A Church on the Prairie
from an essay by Mrs. Albert E. Stitt in The Story of St. Mark’s Parish and Pro-Cathedral (1944)
Old records left here by Mrs. C. F. Morey reveal that in the early part of 1880, when the Rev. John W. Greenwood took charge, this parish was a vacant and unorganized mission station without officers, without church property, and with very few communicants.
The Rt. Rev. Robert Harper Clarkson was Bishop of the whole state of Nebraska. Hastings was a frontier town of one thousand people. On April 25, 1880, the Rev. Mr. Greenwood held the first regular service in a public hall. (It might have been a “pub”).
On May 3, 1880, the parish was organized in Charles Cameron’s store, at the corner of Hastings Avenue and First Street. The Vestrymen were: Oswald and H. M. Oliver, F. J. Benedict, Mr. Barlow, Mr. Emory, Charles Cameron, J. C. and I. B. Ideson, Mr. Norton, Mr. Brown and Br. Burton. On regular motion the name of Saint Mark’s was given the present parish. Bishop Clarkson pledged $400.00 toward a church. Rev. Mr. Greenwood had divided his time the first year between Grand Island and Hastings, but now was called to devote his whole time to Saint Mark’s with services each Sunday.
On January 23, 1881, the new wooden church, which faced north on Fifth Street and Burlington Avenue, was dedicated by Bishop Clarkson of Omaha. The old church cost $1,200.00. (The new Pro-Cathedral cost $125,000.00.) Rev. Mr. Greenwood and the Rev. A. T. Whitten of Edgar, assisted the Bishop.
This was the first Episcopal Church to be built in Nebraska west of Lincoln and Grand Island. Then, as always, the congregation felt the ebb and flow of population in the community. The names of many saints, who were faithful members of Saint Mark’s, in the earlier days will never be forgotten. Among the many, Mrs. Charles Cameron, (in whose memory our beautiful Alar Rail was given by Dr. and Mrs. Schaufelberger), Mrs. F. J. Benedict, Mrs. C. F. Morey, Mr. J. M. Ferguson, Mr. John Slaker, Mr. Harry Haverly, Mrs. S. E. Howard, Mrs. Fred Brach and Judge Turbyfill.
On February 28, 1896, the first vested choir was organized by Miss Irene Briggs (later, Mrs. Oswald Oliver).
During these years this District has had five Bishops – Bishops Clarkson, Worthington, Williams, Graves and Beecher; and thirteen rectors counting our present rector, Dean Whitmeyer. Those of the later years who are best remembered are Rev. John Power, the great preacher, Shakesperian scholar and poet; the Rev. Lee Young, the spiritually minded and lovable friend; the Rev. Charles Tyner – who of us will ever forget this human dynamo? Then comes to our mind the Very Rev. Francis R. Lee, the saintly, the model of a Christian gentleman.
During the rectorship of Rev. Lee Young, after the death of his wife, the beloved Jessie Hornbrook Young, the Daughters of Saint Mark’s conceived the idea of building a new Church – a memorial to Mrs. Young. Mrs. A. D. Harman (Laura Payne) and Mrs. Albert E. Stitt endeavored to raise the money. They got $10,000, when who should come to town but Bishop Beecher, who told them of a much larger, more wonderful plan. Hastings to be the See City, and a Cathedral might then be built – a Bishop’s Church – one that would be for the Community and for the District – a building for future generations. This was in 1912.
In 1919 under the leadership of Rev. Charles R. Tyner, the plans were drawn by Dr. Ralph Adams Cram of Boston, Dean of Architects of America. On September 25, 1921, impressive services for breaking the ground were conducted by Bishop Beecher and Dean Tyner. Ferris Borden was the Cross Bearer, Detlor Stitt carried the flag, Judson Belknap carried the spade, Charles Whalquist and Robert Hall carried the box for the earth. Mr. Arthur Lawson gave the spade that was used.
On a cold blustering day, December 5, 1922, Bishop Beecher laid the cornerstone and conducted the impressive service. A local paper called it an epoch in the parish of Saint Mark’s, and a stage in the construction of the imposing new Episcopal Cathedral. The Cathedral Chimes of this date says that “the Rev. Samuel Wells, of Broken Bow, the Rev. J. C. Ferrier, of Arapahoe, and the Rev. Samuel Hardmen of Red Cloud, were present.”
The Chimes of this date also shows a picture of the supliced boy choir of twelve, and the many adult members. Three future vestrymen are in the picture: Robert Hall, Detlor Stitt, and Charles Wahlquist. It is of interest that Mrs. R. J. Benedict, C. K. Lawson and Mrs. M. Reed were also present when the original cornerstone was laid. The Cathedral Chimes also notes that Mr. and Mrs. Oswald Oliver, then of California, were planning to attend the consecration of the Cathedral. The cornerstone banquest was prepared and served by Saint Mark’s Guild and Saint Margaret’s Guild. Dean Tyner was toastmaster, Nathan Levy, Herman Schroeder and Floyde Eldredge sang. Others on the program were Mrs. C. F. Morey, Chairman of Memorials, John Lawler, Mrs. Albert Stitt, George Dutton, Mrs. J. J. Sexson, Mrs. M Reed, Miss Margaret Koehler, Judge Turbyfill, Dr. Steele and Bishop Beecher.
Following the consecration of the land and laying of the cornerstone, the Crypt was completed, part of the organ installed, making an attractive Chapel. The slogan adopted by the parish was “Pay-As-You-Go.” At this juncture it was found that resources would not permit of further immediate progress with the permanent work, and it was promptly decided that in order to permit time for adequate financing, to resort to the temporary expedient of preparing the crypt or basement as a place of worship, (services had meanwhile been held in the old church building). This involved a special campaign to raise money for the construction of a temporary roof at the 5-foot level, and by special consent of the architect, Dr. Ralph A. Cram, for an entrance on the north side through the massive concrete footing walls.
Once completed and dedicated, this proved an attractive and comfortable place of worship and was in use for this purpose for 5 years.