This week's Fact Friday comes to you from the Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission.
The property known as the Old Holy Comforter Episcopal Church was located at 1510 South Boulevard in Charlotte, North Carolina and was distinguished by its architecture and the fact that it was the first suburban Episcopal church in the city. Designed by New York architect C. C. Haight, it was built in stages from 1908 to 1912, and was for many years a landmark in the small commercial area of early Dilworth, the city's first streetcar suburb.
Dilworth was developed by Edward Dilworth Latta (1851-1925). Latta was a Princeton-educated native of South Carolina who, after achieving success in Charlotte with a clothing store (1876) and the Charlotte Trouser Company (1883), formed the Charlotte Consolidated Construction Company (often referred to as the 4 C's) to develop the city's first suburb in 1890. Originally laid out in grid fashion, the main boulevards and some side streets boasted grand homes, while the remainder were more modest middle-class houses, and, at the southern edge, mill houses for the Atherton Mill (1892-1893). Special inducements were devised to lure people to the new suburb: a new electric trolley line from the Square (opened 1891): a first-rate park, complete with a concert and dance hall, racetracks, a pavilion, greenhouses, a large boating lake, and installment buying for lots. With the Atherton Mill and seven other factories that were put up along the western side of South Boulevard in 1894 and 1895, Dilworth's success was assured.
The Dilworth Episcopalians grew to the point that on February 6, 1903, Reverend Tolson forwarded an application to Bishop Cheshire for the formation of an independent congregation. It was accompanied by an objection by the Rector of St. Peter's, Rev. Clarence O. Leman, who thought that his own church would suffer if a new one was formed in the suburb. Nonetheless, as Bishop Cheshire later reported in an address:
"March 5, 1903, upon the petition of certain inhabitants of Dilworth, a suburb of Charlotte, I organized the petitioners into an independent mission under the name of The Church of the Holy Comforter, Dilworth, appointing as officers thereof Addison Arnold to be Warden, Frank B. Ferris to be Treasurer, and Bertram Swift Davis to be Clerk."
In the report on the church to the annual convention in 1903, the following entry appears, which shows the number of people involved, and that it was the women who were responsible for the formation of the new church:
"Families 15. Baptized persons 50. Confirmed 4. Communicants: admitted 4; received 26; present number 30. Sunday-school teachers 5; scholars 27. Other Parish Agencies: A Women's Guild and Young Children's Guild, known as the Busy Bees. Public services: on Sundays, 16; other days 31. Holy Communion 4.... The minister in charge (Rev. George M. Tolson) held his first service in Dilworth February 8, 1903. An instrument of organization eras issued to the Mission on March 5th. The Women's Guild, named St. Elizabeth's has done notable work in behalf of the new organization, and it was through their efforts the enterprise was started. It is bending its energies towards raising money for the purchase of a suitable lot on which to build a house of Worship. They have abundant enthusiasm and ability, and will no doubt succeed in all their endeavors. A good, strong Church is much needed in Dilworth."
Reverend Tolson resigned in January, 1904, and was replaced by Rev. Francis Moore Osborne, who took over Holy Comforter and other outlying missions the following September. That fall, a meeting of the congregation was held in a hall over a store where they held their church services (the Dilworth Drug Store building at the corner of Rensselaer and South Boulevard; B. S. Davis, the Holy Comforter Clerk, ran the drug store), and a building fund committee was formed. In March, 1905, the church trustees acquired a 50' front by 150' deep lot next to the grocery store for $1000, and the following January bought another 100' front by 150' parcel of adjacent property for $2000. The building fund progressed to the point that by 1908, work on the basement portion of the church had begun, and the cornerstone for the new church was laid on August 6, 1909, which was the Feast of the Transfiguration. At the ceremonies, Bishop Cheshire dedicated the new church as the "Bishop Atkinson Memorial." Bishop Thomas Atkinson of North Carolina had played a leading role in reuniting the Southern Episcopal churches with the Northern after the Civil War. By 1910, the roof was completed over the chancel and transepts, and worship services there being held in the basement Sunday school rooms, which continued until early 1913. In the official record of 1913, the church's completion was recorded:
"Since the last annual report, we have completed that portion of the Bishop Atkinson Memorial Church, the basement of which has been used as a place of worship for the past two years. This completed portion is now furnished, and a pipe organ has been placed. This work was accomplished towards the close of the fiscal year (1912). It is thought that the completion of the building will immediately affect the growth of this congregation. The number of communicants is now 90. The debt is $11,000."
The building, which has the feel and look of an English country parish church, was designed by New York architect Charles Coolidge Haight ( 1841-1917). Haight's specialty was "an unpretentious variation of Victorian Gothic." Educated at Columbia and wounded in the Civil War, Haight studied architecture after the war in the office of a fellow officer before opening his own office in 1867. His early work was country churches and houses in Victorian Gothic
and English Tudor. Although he designed in a wide range of styles, his most important work was in Collegiate Gothic, which appeared in a number of buildings he did for Columbia College and Yale University. His connection with the Episcopal Church was through his father, believed to be Dr. Benjamin L. Haight ( 1809-1879), a prominent Episcopal theologian who became the Bishop of Massachusetts. At a service on March 2, 1913, the church building was formally opened with the first service in the main auditorium. A contemporary newspaper article recorded the event:
"The present edifice is a portion of a larger plan of a cruciform church with a massive Gothic tower, and is built of Bedford stone and brick laid in cement mortar, with heart pine and selected maple flooring, only the best materials being used throughout the structure. A new Estey pipe organ, pronounced to be of the finest tone quality of any like instrument in the city, has been installed. The furniture is of solid walnut, the choir stalls being of the same material, with hand- carved finials. The chancel furnishings are not yet complete, and a temporary altar will be used for several months until the completion of a handsome marble altar and reredos. By Easter, a handsome brass memorial lectern will be placed, and the church is already in possession of a massive brass altar cross, processional cross, altar vases, and candlesticks."
In the following year, 1914, at the diocese's annual convention, the Reverend Henry T. Cocke placed the following resolution before the assembly, which they adopted: "Resolved, that the congregation of the Mission of the Holy Comforter in the city of Charlotte [Dilworth was annexed in 1907] be admitted as a parish into union with this Convention, to be known as the Parish of the Church of the Holy Comforter." The last link bringing it into being as a fully independent church came when, on January 10, 1916, the Trustees of the Diocese conveyed a deed for the property on South Boulevard to the Vestry of Holy Comforter. Later that year, Reverend Osborne, who had seen the church through from its beginnings to a successfully completed parish with a handsome building, was reassigned by the Bishop and was succeeded by Rev. Robert Bruce Owens.
Three years after Rev. Owens took charge, Mary Lamb Smith, one of the original signers of the petition to start the church, died in the influenza epidemic of 1919. Her grief-stricken husband, Edward A. Smith, who built the Chadwick, Hoskins and other mills in the area, commissioned Tiffany's in New York, without regard to expense, to build a memorial stained glass window to be placed above the altar. The resulting five-panel set of windows depicting the Last Supper is a striking work of art, which was done by Tiffany's best artist, Frederick Wilson. The center panel shows Christ with raised, open arms, while a dove, the symbol of the Holy Comforter, spreads its wings above his head. The windows were donated anonymously, and Reverend Owens was under pledge not to reveal their source until after Smith's death.
In the nearly three decades of Reverend Ovens rectorship, from 1916 to 1945, the parish grew from 154 communicants to 284, and the church was consolidated into a financially sound, important part of the Dilworth community. But the character of Dilworth and that part of South Boulevard changed, and the changes accelerated in the post-war period. Dilworth lost its identity as a separate neighborhood, and suffered decay and indiscriminate development along South Boulevard. In 1948, property for a new church site, containing over five acres at the corner of Avondale and Park Roads, was donated by Mrs. Salem A. Van Every in memory of her mother, Mrs. Philip L. Lance, wife of the founder of Lance Packing Company. In 1949, a new building committee was formed, and by 1954, the South Boulevard property was sold and the church moved to the new location.
Until next week!
The Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission, "Old Holy Comforter Episcopal Church," November 7, 1987
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