The History of Christ Episcopal Church
Celebrating 100 Years of Service to Christ,
His Church, His Community
(Compiled for the centennial anniversary of the Christ Church Building, by Wally and Jo Edwards of Ironton, OH, October 1996.)
On May 15, 1854, when Ironton itself was only five years old, 45 faithful men and women banded together to form Christ Episcopal Church, Ironton, Ohio, of the Diocese of Ohio. That same day, the following were elected as the first vestry of Christ Church: Mr. J. Allen Rickey, Senior Warden; Mr. George Jackson, Junior Warden; Mr. John George; Mr. J.S. Churchill; Mr. Enos Childs; Mr. R. Edwin Rodgers; Mr. Anvil James; Mr. C.B. Egerton, Secretary.
The first church, seating 125, was built in 1855 for the sum of $700. It was a small fame building where the present Parish House is today.
The Rev. W.C. French was the first rector called to serve the parish. Bishop McIllvaine was scheduled to visit the church in June 1855, but was unable to make the trip. River traffic was halted that year while the boat was being refinished, and the Bishop’s visit was delayed until April 1856. Old records tell that the people “poured out in droves to hear this preacher.”
The people were so interested to know what this “new church” was all about, and this was the time to find out. The church was so packed at all three services that the Bishop held that day that they were almost touching hands with the “preacher.” Seven persons were confirmed that day and one baptism, the infant son of the Rev. French.
The Rev. French was at Christ Church until 1858. Several rectors followed, staying only a year or so and then moving on. Among those were the Rev. Sylvester Nash and the Rev. Henry Blackwater. There was no rector from 1864 to 1871, and the church suffered greatly. In 1871, there were only 39 members: 13 men and 26 women. Deacon A.R. Kieffer wrote in 1871, “The parish has been so long without a rector that the hearts of many of this little flock have waxed cold. Unless the Holy Spirit soon stirs up the hearts of these people to greater activity, I fear this mission will be a failure.” Kieffer left in 1874, at which time there were 48 names on the register.
There followed a succession of short term rectors, including the Rev. N.W. James, the Rev. Lovejoy, the Rev. Goodisom and the Rev. William Hampton, who came to Christ Church in 1893 to begin a ministry that was to continue for 27 years. It was during his ministry that the present church building was realized.
Ground was broken for the new church on Oct.7, 1896, and the cornerstone was laid on Nov. 13. Contained in the cornerstone was a prayer book, a hymnal, a copy of each of the three Ironton newspapers, a copy of the Church Chronicle, lists of communicants, vestrymen, choir, church school teachers and pupils, a photo of the old church, a copy of the register, industrial edition of 1892 (a copy of industries and restaurants), a copy of Wiggins City Directory and many relics, coins and church records.
The last baptisms in the old church building were that of Anna Garwin Price and Frank Wilson Price on Sept. 1, 1897.
The new building was completed the following year at a cost of $17,300. The first service was held in the beautiful new stone church on Oct. 10, 1897, with the Rev. Hampton delivering the sermon. The first baptism in the new church was Helen Lucinda Scripture on Oct. 21, 1897.
The first marriage in the new church was that of Miss Josephine Wood and Mr. William H. Nigh on Oct. 15, 1899.
The Knights Templars presented the beautiful altar and the Knights of Pythias gave the pulpit chairs. For many, many years thereafter, the Knights Templar came in a body to Christ Church on Easter Sunday and worshiped in all their regalia.
Later, Mr. Andrew Carnegie gave half the price of the pipe organ, and the St. Cecelia Guild of Christ Church the remaining half, at a total of $1,400. The church was consecrated in June 1903.
During Rev. Hampton’s time, Christ Church flourished. There were four women’s organizations: St. Cecelia’s Guild, St. Martha’s Guild, St. Elizabeth’s Guild and the Women’s Guild. Also, there existed the Brotherhood of St. Andrew’s Men’s Organization. The church also opened a mission at the intersection of Second and Elm streets in West Ironton. The rector’s wife, Mrs. Maria Hampton, taught the young women at the mission homemaking skills, such as embroidery, sewing, cooking and canning. Today, we have a similar program being executed in our church, the Pennies from Heaven program, led by Mrs. Barbara Vessely, Mrs. Linda Reneau and Miss Jennifer Allen. This program instructs women in homemaking skills, such as budgeting, shopping, cooking and nutrition.
Through the years, many beautiful gifts, far too numerous to list here, have been presented to the church to the “Glory of God in thanksgiving and in memory of loved ones.”
The Rev. Hampton retired as rector in 1920 and was elected Rector Emeritus. He died Dec. 19, 1935, and was buried in Frankfort KY. He was succeeded by Dr. J. Philip Jung, the Rev. James P. Attridge, the Rev. Shelbourne and Dr. Gilbert Lee Pennock, who was rector for eight years, from 1930-1938.
Dr. Pennock was followed by four Captains of the Church Army, Earl Estabrook, Wesley Toal, Albert Sayers and Charles Ayers, who was ordained in Christ Church on March 22, 1941, and died February 1945, while serving this parish. The Rev. G.C. Fohnuer arrived in September 1945 and served until his retirement in June 1957. The Rev. Roger Tyler, who had retired from his church in Huntington WV, served our church until the Rev. Roger Eells came in June 1958. He was ordained Nov. 16, 1958, at Christ Church.
The first Parish House was built in 1924, and for many years was a center of activity, not only for Christ Church members’ church school potlucks, wedding receptions, dances, card parties and meetings, but for the entire community of Ironton. It served as a gymnasium for many basketball teams, a meeting place for cotillion classes, Scouts, clubs and other local organizations.
During the tenure of the Rev. Eells, the Parish House was remodeled in 1959. Church school rooms were on the first floor, as were the rector’s office and restrooms. On the second floor were the kitchen and parish hall. As had been the custom, the Parish House continued to be a center of activity for the community by such organizations as the Lawrence County Mental Health Association, Alcoholics Anonymous, Lawrence County Welfare Association, Weight Watchers, Aglow, a national religious organization and by many for other meetings. It also was used by the Churchwomen for their Thrift Shop rummage sales, bake sales, Easter egg sales, bazaars, style shows, card parties and potlucks.
Mrs. Betty Boll was elected to serve on the vestry on Jan. 15, 1962, being the first woman in the Diocese of Southern Ohio to serve in this capacity.
Due to illness, the Rev. Eells had his last service on Nov. 1, 1962.
The Rev. Roger Tyler, an old friend to all at Christ Church, returned to serve until the Rev. Robert Piper came to serve as the new rector on July 14, 1963. He remained rector until March 31, 1967, when he was succeeded by the Rev. Thomas Turnbull, who remained until March 31, 1971.
While the Rev. Turnbull was here, the old rectory on South Sixth Street was sold and a new rectory on Kevin Street was purchased. The church maintained this property until May 1971, at which time it was sold.
In 1971, Christ Church entered into an agreement with Calvary Church, Ashland, Ky., whereby the rector of Calvary Church, the Rev. John L. Thomson, would be the rector of Christ Church, and the Curate of Calvary Church would come to Ironton to hold services and to minister to the people of Christ Church as their vicar. The Rev. Thomas G. Ward was the first vicar to serve Christ Church, coming in May 1971.
After serving a little less than a year, the Rev. Ward was killed in a traffic accident. He was succeeded by the Rev. Richard G. Bryant, who was at Christ Church from January 1972 to August 1974.
In October 1972, Mrs. Fannie Van Dusen set up a trust to be executed at her death, which would endow the church with $50,000. Trustees named were Walter Edwards, Jane Mason and Michael Slagel. They were to serve until death or infirmity made them unable to continue in their capacity, at which time the remaining members would appoint a new member to be a trustee. The original endowment has grown, and the dividends from the investments have been used often through the years for maintenance and improvements to the church.
In May 1974, the Rev. John W.T. Weise came from Calvary Church to serve as priest-in-charge at Christ Church. He remained until the contract with Ashland was terminated in 1982. During the tenure of the Rev. Weise, the following priests from Ashland served as vicars at Christ Church: The Rev. Eric Heers, The Rev. Charles Adams, and The Rev. Greg Riley.
It was during this period that both churches suffered great setbacks. Calvary Church was damaged extensively by fire. The congregation was invited to come to Christ Church and share in the services until their repairs could be made. Shortly thereafter, Christ Church suffered a similar setback when a steam valve broke, causing extensive damage to the walls and the ceiling of the nave of the church. Services then were held upstairs in the Parish House until March 1980.
While searching for a new rector, a special fund drive was initiated. Three-year pledges were made by the congregation to support the cost of a full-time priest. In October 1982, the Rev. William D. Roger came to serve as the new priest. He and his family remained with Christ Church until late 1986. During these years, several projects were accomplished, including the air-conditioning of the sanctuary and of the church. Also, the Memorial Garden at the west side of the church became a reality. The remains of Albert G. Mayer were the first to be interned in the garden.
Late in 1986, it was again determined that the church could no longer afford to support a full-time priest. The Rev. Homer Carrier, a retired priest from Southern Kentucky, came to serve as a part-time priest for the parish. He remained with us until December 1987, when he continued his retirement and moved to Tennessee. The Rev. Robert Thomas, a retired priest from Huntington, WV., is now serving as part-time rector at Christ Church.
In 1990 for various reasons, the Diocese of Southern Ohio decided that we could no longer meet the requirements for a parish, so the church assumed the status of a mission. This is still the case at this time.
In the last 25 years, Christ Church has undergone quite extensive repairs and redecorating. On the outside, a new roof was installed, the stone sealed, the steeple reinforced, the nave painted, plastic protective covers put on all the stained glass windows and new entrance doors put in place. Inside, the plaster has been repaired and the walls painted, the stained glass windows refurbished, new kneelers installed, the pews reupholstered, new carpeting laid, an ambry to hold the Reserved Sacrament, and a new organ. The sacristy has been paneled, carpeted and redecorated. The Parish House, too, has had its share of work. The floors have been renewed, the walls painted, the entire upstairs redecorated with wallpaper, paint and drapes. Also, a chair lift was installed to assist those who need help to manage the stairs. The rector’s office also has been redecorated.
In a town with a dwindling economy and population, Christ Church has shown itself to be a rock to rely on for 100 years. True, there have been many lean years and many fat ones, too, but the church has been able to endure despite all to celebrate this wonderful birthday.
SURELY GOD IS IN THIS PLACE. THERE IS NONE OTHER THAN THE HOUSE OF G0D. AND THIS IS THE GATE OF HEAVEN.