St. George’s Episcopal Church
May is National Historic Preservation Month. Today, we celebrate North Dakota’s history by highlighting another preservation example.
On May 8th 1873, more than a decade before North Dakota became a state, Episcopal clergyman Charles Swift baptized the infant son of Lieutenant and Mrs. Humbert at Camp Hancock in what was reported to be the first Protestant service held in Bismarck.
In June of 1874, the Bismarck Tribune noted that “fifteen communicants in the Episcopal Church” resided in the Bismarck area. As that number grew, an Episcopal Church was built in 1881 and consecrated as “The Church of the Bread of Life.” Around 1890, the name changed to “St. George’s Episcopal Church.”
Around 1900, the “little church on the hill” was moved to a flatter location on the corner of Third and Rosser. However, as years went by, the need for a larger facility soon became apparent. Depression and war times created financial difficulties in the 30s and 40s, but in 1948, 75 years to the day after that first baptism at Camp Hancock, several larger gifts of land and funds made it possible to break ground for a new church on Fourth Street.
On October 24, 1948, as the regular morning service ended, congregants paraded to the partially-completed building to lay the bronze corner plate—though the plate had not arrived on schedule.
The new church was finished in 1949, in an Elizabethan Gothic style, representing the first building in the area to use this type of construction. The walls are reinforced with pumice concrete, which weighs less, but has a higher insulation value.
The striking stained-glass windows were made in Brighton, England. All of the windows bordered by blue and green contain pieces of glass salvaged from churches in England that were destroyed by bombs during World War II. A memorial to the old and new church noted, “Some of this glass dates back to the 12th century, and in our window borders one may see a fragment of a [glass] hand, foot, forehead, etc., that had graced another church.”
The altar, sanctuary furniture, and the processional cross and flag were all brought from the old church to the new. St. George’s Episcopal Church is still in use, and is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Dakota Datebook by Sarah Walker
The Bismarck Tribune, June 10, 1874, p4
Bismarck Weekly Tribune, March 31, 1899, p8
The Bismarck Tribune, August 13, 1873, p4
St. George’s Episcopal Memorial Church: A Memorial to the Pioneers of the Dakotas, 1873-1949
The Bismarck Tribune, April 7, 1934, p20
National Register of Historic Places Registration Form / site 32BL00318
Sarah M. Walker, Head of Reference Services
North Dakota State Archives