In the 1870’s, forty years after the Seminole Indians had driven out the East Coast Florida settlers, new settlers arrived in the Halifax area. This Halifax area was the last real frontier of the United States and people came to this area then, as they come today – for the good weather, to improve their health and to start a new way of life. In 1871, Bishop John Freeman Young, of the Diocese of Florida visited the East Coast of Florida, and he held services at the Colony House, which later to be known as The Palmetto House. As there had been no other religious services of any kind, the entire settlement turned out.
Recognizing the need for religious teaching and ministering, Bishop Young sent the Rev. William H. Carter, of Passaic, New Jersey, to minister to the east coast of Florida, from New Britain (Ormond) to Rockledge. In 1875, Daytona had about 70 people, with no church or minister, no lawyer or jail. Dr. Carter’s poor health was a factor in his decision to come to the coast of Florida as a traveling minister. His highways were the rivers and his services were dependent on the weather. His supplies consisted of a few prayer books, which were subject to frequent spills in the river from the overturning of his sailboat…nothing to do but to dry them out for the next Sunday. Dr. Carter arrived in May of 1877, and the first service in Daytona was on May 20, 1877 in the white frame schoolhouse at 220 South Palmetto Avenue. He conducted another service that afternoon. The diocesan records show this was St. Mark’s Mission.
The Mission of St. Mark’s thrived with services being held in The Palmetto House or at the schoolhouse. At other times, they were held at William Jackson’s store or Thompson’s Dry Goods Store. The ladies of St. Mark’s prepared the makeshift altars with garden flowers and a silver cup and pitcher donated by the Huston family. Dr. Carter was assisted by the Rev. Henry B. Stuart-Martin, who came to the area with the Carters. When Dr. Carter was tending one or more of the ten settlements on the Halifax River, the Rev. Stuart-Martin held services in Daytona. The Episcopal Church designated this area the Missionary District of the Halifax and Indian Rivers.
Dr. Carter’s report at the end of his first year in April 1878 reflected a year’s collection of two hundred dollars, eight burials, three marriages, and three baptisms. On May 26, 1878, Bishop Young visited the Halifax area’s mission and confirmed three persons: Col. Menefee Huston; his mother, Mrs. Maria Huston; and Mrs. Delia G. McIntyre. The services were held in the hall above Laurence Thompson’s store on South Beach Street (the home today of the late Dr. William Doremus.)
On St. Mark’s Day, April 25, 1883, the cornerstone of the church was laid. The marble block which was inscribed in the north and was sent south by boat. It was to have read “St. Mark’s”, the name the Halifax parishioners had chosen for their church. When unpacked, the cornerstone was found to read, “St. Mary’s.” The church would be called St. Mary’s Church from that day forward.
St. Mary’s Church was built in a cruciform shape, a wooden building of Gothic Revival, or Florida Gothic or Carpenter Gothic design. The outside is board and batten sheathing. The church has been enlarged several times over the years, and today the west wall is the only original wall left. Mr. William Wetherell, Sr. was carpenter for the building and his son, Tom, was his assistant.
St. Mary’s is the oldest recorded mission in the Daytona area. It is in the Diocese of Central Florida of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States, and a member of the Anglican Church World Wide.
The town of Daytona continued to grow and in 1898, the church was enlarged for the first time – its capacity doubled. The Mission became a Parish in 1915. By 1925, the church building needed many repairs and enlarging again. In the midst of all these needs, the Florida economic bubble burst and the long-standing debt was not paid off until 1941, when, under the guidance of the Rev. Charles R. Palmer, the debt was paid in full. In 1938, the Rev. and Mrs. Palmer made a gift of the copper bell that hangs in the belfry of the church steeple. The Church School Building was dedicated in 1957, and the fifth major improvement in the church buildings was begun in 1961. In 1975, the church was enlarged and the stained glass windows that you see today, from the Willet Stained Glass Studios, Inc., of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, were installed. The chancel windows, also by Willet’s, were installed in November 1984. These windows, lighted by artificial lighting, were donated by a couple who wanted the church to be as it was originally with the east wall behind the altar containing large, stained glass windows.
The Memorial Garden established in 1987 and renovated in 1998 graces the north side of the church grounds. A 40-foot long crescent shaped wall is graced with a five-foot statue of St. Mary in the classic “Our Lady of Grace” pose, overlooking the garden and the cinerarium. This garden, enriched with a fountain and meditation areas, is a place for contemplation, remembrance, prayer, and inspiration.
Newcomers to our church are attracted for many reasons: a warm, friendly congregation; traditional worship services; dynamic preaching; strong fellowship and choral music featuring traditional hymns. Average Sunday attendance is 120.
Fellowship, strengthened during coffee hour, dinners, and get-togethers, is strong at St. Mary’s, as people feel united as a parish. The presence of God is genuinely felt among the people and contributes to their strong commitment to their faith. The people of St. Mary’s are challenged to enhance their faith through participation in various programs and utilize their spiritual gifts.
The people of St. Mary’s are drawn from every generation and walk of life. A liturgically based mix of Rite 1 and Rite 2 services provides variety that appeals to all ages and enhances the spiritual life of the congregation. A traditional music experience is important for expression of faith.
PRIESTS SERVING ST. MARY’S
The Rev. William H. Carter 1877 – 1879
The Rev. Henry B. Stuart-Martin 1881 – 1885
The Rev. George B. Jones 1885 (four months)
The Rev. John S. Beekman 1887
The Rev. Frederick Towers 1887 – 1890
The Rev. Charles William Arnold 1890 – 1906
The Rev. Alfred James Wilder 1906 – 1911
The Rev. Robert Alexander Tuft 1911 – 1913
The Rev. Robert McKay 1913 – 1924
The Rev. Harry Garfield Walker – 1925 – 1935
The Rev. Frank W. Gee – 1935 (six months)
The Rev. Charles R. Palmer 1936 – 1949
The Rev. Samuel C. W. Fleming 1949 – 1953
The Rev. Gale Dudley Webbe 1954 – 1960
The Rev. J. R. (Knox) Brumby 1960 – 1966
The Rev. Sumner Ferguson 1967 – 1987
The Rev. Alan R. Rule 1987 – 1998
The Rev. Lee Powers 1999 – 2001
The Rev. James D. Taylor 2001 – 2012
The Rev. Dr. Joy Rose 2013 – 2014