The first Episcopal Lay Worship services were held in Mauch Chunk in 1829 by William H. Sayre, a devoted churchman. Services were held by visiting clergy at various times until 1835. On May 17, 1835 a group of concerned churchmen met in the old Broadway schoolhouse and organized the parish under the name of St. Mark’s Church. The first Episcopal visitation was held on November 9, 1835 by the Rt. Rev. H. W. Onderdonk, D.D. Five persons were confirmed.
Almost as soon as the parish was incorporated, a committee was formed to begin the process of building a church for the parish. A subscription campaign was begun in 1837, but it was not until 1848 that the first church was ready for occupancy. The new building was consecrated on June 13, 1852. During these early years the parish worshiped in various churches and public buildings in Mauch Chunk.
By 1867 the first church building had been outgrown by the parish and plans for a new building were begun. Architect Richard Upjohn, Sr. was selected to design the new building. On June 16, 1867 the last service was held in the first church after which it was demolished to make way for the new building. The cornerstone of the present church was laid on September 21, 1867. The new edifice was consecrated to the worship of God on November 25, 1869.
On April 1, 1874 the rev. Dr. Coleman resigned as rector and on August 1, of that year, the Rev. Marcus Alden Tolman succeeded him in that post. On July 4, 1876 the 1,116 pound bell in the church tower was cracked while being rung during the celebration of the nation’s centennial. The bell was removed from the tower and melted down. Some of the metal was cast into a cross as a memorial to Mr. Lewis Weiss, the first organist of the parish. The remainder was cast into hundreds of small handbells which were sold to help finance the replacement of the bell.
Generosity of the Packers
As the wealth of the citizens of old Mauch Chunk grew, so did the richness of the memorials they lavished on their church. In the period between 1880 and 1900 many of the furnishings and appointments of the church that we see today were added. The altar and reredos were installed in 1880. In 1883, the brass pulpit and lectern were presented. The choir stalls were added in 1884. The baptistry was constructed at the rear of the nave in 1887. The stone steps leading to the main church replaced a wooden structure in 1890. The litany desk was presented in 1891. In 1895 on the feast of All Saints, the beautiful Tiffany window in the south transept was dedicated.
The year 1912 was noteworthy for the many improvements made to the church. Through the generosity of Mary Packer Cummings, the entire church was renovated and redecorated. The original Jardine pipe organ was replaced with a three manual Austin organ. The bishop’s chair was given. A lovely tiffany window “The Breadth of my Love” (right) was given by Mrs. Cummings in memory of her sister, Lucy Packer Linderman. Her generosity did not stop there. The parish building was completely renovated and the Chantry was refurnished, complete with a new altar.
Finally, the one thing that makes St. Mark’s unique, an Otis elevator was installed. The fact that this was done in 1912, before the advent of laws demanding access to public buildings by the handicapped, shows the foresight and compassion of Mrs. Cummings. An Apocryphal story says that just before the elevator was completed, Mrs. Cummings fell ill and died. The story goes that the first official use of the elevator was to carry her casket up to the main church for her funeral service on November 1, 1912.
The Great Depression of the 1930’s took its toll on the Mauch Chunk area as well as on the parishes of St. Mark’s and St. John’s. Since the coal and railroad industries were hit hard by the hard economic times, many people were left jobless. Many families moved from the area to seek work elsewhere and it was not until the beginning of World War II that the local economy showed signs of recovery.
In 1947, St. Mark’s and St.John’s entered into an agreement for a shared ministry. St. Mark’s would pay a portion of the salary of St. John’s rector and in return, St. John’s rector would assist the rector of St. Mark’s. This was the beginning of an on and off relationship between the two parishes that would culminate with the merger of the two in December of 1980.
In the early 1950’s the chantry on the first floor of St. Mark’s was entirely remodeled. The room was repainted by local church artist Frank Romano of Weatherly, Pa. and new lighting fixtures were installed. At this time also, the antique brass gas standards (left) in the baptistry of the main church were restored to working order and new carpet was laid in the nave. In 1951 the former residence of Horace DeYoung Lentz was donated to the parish for use as a rectory. In 1956 St. John’s received the gift from the family of Alan Loose of a home to be used as its rectory.
In 1979 the main church was completely repainted in white, its original color. When the church was repainted in 1912, the color chosen was green. Over the years, with as many as 100 coal trains passing through town each day, the walls had accumulated a layer of soot and coal dust and the church was dark even on a sunny day. During the renovation work, St. Mark’s parish worshiped with the parish of St. John at the later church. The main church was reopened on Easter Sunday 1979.
During the renovation of St. Mark’s, people of both parishes began to realize that there would be advantages to joining the two churches. A study committee was formed in September of 1979, which produced a plan of consolidation. The plan was overwhelmingly approved by the two parishes on February 10, 1980 and by the general convention of the Diocese of Bethlehem in December of that same year.
In April of 1983, the parish undertook the project of repainting the Great Hall. This is the main room of the Parish Building adjacent to the main church. Materials were purchased by the Episcopal Church Women and labor was supplied by men and women of the parish. All of the woodwork including the large interior ceiling beams and planking in the Great Hall was cleaned at this time. In addition, the two murals on the east wall were professionally cleaned and restored.
The maintenance of two church buildings had begun to be a burden on the parish. Not only were there financial requirements, but having two buildings became a point of division for the parish. In 1984, an offer was made for the purchase of St. John’s. The offer was condidered at some length by the vestry and finally accepted. The sale was finalized on August 28, 1984. All memorials were removed to St. Mark’s where they were put to use. The altar, Reredos and other church furniture were donated to a church in Kansas under the charge of Rev. Robert Hutchison, a former rector of St. John’s.