Holly Springs: Christ Episcopal Church (1858)

The Episcopal church arrived in Holly Springs in 1836, shortly after the town was founded. There were initially about five Episcopal families, and this early, unofficial congregation held services in the various homes of the families and at the Courthouse once it was built in 1838.  By 1839, there were 14 Episcopalian families in Holly Springs, and a total of 10 officially-recognized communicants.

Christ Episcopal Church was officially organized on April 21, 1839 by the Reverend C. A. Foster.  Later that year, the first Vestry of Christ Church was formed, consisting of Judge A. M. Clayton as Senior Warden, I. B. Clausel as Junior Warden, Walter Goodman as Treasurer, H. M. Lusher as Secretary and George A. Wilson, Y. T. Newsome, George W. Pittman, Dr. Joseph Bretney and Dr. Thomas rounding out the vestry board.

Though the Diocese of Mississippi was founded in 1826, the first Mississippi Bishop was not installed until 1850.  On May 2nd, 1840, Louisiana Bishop Rt. Rev. Dr. Leonidas Polk visited the growing church, and the congregation met at the Presbyterian Church. Soon thereafter, the first Christ Episcopal Church was erected at the corner of Van Dorn and Randolph Street.   Reverend C. A. Foster records that the congregation met in this new church building for the first time on August 16, 1840.  This first church building was consecrated by Tennessee Bishop Rt. Rev. James H. Otey on February 12, 1842.  Bishop Otey returned to Christ Church on October 22, 1842 and confirmed 30 new members to the church.

During the 1840s, the church was led by Rev. C. A. Foster and Rev. Dr. Francis Hawks (1998-1866) (who also founded the Episcopal boy’s school St. Thomas Hall in 1844).  Rev. George W. Sill was Rector of Christ Church from 1849 until 1856.  During the 1850s, Christ Church grew steadily, and had several hundred communicants by 1858.  The congregation soon outgrew the original church building, which was sold in 1857 to the newly-formed Roman Catholic Church, renamed St. Joseph’s Church, and then moved several blocks away, on College Avenue.  This building is now the Yellow Fever Church and Yellow Fever Martyrs Museum.

Construction on a new, much larger and grander church began soon after on the now-empty lot, and the new Christ Episcopal Church was complete by late 1858.  It was built by German architects, as one large room with a porch and clear glass windows.  The first sermon in the new church was on September 19, 1858.  The new church was consecrated by the first Mississippi Bishop, Bishop Rt. Rev. William Mercer Green, on October 7, 1858.  The cost to construct this new church was $8,961.74, or over $252,000 in 2017 dollars.  At this time, the Rev. Dr. Joseph H. Ingraham (1809-1860) was the Rector of Christ Church.  Ingraham was famous for his religious-themed works of fiction which he authored before becoming an Episcopalian priest.  Sadly, Ingraham died in a tragic accident in the Christ Church sanctuary in December 1860 when a gun was accidently discharged.  The entire congregation mourned for Ingraham for many months.

During the Civil War, Christ Episcopal Church was desecrated by Union soldiers and used as a stables for their horses.  The Church survived the Civil War and Reconstruction, but was hit hard by the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1878, which killed many congregants.  The wonderful stained glass windows in the Church today are all dedicated to various members of the Christ Church congregation who died in the Yellow Fever. Throughout these trying times, the church was led by Rev. Dr. J. Thomas Pickett, who was Rector of Christ Church during the 1860s and 1870s.

During the 1880s and 1890s, Christ Episcopal Church continued to grow.  Rev. P. G. Sears was Rector from 1889 to 1899, and was responsible for re-establishing the old St. Thomas School.   In the 1890s the chancel was built and the apse was pushed back.  The pews (which originally extended across the room) were cut in half, allowing for a wide central aisle.  The Church originally had battlements around the roof and two buttresses that extended past the front entrance, but both of these architectural elements were removed in the late 19th century.

A slave gallery can still be seen above the main entrance to the church, though it received little use before emancipation, and was used as a Sunday school classroom in the early 1900s.  One of the highlights of the church is the Pilcher tracker organ which was installed in 1899 and is one of the oldest organs of its type still in use today.  The large alter window was installed in 1913 in memory of the grandparents of Edward “Boss” Crump.  In 1929, lightning struck the original spire of Christ Church (which can be seen in the c. 1900 picture above), destroying the upper part of the spire.  The spire was soon replaced with the current spire.

Today the congregation of Christ Episcopal Church is healthy and diverse, with the youngest member a toddler and the oldest member in their 90s.  The current Rector of Christ Church is the Very Reverend Bruce D. McMillan.  In 2014, Christ Church celebrated its 175th anniversary with a visit from the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Katharine Jefferts Schori, and other dignitaries.

4 thoughts on “Holly Springs: Christ Episcopal Church (1858)

  1. Bruce McMillan

    Nice blog, Phil…………… from the VERY Reverend Bruce McMillan wanna add our phone number 662-252-2584?

    Like

  2. Pingback: Holly Springs: Episcopal Rectory (1885) | Hill Country History

  3. Pingback: Holly Springs: Episcopal Rectory (1885) – Hill Country History

  4. Pingback: Holly Springs: Yellow Fever Church (1840) – Hill Country History

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