A History Of St. Philip’s Church
Missionaries Bring The Episcopal Church To Sulphur Springs, Texas
Our church was added to the list of mission stations of the Missionary District of Northern Texas in 1864. In 1878, the Episcopal Diocese of Dallas added St. Philip’s as a mission,although the historical marker under the bell tower lists the year as 1872.
Beginning in 1864, there were long periods with no regular services for Episcopalians in Sulphur Springs. In 1872, the Reverend John Portnee visited Sulphur Springs, and though he was unable to remain for a Sunday to conduct services, he saw a future for the Episcopal Church in the area. In November of that year, the Right Reverend Alexander Gregg, first bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Texas, accompanied by the Reverend Francis R. Starr and Edwin A. Wagner visited Sulphur Springs and made arrangements for baptisms, confirmations and for future services to be conducted by Father Starr. This is considered by some as the beginning of St. Philip’s church in Sulphur Springs.
The Right Reverend Alexander Charles Garrett, the missionary bishop of Northern Texas, described in his diary a visit to Sulphur Springs in the spring of 1875. He wrote that the area was rich and lovely with good roads, except through Sulphur Bottoms, where his mules sank to their knees every step for miles. The next day he visited all the church families. Colonel Hoskins obtained the use of the Presbyterian church for a night service. It was a large unfinished building, well-filled but so dimly lighted that the congregation could neither see, nor be seen. At that time, there were 1,200 people living in Sulphur Springs and eleven communicants in the Episcopal Church.
In 1887, a lot of land was given for the building of a church by, C.M. Houston and his wife Nancy, “To promote interest in Christianity.” The trustees of the church–CB. Stephenson, J.K. Milam and S.L. Gilbert–accepted the land for the church and later conveyed it to Bishop Garrett. The Episcopal church in Sulphur Springs was built at 400 Houston Street at North Davis Street, around 1895. Colonel Stephenson and his daughter, Mrs. P.T. Tucker, were instrumental in the building of the church.
The original structure was 53 feet in length and 21 feet in width, with a vaulted ceiling, described as its most attractive feature. The entrance on the south side opened into a vestibule. There were three clear glass windows on the south, three on the north side and two on the west. One chimney and a cross over the entrance and another cross on the roof completed the building.
Additions To The Church Building
In 1901, a stained glass window was installed over the altar as a memorial for, William Bowser Arthur, a member of the parish who died on July 13, 1901, at the age of eighteen of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. The window was unveiled later that year on the Sunday before Advent at the 11:00 a.m. service with the Reverend E.H.J. Andrews and the Reverend H.M. Green officiating.
In 1917, wings for an organ and choir seating were added to extend the building to the east. The addition was made largely through the efforts of Louis H. Gould and W.R. Patrick with the help of the citizens of Sulphur Springs. Later memorial windows were installed on the east end of the church dedicated to the memory of Patrick and Gould. The three stained glass windows above the altar were moved to the east wall of the nave when the new church was built.
In 1950, the Reverend Grover McElyea came to St. Philip’s, staying through November 1952. During these two years, a parish hall was added to the west side of the church, which included and office, a small kitchen, a central meeting room, seven small Sunday School rooms, two powder rooms and a hall. It was connected to the original church by double doors. Father McElyea and his wife did much of the work, installing the floor in the annex. Father McElya installed the altar rail, give by Holy Cross Episcopal Church in Paris, Texas.
The Parish Hall had many uses, other than the Sunday School; including church diners, birthday parties, class parties, and scout activities as a meeting place for Cub Scouts and an Explorer Post. An active Woman’s organization produced a Birthday Calendar as a yearly project, widely accepted by the people of Sulphur Springs.
The Reverend Hugh Majors was the vicar when land was purchased and a complete new church plant was constructed and consecrated in May 1991, east of downtown, located on College Street. The building is a mixture of modern convenience and the traditional. All of the stained glass windows and the woodwork, including liturgical furnishings from the old church were moved to the new building. The original building was given to Heritage Park, where it is a generic chapel with stained glass flowers, a pump organ and rustic wooden pews.
Much of the early history of St. Philip’s church was taken from one compiled by Mrs. Robert (Marjorie Sherwin) Alexander in support of placing a Texas historical marker on St. Philip’s in 1978. Information about the William B. Arthur window is from a bulletin from the unveiling ceremony.