Miss Eunice Baker - Mrs. Kenneth S. Horton - 5/2/20 Mrs. E. C. Plant

 11   Mrs. Robert L. Baker

 12   Frank Bates

 13   Mrs. Frank Bates

 14   Mrs. W. D. Barbour

 15   Mrs. W. L. Blair

 16   Mrs. James Bruce

 17   Mrs. Frank Bruno

 18   Mrs. Ralph Byars

 19   Mr. Fred Carlton

 20   Mrs. Fred Carlton

 21   Shirley Carter - Mrs. Samuel G. Selkirk, Jr.

 22   Mrs. C. C. Cates

 23   J. Raymond Cookenboo - transferred to Trinity Ch., Houston, TX

 24   Mrs. J. R. Cookenboo - transferred to Trinity Ch., Houston, TX

 25   Chas. H. Cookenboo

 26   Mrs. J. M. Corbett

 27   D. O'H. Coston

 28   Mrs. D. O'H. Coston

 29   Randolph Cox

 30   Lottie May Cox

 31   John Crawford - transferred to St. Mark's, Beaumont, TX

 32   Mrs. John Crawford - transferred to St. Mark's, Beaumont, TX

 33   Mrs. D. M. Curtis

 34   Marian Eugene Dantzler - Transferred to St. Paul's Church, Marfa, TX

 35   Mrs. Z. W. DeLano

 36   Mrs. V. H. Doubek

 37   Mrs. Kraft Eidman

 38   J. W. Elliott

 39   Carol [Carroll] M. Gaines - San Antonio

 40   Mrs. Carol [Carroll] M. Gaines - San Antonio

 41   Mr. J. W. Gaines - San Antonio

 42   Mrs. J. W. Gaines - San Antonio

 43   Richard Gaines - San Antonio

 44   Marion Gaines - San Antonio

 45   Anna Lou Gillette - Mrs. W. T. Cox

 46   John Guynn - removed to El Campo

 47   Mrs. John Guynn - removed to El Campo

 48   E. L. Hawkins

 49   Mrs. A. B. Hatchett

 50   Mrs. T. J. Hamilton - San Antonio

 51   Pierce Hamilton - San Antonio

 52   Jamie Hawkins

 53   Mrs. E. H. Highley

 54   Mrs. O. E. Highsmith - transferred to the Church of the Heavenly Rest, Abilene, TX

 55   Douglas Highsmith - Abilene

 56   Annie Gertrude Hill

 57   Mrs. W. S. Holman

 58   Jonathan Lane Holman

 59   William S. Holman, Jr.

 60   Louise Holman

 61   Berkley Holman

 62   J. F. Holt - died March 31st 1921

 63   Mrs. J. F. Holt - died 1928

 64   Vernon Otto Huebner

 65   P. G. Huston

 66   Mrs. P. G. Huston

 67   Miss Ola Jackson - transferred to Trinity Church, Houston

 68   Mrs. Harry Jameson

 69   E. J. Kilbride

 70   Mrs. E. J. Kilbride

 71   Mrs. Max Klein

 72   Mrs. R. A. Kleska

 73   Irma Elizabeth Emma Korn - Mrs. Joe Duke

 74   J. Floyd Lewis

 75   James C. Lewis

 76   Mrs. James C. Lewis

 77   Mr. R. R. Lewis - transferred to Trinity Church, Houston, TX

 78   Mrs. R. R. Lewis - transferred to Trinity Church, Houston, TX

 79   Mrs. B. L. Livengood

 80   Burton Livengood

 81   Helen Livengood

 82   Mrs. John B. McCain

 83   Miss Willie McCamley - transferred to St. Mark's, San Antonio, TX

 84   Mrs. J. S. Mayfield

 85   Cornelia Mayfield - married 10-23-19 Mrs. Blakely Winston

 86   Helen Mackall Mayfield (Nell) - married 11-4-20 Mrs. Bassett Blakely - transferred to Trinity Church, Houston, TX

 87   Louise Mayfield

 88   J. W. Miller

 89   Mrs. J. W. Miller - died Nov. 1928

 90   Miss Lilly Miller

 91   Miss Ethel Miller

 92   A. H. Millican

 93   Mrs. A. H. Millican

 94   A. Horace Millican

 95   R. Cecil Millican

 96   Althea Millican - transferred to Stuttgart, AR

 97   Corinne Millican - transferred to Stuttgart, AR

 98   Blance Millican - transferred to Stuttgart, AR

 99   Margaret Millican (Mrs. S.L. Robison) - transferred to Stuttgart, AR

100  Mrs. D. P. Moore

101  Miss Adele Moore - Mrs. J. Bennett Harvey

102  Layton Moore

103  Adele Moore (same as #101)

104  Thelma Moore - transferred as Mrs. Thelma Inez (Moore) Jackson to Grace Church Galveston, TX Dec. 6, 1950

105  Mrs. S. S. Moore

106  Mrs. Ogden

107  C. M. O'Brien - removed to Boling, TX

108  Mrs. C. M. O'Brien

109  Mrs. L. M. Paine

110  J. M. Pettus - transferred to Church of St. John the Evangelist, New Brunswick, NJ

111  Mrs. J. M. Pettus - transferred to Church of St. John the Evangelist, New Brunswick, NJ

112  Mrs. Hugh Phillips

113  Larry Phillips - Mrs. Lyle Young - transferred to Holy Comforter, Angleton, TX 8-18-42

114  Doris Phillips - Mrs. Barrett

115  Mrs. J. R. Reynolds

116  Mrs. E. Rochefort

117  Mrs. Kathryn Rosser - Transferred to Emmanuel Ch., Shawnee, OK

118  Louise Royer - transferred to Church of the Redeemer, Houston, TX

119  Harvey B. Richers - transferred to Church of the Redeemer, Houston, TX

120  Mrs. Harvey B. Richers - transferred to Church of the Redeemer, Houston, TX

121  Mrs. Henry Rugeley

122  Mary LeTulle Rugeley - Mrs. W. B. Ferguson - married and removed to Waxahachie, TX - now connected with Trinity Church, Houston

123  James W. Rugeley

124  Mrs. James W. Rugeley

125  Sargent Walcott Rugeley

126  Gifford Ryman [Reiman]

127  Mrs. Sanborn

128  Mrs. J. A. Sargent

129  Mr. E. Serrill

130  Mrs. E. Serrill - removed to Houston, care of Mary Golden

131  Mrs. Stuart [Stewart] Savage

132  Samuel Selkirk

133  Mrs. Samuel Selkirk

134  Adelaide Selkirk

135  Grace Selkirk

136  James Selkirk

137  Mrs. George L. Serrill

138  George E. Serrill

139  Mrs. George E. Serrill

140  Mrs. Hugh Sexton

141  Mrs. S. R. Sholars

142  Mrs Cora Stewart

143  W. H. Stinnett

144  Mrs. W. H. Stinnett

145  S. S. Taylor

146  Mrs. S. S. Taylor

147  A. H. Wadsworth

148  Mrs. A. H. Wadsworth

149  Thomas J. Walker

150  Mrs. T. J. Walker

151  Mrs. E. B. Wells - transferred to Johnson

152  J. R. Whitaker

153  Mrs. J. R. Witaker

154  W. D. Wilson

155  Mrs. W. D. Wilson

156  H. E. Gaedcke, Jr. - transferred to Christ Church, Houston, Apr 19, 1945

157  Mrs. Seldon Thompson - LaBelle, Missouri

158  Mrs. Pinkerton - transferred to St. Culp, Lufkin, TX

159  Mrs. W. T. King

160  Miss Nannie Magee - Floyd Ryman (Matagorda Road)


St. Mark's Observes Its Anniversary

Sunday was home coming day at St. Mark's taking cognizance of the 37th anniversary of the parish.

In response to letters sent out to former members of the parish, now residing elsewhere, a number of communicants came home to the Mother Church, St. Mark's.

Bishop Clinton S. Quin held confirmation services at the regular service hour, after which the church family went into the parish house where a most delicious dinner was served by the women of the Church Service League.

A number of informal talks were made by returned members, all echoing the thought that this annual observance of St. Mark's Day is of value in the spiritual life of the parish, an occasion looked forward to by the old-time members who are glad to return to the parish that has always meant so much in their lives.

Among those returning for the homecoming were: Bishop and Mrs. Clinton S. Quin, Misses Derby and Dorothy Quin of Houston, Mr. and Mrs. R. R. Lewis, Harley P. Lathrop and George E. Posey of Houston. Mr. and Mrs. H. A. Clapp of Collegeport, and Mrs. Franzen and Mr. Franzen of Collegeport; Mr. and Mrs. C. L. Aubin of Palacios, Mrs. Opal Price of Palacios and Mrs. E. B. Wells and Emalee Wells of San Benito, Texas.

Matagorda County Tribune, April 27, 1933

Picture Courtesy of Matagorda County Museum


Copyright 2010 - Present by Carol Sue Gibbs
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Apr. 6, 2010
Dec. 23, 2010