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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 substituted. 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 Ave.

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
total loss.

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 near future.

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
820 Broadway
Paducah, KY 42001
Phone: (270) 443-1363
FAX: (270) 443-5066
Email: grachurch@hotmail.com