The Happy 100th Birthday of a Church
By Polly Morris
When the two men met, the dogwood trees were in bloom, and the gentle Lake breeze whispered through purple pendants of wisteria. But the only sound in the room was the stratching of a pen upon paper.
John Edward Leet handed the document to Charles Whiting, who handed him a hundred dollars in exchange It was a solemn occasion, for the newly-chartered Mandeville Protestant Church Society was now the owner of a lot on Carroll Street.
The date was May 6, 1876. The parcel of land was the present site of the Mandeville Union Protestant Church.
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Although the one-hundredth anniversary of the church will be cerebrated on May 8 and 9, 1976, the history began back in 1869. In April of that year seven men organized and obtained a 25 year charter for the All Soul's Church of Mandeville. It was to have been an Episcopal Church, but there are no records that show any building erected about that time. However, a Rev. Vickers held services in a home on the lake shore in about 1873.
The Second Charter
It was not until February 28, 1876, that noticeable progress was made. A Dr. Alonso Givens had been a member of the other group, and he also was with the second group that included Charles Whiting, C. M. Leet, Wilson Morgan, George H Kirk and F. A. Kindige. They obtained a 90 year charter for a church that would be known as the Mandeville Protestant Church Society. It would be a place of worship for all denominations, whatever their belief.
It was what the people of Mandeville wanted and needed, and they readily came forth to help White and Black, Jews, Catholics and Protestants brought tools, materials and money for the construction of a church. Many had nothing to donate except their precious time, which was as valuable as gold. According to records the lot was 90 by slightly over 89 feet, French measurement.
Original Records Last
The original church might have been built without a spire but for a C. H. Jenkins is remembered in old account as having constructed a belfry, and installed a bell which is still in use today.
The first 5 years of records was destroyed in a fire, but those that begin in 1882 tell a stirring story of the simple little white church that is still sanding and serving those who cross its threshold. Moreover there Is a very complete history of the church that was written by a devout horse-and-buggy doctor who talked with many people who knew its beginnings.
The ink is faded in the old book where a Rev J. J. Lovett wrote the names of the first members, fifteen in all. They are all dead now, but many of their names are so familiar that they seem to leap from the page. Strain and Sharp and Spell, Band and Beaujeaux, Hutchinson, and Whiting. And Dicks and Dix and Daniels. Some of these people had ancestors that came to St. Tammany in covered wagons pulled by ox teams.
These characters are strangely alive. It takes but small imagination to see the sedate ladies dressed in their Sunday best, and secretly uncomfortable They are stylishly corseted and bustled under their high-necked, long-sleeved tight-fitting bodices.
They stiffly raise their long sweeping skirts as they walk along the dusty path to the church. They kept close watch over their children, reminding them to sit straight on the hard wooden benches The men would also be uncomfortable in starched shirts and stiff collars and Sunday shoes that squeaked down the aisle.
There had been several attempts to organize a Sunday School, but even church services were difficult because ministers did not pay regular visits to Mandeville. Weddings and baptisms had to wait for weeks until the minister of the preferred denomination came along.
The first recorded baptism may have been one of their delayed special events. On January 21, 1894, W. G. Hutchison and his wife, the former Sarah J. Sharp brought their three children to be baptized by the Methodist minister Rev. Robert B Donner.
Probably the proud father wore a checked suit and a felt derby hat. Certainly he wore the inevitable stiff collar. Perhaps the mother had an 18 inch waist, exaggerated by leg o'mutton sleeves, for the hour-glass figure was then in vogue.
It is hoped that young Octave was wearing a sailor suit instead of a lace and velvet Little Lord Fauntleroy outfit so despised by the little boys of that time, especially by those that were a manly 6 years old, going on 7. Little Alma no doubt did not dare take a deep breath, for her shorter dress, bedecked with lace and ribbons, had a waist that was far too tight. Most likely 2 year old James Mitchell was wearing a fancy dress, for boy children his age never wore pants.
The Doctor's Family
One of the most fortunate days for the little church was March 24. 1894. On that date the beloved horse-and-buggy doctor, Dr R. B. Paine, arrived with his wife and two children. The first thing he did after "settling in" was to get in touch with M. Marshall Sharp, an old resident who knew all about the church and kept the big key that turned the quaint lock on the double doors.
Miss Ella Paine
Dr. Paine learned that church services were held only once or twice a month, and that several unsuccessful attempts had been made to start a Sunday School. The good doctor realized that more than his medical services would be needed and his horse and buggy stood outside many houses where were were no ailing folks.
While the Doctor treated croup, cholera, morbus and confinement cases, he also specialized in a rash of contributions to pay the visiting ministers. Finally he started a Sunday School too.
When worshippers raised their voices to praise the Lord in song an old pump organ redoubled their earnest efforts. In 1903, the Rev. W. 0. Troutman took an interest in a little girl with long curls who wanted to learn how to play Hymns like 'Lead Kindly Light,' and 'Sweet Hour of Prayer. "
But there was a drawback. She was so small for her 9 years that she could not reach the pedals and the keyboard (at the same time.) Her father provided the solution. On Sunday, little Ella Paine would climb on her doctor-father's lap, demurely smooth the ruffles of her white organdy dress, and then place her tiny hand on the yellowed ivory keys. Dr Paine would furiously pump away at the pedals while he steadied her small body, and she filled the church with organ music.
The First Wedding
About this time the church bells became wedding bells for the first recorded marriage to be held In the church on Carroll Street. Ester J. Davis slowly walked down the aisle, and became the bride of Charles E. Talley. It was on an Autumn day in November. and the Rev. P. H. Fontaine joined together two of the oldest names in the parish. The year was 1903.
Laughter and Tears
The little church had Its share of solemn sermons and sacred services, but hidden in memories and memorandums were smiles and sparkling wit along with a touch of sadness.
In September of 1901, the congregation was elated. There would be three sermons in ten days by a Doctor Mallard. It was unbelievable. The first sermon was on September 8, and the congregation dropped $6.15 into the collection plate to show their appreciation The second time around was not so impressive. Only 65 cents The 18th day of September produced scarcely a jingle of coins that totaled a mere 51 cents. Perhaps it was around the first part of the month and the big spenders days were over. They were broke, and the flashpots had turned Into church mice.
The 1915 Sanborn Map with Union Church in the middle right.
The Ladies Auxiliary tried to collect money for e paint job for the church They managed to get together $28.90 for paint and $30 for labor. It must have been an exhausting effort for they rested for a few years afterward Then they decided to make fund-raising into fun raising. They gave sock parties and apron parties. Everyone had to either take off shoes or bring an apron Those with big feet and rotund waistlines paid through the tape measure per inch When apron strings were tied, untied and totaled, women were sorry that the wasp waist was on its way out.
The touch of sadness is most noticeable in a very brief entry on August 14, 1903. Tiny Augustine Sharp, daughter of Zackarius Sharp, was baptized, but unlike the other entries her Mother s name was not recorded. There was a reason why the proper line was written in as "Maria Beaujeaux, Sponsor." Baby Augustine had no mother present. Her mother lay cold and silent in the cemetery.
Years later, history would repeat itself. Augustine, too, was destined to die shortly after the birth of her baby daughter.
Time For Change
The 1920's brought many changes. The active Ladies Auxiliary replaced the wooden benches with pews. A new Pulpit, carpet, and chairs were added, plus a new plaster job. The old out-of-date organ was given away, and a shining modern electric organ stood in its place.
Then in 1951, the Church's charter and name were changed. It became the Mandeville Union Protestant Church with a roster of 75 members and a resident minister. But the original building, and the bell, did not change. Nor did the Paine family. They kept right on going to the church, though in time the doctor and his wife died, and Ella Paine decided that over 65 years as organist, Sunday School teacher, and secretary was enough. Her sister Frances is now organist in her place, and recalls how their father always liked "The Little Brown Church in the Wildwood."
On May 8 and 9, Rev. Julian H. Burke, the present pastor, will take an old fashioned key and unlock the double doors of the Mandeville Union Protestant Church. He will welcome two former pastors of the church who will join in the 100th Birthday Celebration of the quaint church.
There will be a fellowship dinner on the 8th at 6:30 pm. Then the Rev. Vincent Titterud will address the gathering on Sunday, May 9 at 9:30 am the first resident-minister of the church Dr. Joseph Pinta will conduct the worship service. Both will participate in the Sunday School services. And the pastors and the congregation hopes the public will attend.
For the last 100 years, the little church has watched the dogwood burst into bloom, the wisteria form purple pendants and the waxy buds of the magnolia open their creamy Ieaves. It has seen life renewed for a century. So it must know that life never really ends.
Therefore it is not difficult to believe it also sees what is invisible to human eyes. Standing in the shadows would be Givens and Paine, the two doctors... Spell, descendant of a wagonmaster....Sharp, the Keeper of the Key... and the forgotten folks of different Creeds and Colors who helped build it a century ago.
The long-dead ladies would sweep by in full skirts...the men would stroll in wearing checked suits and celluloid collars. There would be little girls with curls, and little boys with Buster Browns. And perhaps a baby who never knew its mother's arms.
Somehow there is something timeless about the Mandeville Union Protestant Church. It sits serenely in the past; in the present, and on into the unknown future. It is shadow and substance... and an assurance that God's in His Heaven, and all's right with the world.
The building is now used by the Mandeville Bible Church
Articles by Polly Morris