Application for Historical Marker
prepared by Eula Grace Wedig
History: Grace Church
While the Rev. Henry Niles Pierce was serving as rector of Christ Church, Matagorda, the first Episcopal Church in Texas, he reached out beyond his own parish to officiate in Port Lavaca and Indianola. It was under his guidance that small congregations in both towns were organized in 1853. When Pierce left Matagorda, The Rt. Rev. Alexander Gregg, first bishop of Texas, interested the Rev. C.J. Hedges in accepting an appointment as missionary at Indianola and Port Lavaca. Though Hedges chose to live in Indianola he was also in charge of Grace, Port Lavaca. An encouraging response was being made in both towns when yellow fever struck with such violence that only 1 of 7 members of the vestry in Port Lavaca survived. Both parishes reorganized and recouped their strength enough to petition the Convention of 1854 for admission. The ladies of each congregation began accumulating money and furnishings toward the building of churches. At the convention of 1855, Hedges reported that his congregations had again been struck by the epidemic. Due to the financial hardships this placed on Hedges, he had no choice other than to move on. The two congregations remained without a minister for a number of years afterward.
Under the guidance of the Rev. J.W. Tayes, Grace Church had built up to the point of reorganizing the parish on Marcy 31, 1866 and later called the Rev. Robert Jope as their rector. When Tayes found it necessary to leave the coast on account of the health of his family, Jope then took over the work in both Port Lavaca and Indianola, apparently moving his residence to Indianola. During this time, Port Lavaca was shrinking in population but the congregation was carrying on with a lay reader, Dr. E.L. Beaumont, on Sundays when Jope was not present.
In 1867, Grace was again reorganized by Jope and a church building erected. The small congregation continued to struggle through fever epidemics and the loss of the shipping industry. These conditions contributed to the circumstances that forced many residents to move inland to Cuero.
Bishop Gregg realized that there was a sizable number of Episcopal families living in Cuero with no church building. The church building in Port Lavaca was standing with so few to attend service and so little money to maintain a building. Gregg granted permission to have the Port Lavaca building moved to Cuero in 1874.
Some years later the congregation had increased enough to be able to buy property from W.H. Smith for $500. The building had been situated in Indianola where it had been used as a saloon and later as a Customs House. Mr. Smith bought the building and had it moved to Port Lavaca by ox-team. The barrels of cement that were the used as foundation blocks also came from Indianola. These barrels of cement (hardened by the water) were found on the shore brought there by tides following a ship wrecked by a previous storm.
The Smith Family lived in the 3 rooms of the upper story. Later when Smith had their own home built the lower story was used as a store house for sash and blinds and the upper rooms were chartered as "Club Rooms".
In remodeling the building for church use, the upper story was cut off, a steep roof added with arches on the inside to give it a cathedral-like atmosphere.
During the 1930's C.J. Thomson, County Clerk for Calhoun County, acted as lay reader and held the membership together. Priests came from Victoria as often as possible to minister to the congregation.
The Episcopal Church was flourishing again in Port Lavaca when a storm on August 27, 1945 completely demolished the building. Services continued to be held in the parish hall using the furnishings that were salvaged from the storm.
In 1947, the congregation called the Rev. Dr. C.T. Branch as the first resident priest in 20 years. It was under his guidance that the building was constructed on the corner of East Austin and Guadalupe Streets. The Rt. Rev. Everett H. Jones dedicated this new building on February 6, 1949.
The Rev. George H. Dettman moved to Port Lavaca in 1961 immediately upon graduation from Seminary of the Southwest. It was during his tenure that the memorial stained glass windows were dedicated on April 17, 1966. Also under his guidance extensive remodeling and expansion was accomplished. With the construction of a new parish hall came an addition to the church of a narthex and the connecting of the two buildings with a cloister. The Rt. Rev. Harold Gosnell dedicated the new building complex in 1970. In 1978 the facility was cleared of indebtedness through a gift from Mrs. Frank Jeter Boyd.
With the renovation of the church that included a narthex, a special place to exhibit the La Salle cross was created.
W.F. Huffaker in the late 1890's found an iron cross on a trip up the Lavaca River. It proved to be a well preserved cross that caused many to think that the site of Fort St. Louis had been found, but later discoveries made this theory doubtful. Whether this cross was the cross erected by La Salle at the founding of the fort and mission in 1685, or a cross that adorned a church within the fort, or a burial cross that marked the grave of a high official of the expedition is debatable. The history of its uses will probably never be known, but it is generally believed that it had some connection with La Salle's Colony. In May 1917, Mrs. Mary H. Bickford, who at that time had possession of the cross presented it to Grace Church at a Diocesan Council meeting being held in Port Lavaca.
After serving Grace Church longer than any priest in its history, Dettman retired in 1979. He was named Rector Emeritus in December of that year. In 1993 the church honored him by naming the present parish hall Dettman Hall.
Alice Wasserman, lifelong member of Grace Episcopal Church, contributed funds for the construction of a church library in memory of her sister, Bennie Mae Wasserman and their parents, Mr. and Mrs. Ben G. Wasserman. The building, facing Austin Street, is connected to the parish hall by a walkway. The library was dedicated by The Rt. Rev. James Folts on December 11, 1996.