Wednesday, August 10, 2016

St. Barnabas' Episcopal Church

St. Barnabas' Church, pre-1911
As with many rural areas in the 18th and 19th Centuries, some of the main pillars and binding points of the community in Mill Creek Hundred were its houses of worship. Early arrivers like the Quakers, Presbyterians, and Episcopalians set up their churches and meeting houses as soon as there were enough members to fill them. Many of these were firmly in place by the mid-1700's. Later groups like the Methodists and Catholics were not far behind. Initially in MCH, with the slight exception of Stanton (Cuckoldstown), there were no real towns or villages to speak of. Congregations usually built their churches wherever someone would sell or donate land.

By the later 19th Century, though, a few small areas did manage to grow to at least village status. One of these locales was the mill town of Marshallton. The iron works there had been running and growing since the early 1800's, and the village with it. Additionally, just a short walk away sat the little factory village of Kiamensi. All the workers living there (or at least, most of them) attended one church or another each Sunday. The Presbyterians would walk up Duncan Road to Red Clay Creek Church, which wasn't too far away. The Methodists went to Stanton originally, until they built their own church in 1886.

The Episcopalians of Marshallton and Kiamensi had even further to go. They were forced to walk to either Old St. James Church on the other side of Stanton, or to the other St. James Church in Newport. By the late 1880's, Marshallton and Kiamensi residents began to take matters into their own hands. [I should note at this point that much of the following information comes from the wonderful history posted on the church's website, written by Judy Reinicker and others.] What would eventually become St. Barnabas Episcopal Church began as a church school sometime prior to 1890, working as an extension of St. James Church in Newport. There was no church building yet, and members simply met in each others houses.

At first it was run under the lay leadership of a young superintendent at the Marshallton Iron Works, William J. Robinson. In December 1890, it became a church mission, with Old St. James' Church rector Rev. Edward Eckel leading the first service. Eckel helped to organize the congregation, but was soon transferred away to another state. The first Wardens of the church were Robinson and W.W. Sudders.

The next chapter in the church's formation began a year and a half later, with a tragic event. In May 1892, William Robinson was thrown from a railroad car and struck by the engine. Several days later, on May 18, he died from his injuries. Already a leader in the community, Robinson was only 29 years old. The very next week a committee was formed to begin raising funds to build a chapel in memory of Robinson, and by June $600 had been raised. A lot was purchased on the northwest corner of Newport Road and Kiamensi Avenue from Mrs. Mary Flinn, widow of Vincent G. Flinn. $100 was paid for the lot, which according to stipulations in the deed (seen below) was expressly only to be used by the Episcopal Diocese of Delaware for the purposes of worship. You can click on the images for a larger version.

1892 Sale of land for the new church

Originally named Trinity Memorial Chapel (as noted in the deed), the cornerstone for the new church was laid in October 1892. On May 12, 1893, the new chapel was dedicated by Bishop Leighton Coleman, and given the name St. Barnabas'. For five and a half years the Episcopal residents of the Marshallton area worshiped in their new church, until fate again intervened in the story. On Christmas Eve 1898, the first St. Barnabas' church burned to the ground. This was, of course, not the end of the story. Members of the congregation soon got to work rebuilding the church, and the new building was consecrated on June 27, 1899. This is the building that still stands today.

St. Barnabas', after 1911
The next new addition to the church came in 1911, and should be obvious if you compare the photo above to the one at the top of the page. The belfry was dedicated in May 1911 by Rev. John Rigg. The bell it housed was rung at the beginning of each service, which apparently didn't thrill some of the neighbors at 8:00 AM on Sunday mornings. But ring it did, and as the area continued to grow, so did the congregation. In 1932, a parish hall building was constructed behind the church, giving the congregants room for even more activities. The hall can be seen at the rear of the church in the modern photo below. All this while, St. Barnabas' had still been operating as a mission of St. James Church, but in 1950 was officially organized as a separate parish.

The church and hall today
If you look closely at the above picture, you'll notice that the name over the door is not St. Barnabas'. The addition of the parish hall bought the church some more time, but in the years of suburban expansion following World War II the congregation continued to grow, on a pace to soon outgrow the little, old church on Newport Road. Whereas the original church building came about as the result of a death (that of William Robinson), the next phase of the church's story was also the result of a passing. This time the deceased was Frederick Bringhurst.

Bringhurst was the former president of the Marshallton Iron Works, and son of its one-time owner John R. Bringhurst. When Frederick died in 1955, he left 26 acres of land to St. Barnabas' Church. The property was located south of Kirkwood Highway, a roughly triangular tract bounded by the highway, Duncan Road, and Greenbank Road. Except for a few houses along the roads, it probably contained most of the land within those bounds.

The gift was quite generous, but was more land (and more valuable land) than the parish needed. They decided to sell the land (for $250,000) and in 1960 purchased nine acres about a mile to the north, off of Duncan Road. A new church was constructed there, and the first communion celebrated on Christmas Eve 1961. The old church was deconsecrated and sold in 1962. At first the cemetery was kept and maintained by parishioners, but soon it, too, was sold. The Marshallton church, now over 117 years old, is still used as a house of worship. It's currently owned by the Kings Assembly of God.

Since the move over a half century ago, St. Barnabas' Episcopal Church has continued to thrive. Its life has neatly reflected the changes in the area -- first starting as a village church when Marshallton was thriving, then transitioning to a suburban parish as the region became more suburbanized. The little church on Newport Road still stands proudly as a reminder of what the area was like at the turn of the 20th Century.

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