Celebrating 175

March 6: First Episcopal Visit to the New Congregation (1842)

The Rt. Rev. William Rollinson Whittingham was just 36 years old when he visited the new Epiphany congregation in March of 1842. Whittingham had been consecrated a year and a half earlier and was the youngest bishop in the Episcopal Church. As Bishop of Maryland, Whittingham’s diocese included the entire state of Maryland and the District of Columbia. Headquartered in Baltimore, it only made sense that when he traveled to Washington, he visit as many of his parishes as possible. On March 6, 1842, the Fourth Sunday in Lent, the bishop preached at Christ Church, Washington Parish in the morning, Epiphany in the afternoon, and Trinity in the evening. The service at Trinity included the confirmation of 54 individuals – 47 from Trinity, two from St. John’s, and five from Epiphany.

In the May 1842 Journal of the Annual Convention of the Diocese of Maryland, Bishop Whittingham records his first visit to Epiphany like this: “In the afternoon of the same day, I preached to a very large congregation, in an upper room, known as the Apollo Hall, in Washington. The Rev. Mr. French, as a city missionary, is gathering a congregation, which is likely soon to grow into a fourth church, in that city. He is laboring in that good work zealously, painfully, and thus far most successfully.”

< Previous     Next >

March 5: Henry Bliss Noble (1902)

Robert Tanner Freeman First Professionally Trained African- American Dentist in the United States

Today, the Department of Housing and Urban Development is headquartered in the Robert C. Weaver Federal Building, named for HUD’s first secretary and also the first African-American named to a cabinet position. Weaver was the grandson of Robert Tanner Freeman (depicted here), the first professionally trained African-American dentist in the U.S. Freeman was born in Washington, D.C. in 1846, a child of slaves. Early in his life, Freeman became friends with Henry Bliss Noble, a local dentist, and worked as an apprentice under him. Dr. Noble encouraged Freeman to pursue a dental career. After Freeman was rejected at two dental schools because of his race, Dr. Noble used his influence to get him admitted to the Harvard School of Dental Medicine. Freeman graduated in 1869, becoming the first African-American to earn a dental degree.

Henry Bliss Noble married Henrietta Clitch at Epiphany in September 1864. Two months later, the Nobles were both confirmed there in a class of 85 confirmands, including four African-Americans. Over the next several decades, the Nobles saw their children baptized, confirmed, and married at Epiphany. Finally, after Dr. Noble’s death on March 5, 1902, his funeral took place in the church where he had been married 38 years earlier. A dental journal of the day memorialized him with these words: “He was very loyal to his friends, faithful in his devotion to his church, and benevolent and kindly, his attitude was one of malice toward none and charity for all.”

< Previous     Next >

March 4: Adelaide Elizabeth Thompson Spurgeon (1907)

Just before the Civil War commenced, New York native Adelaide E. Thompson (later Spurgeon) heeded the call of New York Times co-founder Henry Raymond, who was organizing a band of ladies to travel to Washington in the capacity of nurses. As Adelaide took up her duties at a smallpox hospital in Washington on May 16, 1861, she became the first nurse in the District of Columbia. Over the next several months, Adelaide worked in deplorable conditions, serving as a nurse and a cook. When she couldn’t obtain sufficient supplies, she traveled back to New York City and with donations from friends, returned with trunks filled with food and clothes. Adelaide contracted blood poisoning from which she never fully recovered and had to resign. Her wartime service would later earn her a U.S. government pension of $12 a month.

During the war, Adelaide married Thaddeus Spurgeon, a member of a New York Cavalry unit. A daughter, Ella, was born in 1863. Fourteen years later, Ella was baptized at Epiphany by rector William Paret, who had come to the church a year earlier with the promise of increased ministry with the poor. Evidently this missionary outreach appealed to Adelaide Spurgeon. In 1878, she and her daughter were confirmed at Epiphany. From 1881-85, Adelaide served as the sponsor at close to 150 baptisms, mostly African-American infants at Freedman’s Hospital. After her death on March 4, 1907, Adelaide Spurgeon’s funeral took place at Epiphany, followed by her burial at Arlington National Cemetery.

< Previous

March 3: Dedication of Current Pipe Organ (1968)

Frequently in Epiphany’s history a renovation of the church brought a new pipe organ. Such was the case in 1968, when a new chancel area was created in the front of the rood screen and a new organ, with a movable console, was installed. This organ, the fifth in the church’s history, was Opus 1485 of the Aeolian-Skinner Organ Company of Boston. With the death of long-time organist-choirmaster Adolph Torovsky in 1967, the organ became a memorial to him. Before Mr. Torovsky’s passing, a brilliant young organist had been brought on staff as an assistant. His name was Garnell Stuart Copeland and he performed the dedicatory recital of the instrument on March 3, 1968.

Despite it being a cold, windy day, a capacity crowd filled the church on March 3rd to hear the new organ. One of those in the audience was composer and church musician Leo Sowerby, often called the “Dean of American church music” in the 20th Century. Garnell Copeland had studied under Sowerby at the now defunct College of Church Musicians at Washington Cathedral. Copeland played Sowerby’s “Passacaglia in F,” which had been dedicated to Epiphany rector Edgar Romig and Copeland’s “Prelude in C Minor,” his tribute to Dr. Sowerby. In a Washington Star review of the recital, critic Lawrence Sears wrote:  “Musical pilgrims to Washington will now want to include a visit to Epiphany Church on downtown G Street to see and hear its stunning new Aeolian-Skinner pipe organ.”

< Previous      Next >


March 2: Frederick West Lander (1862)

Tall and handsome, vigorous and hot-tempered, fearless to a fault, Frederick West Lander became one of the most name-recognized Americans in the years prior to the Civil War. Lander made five transcontinental surveys on behalf of the U.S. government to select a railroad route to the Pacific. He was a popular speaker, a published fiction writer and poet, an adept negotiator with Native Americans, and a Union general during the Civil War. After his untimely death in 1862, General Lander’s funeral was held at Epiphany, attended by President Lincoln, the cabinet, members of Congress and a vast array of military leaders. In writing about the newly dedicated statue of Lincoln in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda several years later, journalist Mary Clemmer Ames recalled when she witnessed General Lander’s Epiphany funeral.

I recall a moment in his life when his look and attitude were precisely what they are here. It was just after the funeral of General Lander, at the Church of the Epiphany. The sun shone dimly that afternoon against the saddest of rainy skies, and looked down upon one of the most sorrowful of scenes. Almost every day brought a funeral like that – aye, many funerals. Our streets were full of dirges, our houses full of tears. Lander had the faults of an erratic and brilliant genius, but he was a generous man and a heroic soldier – one of the ten thousands dead in their prime. They bore his body through the gray air. The soldier’s horse with empty stirrups and saddle, rider less, moved slowly after it. The great procession took up its line; the band struck up the solemn march.

< Previous     Next >

March 1: Joseph Borrows Tate (1858)

Long-time Washingtonians will remember when the city had a daily afternoon newspaper, The Washington Star. When founded by Joseph Borrows Tate in 1852, the paper was known as the Daily Evening Star. It was one of dozens of newspapers that sprang up in the mid-19th century in Washington. Like many of its kind, it began modestly as a four-page broadsheet printed by a hand press. Only 250 copies were made for its initial run. Tate and his editorial staff had a vision, which they proudly declared in the paper’s manifest: “The Star is to be free from party trammels and sectarian influences.” Unlike other newspapers that were highly political in nature, the Star was to be neutral.

Joseph B. Tate married Mary Anna Mills at Epiphany on Valentine’s Day 1850. Within the next ten years, Epiphany’s register records the baptisms and burials of three daughters and the burials of Tate and his wife. Tate’s obituary in the Evening Star records that, “No man was better known to the present generation of the citizens of Washington. In all of his dealings with every one, he was strictly an upright man, and took no thought of aught but the conscientious discharge of his duties to his family, his friends, and the community. As a husband, father, son, and friend, his death will leave a void in many hearts that no changes of life throughout time can fill.”

< Previous     Next >

February 28: John Whitney Barlow (1914)

Brigadier General John Whitney Barlow is remembered not for a battle but for a park. In 1871, General Philip Sheridan sent Barlow, his chief engineer, to map the Yellowstone Basin. Barlow’s report helped to promote Yellowstone. Congress soon passed legislation, which President Grant signed in 1872, making Yellowstone America’s first national park. John Barlow was a graduate of West Point, Class of 1861. On the day after Christmas of that same year, Barlow married Hessie McNaughten Birnie at the Church of the Epiphany. Fellow West Point classmate Henry Kingsbury had been married at Epiphany three weeks earlier. Kingsbury would be killed in the war the following September.

Barlow fought with the regular Army at Bull Run through the Peninsula Campaign before transferring to the Corps of Engineers. He served as the chief engineer of Sherman’s Army Corps in Georgia. After the war, Barlow stayed in the engineers and supervised construction of forts in Florida, New York, and Connecticut. He worked on harbors in the Great Lakes and along the Hudson River. He commanded a joint commission of engineers that surveyed and marked the U.S.-Mexican border from El Paso to the Pacific Ocean. Barlow’s West Point classmates remembered him “as a devout Christian and loyal Churchman. Modesty, courtesy, bravery, and wisdom were his attributes.”

< Previous

February 27: George Franklin Edmunds (1919)

A native of Vermont, George Franklin Edmunds practiced law for a time in Burlington before becoming active in local politics. This led to his election to the Vermont legislature and eventually to the U.S. Senate. For the next 25 years, Senator Edmunds was involved in many of the major events of the country. He was the chairman of the committee that determined the impeachment procedures against President Andrew Johnson, wrote the bill that provided for a commission that decided the disputed Hayes-Tilden presidential election, wrote the act that outlawed polygamy, and wrote most of the landmark Sherman Anti-Trust Act.

Edmunds was baptized at Epiphany as an adult, four years after his arrival in Washington. One month later, Edmunds, his wife, and oldest daughter were confirmed at Epiphany by Bishop Whittingham. His second daughter, Julia Maynard Edmunds, was confirmed in 1879. Within three years, Julia died at age 21. As part of the 1890 renovation of the church, Senator Edmunds memorialized Julia with the gift of a brass cross, which still graces the altar reredos today. Shortly after Edmunds’ retirement from the Senate, the Church Congress was meeting at Epiphany. Bishop Paret asked Edmunds to act in his place as presiding officer. Edmunds and Bishop Phillips Brooks gave the opening addresses to an overflow crowd.

< Previous     Next >

February 26: John Louis Clubb (1875)

Epiphany is known today for its outstanding music. That tradition had its humble beginnings with John Louis Clubb. A native of Maine, Clubb came to Washington as a boy and for many years in the early 19th Century was a member of the U.S. Marine Band. He rose to the rank of fife major and served as such for six years. After leaving the band, Clubb became a messenger for the Secretary of the U.S. Senate. Over time with the additional responsibility to receive, inventory, and distribute stationery supplies, Clubb became the first person to attain the title of Keeper of the Stationery, a position that exists today.

Through his life, Clubb led various church choirs in the District, including Epiphany during its first three years of existence. At the first worship service in January 1842, records indicate, “a choir of mixed voices was directed by ‘Professor’ John L. Clubb, although with the aid of a tuning fork rather than a musical instrument.” For the laying of Epiphany’s cornerstone in August 1843, there was a procession from Apollo Hall, the original meeting location, to the G Street site. Included were a band hired for the occasion and the “ladies and gentlemen composing the Musical Association under the direction of Mr. Clubb.”

< Previous     Next >

February 25: Charles Carroll Glover (1936)

Though not a Washington native, Charles Carroll Glover quickly adopted the nation’s capital as his own and devoted much of his life to the city’s improvement. He was educated at a local academy and afterwards began working for Riggs Bank as a clerk, rising to become the chief administrative officer at the age of 27. It was from his unique vantage point as president of Riggs several years later that he began to lobby for civic improvement. Glover was instrumental in the establishment of Rock Creek and Potomac Parks, the zoo, Embassy Row, and the completion of the Washington Monument. The Massachusetts Avenue bridge crossing Rock Creek Park as well as a park in NW Washington bear Glover’s name.

The earliest record of Glover’s connection with Epiphany is his baptism as an adult in December 1869, followed in short time by his confirmation. Eight years later came his marriage to Annie C. Poor, whose family was also associated with Epiphany. All of the Glover children were baptized at Epiphany. One daughter, age 4, was buried from Epiphany and another was married. A granddaughter was baptized shortly thereafter. Glover served on Epiphany’s vestry for many years. In 1891, a group of prominent Washington citizens (including several from Epiphany) met in the home of Charles Carroll Glover on Lafayette Square and decided to build Washington National Cathedral.

< Previous     Next >