Concrete, used cars and a recycled 1950s gas station cover the quarter block east of the southeast corner of Chariton's square today, but until 1955 this was the site of St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, perhaps the finest example of Gothic Revival design in south central Iowa.
This quarter block had been the home of St. Andrew's since 1869 when its first home, a relatively simple wood-frame building with board and batten siding, was completed. As the years passed, a two-story home that served sometimes as rectory and at other times as parish house was constructed between the church and the alley.
By the 1890s, St. Andrew's parishioners were itching to express their aspirations in something grander, as were several other congregations in Chariton --- First United Methodist, First Presbyterian, First Baptist, First Lutheran, First Christian and the United Brethren in Christ all built fine buildings within a block of the square during the 20-year period, 1890-1910.
Elizabeth (Evans) Fulkerson-Hammer, of Russell, named St. Andrew's residual legatee of her estate when she died during January of 1896. She had been a prime mover in founding during the late 1860s Russell's St. Mark's Episcopal Church, long gone by the time of her death, and had transferred her allegiance to St. Andrew's when the Russell church closed.
The drive to build commenced with that bequest, which exceeded $11,000 --- a considerable sum at that time.
The most prominent members of St. Andrew's since its founding had been Smith H. and Annie Mallory and their daughter, Jessie (Mallory) Thayer. Their home was the legendary Ilion, or Mallory's Castle. The Mallorys committed an amount similar to the Hammer bequest, and the Episcopalians were off and running.
Jessie Thayer selected the architect, Isaac Pursell of Philadelphia, widely acclaimed for his church designs. She reportedly had visited Pursell churches while visiting Philadelphia and had been impressed.
The old St. Andrew's was moved to the back of the lot for temporary use and ground was broken for the new building during 1900 and the cornerstone put into place. The building was completed during 1903 and consecrated during 1904.
Although not Chariton's largest church, the new St. Andrew's probably was its most elaborate. The exterior was built of Colorado red sandstone and inner walls, of Indiana limestone. Fittings and fixtures were custom made of quarter sawn oak. Fine stained glass was commissioned to fill the three large chancel windows; diamond-paned leaded glass with occasional stained glass cartouches, elsewhere.
Edward Ames Temple, another parishioner, commissioned the marble altar, designed and built by Spaulding & Co. of Chicago, in memory of his late wife, Elizabeth, who had died during 1880. With the exception of the stone font, little was brought from old to new building.
Financial disaster struck Chariton during 1907, when First National Bank was declared insolvent and closed a day after its chief operating officer, Frank Crocker, killed himself with an overdose of morphine. He had misappropriated hundreds of thousands of dollars in bank assets.
This was especially hard on St. Andrew's because the bank was owned by Annie Mallory and Jessie (Mallory) Thayer (Smith H. Mallory had died during 1903). The Crockers --- Frank had been a trusted Mallory manager for nearly 40 years --- also were parishioners.
The Mallorys eventually were held financially accountable for their employee's actions. While that by no means impoverished the women, it was a long and bitter court fight and they moved permanently to Florida during 1909 with little good will remaining. Crocker assets also had been seized and sold (with the exception of the Crocker house, now Fielding Funeral home, which remained in the widow Crocker's hands). The Crocker family departed for Minneapolis.
St. Andrew's recovered, however, and continued to use the fine building until about 1950, when it became evident that something had gone badly wrong structurally.
Consultants were called in and it was determined that poor engineering, perhaps aggravated by construction lapses, had resulted in foundations inadequate to support the considerable bulk of the building. The cost of stabilizing it was estimated to be in the neighborhood of five times the building's original cost. Neither the parish nor the Episcopal Diocese of Iowa, which held title to the building, was able or willing to make the investment.
As a result, furniture and fixtures were removed during 1955, the building sold for salvage and it was demolished. This was the same year that Mallory's Castle was taken down, too.
The parish bought several acres on the north edge of Chariton and constructed the modest A-frame building that continues to be St. Andrew's home as well as a new rectory. Furniture and fixtures from the old church --- the marble altar, eagle lectern symbolizing St. John the Evangelist, font, pews and other items --- were installed in the new building and remain in use.
The quarter block where the church had stood was leased to an oil company, which built the service station, and eventually sold.
It's difficult to conceive now how the half block east of the square once looked. With the exception of Constitution Park, which occupies the footprint of the 1920s Yocum Hospital, little that's green or especially appealing remains.
But once upon a time, it contained two of Chariton's most architecturally significant buildings, extensive hospital gardens and the green and shaded grounds of old St. Andrew's.