| When the
church decided to phase out the old kerosene lights for safety reasons,
Clark went to Jefferson Lighting Company of Ann Arbor, Michigan, and
told them what he wanted. The reproduction fixtures were custom-made
for the church down to the ornate decorations and adapted to electricity.
Bob Murphey tells the story about the old farmer who stood up during
a church meeting to protest the purchase of a church chandelier. "I'm
against it for three reasons," he said. "First, there ain't nobody
here who can spell it. Second, we ain't got anybody who can play it.
And third, what this church really needs is more light."
Each time I visit Christ Church Episcopal in San
Augustine, I am reminded of Murphey's story and the electric
light chandeliers former U.S. ambassador Ed Clark bought and installed
in the church in 1991 to honor his wife Anne Metcalfe Clark.
The church was founded in 1848 by another famous San Augustine lady,
Mrs. Frances C. Henderson, the lawyer-wife of James Pinckney Henderson,
Texas' first governor.
In 1868, the church was equipped with kerosene lamps to provide
more light for worshipers. The lamps were state-of-the art for the
era. They included brass fonts to house the oil, tall chimneys, and
etched-glass shades designed to diffuse the light and minimize glare.
Spring systems were installed to allow the lamps to be raised and
lowered for refueling and cleaning.
The design was what historical restorationist Dr. William Seale called
"Anglo-Japanese" and each lamp's design was similar to one appearing
in wood at the center of the church altar.
Of special interest were the lamp hooks in the ceiling above each
chandelier. Each hook showed a squirrel with an acorn clinging to
a tree trunk, his crooked tail forming a hook supporting the light
Ed Clark, an Austin attorney and confidant of President Lyndon B.
Johnson, and his wife Anne were members of Christ Church and wanted
to do something special for the building. When the church decided
to phase out the old kerosene lights for safety reasons, Clark went
to Jefferson Lighting Company of Ann Arbor, Michigan, and told them
what he wanted. The reproduction fixtures were custom-made for the
church down to the ornate decorations and adapted to electricity.
Even the unusual squirrel hooks were copied.
Although it resembles one, Christ Church is not a museum, but a functioning
house of worship where the members need modern light levels. Each
electric fixture provides twice as much light as two of the old kerosene
Christ Church represents one of the most important ecclesiastical
buildings in East Texas. It is an unusually simple building, its Gothic
style expressed in simple boards, moldings, tall ceilings and sharp
angles. Its style is known as "Carpenter Gothic" and was widely
popular throughout America in the middle to late 19th century.
While visitors are amazed at the church's age and its ability to withstand
the ravages of time, the 1991 light fixtures always attract their
But if you knew Anne Clarke, who loved learning and all that went
with it, you can easily understand why Ed Clark selected light fixtures
as a fitting memorial to her life.
Things Historical December
1, 2003 Column
Published with permission
A syndicated column in over 40 East Texas newspapers
(Bob Bowman is the author of nearly 30 books on East Texas history
and folklore and a past president of the East Texas Historical Association.)