|“A Happy Worldly
Abode, Christ Church Cathedral 1839-1964” is one of my favorite books.
There are many things to like about this history of Houston’s
oldest church, one of the oldest Episcopal churches in Texas.
Wide margins on nearly every page show universal time lines that parallel
the text. I like that -- seeing what else was going on in the rest
of the world as Christ Church, through the years, grew into the stunning
cathedral in downtown Houston.
The author’s name alone is enough to draw readers who remember Marguerite
Johnston’s column in the old daily newspaper, the Houston Post. For
many years, she was my idol in journalism, the writer of clear and
lively prose. In her last years at the Post, she was one of the editors
of the editorial page. As usual, this BIB (Born in Baytown)
looks for local links, and “A Happy Worldly Abode” has its share.
Jean Shepherd, one of the founders of the Bay Area Heritage Society
and Baytown Historical Museum, played a key role in the book’s preparation,
working as the author’s research assistant. Johnston, in acknowledgements,
noted that she was a “stimulating companion from the early months
of the research task.” At the time, Shepherd was the keeper of deeds
and documents at the church.
Andrew Janeway Yates, who lost a long legal battle with Sam
Houston over ownership of the Cedar Point property near Baytown,
was one of the original signers of the document for organizing Christ
Church in 1839. Another signer was George M. Patrick, a patriot
during the early stages of the Texas Revolution.
Henry Gillette, the first school master for children in the church,
arrived in 1840 from Connecticut, convinced to come to Texas
by his cousin, Dr. Ashbel Smith.
After the Civil War Gillette served as superintendent of the Bayland
Orphanage in Baytown.
His home, called Bell Prairie, stood off present-day Tri-City Beach
Road, not far from Dr. Smith’s Evergreen plantation.
One of the early rectors at Christ Church was another cousin, Charles
Gillette, also from Connecticut.
In addition to rounding up signers to organize the church, William
Fairfax Gray conducted a finance campaign, soliciting pledges
Among those making pledges were Thomas Jefferson Chambers of Anahuac
and Moseley Baker, a San
Jacinto battle hero and the original owner of Smith’s Evergreen
plantation. In 1844 Baker helped to establish Cedar Bayou Methodist
Into the 20th century the name of Clinton Quin appears frequently
in the book -- and for good reason. He served 37 years as bishop
of the Episcopal Diocese of Texas and his ministry interlocked with
the history of Christ Church. A remarkable man, Bishop Quin also
was responsible for founding St. Luke’s Hospital in the Texas Medical
Center in Houston. His
grandson, former Baytonian Quin McWhirter, has a web site with wonderful
stories about the bishop.
Historic photos fill the final pages of “A Happy Worldly Abode.”
See if you recognize that little boy on the front row with a group
of Christ Church children before World
War I. He’s a cute kid, with bangs and a bow tie. Nickname:
Real name: Howard Hughes Jr.
© Wanda Orton
Baytown Sun Columnist, June 11, 2014 column
See William Fairfax Gray
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