In some parts of the country, numerous well-preserved historic churches may be common. But in other areas, these buildings can be rare architectural treasures.
The Christ Episcopal Church, Springfield, Mo., is one of only a few buildings on both the Springfield Historical Registry and the National Registry of Historic Sites. It is the oldest surviving church in Springfield, and one of the most well-preserved in the Ozarks region.
Through the years
The church's story began in 1866 when the Gothic style chapel was built in what was then a town of 2000 people. After three years, its congregation already wanted to expand, due to Springfield's post-Civil War population boom and lightning damage sustained by the building. Christ Episcopal was rebuilt in the developing outskirts of the city, in the same architectural style, which had become the most popular design for churches in the United States.
After the turn of the 20th century, this style seemed old-fashioned, and again the congregation planned to replace its church with a larger, more elegant stone structure on the same site. Construction began in 1926, including a new parish hall, elevated altar and choir loft, great stone nave, and chancel arches. Although dramatic, the interior and plain exterior stonework still reflected the Gothic style of the first Christ Episcopal Church.
Plans to replace the 1870 nave were delayed by the Great Depression, and eventually it was permanently attached to the newer building. This configuration gave the church a unique appearance, and also preserved an important piece of its history.
In 2006, the church's newest chapter began with another expansion, a 12,500-sq ft multi-purpose sanctuary and stone cloister connecting the new and existing structures. Fortunately, the nearly $5 million job was in the skilled hands of three generations of masons from Jerry Bennett Masonry, Springfield, Mo.
The team consisted of Frank Thornton, a mason of 50 years, Doug and Kirk Thornton (Frank's sons), Joe Thornton (Kirk's son), and Cole Creller. Their combined years of experience with stone masonry was put to the test, as they studied the church's existing stonework and recreated it on the new addition.