St. Mary’s Church had its “meager” beginnings in 1872
in the front parlor of Mr. & Mrs. Littleton J. Sturgis, publisher of the
local newspaper. Beginning as a Sunday Bible Study, it expanded to include
regular service later that year. Three stained glass windows over the front door
of St. Mary’s still honor the Sturgis family.
The 1880’s were exciting times for Hillsboro. Growth was
stimulated by the arrival of the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad in 1881. Most of
downtown Hillsboro was built that decade. The Right Reverend Alexander Gregg,
first Bishop of the Diocese of Texas, brought communion to Episcopalians in
Hillsboro in 1860, 1871 and again in 1873.
Residential areas were developed and Judge G. D. Tarlton
purchased land for the church on April 21, 1885 from A. P. McKinnon. The church
cornerstone was laid on July 30 1886 by Bishop Alexander Garrett, first Bishop
of the Diocese of Dallas. The 24’ x 50’ frame structure was completed and
the first service, Morning Prayer was read on March 30 1887. The first rector
was the Reverend L. C. Rogers.
On May 29, 1894, the church was completely destroyed by a
tornado. The following morning, Tarlton Morrow, then a young boy, crawled under
the rubble and rescued the wooden cross which had rested on the altar. That
cross is now encased in copper and framed at the back of the church. A plain,
temporary building was erected and used until Bishop Garrett laid the
cornerstone for the present building on December 16, 1910. The existing
structure was finished in 1911 and has continued in use since that time. No
visual alterations have been made.
Dr. and Mrs. J. Francis (Frank) McDonald bought the middle
part of the lot on which the church was erected and built a house there in 1919.
Dr. McDonald served on the Vestry and as Junior Warden for 25 years. His wife,
Mrs. Helen Leonese Tomlinson McDonald served as organist for 20 years. After the
death of their parents Judge Frank G. and Dr. Henley A. McDonald gave the house
to the church to be used as a parish house.
St. Mary’s Church is individually listed on the National
Register of Historic Places and is a Registered Texas Historic Landmark.
The church is not the building however; the church is the
congregation. Our congregation has flowed continuously like a river from 1872 to
today. Members have come and gone through six generations, but the body of this
church has continued year after year.
Today, St. Mary’s spreads the Gospel and is active in
ministering to the needs of our community through Food for Families and working
as part of the Hillsboro Interfaith Ministry. We invite our town and our larger
community to share in our joy and our ministry today and always.
Thank you for being a part of our celebration. We, the congregation of St. Mary’s Church, pray that our Father in Heaven will bless, preserve and protect you today and always. Amen.