Saint Mark’s Episcopal Church, 73 Columbia Road

Image: No. 373 Postcard: Saint Mark’s Episcopal Church, postmarked, May 6, 1908.
Summary Statement

St. Mark’s Episcopal Church is a complex of three shingled buildings in the Dorchester section of Boston, Massachusetts that together fulfil National Register Criteria A and C, and Consideration A, on the local level. Built between 1904 and 1910 by a mission parish in a working-class neighborhood, St. Mark’s reflects the planning efforts of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts as well as the efforts of Episcopalian residents of the newly developing Dorchester neighborhoods of Mt. Bowdoin and Grove Hall to establish a church in their community. The financial means of this working community were limited, and while funding enabled the construction of the church building itself, the three-building complex, with its parish house and rectory, was completed only with the assistance of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts’ Bishop’s Re-Enforcement [sic] Fund. The fund was a program established specifically to assist financially struggling missions and parishes in Boston and throughout the Commonwealth. St. Mark’s history chronicles the story of a neighborhood’s investment in, and development of, an ecclesiastical institution. St. Marks is one of only a handful of these mission church complexes still surviving in Eastern Massachusetts. The church’s construction and history also reflects the evolution of the Grove Hall area of Dorchester during the 20th century from one whose residents were predominantly those of European ancestry, to a more diverse population of African and African-Caribbean descent. All three buildings at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church were designed by the same architect, Edmund Q. Sylvester, with elaborated rafter-ends and other details that suggest both Late Gothic Revival and Craftsman styles. Based in Boston, Sylvester was known for his work for the Episcopal Church. Owned by its congregation and used for religious purposes, the property derives its primary significance from its architectural and historical importance. St. Mark’s Episcopal Church is generally in good condition, is only slightly altered since its period of significance (from 1898, when St. Mark’s Mission acquired the property, to 1964, the 50-year cutoff for significance for National Register purposes). It retains integrity of location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling, and association and fulfils National Register Criteria A and C, and Consideration A, at the local level, with significance in the areas of community planning and development, religion, and architecture.

The Setting: The Dorchester Section of Boston

Dorchester was incorporated as an independent municipality in 1630, named after the English town of Dorchester in Dorset, from which many of the first inhabitants came. Historically, Dorchester was a very large town, and included parts of present-day Milton to the east, Dedham to the west, and territory as far south as Foxboro, Raynham, and Wrentham. Annexed to Boston in 1870, Dorchester remains Boston’s largest and most populous section. Dorchester faces Dorchester Bay on the east, and is bounded on its north and west by other sections of the city: South Boston, Roxbury, and Mattapan. To the south and southeast, the Neponset River separates it from the municipalities of Quincy and Milton. Due to boundary changes while Dorchester and Roxbury were independent towns, and shifting neighborhoods since, the dividing line between the sections of Roxbury and Dorchester is unclear, although St. Mark’s Episcopal Church itself is generally considered to be in Dorchester. The Dorchester section is defined by its arterial streets and the smaller commercial and cultural neighborhoods that grew up at their intersections, each neighborhood with its own defining characteristics.

In June of 1630, a boat from the ship Mary and John landed at Columbia Point and disembarked a group of Englishmen. The first settlement began that year at what is today the intersection of Columbia Road with Massachusetts Avenue (Edward Everett Square today). Formed in 1630, Dorchester’s First Parish Church is the oldest continuing religious institution in present-day Boston, and, in 1633, Dorchester held what is considered to be the first New England town meeting. In 1639, Dorchester established Mather School, the first public elementary school in the United States. Dorchester Heights (later part of South Boston) was the site of an important battle in 1776, which hastened the British evacuation from Boston. The James Blake House (ca. 1661; NR 1974), farther down on Columbia Road (though not on its original site), is the oldest frame dwelling in today’s Boston (Dorchester Athenaeum). Dorchester remained a primarily rural town until the 19th century, when its farms began to give way to country estates for the Boston elite and, eventually, streetcar suburban development.

However, Dorchester also has a long history of business and development, beginning along the Neponset River where it empties into Dorchester Bay. Shipbuilding was underway at the mouth of the river by 1640, while the first gristmill was built along its banks even earlier, in 1634. Dorchester mills produced everything from nails and gunpowder to crackers, paper, and playing cards. Its most noted early industry began in 1765 when James Hannon, an Irish chocolate maker, and

his financial backer Dr. James Baker, introduced chocolate production to the United States. They imported chocolate beans from the West Indies and began refining them into chocolate. Their factory in the Lower Mills neighborhood, the country’s first chocolate factory, became known as the Walter Baker Chocolate Factory (NR Dist. 1980), and produced chocolate for two centuries until its close in 1965.

The establishment of stations along the Old Colony Railroad line from Boston to Plymouth in 1845, and numerous horsecar and streetcar lines thereafter, tied Dorchester closely to Boston as a commuting suburb. Prominent residents included the Fitzgerald and Kennedy families, African-American activist William Monroe Trotter, Martin Luther King, Jr. (while a student at Boston University), and suffragist Lucy Stone. In January of 1870, when its population was still only 12,000, Dorchester was officially annexed to Boston. A period of incredible growth followed, and by 1920 the Dorchester section’s population had soared to 150,000.

For more than a century, Dorchester has been a working-class section settled by many immigrant groups, particularly families from Ireland, Poland, Southeast Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, Cape Verde, and Africa. African-Americans from the American South settled here in great numbers after the Civil War and particularly during the African-American Great Migration period (1910-1970). By the middle of the 20th century, redlining, blockbusting, and other discriminatory practices accelerated the outmigration of Jewish Americans and other groups from Dorchester neighborhoods, and also impoverished the African Americans who resettled there. More recently, artists, young professionals, and gay men and lesbians have moved to Dorchester. All of these groups continue to be represented in Dorchester, making Dorchester today a diverse and vibrant section. In the 2000 census, the population of Dorchester was 92,115, with its primary ethnic groups 36% African American or Black, 32% White non-Hispanic, 12% Hispanic or Latino, and 11% Asian or Pacific Islander.

Historic Context

St. Mark’s Episcopal Church is significant for its association with Dorchester’s history and that of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts as the neighborhood evolved in the 19th and early 20th centuries. In particular, St. Marks epitomizes planning efforts by the Episcopal Diocese, through its Bishop’s Re-Enforcement Fund, to support and develop mission and parish complexes during a period of extraordinary population grown and movement in metropolitan Boston and in other urban areas. Targetted neighborhoods were generally working class and needier ones, and St. Mark’s was one of the first missions for the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts..

Grove Hall and Columbia Road

St. Mark’s Episcopal Church is a landmark in the neighborhood known as Grove Hall, a neighborhood in northwest Dorchester that extends into Roxbury, bordered by Franklin Park on the southwest and the Dorchester neighborhoods of Upham’s Corner to the northeast and Mount Bowdoin to the east. It takes its name from the early 19th century “Grove Hall” estate of T. K. Jones (a China-Trade merchant), which was located at the corner of Blue Hill Avenue and Washington Street. The neighborhood is distinguished primarily by the large early 20th-century apartment blocks that line its streets—Blue Hill Avenue and Washington Street—and, to a lesser extent, Columbia Road, which bisects it. The neighborhood also includes a significant stock of wood-frame 19th-century residential buildings along the crossroads on either side of Columbia Road.

St. Mark’s Episcopal Church fronts on Columbia Road, a street whose changes influenced the history of the church. Columbia Road is an important artery that connects Franklin Park to Dorchester Bay. Its eastern end was known by the Colonial era, in part, as Boston Street. The remainder of the street was laid out to Franklin Park by 1840. It appeared on an 1851 Dorchester map as Columbia Street. Parts of Boston Street, Columbia Street, and several other streets were combined and renamed Columbia Road in 1897 (Record 122-123). The 1874 map shows the Grove Hall stretch of Columbia Street winding through a neighborhood mostly of large estates, although subdivision had already begun.

The largest and most famous estate in the neighborhood was that of Marshall Pinckney Wilder (1798-1886), directly across Columbia Street from the site of the church. In 1832 Wilder purchased a thirteen-acre farm from the family of Gov. Increase Sumner and renamed it “Hawthorne Grove.” The farm occupied a triangle of land today defined by Washington Street, Normandy Street, and Columbia Road. Wilder was a wealthy Boston cotton and drygoods merchant, who became known as a horticulturist. His estate included orchards, gardens, and greenhouses, where Wilder experimented with fruit variation and hybridizing camellias. He corresponded with the horticulturist and landscape architect A. J. Downing (Downing dedicated a book on the propagation of fruit to him). Wilder served as president of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society and helped found the Massachusetts State Agricultural College (Heath). The 1874 map also shows that two smaller country estates—owned by Samuel Atherton and A. N. Burbank—fronted on Washington Street south of Columbia Street (extending to Erie Avenue).

But the Mt. Bowdoin railroad station at Washington Street and Erie Avenue (established by 1882) was a sign of changes to come, as its proximity to Boston made the area prime for residential development. This branch of the New York & New England Rail Road made a commute to downtown Boston easy. West of the Atherton and Burbank estates’ frontage on Washington Street, the land between Columbia Street and Erie Avenue was, by 1874, already laid out in a series of ladder-like side streets from Merrill to Michigan, ready for the coming wave of development. This neighborhood had been platted, but only a handful of actual houses had yet been built. By 1884, a second link with Boston was established through the Highland Street railroad station at Grove Hall (corner of Blue Hill Avenue and Geneva Avenue). By 1889 the West End Street Railway had stops at both Grove Hall and the Franklin Park Station, newly built at the corner of Columbia Road and Blue Hill Avenue.

The new transit links also made pleasure excursions from Boston to the country possible, including a vanished amusement park known as Oakland Garden. The 1882 map shows several changes in the ladder streets between Columbia Street and Erie Avenue. The land along both sides of New Seaver Street, extending to the Atherton estate and Merrill Street, had been subdivided and partially built up. However, the adjacent subdivided land to the west, along Rosalind and Oakland streets, was still unbuilt and instead converted into Oakland Garden. Oakland Garden was a popular regional amusement park: “Evening performances included mini-theatricals, operettas, and concerts, while circuses and sideshows amused local children during the day” (Sammarco, Images 21). Special horse-drawn omnibuses operated from the Highland Railroad to Oakland Garden. By the 1884 map, Oakland and Rosalind Streets had been erased, and Oakland Garden appeared on the map as a single lot. Oakland Garden continued to be depicted on the 1889 map, but had disappeared by 1894.

The 1884 map shows residential development accelerating in the neighborhood, carving up the estates. Within the two years since the 1882 map, Seaver Street was laid out and opened across the end of the Wilder estate from Blue Hill Avenue to Columbia Street, and Glenarm Street first appeared, bisecting the Atherton estate from New Seaver Street to Washington Street. By 1894, the large lot where Oakland Garden had stood was now the property of Franklin Park Land & Improvement Co., which had again subdivided the lot, replacing the former Oakland and Rosalind Streets with the Wolcott and Hewins streets of today. By the 1898 map, Columbia Street has been renamed Columbia Road and acquired its present-day parkway form with grassy center median. The site of Oakland Garden has been built over, and the remaining pieces of the Wilder and Burbank estates platted into small lots. From 1874 through 1904, all of the development along Columbia Road, from Blue Hill Avenue to Washington Street (and beyond to Geneva Avenue), was wood-frame, with the singular exception of a three-unit masonry building at the southeast corner of the intersection with Hewins Street, which had been built prior to 1874 (in 2012 a vacant lot).

As part of the wider movement to establish parkways throughout Greater Boston, Columbia Road was reconfigured as a parkway in 1897. While planning Boston’s park system in the early 1880s, Frederick Law Olmsted had proposed that Columbia Road serve as one of the eastern links in the Emerald Necklace (“Columbia Road”). A decade later, in 1893, Charles Eliot and Sylvester Baxter were able to establish the Metropolitan Park Commission (Metropolitan Park System). Eventually known as the Metropolitan District Commission (MDC), it inaugurated a regional parkway system, in which certain important roadways were established or remade as parks with roads through them. Although Columbia Road was never technically an MDC parkway, it was redesigned in 1897 to reflect Olmsted’s and Eliot’s parkway planning principles.

A Boston Globe article in 1897 proclaimed, “On Monday next the Board of Street Commissioners will lay out Columbia Road from Franklin park to Marine park. This will complete the magnificent chain of parkways which now encircles the city” (“Completing Chain”). Columbia Road was widened significantly; while the initial plan was to extend it to 80 or 90 feet, the final decision widened it to 110 feet. “Columbia road is at present a narrow county highway. . . . It will be a magnificent boulevard, and over the greatest portion of it the electric cars will run” (“Completing Chain”). Writing in American Architect and Building News in 1898, MDC parkway planner Sylvester Baxter celebrated the new roadway:

Traversing Franklin Park, the same parkway route continues as Columbia Road and Dorchesterway to the shore at Dorchester Bay, one of the most beautiful sections of Boston Bay. Columbia Road is a formal parkway, with a central turfed space and planted strip reserved for electric cars, separating a wide pleasure-road on one side and a narrow traffic-road on the other. . . . Besides the parkways pure and simple, Boston has a system of great avenues that have been planned with reference to both ordinary traffic and pleasure purposes. . . . To [that] same system of boulevards belong Columbia Road and Blue Hill Avenue, already considered in connection with the more strictly parkway routes. Metropolitan Boston has thus a remarkable series of great pleasureways radiating on all sides from the more densely populated centre. (Baxter)

The new parkway made land along Columbia Road a prime location to plant a new church dependent on continuing residential development. Though the Columbia Road parkway was reduced to a narrow grass median in the 1950s, its outlines are still clear in these low-numbered blocks near Franklin Park.

Grove Hall—especially the section along Blue Hill Avenue—boomed in the first half of the 20th century as the center of Boston’s Jewish community. The twin-towered Adath Jeshurun Synagogue (1906; NR 1999) on the Roxbury side of Blue Hill Avenue is a surviving landmark of this era. In 1910, the density of development along Columbia Road increased,

with the addition of a large masonry house at Columbia Road and Blue Hill Avenue. By 1918, several large masonry buildings had sprung up along Washington at Columbia, on the site of the former Atherton estate. By 1933, masonry buildings predominated along Blue Hill Avenue, Washington Street, and Columbia Road between Washington Street and Geneva. These masonry apartment blocks are the most singular defining element of Grove Hall today (Gordon).

From the Mission at Grove Hall to St. Mark’s Episcopal Church

St. Mark’s Episcopal Church began on this site as a mission chapel, and its history typifies that of modest Episcopal parishes in Boston and other urban areas of Massachusetts. Like many other mission chapels, St. Mark’s was intended to grow into a grander church complex; instead, due in part to social and economic factors, the mission chapel remained, joined by a parish house and rectory on a modest scale that together served a vibrant and growing parish.

St. Mark’s traces its origins to an 1887 fire that destroyed its mother church, St. Mary’s Episcopal Church. St. Mary’s was gathered in 1843 and founded in 1847, the first Episcopal church in Dorchester (Duffy 207). In 1849, St. Mary’s laid the cornerstone for a large stone church building at the corner of Bowdoin and Topliff streets. After the 1887 fire, the parish built a second St. Mary’s farther north, on Cushing Avenue at Upham’s Corner (NR 1998). St. Mary’s helped found three other Episcopal churches in Dorchester: All Saints (1874; NR 1980), St. Anne’s (1876; now closed); and St. Mark’s.

In 1887 the St. Mary’s parishioners in the growing Grove Hall and Mt. Bowdoin neighborhoods were not satisfied with the new location, and a dozen women began meeting separately in the Mount Bowdoin Library (razed; then at Washington and Eldon streets). They formed a Women’s Guild in 1888, and began holding services with guest ministers and lay readers. Later that same year, they began meeting regularly in Wetherell Hall (also razed) on Washington Street. The mission hired its first full-time minister, the Rev. Henry Martyn Saville, in 1897. Known informally as “the mission at Grove Hall,” the congregation grew until “the little mission chapel is crowded and there is good promise for the future. . . . A committee was chosen to select a suitable piece of land for a church in the immediate neighborhood of Mt. Bowdoin” (Church Militant April 1898: 13). Formally organized in 1898 and named St. Mark’s Mission, the group purchased a cottage on the newly widened and rechristened Columbia Road parkway that same year.

The lot that St. Mark’s Episcopal Mission bought on Columbia Road had been laid out in 1870 by H. H. Moses, and sold in 1871 by Simeon & Margaret Britton to Gustavus A. Lauriat (Deeds). A large wood-framed cottage was built there prior to 1874 (according to the 1874 map). The Boston city directories list Lauriat as a goldbeater from 1842 to 1883; in 1874 his shop is listed at 33 Hawkins Street, and his house is on Columbia Road near Washington. The cottage was located towards the back of the lot, in the southwest corner, far from the street (where the Parish House stands today). Between the 1882 and 1884 maps, G. A. Lauriat attached a large connected carriage barn to his house, on the rear of the lot in the southeast corner. Gustavus Lauriat died in 1886, and the ownership of the house passed to his widow Martha and son Louis. The 1889 map verified that the ownership of this house had changed to Louis Lauriat. In November of that same year, the Lauriats sold the house for $1,000 to John Stults and Julius Adams, trustees for the estate which held the Lauriats’ mortgage. Edwin S. Davis, a grain dealer on Blue Hill Avenue, owned the former Lauriat house for most of the next decade, according to the 1894 and 1898 maps, but did not live there. On October 25, 1898, Davis sold the lot and its cottage to William H. Cundy (the treasurer of St. Mark’s Mission) and others who were acting as trustees.

The diocesan newspaper celebrated the new start: “The mission has fortunately just secured a large and excellent lot on the new boulevard, Columbia Road near the corner of Seaver St., just above Washington St., Dorchester, for $8,000, at forty cents a foot. . . . The mission is blessed with earnest members and active workers ensuring its ultimate attainment of a church and parish-hood, and a permanent place in this fast-growing city district of Mt. Bowdoin” (Church Militant,

October 1898: 12). The Boston Globe described how the three main rooms downstairs in the house would be combined: “A cottage standing on the premises was fortunately so situated as to make it advisable to alter the lower room into a hall, which has been done. This hall will accommodate . . 150 persons and here it is proposed to hold services until such time as the new church can be built (“On Its Own”). An early postcard image (postmarked 1908) of the chapel, taken before the demolition of the cottage behind it, shows the cottage as an end-gabled house with an open side porch, prominent gabled side dormers, and a Mansard-roofed rear addition (See Fig. 3). St. Mark’s Mission took possession in December of 1898. Its fundraising campaign was confident that they would begin building in 1899 (Church Militant, November 1898: 16), but it would take six years of planning and fundraising before the chapel cornerstone was laid in 1904. Having received permission from the Bishop and the Diocesan Standing Committee, the members of St. Mark’s voted to change from mission to parish status on 15 January 1906 (Church Militant, February 1906: 9).

Building St. Mark’s Episcopal Church

By late in 1902, St. Mark’s had grown to 400 members-150 of them communicants—and had raised the last of the money necessary to pay off the mortgage on its property (Church Militant, December 1898: 15). It immediately began planning its new building. In 1903 St. Mark’s published an impressive set of sketches by architect Edmund Q. Sylvester for a new English Gothic revival complex, which included an interconnected church, parish house, and rectory (Fig. 1). But the earlier delays in fundraising affected the designs, and Sylvester presented the parish with numerous options for staging and substitutions:

The buildings are all planned so as to be built separately. . . . The present intention is to build the first four bays of the nave, together, with the lower part of the tower, at the cost of some $10,000. This will give a seating capacity of over two hundred, which will fill the needs of the Parish for some years. The other buildings will be added from time to time, as the parish grows and the means allow. . . . The church will be very simple in design, built of granite (or red brick with stone trimmings). . . . The other buildings will have the first story built of stone (or brick), and the second story of plaster. . . . The limit for the cost of the church is to be $25,000; and the other buildings will cost some $20,000 more. (Church Militant April 1903: 11)

The site plan Sylvester drew up also shows that St. Mark’s hoped that Merrill Street would be extended from Glenarm through the neighboring properties on its east to Columbia Road, to align with Pinckney Road (currently named Pasadena Road). St. Mark’s would then have an impressive corner lot on the new boulevard. But Merrill was never extended. Possibly because the boulevard blocked cross-traffic at the Merrill-Pinckney intersection, there was no longer a compelling reason to extend it.

In 1904, the church made another public appeal for funds to build, having scaled its plans back to a “modest chapel.” Edmund Sylvester presented St. Mark’s with another craftily staged building plan:

The architect has drawn plans for a simple wooden chapel on good lines with twice the seating capacity of the present hall, and what is more with an open roof and good ventilation. Later on this building can be moved back, raised and permanently used as the upper story or “hall” of the parish home. . . . It will be built upon part of the permanent foundation of the church so that the corner stone may be laid, we hope, St. Mark’s day, April 25th, this year. (Church Militant, March 1904: 9)

Sylvester’s accompanying sketch shows St. Mark’s almost exactly as it was built and stands today (Fig. 2). But the Chapel was never moved and replaced by a church, as Sylvester proposed.

The successful appeal sold donors not just on the prospects of the mission, but on its neighborhood:

St. Mark’s mission is situated in one of the pleasantest parts of Dorchester, on the boulevard, Columbia Road, near Franklin Park and three minutes from Grove Hall, which is quite a business centre. . . . The houses in the immediate neighborhood are many of them substantial and attractive, with more or less grounds around them. The side streets have been thickly built up during the last few years with a good class of ‘two family’ houses and the majority of people in the region—and there are plenty of them—are neither rich nor poor. (Church Militant, March 1904: 9)

The article also—quite accurately—predicted the future of the neighborhood:

In the not far future the neighborhood around St. Mark’s will doubtless change somewhat. Large estates will, in all probability, be cut up and single houses give place to brick blocks and apartment houses; and as these changes come, we want St. Mark’s to be on the spot . . . and worthy of the location and its possibilities. (Church Militant, March 1904: 9)

On St. Mark’s Day, 1904, the chapel cornerstone was laid, at a service that closed with the singing of “The Church’s One Foundation” (Church Militant, May 1904: 19; “Laid Corner Stone”).

The chapel was finished by the fall, and the first service held on September 18, 1904 (Fig. 3). The chapel cost $7000 to $10,000 to build. “The building is finished in weathered oak, being 38 feet wide and 55 feet long. The walls are of plaster, tinted with crème yellow, and the edifice has opalescent windows” (“First Service”). The 1904 Bromley map of Dorchester confirms that, since 1899, the church had been built and the carriage barn taken down. By 1906, St. Mark’s had gained parish status and paid down all but $2,500 of its debt “without fairs or entertainments” (Church Militant, February 1906: 9). Having completed the Chapel, the Rev. Saville left in 1907. His successor was the Rev. Frank Budlong, who served for several decades. By 1910 and the Bromley map, St. Mark’s Episcopal Church had finished its complex, but not in the way Sylvester had initially envisioned, or even according to his revised plans.

St. Mark’s Episcopal Church continued to raise funds, but the money was slow in coming in, and the final funding push came from the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts. Recognizing that resources were not equally distributed across the diocese, and that working-class parishes were struggling under burdens not faced by well-off parishes, diocesan leaders intervened, William Lawrence (1850-1941) served as Bishop of the Diocese of Massachusetts for 34 years, from 1893 to 1927. In 1907, a lay group started the Bishop’s Reenforcement [sic] Funds, in honor of the fifteenth year of service by Bishop Lawrence. The Diocese directed the funding, it vowed, not to prop up “weak” parishes, but to grow parishes like St. Mark’s:

. . . For the reenforcement of parishes and missions that have a future. It is for parishes and missions in towns and cities where most of the people are of limited means; or in places where because of the great increase in population of wage-earners there are opened large opportunities for usefulness, but small capital. . . . Thus the different parts of the Diocese are bound together in mutual service. (Church Militant, December 1909: 5)

The Diocese focused on two goals: rectories (houses for priests and their families) and a “more efficient plant.” It chose about a dozen parishes to fund, including St. Mark’s, which it termed as being “In the Heart of the City,” but also included

parishes in industrial cities such as Fall River (St. Stephen’s, later merged), Somerville (St. Thomas, no longer extant), and Haverhill (St. John’s, later merged with Trinity Church, 1943, original building no longer extant). St. Mark’s was the earliest example in Boston. Other parishes included St. Bartholomew’s in Cambridge, St. Augustine’s in Lawrence, and All Saints in Attleborough. None of the buildings from these other parishes still remain. The Church Militant noted that, regarding St. Mark’s, “The present church building . . . is too small and should be enlarged. And a parish house and rectory are greatly needed” (Church Militant, December 1909: 8). The Re-Enforcement Fund pledged to give a quarter of the expected cost of $18,000. In some cases older rectories were to be enlarged or renovated; in others they were built new. The Fund distributed its income as direct gifts, as matching grants, or as seed money that would be repaid by the parish either upon the retirement of the mortgage or as future gifts were received. The complex at St. Marks was conceived as a direct gift. As many of the parishes so gifted were mission churches or secondary Episcopal parishes in certain communities, such as Somerville, Haverhill, and Fall River, it is not surprising that few recipients of the Fund are still active today. St. Mark’s is one of only a few Reenforcement-funded parishes still in operation.

In 1909, St. Mark’s began building the parish house first, and the rectory soon after. Sylvester gave up his earlier plan for a grand interconnected masonry complex, designing instead individual frame buildings situated towards the rear of the lot, presumably so that the chapel could be expanded at a later date. The Church Militant published Sylvester’s sketches for each, since they showed what could be accomplished for a modest budget outlay (Figs. 4 & 5). By January of 1910, it reported that “a fine parish house has been built, and the foundations of the [St. Mark’s] Rectory are being laid” (Church Militant, January 1910: 13). The parish house was capable of seating 250 in its hall, and cost $13,000 to build (“Leads Pupils”). By March of 1909, the rectory was under construction, although it, too, was shingled, rather than stucco, as Sylvester’s sketch would seem to suggest he had intended. “It is of wood, the exterior finish being of shingles. The house contains a hall, eight rooms and a bath room. It is heated by furnace, and lighted by gas and electricity. It will cost somewhat less than $7,000” (Church Militant, March 1910: 10). Through the Bishop’s fund, the Diocese had helped erect or rehabilitate four rectories in eastern Massachusetts during the years 1907 to 1909, including St. Mark’s (the others, in Haverhill, Watertown, and Cambridgeport, are no longer standing), and in the 1910 article alluded to plans for three others (not presently identified); still, a dozen additional rectories were badly needed.

By April of 1910, the parish house was “in almost daily use” and the rectory was almost finished. Several parishioners made gifts to improve the chapel, including the impressive pulpit, a memorial by the family of Amos Lawrence Swindlehurst: “The pulpit is of heavy brass and oak, dignified and attractive, and was furnished by Bigelow, Kennard and Company of Boston, at a cost of $500” (Church Militant April 1910: 18). By June of 1910, the rectory was finished and the rector and his family had settled in. The Bishop’s fund supplied, as promised, $4,500 of the total expenditure of $18,000 for the two buildings (Church Militant, January 1911: 13; Duffy).

Parish History since Construction

The parish records are not accessible, but other sources provide general outlines of parish history since construction of the three buildings that together comprise St. Mark’s Episcopal Church. The parish faced another challenge in 1912, when a fire badly damaged the parish house. The fire began during Sunday School, in an overheated furnace at the back of the parish house. Everyone escaped, although the sexton’s quarters there were destroyed. The Boston Globe celebrated the orderly evacuation of the 200 students and the prompt response of the firemen. But everyone agreed that the city needed to place a fire callbox nearer than Blue Hill Avenue, where several schoolboys had to run to summon help. The fire breached both the rear (south) exterior wall and the roof before firemen arrived (“Leads Pupils”). Although the Rev.

Budlong had initially estimated fire damage at $5000, the final estimate was $8,578, with only $532.23 in insurance coverage. Reportedly in rebuilding, “some changes will be made which experience proved to be advisable” (Church Militant March 1912: 9). The changes were likely made all to the interior or southern wall, as the parish house appears to be little changed from its original sketch.

The only other significant change to the building complex is an extension made to the rear of the chapel, undertaken in 1916, according to building permits. The addition was made primarily to accommodate a new organ, and apparently designed by Sylvester as well (Duffy 206). In 1918, the brass eagle lectern was presented to the church, as a memorial honoring Sarah Elizabeth Budlong, the deceased wife of Rector Frank Budlong (Church Militant, April 1918: 14). The 1918 Bromley map shows the addition to the rear of the church, and the rectory set off as a separate lot. It is unclear why the rectory was made a separate lot. The rectory lot has no street access. Although the 1933 Bromley map shows the lot once again undivided, the lot continues to be a separate property today. During the following decades, small-scale changes were made to the interior, including a prayer shrine in the chapel, dedicated in 1944, and a memorial room in the parish house, financed in 1946 to honor two parishioners killed in World War II. Little evidence of their nature remains today.

The decades after WWII brought social change to the Grove Hall neighborhood, as the racial makeup of the neighborhood and of the parish changed. A snapshot published in 1951 shows a group of parishioners redecorating the church—none are African-American (Church Militant May 1951: 13). A 1980s Diocesan history, presumably written by a member of St. Mark’s, is forthright in its discussions of the changes at St. Mark’s:

From 1883 to about 1956 St. Mark’s was a largely white church, most of its parishioners having been born in the United States. The demographics of the neighborhood began to change after World War II, however, resulting in an increase in the population of minorities, particularly in the 1960s, when blacks and immigrants moved into Dorchester as whites relocated to the suburbs. This change was reflected in the congregation of St. Mark’s, which is today predominantly black with a few white members, a reversal of its original racial composition. The present congregation of St. Mark’s is quite diverse in its cultural, economic, educational, and professional backgrounds . . . an interesting mosaic of cultures from all over the world, from just around the corner, to Africa, to Central America, and to the Caribbean. (Duffy 206)

Among the members of St. Mark’s in 1984 was John D. O’Bryant (1931-1992), the first black person to be elected to the Boston School Committee (“John D. O’Bryant”).

In 2012, the parish continues to be highly diverse, with members from many countries, particularly those that have been members of the British Empire and raised in various branches of the Church of England. Likewise, few physical changes have been made to the property since the period of significance, apart from the signboards from the 1970s through the 1990s at the front of the property, and a utility shed at the rear. Currently another congregation rents out the upper hall in the parish house. The parish has had only part-time rectors recently, and no minister has lived in the rectory for a decade or more. The parishioners are renovating the rectory and working to upgrade some of its mechanical systems.


The buildings of the St. Mark’s Episcopal Church complex are significant architecturally as well as historically as the best surviving example of the type of mission church complex funded by the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts’ Bishop’s Re-Enforcement Fund. The buildings are an interesting mix of two styles popular in the first decade of the 20th century:

Late Gothic Revival and Craftsman. The chapel is more clearly Gothic and the rectory Craftsman, with the parish house a hybrid of the two styles. The buildings are also important examples of the architectural and ecclesiastical work of architect Edmund Q. Sylvester, and the Boston craft firm Bigelow, Kennard & Company. The complex is the only identified example designed by Sylvester of this type of mission church built through the fund.

Sylvester’s initial drawings for the church complex were clearly, as characterized by the Diocesan newspaper, “adapted from English Gothic architecture” (Church Militant, April 1903: 11). This Late Gothic Revival was a popular stylistic choice for Episcopal churches, as they traced their heritage back to the Church of England. With each scaling-down of the designs, however, the buildings acquired more of the character of the Craftsman style of architecture popular with middle-class Americans. The 1912 Boston Globe article describing the fire at the parish house, searching for a way to describe the building, termed it as “of the Queen Anne style” (“Leads Pupils”). The term “Craftsman” is a later characterization for some of the stylistic motifs evident in the architecture of these buildings. What both styles have in common is a preoccupation with exposed half-timbering and rafter ends, and Arts and Crafts-influenced detailing.

Edmund Quincy Sylvester, Architect

The architect for all three of the contributing buildings at St. Mark’s Church was Edmund Quincy Sylvester (1869-1942). Sylvester specialized in institutional and ecclesiastical work, particularly for the Episcopal Church. Christened Edmund Quincy Sylvester, Jr., the architect was born in Hanover, Massachusetts, the son of prominent businessman Edmund Quincy Sylvester (1827-1898). The family traced its origins to Richard Sylvester, who settled in Weymouth in 1633 and moved to Scituate in 1642 (Dwelley 394-395). In 1858 the architect’s father married Mary Salmond (1832-1864) and had three children. After Mary’s early death, he married her sister Eliza Salmond (b. 1844); they had five more children, of which Edmund Quincy Sylvester, Jr., was the oldest surviving (Dwelley 400, 402). Edmund Q. Sylvester, Sr., headed the Samuel Salmond & Son tack factory of Hanover and Norwell from the death of his father-in-law in 1859 until his own death. He was also instrumental in financing and building what became the Hanover branch of the Old Colony Railroad (Dwelley 175-179).

Edmund Q. Sylvester, Jr., was educated at St. Paul’s School in Concord, NH, and studied architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Class of 1892), in the nation’s first university program in architecture (Withey & Withey 587-588; “E.Q. Sylvester”). According to MassCOPAR, Sylvester was active in Boston from 1901 to 1942. He opened an office in Boston at 31 Beacon St. (1905 & 1915 city directories) and later moved to 8 Beacon St. (1926, 1935). He became a member of the Boston chapter of the A.I.A. in 1908. In 1902, he published an article detailing “The Development of a Country House” in House Beautiful, illustrating his ideas with drawings of “Meadow-View,” an otherwise unidentified house in Hanover. Two of these illustrations were republished in a popular decorating text of 1907, Isabel Bevier’s The House: Its Plan, Decoration[,) and Care.

Like many Boston architects of his era, Sylvester was adept in many styles, particularly Colonial Revival. Sylvester designed the Colonial Revival-style Fay School Dining Hall and Dormitory (1926) in Southborough, MA (“Fay School”), the Spanish Mission-style St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church (1912) in Belmont, MA (Duffy 139), and the Gothic-Revival Christ Episcopal Church (1912) in Plymouth, MA (Duffy 524). Sylvester signed on as member of the prominent committee to save Park Street Church from destruction, likely partially as a favor to the committee chairman, fellow Hanoverian Dr. L. Vernon Briggs (Committee 34).

Perhaps because of his inherited wealth and Episcopal ties, Sylvester often designed churches for smaller rural or working-class Episcopal parishes, commissions unlikely to pay well. For example, Sylvester designed a small brick

church in the Roxbury section of Boston that combined two African-American Episcopal mission churches into the Church of St. Augustine and St. Martin. Built in 1908 at 29-31 Lenox Street, it continues today as an Episcopal church serving a diverse neighborhood in Roxbury and the South End of Boston (Church Militant 11 (April 1908) pg. 9; Duffy 180-184; parish website). Sylvester designed the oldest part of Christ Episcopal Church (1914) in Needham Heights, MA, now the chapel wing to a larger, later church (“Christ Church”).

Several of Sylvester’s designs were for churches in New Hampshire; he published plans for Saint Barnabas Church in Berlin, and St. Andrew’s Church and Rectory in Manchester (Cyclopedia; The Architectural Review). Sylvester designed the Lower School Study (1916; renamed Nash House) for his alma mater, St. Paul’s School in Concord (Stern). For a friend, Sylvester donated the plans for the shingled St. Cuthbert’s Chapel (1899) on MacMahon Island, Georgetown, Maine (Diocese of Maine). The interiors of this church have been attributed to Ralph Adams Cram and the carving to Kirchmayer (“Dixon’s Paint”).

The Sylvester family supported many Hanover institutions, especially the family’s Episcopal parish, part of which was designed by Sylvester, and to which the family donated memorials including the chancel window and parish clock (Church Militant, October 1942: 16; Briggs). Edmund Q. Sylvester, Jr., was also the architect for Hanover’s red-brick, Georgian Revival-style, John Curtis Free Library (1907). Sylvester continues to be remembered in Hanover for a singular act of generosity. In 1926, when a contentious Town Meeting was refusing to fund a needed high school for Hanover, Sylvester stood up and pledged $50,000. Sylvester’s half-brother Samuel pledged another $10,000, and a third townsperson offered 20 acres of land. The new high school was named in Sylvester’s honor. In 2012, the Edmund Q. Sylvester School continues to serve Hanover as an elementary school, part of the Center/Sylvester School complex (Barker-Kemp; “About Center/Sylvester Elementary”).

Bigelow, Kennard & Company

The distinctive wood-railed brass pulpit installed in the chapel of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in 1910, came from Bigelow, Kennard & Company, a prominent Boston retailer known for fine silver and metalwork, which it manufactured itself or obtained from other craftworkers and companies. Many of its pieces were architectural in nature, such as the pulpit at St. Mark’s. In the 1904 Year Book of the Boston Architectural Club, the company advertised itself as “goldsmiths, silversmiths, & importers, designers and makers of fine hall and mantel clocks. Bronzes from the foundries of Barbedienne, Colin & others. Makers of electric & gas lighting fixtures[,] Experts in indirect & subdued lighting effects.”

The company began as jewelers specializing in making and importing fine watches. John Bigelow (1802-1878) of Westminster, Massachusetts, founded Bigelow Brothers in Boston in 1830, with his brothers Abraham and Alanson (Howe, 275-276; “John Bigelow” 277). In 1847 the company became Bigelow Brothers and Kennard, and eventually Bigelow, Kennard and Co. Their partner Martin Parry Kennard (1818-18) was a native of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, who became a clerk in Boston. Kennard was a partner in the firm until 1878 (Denehy 223-224). He was joined by his brother 0. P. Kennard, and his nephew William Henry Kennard (William Henry Kennard). Bigelow, Kennard & Co. became known for the high quality of its products, especially Arts-and-Crafts-inspired items. It was a primary Boston retailer of Grueby Pottery. It is not clear whether Bigelow, Kennard & Co. made the pulpit or acquired it through one of their partner artisans.


Posted on

April 10, 2020