Historic Church with World Ties

In 1887, John Jacob Astor, offered Bishop Hare the gift of a church of permanent character, useful, and not so expensive as to be a burden. Astor asked the bishop to secure land for the church and rectory which he would build and would furnish the chancel, pews, heating system, communion plate and organ. The location chosen was the entire frontage of Main Ave, between 13th & 14th streets in Sioux Falls. The church would be called the Church of St. Augusta.

Socialite and Philanthropist, Mrs. Astor (born Charlotte Augusta Gibbes), was the wife of John Jacob Astor III. She was also the daughter of Governor Jan Cornelis van den Heuvel of Demerara who imported from Holland in 1759. Shunning ostentatious displays of wealth, averse to publicity, Charlotte Astor was a kind woman, she was liked for her grace, warm heart, and gentle disposition. A pleasing presence, though not handsome. She was a lover of art, her home is a palace of paintings and statues. A deeply religious woman, “Augusta” Mrs. Astor in, particular, was especially notable as an early supporter of cancer research and enlightened care for those suffering from the disease. She died from cancer of the tongue Dec. 12th, 1887. It was an illness of four months. Her death was peaceful. She preceded her husband by 3 years. The couple are buried side by side in Trinity Cemetery in Manhattan.

The cornerstone was laid on Dec. 5, 1888 by Hon. Parke Davis, representing the Grand Lodge of Ancient Free and Accepted Masons, banked by a large guard of honor of Knights Templar were in full uniform. The church was finished December 18, 1889.

In the altar, there are stones placed on the sanctuary floor in the form of a cross. These stones were taken from Conrad’s Glorious choir, in Canterbury Cathedral, the oldest Christian church in England. Thomas Beckett, the Christian martyr, was murdered there in 1170. Canterbury Cathedral soon after became a pilgrimage for Christians. An article from the local Sioux Falls paper said, “Probably every sovereign of England and every Archbishop of Canterbury since that time to Queen Victoria, has either stepped on this part of the pavement or been in its immediate vicinity.”

The stones were originally brought from Italy by William the Conqueror in the latter part of the 11th century to build Canterbury Cathedral.

You can visit (and even touch) the stones of Canterbury Cathedral. Today the cathedral is the Calvary Episcopal Cathedral. If you intend to visit, I recommend you try to coordinate with the staff who work there. Bishop Hare is buried there too. He’s located on the North side under a big Sioux quartzite cross.

Digging into local Sioux Falls history never ceases to surprise me.