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Mother Cabrini, St. Edward’s Parish Office – Rectory: A Brief History

May 2, 2010
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In 2008, I explored and blogged about three old Shamokin landmark buildings–the 1890 Washington School, the Douty Building, and a Commerce Street F&S Brewery building. Last week, I embarked on my fourth such expedition–a tour of the parish office of Mother Cabrini Church, formerly St. Edward’s, on Shamokin Street. It’s the building that once housed the priests of one of Shamokin’s largest Catholic parishes–a structure with an intriguing history, a somewhat uncertain architectural past, and not without a connection to my own research. But in fact, the whole matter started months earlier with a photograph–an 1870s view of Shamokin, the exact location of which was unidentified.

In Search of Old Shamokin…140 Years Ago

It looks ordinary enough, but it proved to be a real mystery. I tried and failed numerous times to identify the approximate location it shows, and I’m usually familiar with the main sections of Shamokin. The only two distinctive buildings in the photo are the church at the lower left, and the large building just to the right of it. I could not, however, identify either structure.

So I–and some family members–started considering and rejecting a number of theories as to the possible location–Springfield, Market Street, Shamokin Street. It took us forever but we finally struck on the solution when it occurred to us that the residential building in the photo might be the parish office of Mother Cabrini Church, formerly St. Edward’s.

Of course, there was a problem–the office is directly adjacent to the church, but the latter does not appear in the photo, meaning that for some reason the office (rectory at the time) had to predate the church’s construction in 1873.

However, an old letter I’ve had for some time seemed to hold an explanation.

Above are two 1873 letters from one Sophronia Martz to her brother, Jesse. Sophronia was a relation of Catherine “Aunt Kitty” Martz, and resided with her in the house on Sunbury Street later designated the McConnell Mansion. In one letter, she makes reference to the laying of the cornerstone of St. Edward’s Church, and the unfortunate accident which accompanied it–the only clue, in fact, to determining the date of the letter:

“Perhaps you have heard of the accident that occurd here last week when they were going to lay the corner stone of the Catholic church, they had a platform erected which gave way and left quite a number of persons down into the basement … some few were hurt very badly, the church is to be in front of the old one.”

While area histories make reference to an older St. Edward’s Church being located in the vicinity of the current Cameron Bridge area, Sophronia’s letter would seem to indicate another structure was in use shortly before 1873. The description of it being located behind the later church also fits with the photograph, if we are to assume the residential building was indeed the rectory, and current parish office. I drove there and had a closer look at the exterior of this building, and from all appearances it did seem very likely to be one and the same with the structure in the photo.

But what exactly is the history of the parish office–and St. Edward’s parish itself?

History of a Parish

The most well-known name associated with the early history of St. Edward’s is that of Rev. John Joseph Koch. Herbert C. Bell, in his 1891 History of Northumberland County, writes that he was pastor of a Shamokin parish since 1866. Known as a beloved and, in Bell’s words, “universally respected” figure, he was said to be of “unbounded enterprise and commendable public spirit,” and he remained with St. Edward’s for more than half a century, until his passing in the early 1920s.

In such a space of time he also must have become well acquainted with a wide array of Shamokin’s citizens. One such acquaintance was said to be  none other than one of Shamokin’s most imposing names, the famed entrepreneur of endless connections in local society, Monroe H. Kulp.  Paul T. MacElwee in his 1986 News-Item story on Kulp calls him a friend of the Rev. Koch, although Kulp himself was not Catholic, and relates an anecdote of a conversation they supposedly had on the subject of Kulp’s Edgewood project.

Census records provide some insight into the names connected with the church’s history during Koch’s era. In 1870 one Daniel Risley also served the church as priest, and was in residence at what presumably was the Shamokin Street rectory. A nearby building was the home of John Flanigan, sexton. In 1900 two priests in addition to Koch occupied the parochial residence, one of them a John C. Thompson; in 1910 an Edward O’Flynn was listed as an assistant.

Koch’s biography in Bell’s History of Northumberland County claims that the parochial residence was built in 1869. It served as the church’s rectory up until recent decades.

An Architectural History

Originally built as an Italianate, the building was later remodeled, probably at the end of the 19th Century or early in the 20th, in a classical style.

About 1913, looking west.

Comparison with the earlier sketch indicates that during the remodeling, the building was extended, adding a wing on the north side. A look at the interior seemed to confirm this. The two sides of the large basement show differences in construction, and floors of the north wing are built slightly lower than those of the adjoining rooms. Originally, the main staircase ran along an exterior wall.

In the spacious third floor, an imperfection in the wall indicates the original roof line. The rooms on the north side are to the right.

Another view of the third floor

Rear of the parish office, looking approximately east. The roof line of the west wing of the building (containing porch) does not meet up with that of the main building. While both are original sections of the structure, the lack of alignment is also evident in the 1870s bird's eye photo, confirming the identity of the building.

The Office Today…

Downtown Shamokin, as seen from Shamokin Cemetery. Note Mother Cabrini Church just left of center. This would seem to have been approximately the same location from which the 1870s photo of the two ladies overlooking the town.

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20 Comments leave one →
  1. Deb Noonan permalink
    May 10, 2010 6:06 pm

    Fascinating stuff! Did you hear about the fire in the church in the 70′s and the miracle of the statue of the Blessed Mother? So glad your muse has returned and you are “scribbling away” as Louisa May Alcott would say. I am still plugging away on my Phoebe project…just returned from Bramwell.

  2. David Van Doren permalink
    August 4, 2010 9:39 pm

    Hi Val,
    I believe the White Buiding is the Saint Edward’s Convent to the far right is the Shamokin /Mt.Carmel Road—Bunker Hill on the upper right –It seems to fit plus the architecture is the same as the Convent on Webster St. tell me what you think.
    Dave

  3. John Haile permalink
    August 7, 2010 9:49 am

    Concerning the 1st photo in this story … If the photo is
    dated 1870 — the church on the left in the photo is the
    TEMPORARY church which was finished in 1867 –that temporary
    church was built on ROCK Street.
    In 1869, the lot ajoining the temporary church was purchased
    and a “substantial pastoral residence was erected — and
    finished and occupied in December 1869. In 1873, groundbreaking
    began for the new church on Shamokin Street.
    In my opinion, the 1870 view of the rectory/residence
    appears substantially as it appears today, although the
    side view that we see in the photo is blocked by the church
    next door. I know that building – I’ve been in it several
    times.
    I’m also very knowledgeable of the four catholic cemeteries
    in Springfield – the land was purchased in 1870.
    If you need more information, feel free to contact me.

  4. Mrs. Muir permalink
    August 10, 2010 8:47 am

    Hi V! Thanks so much for your help with the 1929 Shamokin film. There are many unidentified closeups in it, maybe your site’s visitors would recognize some of these people? You are welcome to use the photos on the ebay auction, it is at http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=330459324161. I can send screen caps of some others, but that’s the extent of my cyberabilities. :)

  5. David Van Doren permalink
    August 21, 2010 7:45 am

    Thank You Mr. Haile that stereoview is definitely Saint Edward’s Rectory looking at maps of that period shows some other buildings in the correct locations such as the Mast Lumber Yard to the east also I have another stereoview that shows another view from the Shamokin Creek looking northeast that has the back of the Old Church & Rectory that is showing George Schimdt’s Planning Mill.
    This is a great site! Thank you for the location of this Shamokin early view .

    Dave Van Doren

  6. David Barder permalink
    February 17, 2011 4:57 pm

    Anyone know any history about St. Mary’s Solvak Catholic Church in Shamokin. My GG-Parents are burired in the St. Mary’s cematary there and the news clippings I have on them say that they were active in that church. However – I cannot find a thing on this church. Perhaps the church itself no longer is around which I fully understand.

    • onepointintime permalink*
      February 23, 2011 12:46 pm

      If I’m not mistaken, St. Mary’s Slovak was the one on Cherry Street near Webster (same one also known as the Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary?). The current church structure I believe was built in 1905 and it’s still there, I know the neighborhood well, but the church congregation itself is no longer in existence due to the merger of area Catholic churches which took place a couple of decades ago. There is a brief write-up about the history of St. Mary’s in the Greater Shamokin Centennial book. I could transcribe that for you if you’d like (just need to find my copy, it’s here somewhere! (: ). You should also check online; many area churches used to publish short history books or booklets on various anniversaries, and although they can be very obscure some places like Ebay often still have them.

      • David Barder permalink
        September 2, 2011 6:59 pm

        I just returned to San Diego from visiting the Shamokin /Mt Carmel area. YES!! I FOUND the church building. on Cherry St. It is between Clay and Webster. This was important to me becasue according to the anniversary books (which I found and purchased on e-bay) my Great Grandfather, Andrew Barder ( Slovak spelling Bardar) was one of the 34 men that founded that church. He and theze men purchased that property froma Mr. Strictland for $1,500.00 in 1891. They then survey the town on thier own and found that there where 94 Slovak families living in Shamokin; enough to establish a Slovak parish. The original structure that was built was wooden and was torn down once this brick building was built. My grandftaher and all of his sisters were raised in this building and baptized there. Took lots of pictures. Thanks for teh information. Dave Barder

    • John Haile permalink
      February 23, 2011 1:59 pm

      Dave — I have a historical book on the Diocese of Harrisburg somewhere in the stacks of books that I have — and I am positive that a history of St Mary’s church was included. I have also compiled
      information and photos of memorial stones in St Mary’s cemetery which I can e-mail to you for particular names — that information can also be found on findagrave.com.
      Contact me directly for the particulars at HaileJohnJr@msn.com

      • Dave McAnnaney permalink
        August 6, 2011 10:45 pm

        What are the origins of St Edwards Church? Who, founded it, What nationality etc. Dave McAnnaney

      • John Haile permalink
        November 14, 2011 10:15 pm

        Shamokin, Pennsylvania, was founded in March, 1835. Shortly afterward, in the spring of 1836, a small 24 X 35 foot church was erected on one-half acre of land in the western end of the village near what was, at the time, a bridge which spanned the infamous Shamokin Creek in the neighborhood of Cameron’s Colliery.

        Initially, the church and congregation did not have a resident pastor. Mass and the sacraments were sporadically provided by visiting priests from Danville, Milton, Pottsville and Minersville. In October of 1854, Father Michael Sheridan, pastor of Saint Joseph’s parish in nearby Danville, was assigned to visit Saint Edward’s regularly. Three years later, in 1857, Father Edward Murray of Danville commenced a nine year assignment to regularly visit Shamokin to offer mass and dispense the sacraments to the rapidly growing catholic community.

        Finally, 26 year-old French native Father John Joseph Koch, a mere three years out of the seminary, was appointed the first resident pastor of Saint Edward’s Roman Catholic Church. Arriving in Shamokin on September 2nd, 1866, he found the small, unplastered, unpretentious church sitting proudly on the southwest corner of a half-acre parcel of Fr. John Koch in 1863 ground surrounded by a graveyard for the faithfully departed.

        Located at a crossroads and adjacent to a bridge which forded the frequently flooded Shamokin Creek, the church and graveyard were certainly not in the best of locations. The Cameron Colliery’s coal processing operations sat right across the road on the other side of the bridge. The easiest way for today’s locals to envision that early location is to describe the church and graveyard as situated under the Cameron Street Bridge.

        Within two weeks of his arrival in Shamokin, the young and industrious Father Koch quickly determined that the 640 square foot church was not large enough to accommodate the growing catholic community, and its location was too far away from the center of the parish. In the afternoon of the second Sunday of September, the freshly appointed pastor met with the men of the congregation to discuss plans for a new church.
        By the end of the day it was unanimously agreed that lots at the corner of Shamokin and Webster streets would be purchased to build a larger but temporary church.

        The old frame church was torn down and the usable materials were recycled for use in the new structure. The new, temporary church was 35 X 70 feet, erected at the far end of the lot near Rock Street. At 2,450 square feet, the structure was almost four times the square footage of the original church at the western edge of town. The first Mass was offered by Christmastime, 1867.

        Next, in 1869, land adjoining the church was purchased and a rectory was built for the pastoral residence. The house was finished and occupied by December of 1869.

  7. Jane K Filipov permalink
    March 27, 2011 10:27 am

    Great blog! My mother told me about this blog(Pat Klemick) and I’m glad I stopped by.

  8. John Haile permalink
    September 3, 2011 8:44 am

    Well, David Barder, I know where the graves of your great grandparents are buried in St Mary’s Slovak Cemetery in Shamokin. The stone for your great grandfather Andrew Barder is barely visible because of an overgrown plant …… I see Andrew Barder 1866 to 1931 or 1931X. Barbara Barder also his a stone – 1872-1948. I can’t leave a photo on this board so if you want photos just e-mail me at HaileJohnJr@msn.com.

  9. David Barder permalink
    September 3, 2011 9:07 pm

    Hi John – Yea – I found those as well. That plant I cut out while I was there. Almost toppled headstone. They were married at the Polish church – tried to find it but ran out of time. I’ll send you updated photos for your other site you maintain. Thanks. Dave

  10. John Haile permalink
    September 3, 2011 9:52 pm

    Hi Dave — if your parents were married in the Polish church, that would be St Stanislaus — in the 800 block of Race Street. St Stans
    when out of existance about 15 years ago along with St Mary’s and St Michaels. Right now the once churh property is a mosque.

    visualizing the dates of your great grandparents lives, I could see how/why they were married in the polish church —- the Polish, Lithuanians and Slovaks were all once a part of St Stans….then they
    gradually broke off so that they could speak their own languages.

  11. Patricia Long Carey permalink
    July 26, 2012 4:12 pm

    Does anyone know how to find St Edwards Catholic cemetary in Shamokin,Pa. I’m looking for my family that are buried there but can’t seem to find it anywhere.

  12. ed kurtz permalink
    September 8, 2012 11:00 pm

    john haile.i know of the church that was by the cameron bridge, but did they move the graves that were there? and approxametly, where was the next church located on rock street? thanks, ed kurtz and are there any pics of the church by the cameron?”

    • John Haile permalink
      June 26, 2013 2:37 pm

      Yes, Ed Kurtz, they did move ALL the bodies from the location of the old cemetery near the Cameron bridge — it actually took them 14 years. I have a good satellite photo of the
      Cameron St Site to build some imagination on just where the church and cemetery was located. Write to me and I’ll be glad to send it.

  13. Mike Richardson permalink
    March 23, 2013 10:32 am

    Thank you, John Haile. I was wondering where the Catholic Cemetery was in the 1800s on Sunbury Street. It was more on 6th Street if it was adjacent to the old church.

    • John Haile permalink
      May 24, 2013 8:03 pm

      Mike – the first St Edwards Church in my opinion was not on Sixth Street at all, not even close. I’m trying to remember the name of the street — I believe that it was a half acre lot at the end of SECOND STREET where Second Street met the Cameron Bridge —- the intersection that goes to Treverton on the left; go over the bridge and you get on Rt 61 north or south. The church and cemetery was reportedly on the right hand side of that intersection heading from Second Street. The grounds of the former church and cemetery were sold in 1888 to a knob manufacturing business for $2,000. NOTHING remains today to attest that the area was once a church & cemetery. It took 14 years to move all the bodies from the old cemetery to the new.

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