St. Paul’s Episcopal Church – Founded 1879
In the aftermath of the Civil War, the Episcopal Church took root in Jackson County, Arkansas thanks to the efforts of lay leaders and two missionary bishops – Henry Lay and Henry Niles Pierce. Grace Church, founded in Jacksonport on the White River in 1866, had erected a building by 1869. By the end of the next decade, settlement had shifted several miles downriver to Newport, and Grace Church was superseded by St. Paul’s. Aaron Hirsch, referred to as an “Israelite” in historical documents, donated land for a building.
By 1903, the original wooden Gothic-style structure seemed inadequate for a growing congregation and town, and plans were made for a much grander edifice of Ozark limestone. It was completed and consecrated in 1905. While many of its furnishings came from the old building, one account credits the women of St. Paul’s with successfully raising money for new pews by selling tickets to a Newport performance of the Chicago Opera Company.
Like many Episcopal parishes in the south, St. Paul’s tended toward the social elite, but during the Great Depression, the Rev. Wiliam T Holt began ministering to the poor. While he had little success in incorporating them in to the congregation at the time, a tradition of outreach was established that continues today.
During the 1932 diocesan convention, held at St. Paul’s, church leaders discouraged several African-American clergy, including Suffragan Bishop Edward T. Demby, from participating in the celebration of Holy Communion, but St. Paul’s 81-year-old matriarch, Mildred Wilmans Dorsey, redeemed the day when at the convention luncheon, she crossed the color line to sit with the black clergy.
After World War II, St. Paul’s entered something of a golden age. It had built a new parish house by 1950, membership increased significantly through the 1970’s, and parishioners played leading roles on the diocesan level. This legacy of leadership, fellowship, community support, and commitment to the longevity of the parish is alive and well…in a spirit of including all who come through our church doors.