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Ask Rufus: A bomb threat, a windstorm and a gothic church


The interior of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Columbus is shown in this c. 1910 photograph.

The interior of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Columbus is shown in this c. 1910 photograph. Photo by: Image courtesy of Billups-Garth Archives of the Columbus Lowndes Public Library


Rufus Ward



From a bomb threat to a windstorm, the early buildings of St Paul's Episcopal Church in Columbus had their problems, but the 154-year-old present structure is a classic. Records of the church provide a view of early church building in Columbus.  


The history of St Paul's Episcopal Church begins with the first protestant church services in the Tombigbee Valley. After England took control of Mobile, Ala. at the end of the French and Indian War, the Church of England began holding services there in 1763. It was out of the Church of England that the Episcopal Church in America arose, though the bitterness of the Revolution resulted Samuel Seabury, the first American Episcopal bishop, being ordained not in England but in Aberdeen, Scotland.  


The beginnings of St Paul's Church in Columbus go back to Abram Maer who in December 1835 called a meeting of Episcopal families in Lowndes County to discuss the need to build a church. In May of 1836 the journal of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society (the actual name of the Episcopal,Church) reported that: "With respect to Mississippi- the town of Columbus in the Eastern part of the state on the Tombeckbe River, is said to be an important place - very healthy and flourishing."  


Also in May 1836 the Rt Reverend James Otey, Bishop of Tennessee, wrote; "The town of Columbus, in Mississippi, presents at this time a very inviting field to the efforts of an Episcopal Clergyman. Last February I commissioned a gentleman at that place (Abram Maer) as lay leader, and the sum of 800 or 1,000 dollars has been subscribed to erect a church " On May, 30, 1836 Columbus was officially designated an Episcopal Mission Station. 


The newly organized church obtained property next to the town graveyard on the northeast corner of the intersection of Seventh Street and Fourth Avenue North. A church was never built there as Garland Lincecum became angry at the thought of the Episcopal Church building being so close to his wife's grave. He informed the members of the church that if they built it next to the graveyard he would blow it up with gunpowder. 


Knowing Lincecum, members of the church took the threat seriously and the site for the church was moved across the street (location of present day Tenn-Tom Waterway Development Authority office). In 1837 work commenced on a brick church building. Shortly before completion winds from a severe storm blew the brick walls down. Church services were then held in the Masonic Hall. 


After the destruction of the brick church, a wood frame church was constructed on the building site in 1838 at a cost of $8,228. It was consecrated by the Rt Rev Jackson Kemper, Episcopal Bishop of The American Northwest, in April 1838. Bishop Kemper traveled to Columbus by taking a steamboat down the Mississippi to New Orleans, a ship to Mobile and then a steamboat up the Tombigbee to Columbus. The following year an organ was purchased from the Erban Company of New York. The bell that is still at St Paul's church and rung on Sunday mornings was purchased in 1847. 


In 1854 the church decided to sell its existing building and construct a new one. J. J. Sherman was going on a business trip to the north and was asked to look at church styles and cost during the trip. It may be no coincidence that the church that was built and remains St Paul's today is based on a model church plan that had been published by the Bishop of Vermont. 


Plans for a new church were purchased from a "Mr Humpage" and Columbus architect James Lull was to provide an estimate of the cost. Bad crop years for cotton resulted in problems raising funds and construction of the new building did not begin until 1858. 


The style of the new building is Gothic Revival to give the feel of a medieval English parish church. The church was constructed by local builder William O'Neal at a cost of $12,459.54. In 1859 a Ferris organ was purchased and installed. The new building, which is still in use, was consecrated in 1860 by Mississippi Bishop William M Green. The sermon at the service was given by Rev. A. P. Barnard the Chancellor of the University of Mississippi. 


St. Paul's has recently completed a major restoration of its historic 154 year old church so that it continues to serve as both a house of worship and a Columbus historic landmark. 


Much of this history of the church structures of St Paul's was mined from old books and records by Sam Kaye. With his passing last month, Columbus lost an encyclopedia of its history and development.


Rufus Ward is a Columbus native a local historian. E-mail your questions about local history to Rufus at [email protected]


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