Downtown Landmark Churches: St. Philips Episcopal

November 17, 2009 19 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

This small but important church has a unique place in Jacksonville's History. It was the first African American Episcopal Church in the city, for one. Its founder, Freeman Young, was a character who stepped straight out of the adventure tales of the 19th Century, and its designer was none other than Henrietta Dozier, Jacksonville's fabled Great Lady of Architecture, whose career stood as a testament both to her character and to the character of the city that welcomed her. Join us as we discuss the history of this incredible symbol of Jacksonville's liberal and sometimes startling past, and see the church in person in DVI's Downtown Historic Church Tour 2009.

Aside from the fact that The Congregation of the Church of St. Philip was the area's first African American Episcopal Church, its place in our history is just as guaranteed by the fact that St. Philips was designed by one of Jacksonville's early women architects, Henrietta Dozier.

Henrietta was one of the city's most colorful pioneers and you can find a fascinating interview with her during her lifetime at Jaxhistory:

Born in Fernandina Beach, Henrietta C. Dozier graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1899 with an advanced degree in architecture.

She was one of only three women in the class of 176 students, and she was the only one to graduate.

After working in Atlanta for thirteen years, she moved her practice to Jacksonville in 1914 where she became the City's first and foremost woman architect. In 1903, Henrietta C. Dozier designed the All Saints Episcopal Chapel in Atlanta. Her favorite commission, this small chapel was later damaged by fire and incorporated into a larger structure.

While still in Atlanta, Henrietta C. Dozier was responsible for the design of Saint Philips Episcopal Church which was constructed around 1903 at 801 North Pearl Street in Downtown Jacksonville.

Some of the more noted buildings designed by Henrietta C. Dozier in Jacksonville include the Old Federal Reserve Bank Building (1923 - 1924 in association with Atlanta architect, A. Ten Eyck Brown), Lampru Court Apartments (1924), and residences at 1819 Goodwin Street, 2215 River Boulevard and 1814 Powell Place. Henrietta C. Dozier was a devout member of the Church of the Good Shepherd.

The Episcopal Church has a brilliant web exhibit that chronicles the emergence and growth of Black Episcopal Churches, and it is definitely worth a visit to see and understand the struggle and triumph that is represented by the progress of these flocks over the past 140 years. St. Philips was one of the earliest built and with one of the largest historical congregations. It was far and away the largest in the area. You can see St. Philips mentioned in the exhibit several times, for more information check it out:

About 1872, the Rev. Brook G. White, an inspired catalyst, and the Rt. Rev. John Freeman Young, Bishop of the Diocese of Florida, organized and established a mission to serve the Black population. This mission became St. Philip's Episcopal Church. With donations from the community, property was purchased at the corner of Union and Cedar (now Pearl) Streets, and a small frame church was erected. A rectory was also constructed with funds given by the wife of Fr. White.

Wikipedia has the following information about Freeman Young:
Reverend John Freeman Young (Oct. 30, 1820-Nov. 15, 1885), translator of the Christmas hymn, "Silent Night" became the second bishop of Florida in 1867. He had earlier served as an ecumenical envoy to the Russian Orthodox Church. The reconstruction was a hardship to the people, as well as the church. Growth was slow but promising. Bishop Young visited parishes throughout the state, but he saw most churches once each year. A trip from Jacksonville to Key West might take a month or more. Bishop Young reported "eleven churches built or in progress in one year" in 1880. He died five years later. During his service as a bishop, he established parishes for Cubans living in Florida and for Blacks, many of whom had come to Florida from Anglican parishes in the Caribbean. At the time of his death, he was working on a Spanish translation of the Book of Common Prayer

Initially, St. John's Church supported the mission providing priests and lay readers for the services. To enhance the growth of the mission, a kindergarten was started in the rectory. This school attracted students from families throughout the city. Increased membership created a need for a larger church. The smaller church was "moved" from the corner to allow for the larger structure. On November 22, 1900, The Rt. Rev. Edwin G. Weed laid the cornerstone for a larger facility. The original frame church was moved back to allow construction of the new church in the original consecrated landmark.

On Edwin Weed:

Reverend Edwin Gardener Weed was elected as the third Bishop of the Diocese of Florida in 1886.

As Florida continued to grow, and became obvious that the state needed to be split into two dioceses. The southern boundary of the diocese included Levy, Alachua, Putnam & St. Johns counties.

When the change was approved in 1892, the Missionary Jurisdiction of Southern Florida was created. After the split, the Diocese of Florida contained 43 [Mission (Christian)|missions]] and 13 parishes, but fewer than 3,000 members.

Bishop Weed decided that Jacksonville should be the seat of the diocese because transportation was more readily available, so he moved the Episcopal residence from St. Augustine by 1895. Severe freezes in 1896 & 1897 destroyed most of the citrus industry in North Florida and the Great Fire of 1901 in Jacksonville left the diocese broke. The following year, however, all parishes and missions made their Diocesan payments in full. There were more than 50 parishes and missions in 1906, served by 33 clergy. The Woman's Auxiliary gained importance and became a major source of funds during the early 1900's. Their efforts helped keep many churches from closing their doors. Bishop Weed died in 1924.

On May 3, 1901 the wooden frame church and the rectory were destroyed in the Jacksonville fire. A parishioner, Mamie Ewart Port, who lived nearby, rushed to the church and retrieved several of the brass pieces and communion vessels, some of which are in use today. The fire brought the St. Philip's building project to an abrupt standstill. As the city recovered, so did St. Philip's. It took several years to rebuild the church because of the "pay-as-you-go" plan the members chose. The sanctuary reflects the late Gothic Revival style which was the most popular religious architecture at the turn of the century. Five years after the fire, on July 29, 1906, Bishop Weed preached in the new and rebuilt St. Philip's Church. Services began in the present structure with no windows, pews or electricity. Straight chairs were used for seating, lamplights for seeing, and a pot bellied wood stove for heating.

By 1917, the altar was rebuilt, the chancel furnished, vesting rooms added, gas heating installed, and a pipe organ was purchased. In the early 1950's the church was rewired. Kitchen equipment was installed in the basement, which was the center of parish fellowship and Christian Education activities. The parish auditorium and classrooms were constructed in the early 1960's.

In 1926, with The Rev. Willoughby M. Parchment as the assigned priest, the St. Philip's Mission applied for and received status as an independent parish. However, during the financial hardship of the depression, the parish reverted to a mission and was served by several priests. The Rev. Toussaaint Vincent Harris came to the mission in 1953 and parish status was regained in 1960. It was during Fr. Harris' tenure that the Advent Corporate Communion and Breakfast was initiated as an annual event. Fr. Harris also organized the Bishop Delaney Guild, for women's ministries.

The rich legacy of St. Philip's Episcopal Church and her members continues to inspire the hearts of the community in downtown Jacksonville. Since 1882 the consecrated landmark has been a nucleus where worshippers aspire to become a fellowship of servants of Jesus Christ in sharing God's love through sacraments, worship, education, evangelism, and pastoral care.

--Stephen Dare---

Check out the church at the annual DVI Downtown Historic Church Tour 2009