Churches worth seeing, XV
St. Mary’s Church : Middlesboro, Ky.
(Diocese of Lexington)
ON JUNE 23, 1889, Bishop Dudley of Kentucky met with Bishop Pennick of Tennessee and held a worship service for Anglicans and Episcopalians at the Colgan Print Shop in Middlesboro, Kentucky. Mr. Fred Fisher was appointed lay reader in charge and, on August 10, 1889, Father Ringgold of St. John’s, Knoxville, celebrated Communion with the faithful in the lobby of the Middlesboro Hotel. On the August 17, 1889, the Revd H.H. Sneed was sent to Middlesboro by Bishop Dudley, and services were held at the Baptist Church. On the following Monday, planning was begun to organize a mission to be known as St. Mary’s.
Money was subscribed for the support of the mission and construction of a church building. The Town & Lands Company gave the lot on Edgewood Road, where the church is presently located, to the congregation for building purposes, with the church to be built thereon, costing approximately $2,000.
On August 3, 1890, the Revd Mr. Sneed instituted St. Mary’s Mission, and nearly 100 adult communicants were enrolled. A three-room cottage on the lot was moved to the Lothbury side, and five additional rooms were added to create the rectory. Formal dedication of the church took place on February 11, 1891.
Our church building is listed on the Kentucky and National registers of historic places and is considered one of the finest examples of carpenter Gothic architecture in America. The handsome structure, with its beautiful stained glass windows and imposing steeple, is one of the most photographed churches in the country.
By the end of 1890, economic boom had become bust in Middlesboro: the local iron deposits, meteoric in origin, were too small and too scattered to be economically mined. It could not supply a major steel town like Pittsburgh or Birmingham, and the more than $30,000,000 invested in the development costs were unable to be repaid. Barets Brothers Bank in London, the project underwriter, collapsed, and in Middlesboro, bankruptcy and receivership became growth industries.
St. Mary’s Mission continued to function, however, and by October of 1891, the indebtedness for the building had been paid, and St. Mary’s was consecrated as a full parish church.
With Middlesboro’s economic difficulties, and the return to England of many of the communicants, in 1905, the Church retained only 21 members.
Over the years, however, the church was been tastefully furnished with gifts of thanksgiving and remembrance. In 1917, six members of the congregation purchased a pipe organ, which is still maintained and used.
Although the prospects for a major industrial community built on steel had collapsed, coal remained, and for the next 100 years it would be the engine that drove the local economy. Throughout the 20th century, St. Mary’s ministered to the faithful with missions in Pineville, Kentucky, the Bell County seat, and at Fork Ridge, Tennessee. Services were held in outlying communities such as Cardinal, Kentucky, and the church conducted a sewing school from 1905 until World War II, working with mountain girls and boys, teaching them how to sew and preparing them for employment in the garment industry. Throughout its history, St. Mary’s has worked to carry out the Great Commission, spreading the Gospel to all who would hear, and to be a house of prayer for all people.