From Sewing Circle to Parish Church
St. George’s Episcopal Church
1337 N. Smith Place, Ferguson Hill
West Terre Haute, In.
On a hill not so far away you will find a small pristine white church that welcomes all to
worship with love and friendship. St. George’s Episcopal Church is such a place. Located
atop Ferguson Hill north of West Terre Haute, St. George’s is a family oriented church where the
members and strangers alike are welcomed with sincerity and love. You will be aware of GOD’s
presence when you enter the open doors to experience the fellowship with the St. George’s family
as they worship in the traditional Episcopalian service. The invitation is always extended
regardless of religious beliefs, to any searching for the peace experienced in the worship.
The formation of St. George’s started in the early 1900's, when the Markle family took up
the residence in the area. They were followed closely by three other English families, those of
Thomas Silcock, James Brimley and Richard Lee, who had emigrated from Lancastershire,
England after settling first in Wyoming. They apparently had to work off their obligation to the
mining company for their passage to this country. Families of many origins had settled in the
Ferguson Hill area in the days when the coal mines were actively working. Many of the families
were English and were not aware that the Protestant Episcopal church service was similar to those
of the church of England.
On Easter Sunday in 1910 Mrs. Markle, a resident of the area, invited these families to
attend services at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Terre Haute. Eighteen families attended
and they received their first Holy Communion since coming to this country. The ladies of this
group joined into a ladie's sewing circle in 1914, which became the nucleus for the founding of St.
George’s Church. In 1918 the Rev. John Sulger started an evening prayer group meeting in the
Township High School. Later the Sunday school was taken over by Mr. Charles Heckingbottom
who had been a lay leader at St. Lukes Church which was one of two mission churches in Terre
Haute. The other mission was St. Paul’s. He was later a Deacon and Priest under the Rt. Rev,
Joseph M. Francis, Bishop of the Diocese.
In 1922 Sunday school classes were organized by Mrs. James Wilson and they met for a
while in a lodge in Smith Woods which was formerly a YWCA campground. For some time
they met in various homes until finally in 1923 St. George’s Church was established, some 91
years after West Terre Haute had become a town.
In 1923 it was agreed during a meeting in the home of Mr. Job Edwarrdson to develop a
church home of their own. Two lots were donated by a Mr. and Mrs. Robert Smith and the
church construction was soon under way. In order to position the Church building in the proper
orientation an additional lot was purchased. Eleven families pledged $1500 to this building
project. These families included Mr. Heckingbottom, Mrs. Markle, Mr. Job Edwardson and his
brother Dick, Mr. Ted Rogers, Mr John Scott, Mr. Thomas Silcock, Mr.Frank Mills and Mr.
Sidney Harrison. The church doors was a gift from Edith Ross, Jacks mother. Later pledges
came from Mrs. Ann Fenton, Mrs. Elizabeth Kirkness and the Girls Friendly Society along with
the sewing circle. Many in the community contributed labor, materials and other help.
Construction began in June 1924 and the building was completed in September of that year.
The cost of construction exceeded the estimate and $1500 was borrowed from the Church
Finance Corporation of the Diocese. This was promptly paid back and the parish has been on a
firm financial footing since in spite of not having any regular canvas for funds. The money was
part of a bequest from the estate of Mrs. Ann Fenton.
At some point in 1932 an over zealous Church treasurer presented an offensive letter to
the vestry suggesting that financial support should be divided evenly among communicants
regardless of family income or circumstances. The vestry met and it was unanimous that the
treasurer be asked to resign.
Possibly due to this history, St George’s to this day does not have an annual canvas for
funds. While remaining a Mission Church St. George’s has always been self supporting and has
never returned to the Diocese for financial help.
In 1927 the church in Worthington, St. Matthews became inactive and was closed. St
George’s was offered anything that they might need. They accepted a bell and large stained glass
window which was put in place. One of the original donors of the window was Melville Topping
and a descendent of his, a Mrs. M. Smith contributed funds to install the items at St. George’s
Church. This was, of course lost in the fire of 1935.
St. George’s was established as a mission church under St. Stephen’s and later was
declared a mission church of the diocese.
Thomas Silcock, one of the founders of St. George’s was an Englishman who arrived in
Terre Haute in 1901. He was a member of a men’s group, the English Lodge in Terre Haute, and
this group referred to themselves as the “ Son’s of St. George". It is said that the name for the
Church was derived from the name of this organization. Several members of the parish were said
to have been members of this organization.
On Febuary 5, 1935 fire broke out during a service led by Rev. Hyndman and the building
burned to the ground and all was lost, including records. The fire started in the basement and
quickly spread through an open door to the upstairs. The church continued to meet in the home of
Mrs. Markle and in a nearby vacant building.
Rising from the ashes a determined parish, with careful use of insurance funds erected a
new building. It was smaller by 20 feet since insurance payments did not cover total replacement.
Many changes have come about over the years. At one point many of the mines failed and
many families moved to Detroit and took work in the automobile factories. This decreased
membership considerably and it was to be many years ahead for recovery. Of the original
families that formed the early church less than one third remained but a determined parish
survived and flourished.
In 1973 a parish hall was added and dedicated in honor of Rev, Kenneth W. Taylor
who had served St. George’s and was loved and respected by the parishioners. Again most of the
work was performed by members with only the shell, roof and floor being contracted out. This
has been a tradition within the church as part of being self supporting. In 1985 a generous
Memorial gift of $10,000 was received enabling the parish to restore the building to its original
size. At that time a Sunday school classroom and sacristy were added. Virtually new pews were
obtained from St. Michael’s Church in Noblesville and a bell was received from St. Andrew’s in
Greencastle thus completing the restoration. Two new stained glass windows designed and made
by Dorothy Morin, then a member of St. Stephen’s, were installed at this time.
Sixty Four years after the founding as a mission St. George’s was finally consecrated in 1987
with the Rt. Rev. Edward Jones of the Diocese of Indianapolis presiding. It is told that some 40
years prior when the church was to have been consecrated by Bishop Kirkhoffer, a strange thing
happened. As the Bishop came down the aisle in procession he was bitten on the leg by the
parish dog, a gentle Irish setter, who always attended the services. The Bishop had made the
mistake of stepping on the dog’s tail. While the dog was removed the Bishop examined his
wounds and then continued on with the service but in the excitement forgot to perform the
blessing of the church for consecration.
In 2000 the church building was again enlarged with addition of additional space in the
parish hall to accommodate Sunday School for children, meetings and the many carry in dinners
that is a tradition at St. George’s. This addition was dedicated to Father Alan Harlan.
St. George’s has been served by many different priests, many of whom were only part time.
Many times they had a priest only one Sunday a month but the parish leaders continued on with a
service of morning prayer whenever a priest was not available.
The mission of the church has never changed, that being the bringing the Gospel of Jesus
Christ to the community through the Anglican tradition of good works in the community. The
comfortableness and informality that marked the originating ladies sewing circle remains today.
Members of the parish come from all walks of life and varied professions. The stranger is always
welcomed and becomes a stranger no more.
The Parish is involved in many outreach projects supporting the various needs of the
community including CODA and Habitat for Humanity among others. Wherever there is a need in
the community St. George’s is ready with help in many ways. The parish outreach serves in
many ways whether by individual member or the parish as a community. Whether it be a fire or
needy family the parish is always ready to share in many ways.
Often Episcopalians have been referred to as the "frozen chosen", but this is not the
case with the people of St. George’s Parish. After one Sunday service a visitor was heard to say
that it was the first time that he had enjoyed a good laugh during an Episcopal service. The
services are quite often punctuated with humor and always have heart warming music and song.
After the morning service a period of fellowship is enjoyed by all with many homemade goodies
provided by the women and men of the parish.
Bibliography: Historical information from various Parish records and publications.
Researched by Paul E. Campbell.