St. George's Episcopal Church, LeMars, Iowa
History of St. George's Church, written by Iris Hemmingson (May 2009)
St. George’s Episcopal Church was built in 1881 in response to the need for an Anglican church for the hordes of young British men who were being sent to this area to learn farming. Over the next 10 years, nearly 1000 English colonists used this building as a worship and social center.
St. George’s congregation originated in 1872 as the Grace Mission to minister to these British immigrants. The first church building was on the corner of 5th and Hubbard streets (renamed 1st St SW & 5th Ave SW). Then they worshipped in the Apollo Hall, located on the northwest corner of Main and 7th (renamed Central Ave. and First Street Northwest). The congregation reorganized as St. George’s church on October 4, 1881, and erected this building at a cost of about $3,200 from England, sent to this “foreign mission.” It was consecrated June 9, 1882. (St. George was a Christian soldier who was martyred in the year 303 in Palestine. He is the patron saint of England, Germany and Portugal.)
This is the oldest church building that has continuously been used as a church. (It is not Le Mars’ oldest building that has served as a house of worship.) It was listed on the National Register for Historic Places in 1976 because of the historic connection to the Close Bros. Colony. The Parish Hall was added in 1963 and has served the community as St. George’s Preschool.
The church is built over a local limestone foundation, using a unique board and batten border before the horizontal clapboard above. The church is currently painted in two soft gray colors and accented in black and red. Notice the narrow hoods over the Gothic arched windows painted red and the full screens for ventilation. The dirt basement is accessed through an opening on the south side.
The tower, which rose over the entire entrance hall, was removed in the 1940’s, due to leaking rain water. Wooden exterior steps bring you up to the level of the sanctuary. The railings were reproduced in the early 1990’s to mimic the early banisters.
Double doors within a Gothic arch greet us at the top of the steps. Notice the worn threshold that has greeted so many people from around the world. Double doors bring us into the vestibule or narthex. The short pews allow for comfortable removal of galoshes.
The interior, narrow, swinging, double doors are painted red as a sign of the Holy Spirit. Please try out the vintage thumb latch on the cast hardware, with original lock.
Gothic shaped double-hung windows have various designs of colored glass, as well as some unique cut glass on the south side. The lancet arch over each window, including the rear windows, are pressed glass. The windows were repaired in the 1980’s at considerable cost.
A round stained glass window at the front of the church over the altar, which depicts Jesus releasing a lamb from a bramble bush, is in honor of John Simon Clarke Huntington, (1 April,1901-18 Sept., 1912) son of an early pioneer of this church. It was placed by the boy’s mother, Frances Clarke Huntington, and his aunt, Mary (Matie) Clarke-Wooley, who were daughters of DeWitt and Sarah (Lack) Clarke, both of English heritage. Matie was Le Mars’ first librarian at age 13, worked in many important county positions, and, later, married the first county engineer. Little ‘Jack’ died while returning from San Domingo with his mother and brother. The accomplished and travelled father, Linn Huntington, a civil engineer for the Panama Canal. died not long after, as a result of TB, after being imprisoned in Venezuela during the war with Germany. Large portraits and biographies of these illustrious early settlers of Le Mars are in Freeman’s History of Plymouth County.
The pews are original. Made simply, yet creatively, of two straight planks of local wood, set on end, resulting in a comfortable curve for easier sitting. The rolled top edge is a third piece of wood. The seats are then set into the ends which are numbered on the ‘shield’. Flat racks on the backs of the pews were handy to hold the missals as well as for signatures! Through the years, many names have been carved into the pews. Some are recent, but some are ancient. One can find the original settler names of Frank Close and J B Farquhar. The signatures really should be catalogued! The kneelers are not attached and are original. They were recovered in the middle 80’s.
The altar is not original, but is close in appearance. The pulpit though not original, was replaced all the way back in 1892! The brass and wood podium is newer. Many of the current furnishings came from an Episcopal furniture warehouse in Des Moines of Episcopal Church furniture. The baptismal font in the back has carved “In memory of William Charlesworth and Ernest ??? Taylor.”
The choir pews, one step above the rest of the congregation, indicate the importance of music and provide seating for a large choir. An early pipe organ, being repaired in Cherokee, was ruined in a flood. The cross on the south wall is made from the wood in that organ.
Covered by a rug placed in 2006, wide planks provide the flooring. Three magnificent, mammoth, decorative cast iron floor registers are in the center aisle: the round center one is for heat to rise, and the two squares are cold air returns. Car-siding wainscot bases the wall which leads to the lowered ceiling. Above this ceiling is the original tin ceiling. Also above is an original old chandelier which held many candles, complete with reflectors. It still hangs from a round metal plate. Electricity, of course, was not available when the church was built. The electric lighting was put in much later.
The Union Jack (a 1981 centennial gift) as well as the US flag are displayed on standards in the rear. The Episcopal flag, made by Glada Koerselman, is by the organ. The ancient cabinet under the NE window holds altar hangings of seasonal colors.
A display case in the sacristy holds memorabilia from this church, including a choir purse as well as items found on the premises. The sacristy also has closets for vestments and communion vessels and the Eucharist altar from Calvary Episcopal in Sioux City. Originally, a curtain divided the sacristy from the sanctuary; now separated by a folding door.
The parsonage next door was sold by the diocese in the 1960’s.
Captain Reynolds Moreton was the ‘mover’ who helped many of the British pupils (pups) feel at home. Besides maintaining his own farm college, he was a lay reader and helped with the religious instruction here at St. George’s, and also provided for cultural and social activities for the Britishers who emigrated here. The House of Lords and the House of Commons were two pubs. The Prairie Club later served other nationalities as well. Moreton also had the first telephone. The entire Le Mars community celebrated Queen Victoria’s 50th Jubilee with an entire week of festivities which was re-enacted at a service during St. George’s 1981 centennial celebration. Captain Moreton lived in a 17 room mansion 1 mile NW of Le Mars. Carl Ahrendson removed the wings in all directions in 1939 in order to make it a more reasonable farm home.
Old News Items About the Church:
LeMars Sentinel, Sept. 3, 1909: "There will be no services at St. George's Episcopal Church on Sunday, owing to the fact that the building is undergoing repairs."
IA GenWeb 2012