St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Bath is not only the oldest church building in North Carolina, but is one of the few churches from the colonial period still in use today. Intertwined with the colorful history of historic Bath, St. Thomas Church is among the most popular landmarks in the region.
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St. Thomas was center of the community during the colonial period. Although Anglican priests often journeyed through the area, the town of Bath, incorporated in 1705, was not to receive a permanent place of worship until 1734, when the Reverend John Garzia oversaw construction of the new building. St. Thomas was a missionary church, supporting congregations in the region and operating a nearby school for Indians and slaves. After construction, the church also housed the first public library in the state, as Thomas Bray donated over one thousand books and pamphlets in 1701.
The church structure is similar to that of other Anglican churches of the period, based on English designs but with rustic features indicative of the colonial frontier. The basic single-room structure is housed within a rectangle of Flemish Bond bricks, probably fired in Edenton. The original hipped roof was replaced after storm winds destroyed much of the church in 1840. The interior consisted of pews elevated slightly above a stone-tiled floor, with a raised pulpit facing the pews. The church endured several stages of renovation over the years, spanning the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
The building remains in use and houses an active congregation. The clergy retain a small collection of prized items assembled over the centuries, including a silver chalice and two silver candelabra, donated by King George II. With plans for additional restorative work and expansion on the horizon, the clergy and congregation of St. Thomas Church look to the future with a hallowed respect for the past.
Alan Watson, Colonial Bath (2005)
Wilson Angley, “A History of St. Thomas Episcopal Church, Bath, North Carolina” (unpublished research report, Research Branch, North Carolina Division of Archives and History, 1981)
Catherine W. Bishir and Michael T. Southern, A Guide to Historic Architecture of Eastern North Carolina (1996)
Rev. Gary Fulton, ed., “A Short History of St. Thomas Episcopal Church” (historic site pamphlet, 1994)
Historic Bath State Historic Site website: http://www.ah.dcr.state.nc.us/sections/hs/bath/st-thomas.htm