A History of Grace Episcopal Church
With permission from:
Matt Jaeger, Parish Administrator
From Mules to the Millenium
As Written by Dr. Ron Slatick
Grace Episcopal Church was born out of the words of the Rt. Rev. Benjamin
Bosworth Smith who in 1834 said that he
had visited a number of locations in the sparsely settled western portion
of Kentucky, "where as yet we have comparatively
few friends...a place a missionary would find a wide and most promising
field opening before him." Interest continued until
1846 when the Rev. Nathaniel Newlin Cowgill came to Paducah and started
organizing a parish. What followed was successive years of increasing
communicants and the establishment in 1848 of Paducah's first Episcopalian
rector in residence, the Rev. Caleb Dow.
For some of the very early years, services were held in the home of
Adam Rankin and then in the McCracken County Court House. On March 27,
1850, a lot was purchased in the block of Second Street between Washington
and Clark Streets.
On April 27, 1851, the first Grace Episcopal Church was consecrated.
Author Fred G. Neuman related that "this building, which was built in Louisville
and sent down the river by boat, was 30 feet by 60 feet." The windows were
diamond shaped and colored by General Lloyd Tilghman, who was a member
at the time.
The onset of the Civil War brought many challenges. Federal troops
used the church as a hospital, while the current rector, Rev. Thomas Pickett,
supported the Confederacy. A colorful consequence of having the floor space
of the church taken up
by injured men was that the church benches were put out on the lawn,
and the army mules sharpened their teeth on them. The rectory became quarters
for the doctors and nurses.
Mr. Neuman related that after the war "the dilapidated building was
returned to the congregation, now a scattered remnant...women were decorating the neglected interior with a profusion
of apple and cherry blossoms for the first Easter services in three years when the clatter of hoofs and the arrival of
soldiers stopped them. They were told that President
Lincoln had been assassinated and black draperies would have to be
Whereupon trembling hands laid crepe over the gay colors."
Finally relieved of much of the trauma of the Civil War, the nation
in the late 1860's began rushing forward. Paducah was
growing fast and exhibiting some of the themes of industrial growth,
urban change, and soaring technology that would
characterize the United States as whole in the century to come. The
American people had probably never before displayed more vigor and greater
confidence in themselves and the future of their country. The Vestry of
Grace Church displayed their confidence and exhilaration for growth by
purchasing a site for a new and larger church building, on the lot where
the main structure now stands in the 800 block of Broadway and Kentucky
In 1869 the new rector became the Rev. William Montrose Pettis, a man
who parishioners of the time said made several
trips to larger cities "begging money for the new church." The new
sanctuary plans were drawn by the architect Henry
Martyn Congdon, who worked in the style of Gothic Revival. On April
26 1873, the cornerstone for the new church was laid. By mid-summer of
the same year, a cholera epidemic had slowed progress on the new building
tremendously. On June 21, 1874, enough work had been done to permit the
first services to be held in the new church. Miss Harriet Bowell notes
that it was a "noble building planned to seat more than 600, without tower
and without porch...with old pews still bearing the marks of the army mules' teeth, no plaster on the walls, no ceiling overhead,
no glass in the windows...and $11,000 dollars in debt."
Heating was accomplished by two pot-bellied stoves.
With the approach of the turn of the century, most Americans welcomed
this splendid time with great animation and grandiose
references to peace, prosperity and progress. Most people did not only hope for the best, but they expected the best as well. Maybe it was in
this light that the new Grace Episcopal Church building, with its devoted
parishioners and generous donors, was provided with the very fine features of stained glass windows,
ceiling and wall plaster, and communion vessels and altar cloths. There were a number of successive rectors during these
years. The Rev. Enoch Reed saw the need for a parish rectory, and the succeeding rector, Rev. David Cady Wright, oversaw
the building of it in 1906.
The early years of the new century were times when the United States
had entered into a period of hectic change with problems
arising from industrialization of the nation which faced the country
as it struggled to catch up to modern times. At Grace
Church these years were overseen by Rev. Clinton S. Quin. During his
years, a new organ, lectern, and pulpit were acquired, and an addition
to the parish house was undertaken. In 1918 the Rev. Curtis Fletcher was
called to serve as the new pastor, and he was to serve for 32 years, until
his retirement in 1950.
The early years of the "roaring twenties" were booming economic times.
This was the most spectacular economic boom the country had ever seen.
Mirroring these times and under the leadership of Rev. Fletcher, the people
of Grace Church paid off their indebtedness for the sanctuary, bought additional
property east of the church, bought a new rectory, and carried out an extensive
renovation of the entire church property after the flood of 1937. The latter
was necessary because 8 feet of water
stood in the sanctuary for 21 days, and there was extensive damage
to pews, plaster and woodwork, and the organ was a
During the 1940's, the parish of Grace Church, still under the leadership
of Rev. Fletcher, contributed to the war effort that
confronted the United States. Many men and women served; they were
the pride of America. They confidently shouldered the burdens their country
was placing on them. Those who came home victorious and in one piece were
changed forever. They came home to a Grace Church that was about to grow
by leaps and bounds due to the Cold War.
During the 1950's, the Rev. John Fayette Bordon Hopper was called to
serve in Paducah. He served for almost ten years and during his time in
Paducah, an outreach chapel sponsored by Grace Church, St. Peter's of the
Lakes, was built near Gilbertsville. Additionally, a rectory was acquired
on Forest Circle. During this time, Grace Church also had the first assistant
clergyman in its history, the Rev. Victor M. Bircher.
The Rev. Mike Freeman, who was a curate of Grace Church, was called
as rector in March 1967. During his tenure, the
church acquired the old Carnegie Library property, which is now the
west lawn. The church sponsored group called the Graceful Gardeners was
formed to maintain and beautify a small garden area on this lawn. Also,
a new Allen organ was purchased in 1973, which is the same year in which
a Centennial Celebrations service was conducted, celebrating 100 years.
A succession of rectors came in the 1980's. Under the direction of Revs.
Perry Burton, Timus G. Taylor, and Dr. Joseph Trigg, strategies were developed to construct a classroom/parish hall
addition. It became an "L" shaped addition to the east side of the building
around an existing courtyard and east lawn. There are three floors encompassing
a basement, classrooms, restrooms, a large parish hall, a kitchen, and
storage facilities. The plans were developed to carry through the Gothic
Revival style of the original building. This project was completed in 1985.
Our current rector, the Rev. George M. "Nick" Jaeger came to Paducah
in January of 1987. He and his wife, Julie, and
their five children came to Grace Church by way of Kalamazoo, Michigan,
where he was the Dean of the Cathedral for
seven years. He was born and raised in the Washington, D.C. area and
educated at the University of Maryland and Philadelphia Divinity School.
His principal area of interest are congregational development in liturgy,
education, and outreach. He puts a particular emphasis on the youth of
the parish. During his tenure, Grace Church has installed a Memorial Garden
for the interment of ashes and celebrated its Sesquicentennial Anniversary,
marking this achievement with the development of a garden that has a cross-shaped
walkway and a fountain on its West Side. Recently, the vestry and the rector
have seen a need for a modernization of existing facilities, and they are
currently working on plans for a renovation project to take place in the
The symbol for Grace Church, which is depicted on one of the Moravian
tiles found in the sanctuary, is a "tree of life" surrounded by a "leaf
form." This reminds us that each leaf is a part of the whole tree. The
church and its people are
continuously offering and receiving grace to and from each other.
Our faith beings as branches that reach out to each other. As our motto
says: Grounded in Faith-Growing in Grace.
Grace Episcopal Church
Paducah, KY 42001
Phone: (270) 443-1363
FAX: (270) 443-5066