St. Andrew’s on-the-Sound, about 1925. (Photo by Louis T. Moore, courtesy of New Hanover County Public Library)
by Susan Taylor Block
“The present church of St. Andrew’s is the direct successor to old Lebanon Chapel….” – Star News, 9-29-1933.
When you look at old photographs of the Italianate lodge that once stood on what is now Great Oaks Drive or the sprawling mansion at Airlie, you see the handiwork of the core congregation of St. Andrew’s on-the-Sound. When you walk through the garden at Airlie, you see a wonderland that was, in part, designed and planted by St. Andrew’s parishioners. They were artists, but they were not artsy. Their personalities had a New England flavor, but they were almost entirely from Baltimore, Snead’s Ferry, NC, and Germany. Though they worshipped in a small, one-story church, some of their preferences were high-church. Pity the poor visitor who did not keep pace with the litany, made an altar guild mistake, or sat when he should have knelt, but as soon as they corrected them, the St. Andrew’s faithful core would welcome them and put them to work. Their faith was strong and church meant a great deal to most of them.
St. Andrew’s on-the-Sound, about 1975. (Lossie Gardell)
In its beginning, St. Andrew’s-on-the-Sound was built to be a modest Spanish-Mission style Episcopal church that would meet the needs of residents living near Shell Road Crossing, a sleepy intersection that is now the busy spot at which Oleander Drive and Wrightsville Avenue meet. The corner stone was laid on October 14, 1923, with Bishop Thomas C. Darst officiating. Leslie N. Boney, Sr. served as architect, and U. A. Underwood, as contractor, for the building that was estimated to cost $15,000. According to the late Leslie N. Boney, Jr., in May of 1923, his father was paid 3.5% of the estimated cost – or $525. Leslie N. Boney, Sr., also earned $100 for his plans for the Parish House – a fee paid personally by the Rev. Dr. Frank Dean, rector for the church.
In 1923, the working class neighborhood consisted mostly of a large group of interrelated families. The men made their living as “sounders” — seafood harvesters. They also worked as laborers for Pembroke and Sarah Jones, wealthy neighbors, who with their best friend Henry Walters, maintained almost 3,000 acres of land that included Airlie Gardens and Pembroke Park – the area known today as Landfall. Work assignments for the Joneses ranged from building an amphitheater and free-standing ballroom at Airlie, to preparing Pembroke Park for a formal dinner party in which guests were seated upon platforms wedged into gnarled live oaks. After the death of Pembroke Jones in 1919, Mrs. Jones began to spend more time at Airlie.
Though the 1835 building known as Lebanon Chapel sits of land that appears to be part of Airlie, it was and is owned by St. James Episcopal Church in Wilmington. From 1884 until 1919, the Joneses maintained Lebanon Chapel as a private house of worship. Pembroke underwrote all costs during that period, and altered the building in 1912 for the wedding of his daughter, Sadie, and architect John Russell Pope. St. James leaders began a church mission there after the wedding to reach out to unchurched neighbors. It was led by members of the Brotherhood of St. Andrew, with Anson Alligood and Thomas Morton acting as supervisors.
One night, a small fire broke out one day near the Airlie mansion. Mrs. Jones already had experienced two fires in her lifetime and was greatly frightened by the blaze and the fact that stray teenagers were sometimes touring the garden without permission, and peering into the downstairs windows of her 39-room house. Adolescent pedestrians of the neighborhood knew the area well, for their after-dark “Lovers’ Lane” was the “Jones Road” that led from the gates of Airlie, to the Pembroke Park gate that sits in the Lion’s Gate neighborhood today, and continues north of Wrightsville Avenue.
(Photo courtesy of Cape Fear Museum)
Unaware that she did not own Lebanon Chapel, Sarah Jones decided to close it in hopes that that would help limit trespassing of all sorts at Airlie. Thinking it best to build a new church to accommodate the ousted worshippers, she indicated she would contribute some money for the building project. Mrs. Jones chose Mr. Boney as architect; and had, years before, created the model for the church’s name, by calling her home, “Airlie-on-the-Sound.” A member of the Dizor family, charter members of St. Andrew’s, actually named the church using the name of the St. James group that, in turn, was based on the disciple who became patron saint of fishermen, and the wording template from Airlie. However, it was the work of another person that made the project a true success.
The Rev. Dr. Frank Dean, M.D., Ph.D., and D.D., moved to Wilmington in 1917 as a World War I war camp community worker. He began his career as a physician, but being a very sensitive man, he left the profession after a baby under his care died. He then attended seminary and was ordained into the Episcopal priesthood. About 1918, he was appointed city chaplain. Church assignments followed. He served as rector of Wilmington’s Church of the Good Shepherd, and as assistant rector at St. James, before taking up the cause of building a church in the little village called, since 1815, simply “Wrightsville.”
Dean himself had a house on the south side of Bradley Creek, just west of the present Bradley Creek Bridge. Leslie N. Boney, Sr. also served as architect of Dean’s residence. The minister combed his neighborhood to recruit families that might be interested in joining a new church. Many responded and their hearts were warmed by the pastor’s benevolence. Dr. Dean saw and felt their financial need and responded by buying shoes for shoeless children and recruiting others to give clothes and food to the sounders. Henry Walters, the ultra-reticent, camera-shy art collector and President of the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad, contributed quietly to the Mount Lebanon mission cause, even to the point of posing for a picture seated among the neighborhood children.
Dr. Dean visited Mrs. Jones at Airlie. Following his usual routine with those he knew could afford it, he did not leave her house until he was assured of a donation. He spoke in a loud voice and could not be ignored. In addition to a monetary gift, she agreed to allow a few tours of her 151-acre garden, with the proceeds going to the new building project. Pembroke Jones cousin, Mary Norwood Giles Davis, donated 2.5 acres of land for the cause. Much of the construction work for St. Andrew’s on-the-Sound was done by men who helped build Pembroke Jones’s elaborate Italianate hunting lodge at Pembroke Park.
The church building was made of beautiful brick that was covered in stucco a year after its dedication. The parish hall, built one year after the church, was made of cinder blocks, contributed by Luther Rogers. The blocks also were coated with stucco. Charter member Frank McGowan built the cross and, with the help of other men, used a pulley to hoist it to the roof. This same group of constructive craftsmen contributed a stained glass window depicting Jesus, and installed it in the church, near the altar.
Newlyweds Henry Walters (on left) and Sarah Jones Walters.
St. Andrew’s was dedicated April 27, 1924, by the Rt. Rev. Mr. Thomas C. Darst. Mrs. Jones continued to lend financial support. After she married Henry Walters in 1924, Sarah opened Airlie to visitors for one beautiful weekend every spring. One year, Annie Gray Nash Sprunt of Orton Plantation partnered with Mrs. Walters to present an unusually successful two-garden tour, still with all proceeds going to St. Andrew’s on-the-Sound. Admission was charged, usually fifty cents, and as many as a thousand visitors went through Airlie each day. Much later, the Wilmington Star News finally reported, “It is recalled with feelings of awe how the gardens were opened year after year sometime ago, for the benefit of the little church. It is a much loved story of those who know it to believe that these flowers really built this church. The church is a real beauty spot and the circumstances of its existence make it more interesting.”
During the springtime tours, the ladies of St. Andrew’s sold small azaleas near the intersection and served lunch in the Parish Hall. The azaleas came from Tinga Nursery, and were sold for fifty cents a piece. Lunch cost $1.50 and was a group production. Paul Hines, the church’s first male oblationer, caught fish that the ladies cooked for lunch. Parishioner Mildred Cornelia always prepared ham for the event. Lossie Dizor Gardell, who was a mere girl at the time, remembered “standing on a wooden crate and washing dishes,” on garden tour days. “We did not dare use disposable plates,” she said in a 1995 interview.
Rudolph Topel, who executed Sarah Jones Walters’s landscape wishes, was hired away from the German Kaiser by Mrs. Jones. With a twinkle in her eye, she bragged about this until her twilight years. Topel, a St. Andrew’s parishioner, lived a block from the church, so his home, work, and church life were all conveniently located. He transplanted superfluous plants and seedlings from Airlie to St. Andrew’s, frequently. In 1927, Mrs. Walters contributed whole “forest trees” from Airlie to beautify the bare land surrounding the church. “Maples and other fine specimens of native trees about being removed to the church property,” stated on Morning Star reporter. Others followed suit, and soon St. Andrew’s began to look established.
Indeed, St. Andrew’s was an active church community. Weekend square dances for participants of all ages were routine. A Mr. Garner took the youth group on hayrides frequently, going as far as Carolina Beach. The ladies of the church bought Christmas gifts for every child at St. Andrew’s – with each gift being chosen specifically for that child. When stock car races became popular, rector R. L. Sturgis began ferrying the young people to Holly Ridge to see the action.
“Champ” Davis, who became president of the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad, and built and endowed the Davis Health Care complex at Porter’s Neck, always threw a big Christmas party for St. Andrew’s, even though he attended St. John’s Episcopal Church in Wilmington. His St. Andrew’s parties are remembered as ones of lavish hospitality. “I’ve never seen so much liquor,” recalled one old-timer. “It was in every corner.”
There was a natural form of racial integration in Wrightsville. Lossie Dizor Gardell said that Minnie Evans and her mother, Ella, were good friends of the Dizor family. Minnie and Ella visited them many times. The two African-American churches associated with old Wrightsville are St. Matthew’s AME Zion and Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church, both on Wrightsville Avenue, near Lumina Station. One night the Dizors were taking a walk that took them by the churches and were enticed to the open church doors of one of them by the beautiful singing of a children’s choir. Ushers invited inside, but there was no room. Lossie’s young brother climbed up onto a window sill from which he watched them sing. “When the choir struck a triumphant ‘Hallelujah!’ he was so overcome by the drama of it all that he fell backwards onto the ground. Pretty soon, he gathered himself together and poked his head back in, saying, “I’m O.K.”
The Henry Wright family (no relation to the Joshua Grainger Wright family) who came to Wilmington from Baltimore’s Eastern Shore, and settled in Wrightsville, raised thirteen children who all remained in the neighborhood. The Frank McGowan and Francis Marion Taylor families came from Snead’s Ferry, NC to Wrightsville. These family trees stood at the heart of the church forest. Later “Friends” included Dick Wetherill and Dr. Bill Phillips who financed many needs for St. Andrew’s. John C. Drewry, who has now become an Episcopal Deacon, has, along with wife, Gail, served St. Andrew’s in many ways through the years.
In addition to Sadie Jones Walters, for nearly thirty years, Eleanor Wright Beane was another woman who was a great friend to St. Andrews-on-the-Sound. She was a great-great-granddaughter of Judge Joshua Grainger Wright (1768-1811); a great-grandchild of Mount Lebanon Chapel builder, Dr. Thomas Henry Wright; and a goddaughter of Pembroke Jones. Long before the Civil War, the Wrights owned waterfront property, Gabriel’s Landing, that north of Airlie. Mrs. Beane grew up attending St. James Church, but after her marriage to William S. R. Beane, she joined St. Andrew’s. Although she has contributed generously and quietly to the church in many conventional ways, she has had one unusual advantage: the ear of her first cousin, Bishop Thomas Henry Wright. Bishop Wright, headquartered in Wilmington, reigned benevolently over the Diocese of East Carolina from 1945-1972. Because of Mrs. Beane’s requests, St. Andrew’s benefited in many ways that are certain, if not fully documented.
SOURCES: Author’s interviews with Maxine Dizor, Lossie Dizor Gardell, Frank McGowan, Paul Hines, Joe Bennett, Inez McGowan, Dorothy McGowan Paul, Allan Strange, Eleanor Wright Beane, Jane Pope Akers Ridgway, Elaine Blackmon Henson, Catherine Laing (secretary, St. Andrew’s on-the-Sound), Mrs. H. L. Aman, George Evans, John C. Drewry, Gail Drewry, and J. Fred Newber. Family files, Historical Society of the Lower Cape Fear; Louis T. Moore Collection, New Hanover County Public Library; Giles Collection, North Carolina Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
GIFTS TO ST. ANDREW’S ON-THE-SOUND
Altar, Mrs. William Divine, IMO her mother Susan Hardin MacPherson.
Altar Rail: Mrs. William Divine, IMO her father James Herrin MacPherson.
Altar Desk: IMO John and Mildred Brown by their children.
Altar Prayer Book: Gift of Lebanon Sunday School.
Altar Cross: IMO Thomas L. Morton, by wife and children.
Altar vases (bronze): Given by Miss Della and Mr. Theodore Taylor.
Altar Window (image of Jesus): Given by employees of Airlie and Pembroke Park in Memory of their friend, Pembroke Jones.
Altar Hangings: Given by St. Mary’s Guild of St. James Church.
Bible: Given by William G. Dizor of St. Andrew’s, to glory of God.
Ciborium: IMO William Litchfield Dickinson, by his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Earle Dickinson.
Chalice: IMO Mrs. Elizabeth Savage Latimer, by Mr. and Mrs. A. M. Waddell.
Paten: In memory of Mr. Zebulon Latimer, by Mrs. William Latimer and Messrs. Herbert and Empie Latimer.
Choir Chimes: Given by St. Andrew’s Choir.
Doors: IMO William B. Giles and his sons, Clayton and Norwood, by Mrs. John D. Bellamy, Jr.
Font and Ewer: Given by St. Agnes Guild, St. James Church.
Litany Desk: IMO Anne Eloise Burkheimer, by her mother and sisters.
Lectern and silver tray: IMO Col. John Wilder Atkinson, by his grandchildren.
Processional Cross: St. Agnes Guild, a Thanksgiving offering.
Window Panel: IMO Rt. Rev. Alfred Augustin Watson, D.D., first Bishop of East Carolina, by James C. and Eliza Munds.
Stage curtain in Parish House: IMO Mr. Anson Alligood, by his wife.
Oak Litany Table in Parish House: IMO Mr. Anson Alligood, by his wife.
Drawing of St. Andrew (life size): IMO William Latimer, by his wife.
Boy Scout Loving Cup: IMO T. B. Beall, by Troop 24, July 1942.
Bell: IMO Platt K. Dickinson, by Mrs. Culkins Davis, Miss Nina Walker, and Mrs. Mary B. Davis.
Organ: Gift of the Wright family.
Credence Tables: Gift of Bishop Wright Auxiliary.
Carpet: Gift of Bishop Wright Auxiliary.
Chancel Gate: Gift of Young People’s Service League
Pulpit and Lectern Stands – Gifts of Young People’s Service League
Pulpit and Lectern Lamp – Gift of Eleanor Wright Beane
Lectern Bible: IMO W. A. Davis, by his wife, Amoret N. Davis.
Top of Baptismal Font: IMO W. A. Davis, by his wife, Amoret N. Davis
Altar Hangings: Violet and Green – Gift of Junior Service League
Ditto: White – Gift of the Dizor family IMO parents.
Ditto: Red – Gift of Sam S. Earle IMO his Mother.
Alms Basins: Gift of Altar Guild and Katharine Alexander.
Altar Vases (brass): Gift of Annie M. Herbst and Mary Urich, IMO Aunt.
Receiving Basin: gift of Bishop Wright Auxiliary IMO Annie M. Herbst.
Eucharistic Candlesticks: Gift of family IMO Annie M. Herbst.
Communion Cruets: Gift of Mrs. Lucile M. Marvin, IMO Mary Giles Davis.
Candle Lighter: Gift of Young People’s Service League.
Carpeting: Gift of Champion McDowell Davis (1966) : wool carpets by Bigelow.
St. Andrew and St. Paul Windows – Mr. and Mrs. John C. Drewry, III, IMO Nello L. Teer, Sr.
St. Phillip and St. Matthew Windows, given by Bernard Merrick, IMO Elizabeth S. Merrick.
St. Thomas and St. Peter windows by Harriet B. Grant, IMO her husband Horace Venton Grant, Jr.
Christ and James and John Windows: IMO Martin Whitfield Pearsall and mother, Anne Dickson Pearsall, by Eugene Randolph Tyler.
St. Bartholomew Window, IMO Pearl Banks Watkins, by Mr. and Mrs. A. S. Watkins.
St. James, Minor Window 0 IMO Nettie Batts Bowden, by Mr. and Mrs. A. S. Watkins.
St. Simon and Thaddeus. A gift from the Hon. James Fox and wife, Katherine Rhett Fox.
Two wooden alms basins given by Sadie Webb and Mazine Dizor IMO their brother William Dizor, for Church School.
Two one pint Sterling Silver Cruets: given by Ann Transou Nicholson, in Thanksgiving for blessings.
Sterling silver Lavabo Bowl – given by Winifred I. Elwell, IMO her mother and father.
Lectern Base, given by the Bishop Wright Chapter.
3 Church School rooms, added to the Parish Hall, given by the Bishop Wright Chapter.
Concrete Bulletin Board on grounds, given by the Bishop Wright Chapter
Iron rails at front entrance of church, given by the Bishop Wright Chapter.
Iron rails at kitchen door and annex porch, given by the Bishop Wright Chapter
Iron rails at chancel steps, given by Annie Herbst Chapter
Iron Rails at Cloister, given by Annie Herbst Chapter.
Windows and doors enclosing cloister, given by the Lebanon Chapter.
New Stage Curtain, given by Lebanon Chapter.
Naugahide pew cushions, given by Champion McDowell Davis.
New electrical fixtures throughout church, given by Champion McDowell Davis.
Naugahide pads for kneelers, given by Champion McDowell Davis.
Needlepoint cushion for Litany Desk, given by Eleanor Wright Beane.
Green upholstered altar rail cushions, given by Eleanor Wright Beane.
Green upholstery on Priest’s and Bishop’s chairs, given by Eleanor Wright Beane.
Needlepoint center cushion for Altar Rail, given by Eleanor Wright Beane.
Four acolyte chairs, given by Eleanor Wright Beane.
Needlepoint covering for Bishop’s chair given by Laura Rowe.
Needlepoint covering for Priest’s chair, given by Alice Knouse.
Window shades for parish hall given by Bishop Wright Chapter.
New Set of violet Altar hangings given by Mimi Thomas, IMO her husband, Jack Thomas.
Set of Altar Linens, given IMO Sadie Webb, by her family.
Large silver chalice given IMO Sadie Webb, by her family.
Silver intinction cup, given by Bishop Wright Chapter.
Silver Baptismal Bowl, Given by Sam S. Earle IMO his mother.
Church and American flags, given by Episcopal Young Churchmen.
Inside front doors replaced by Champion McDowell Davis.
Sterling silver Ciborium, given by Harriet B. Grant.
Alles for acolytes by Frances Head IMO husband William Head.
A strip of abutting land that lies east of the church.
TO LEARN ABOUT ST. ANDREW’S PART IN THE SAVING OF MOUNT LEBANON CHAPEL, SEE: