Early History - Holy Trinity Church

 
In order to fully grasp the history of Holy Trinity Church we must go back to 1887 and look at the beginning history of The Episcopal Church of Bethesda-by-the-Sea in Palm Beach, as the roots of both churches are closely intertwined.  In the winter of 1887-88 the Rt. Rev. E. Gardner Weed, Bishop of Florida, came to the place we now call Palm Beach and conducted the first Episcopal service ever held in the area.  Sensing the future need, he secured a piece of property and appealed for a clergyman to establish a mission there. 

The Rev. Joseph N. Mulford, Rector of Christ Church, Troy, New York, answered the call and arrived with his family in January, 1889.  Rev. Mulford immediately began holding services in the local one-room school house on the east side of the lake and set in motion efforts to build a church on the property purchased by Bishop Weed.  The building, with a seating capacity of 100,  was completed and used for the first time in April, 1889.  It was Mrs. Mulford who gave the church it's name, Bethesda-by-the-Sea.

 




 


The Rt. Rev. Edwin Gardner Weed D.D.
Third Bishop of Florida
Consecrated August 11, 1886
 

 


The Rev. Joseph Newton Mulford 1
First Priest-in-Charge at Bethesda-by-the-Sea, 1889
 

 
In 1889 the population around the lake was about 250.  A letter written by a resident at the time described how the church was often filled to overflowing, and that people of all denominations attended, often having to start for church one to three hours early in order to make the trip, as in those days all transportation was by water: "It was a beautiful sight to see the lake dotted here and there with sails and all finally assembling at the church pier."2   This corresponds with Holy Trinity's earliest accounts of people rowing or sailing across the lake to attend Bethesda services.

Rapid Growth

By 1892 the efforts of Henry M. Flagler to establish Palm Beach as a resort had resulted in a rapid increase in population on both sides of the lake.  1894 was an important year: work was begun on the second Bethesda church, Henry Flagler brought in the Florida East Coast Railroad, and the town of West Palm Beach was incorporated.  The second Bethesda church was finished in the spring of 1895.  It was located on North Lake Trail a short distance north of the first church.

In those early years, Episcopalians in West Palm Beach often met in their homes.  Only during the months of November through May when the Bethesda church was open and holding services, and when the weather would allow, could they row or sail across the lake to attend services.  Meanwhile, the population was growing.  In the fall of 1894, Rev. Mulford, Priest-in-Charge at Bethesda, began holding occasional services in West Palm Beach.  Surely at that time or soon thereafter, the idea that a new church was needed in West Palm Beach must have emerged and taken root.  By whichever pathway it found, it was over a year before the first official step was taken.  
 

Women's Guild, Building Fund,  Organization as a Mission

Our church's first organizational event took place in 1896 with the formation of a Women’s Guild.  Louis Fitz-James Hindry, a Lay Reader and principal of the local school, conducted the first regular Sunday services in 1897. 

Services were held in the community building and library known as the "Free Reading Room" on the lakefront.  This building had been donated to the town by C. J. Clarke and brought by barge from his property on the east side of the lake.  At that time there were about 60 resident members. 

Later that year a Building Fund was established for a new church building and an appeal was made to the greater area community.  A down payment was made on a property offered through the generosity of Henry M. Flagler at a greatly reduced price, with the condition that within a certain period of time a church, with a minimum value of $1,500, must be built (see the 1897 Building Fund Appeal)
 




 


Louis Fitz-James Hindry,
Lay Reader, later entered the ministry
and served as Rector at Bethesda-by-the-Sea.
 


The Rt. Rev. William Crane Gray D.D.
First Bishop, Missionary District of Southern Florida
Consecrated December 27, 1892
 


In 1898 the church became organized as a mission and adopted the name Holy Trinity.   Rev. Hindry, who had by then entered the ministry, conducted Holy Trinity's first services as a mission church.  In 1899 Rev. Mulford at Bethesda retired.  Rev. Hindry was appointed by Bishop Gray to be Missionary-In-Charge at Bethesda-by-the-Sea3, but he remained involved in the establishment of Holy Trinity Church.
 

The First Church Building and First Priest

 






 
Under Rev. Hindry's guidance the first small wood-shingled Holy Trinity Church was built in 1900, and the first Sunday school classes were held that year.


The land for the church (the Flagler lot and an adjacent one from Mrs. Kate Marvin), was located on the southeast corner of Dixie Highway and Evernia Street.4 
   



Interior of first church.  Notice the stained glass windows.
 

The Rev. James J. Vaulx conducted services on a temporary basis for a few weeks, beginning in December 1901, while on vacation from Arkansas.  Upon moving here in the fall of 1902, Bishop Gray appointed him to Holy Trinity and on November 1, 1902 he became the first Priest-In-Charge.  In July, 1905, Rev. Vaulx retired, concluding a period of steady growth (see Rev. Vaulx's farewell message). 
 According to church records he performed 28 baptisms during his tenure.  Services were conducted by Col. R. Overend Davies, as Lay Reader, until the following October when the Rt. Rev. Dwight Cameron became Priest-In-Charge and continued until June, 1907.
 
 



 


The Rev. James J. Vaulx
November 1, 1902 - July 4, 1905
 

 


The Rt. Rev. Dwight Cameron
October 1, 1905 - June, 1907
 

 

In February 1903, a rectory was built alongside the church, facing Dixie.  By the following Easter, 1904, the church had been enlarged by the addition of a chancel (which allowed for seating a choir) and a vestry room.
 



This shows the rectory and the church additions (notice the different roof shingles)



Interior view showing added chancel and pews, with Easter decorations.  Date unknown.
 

 


 
  Bloomfield Beach (left), age 8 and Stafford Beach, age 6 in a photo dated Easter, 1905.  Bloomfield died at the age of 12.  Stafford, born 1899, baptized in 1900 and confirmed in 1911, was a lifelong member of Holy Trinity.  He served on the vestry and in many other positions, and his name appears many times in church documents.  He was Sr. Warden when the church was consecrated in 1945.  


Official Parish, First Rector and Senior Warden, Building Fund

On October 27, 1907, The Rev. H. Ashton Henry assumed charge.  Under his leadership the mission was admitted as a parish on January 15, 1908, at the 16th Convocation of the Missionary Jurisdiction of Southern Florida held in Orlando.  Note: This is the date upon which our anniversary celebrations are based.

Rev. Henry served as Holy Trinity's first Rector, and Andrew J. Lewis as the first Sr. Warden.  Under their leadership the rectory was enlarged and improved, and in 1910 a building fund was inaugurated.  During all these years, whenever the church at intervals lacked a priest, services were held through the devotion of Col. R. Overend Davies as Lay Reader

 


 


The Rev. H. Ashton Henry
October 27, 1907 - August 3, 1912
 

 


Andrew James Lewis, 1817-1911
Became first Sr. Warden at 91
 

 

The Rev. Mr. Henry resigned on August 3, 1912, on account of ill health and the following December the Rev. Gilbert A. Ottman became Rector, serving for the next three years.  On March 1, 1916, the Rev. Lionel A. Wye became Rector and served for ten years, a crucial period which included the building of the current church.

 


 


The Rev. Gilbert A. Ottman
December 19, 1912 - December 20, 1915
 

 


The Rev. Lionel A. Wye
March 1, 1916 - April 4, 1926
 

 

 

Move Original Church To New Property

Through the business acumen and foresight of Rev. Wye, in 1917 the parish acquired a new site which had been the lakefront home of the J. R. Anthony family.  A bicycle path ran along the lake in front of the home.  The lake extended to the present site of Chase Street, forming the eastern border of the new church property.

The original church building was moved to its new location, on the site of the present parish hall, in June 1917, and the Anthony house became the new rectory.  A small frame house on the premises that had been occupied by Capt. J. Rembert Anthony, patriarch of the Anthony clan and a Confederate veteran, was used briefly for Sunday school ro
 

The Present Church Building

The church was incorporated in 1923.  Work was started the same year toward a new edifice and was completed in 1924.  The rectory was moved north to parallel the construction, facing the lake. 
 


Southeast view, 1924.  The original Anthony house is serving as Rectory. 
 

L. Phillips Clarke, of Harvey and Clarke, was architect for the new church, as he was later for the new parish hall in 1929 and for the new rectory and Sunday School rooms built later.  Wilcox Bros. Inc., contractors, built the church and also did repair work after it suffered hurricane damage in 1928.

The marble and mosaic work was done by craftsmen from Italy, who brought much of the material with them.  Louis S. Clarke (whose father, C. J. Clarke, had donated the community building in which the original church group met, and whose son was architect for the present building) made the chandeliers for the church by hand, together with the chains by which they hang, all of which he forged himself.  The marble altar and the original Skinner organ were made possible by generous donations.
 

First Service, 1928 Hurricane, and Later Additions

On February 24, 1924, the first service was held in the new church.  The old church building was then used as a parish hall until it was destroyed in the hurricane of September 1928. 
 


 
The parish hall, destroyed in the 1928 hurricane.

Some features that identify it as the original church building are the arch detail over the entrance, the screen doors, and one of the small front windows.  These can be seen in the two exterior photographs above.

The new building and bell tower can be seen
in the background.
 
   

In May 1929 work was started on the first two units of a new parish hall.  The cornerstone was laid on July 14th and work was completed in September.  A choir room, kitchen quarters and a new rectory were added in 1939.  Funding for and work on the Sunday school rooms which frame the current courtyard commenced in 1948.
 

The Depression Years and Church Consecration

The collapse of the land boom in 1926, the killer hurricane in 1928, and the stock market crash of 1929 brought development to a halt in the region.  Holy Trinity, holding a large debt for the new building, endured a very difficult struggle and at one point foreclosure was threatened.  However, in 1938 as the depression waned, the debt was restructured and disaster was averted.

The formal consecration of the church was held on April 29, 1945, after the mortgage was retired.  The event was hailed in the press as "the high point in the history of the Episcopal congregation in West Palm Beach."  The consecration services were conducted by Bishop John D. Wing of the Diocese of South Florida, before a congregation that packed the building.  The Rev. William S. Turner was rector at that time.
 

Through The Years

Memorials and gifts throughout the years, too numerous to detail in this limited space, have enhanced the beauty of the church.  A large Skinner organ was added to the original organ in 1939, and other additions were subsequently made.  The stained glass windows were installed over a period spanning sixty years, with the first window, the large rose window over the altar, being installed in 1924.  The most ambitious window addition program occurred in the 1950s with the Rev. James Stirling as Rector.  The most recently installed windows, in the south wall of the Baptistry, were installed in 1984.
 

Sponsored Churches

Having originally been started with the help of Bethesda-by-the-Sea, Holy Trinity has in turn through the years helped start five other Episcopal churches in the area: St. Andrews Church, Lake Worth, St. Georges, Riviera Beach, St. Marks, Palm Beach Gardens, The Church of the Holy Spirit, West Palm Beach, and Grace Episcopal Church, West Palm Beach.
 

Clergy

Since 1901, Holy Trinity has been served by 17 Rectors or Priests-In-Charge, two of which, the Revs. Martin Bram and Henry Louttit, later became Bishops in the Diocese: 
 



 
Rev. J. J. Vaulx, Priest-in-Charge, November 1, 1901 - July 4, 1905
Rt. Rev. Dwight Cameron, Priest-in-Charge, October 1, 1905 - June, 1907
Rev. H. Ashton Henry, Priest-in-Charge, then first Rector of the Parish in January 1908,
           October 27, 1907 - August 3, 1912
Rev. Gilbert A. Ottman, December 19,1912 - December 20, 1915
Rev. Lionel A. Wye, March 1, 1916 - April 4, 1926
Rev. William P.S. Lander, October 15, 1926 - December 31, 1932
Rev. Henry Irving Louttit, March 1, 1933 - February 1941
Rev. Raymond A. Kurtz, Acting, while Rev. Louttit served as Chaplain in military
           February 1, 1941 - December 1942
Rev. R. S. Morrisey, Acting, January 1943 - October 1, 1943
Rev. Canon William S. Turner, October 1, 1943 - October 1, 1945
Rev. Martin J. Bram, October 1, 1945 - October 1951
Rev. James Stirling, October 1951 - June 1961
Rev. Donald S. Barrus, July 1961 -
Rev. William W. Swift, October 1968 - September 1978
Rev. Canon James E. Rasnick, July 1979 - July 2000
Rev. Walter F. Hendricks, July 2001 - March 2005
Rev. David W. Wilt, February 2008 -


  1945 - The Rev. Henry I. Louttit elected Suffragan Bishop of South Florida
  1951 - The Rev. Martin J. Bram elected Suffragan Bishop of South Florida
 
 


 
"The history of a parish can be told in certain statistics, but these are only milestones.  The true story of a parish is really the story of God working with His people.  Many have come and gone in our developing life, and each in the providence of God has made his contribution to our whole life.  We give thanks to God for all those who have grown in Holy Trinity and have made their growth known to others in the community"

                                                            Fr. James Stirling, 1958, 50th Anniversary
 
 

 

Footnotes

1 The photograph of Rev. Mulford kindly supplied by Mr. Jethro M. Hurt, archivist at Bethesda-by-the-Sea      Back

2 From History Of The Episcopal Church of Bethesda-By-The-Sea 1889-1989, by Kathryn E. Hall.      Back 

3 Rev. Hindry later had the title of Rector at Bethesda-by-the-Sea and served there through December, 1903      Back

4 One account has the location at Poincettia and Evernia.  It is possible that what we now call Dixie Highway was then called Poincettia.      Back


 



 

This history was compiled from numerous items in the Holy Trinity archives, including church documents, letters, reports, anecdotal narratives, historian accounts, photographs, newspaper clippings, church bulletins, and a doctoral dissertation.  In addition, Stafford Jr. and Joan Beach kindly gave us access to their family's collection of photographs and documents.

During the process, several discrepancies in previously published versions were found and resolved.  At the time of this writing we believe this to be the most accurate account ever published.  It is our intention to continue the research and make updates as needed. 

Holy Trinity Archive Committee