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page 1-- Introduction & Articles: 1-5
page 2 -- Articles: 6-10
page 3 -- Articles: 11-15
page 5 - Articles: 22 & 23
|The historical tale of Wexford, Iowa
would not be complete without including background
information on Father Thomas Hoare, the founder and
patriarch of the Wexford Church. His efforts and
direction resulted in the settlement of many immigrant
families to the Wexford area.
The early immigrants, including Timothy Madden, cheered with joy when Father Hoare (a real live Catholic priest) arrived with fellow countrymen from Ireland. Now, they could attend Sunday Mass and have a clergyman to tend to their spiritual needs.
Thomas Hoare was born in the late 1790s and grew up in Coldblow County in Wexford, Ireland. His calling to the priesthood began at an early age and in preparation he entered St. Kierans College. When his friend and mentor Patrick Kelly was appointed the first bishop to the new diocese in Richmond, Virginia in 1820, Thomas traveled with him and was ordained as a Catholic Priest by Bishop Kelly shortly after arriving in America. For six years, Father Hoare was a parish priest near Richmond, VA until his health deteriorated and he returned home to Ireland, where he became a parish priest at Annacurra and Killaveney in the Ferns dioceses.
The agonies Father Hoare found in Ireland made him pledge to lead as many Irish as possible to a destination in America near Little Rock, Arkansas, where Bishop Andrew Byrne, the first bishop of the Little Rock diocese, promised good land and a better life. For nearly a dozen times in 35 years, poor Irish farmers had awakened to the rancid smell of rotting potatoes, the signal that potato blight was again ruining another years crop. What little food the fields produced, the ruthless landlords confiscated from the poor farmers to sell to England. Hungry Irish laborers had watched first starvation, then disease pass through the countryside, killing friends, neighbors, and fellow countrymen by the tens of thousands.
During a Sunday sermon, Father Hoare addressed a church packed with Irishmen from many different counties. He spoke of his intentions to take as many countrymen as possible to America where comfort, prosperity, and independence from landlords were expected. Approximately 400 families with a total of about 1200 people worked for nearly a full year to save the $25 each of them would need for the steerage fare to cross the Atlantic. The large number of immigrants required three ships for transport.
In October 1850, Father Hoare and 450 parishioners set sail on the 1090-ton Ticonderoga, a sailing vessel registered in New York. A list of immigrants from the Ticonderoga sill hangs in the back of the church at Wexford, IA. Another 450 parishioners left the same day on the 915-ton Loodianah, a sailing vessel from Canada. An additional 300 parishioners left eight days later on a smaller vessel, the Chasca, a Boston registered ship.
For the $25, each person received three quarts of water a day, a small weekly amount of flour, sugar, molasses, oatmeal, and rice, and a skimpy 10 cubic feet of storage space for possessions and tools. The berthing area or sleeping space was a space six feet by six feet that was shared by four individuals who often were not related.
The Ticonderoga made New Orleans in roughly forty days, while the Loodianah was at sea for nearly two months, and the Chasca required nearly 70 days to reach New Orleans. Soon after arriving in the United States, Father Hoare took the members from the Ticonderoga north to Arkansas, but found that Bishop Byrne had died before telling anyone of the incoming immigrants. Additionally, other settlers had taken all the promised good quality land near Little Rock, leaving little suitable land for farming. So three hundred people went north again to St. Louis and waited there for Father Hoare to scout for land near a town named Dubuque, IA.
Father Hoare traveled upriver to Dubuque stopping at the New Melleray monastery where Father Walsh told him of land available upriver in Allamakee County. There Father Hoare found wonderful land in a scenic setting that reminded him of Ireland and seemed to have qualities including rich black soil needed for a prosperous settlement. Over a period of time, he bought a total of 2157 acres of government land in Lafayette Township and Taylor Township in Allamakee County, Iowa for $1.25 an acre. But when he summoned his flock from St. Louis, only 18 families were still able to come. Many of the travelers couldnt wait because they were penniless and had taken jobs in St. Louis. Others had left along the way going to Texas. Still others had stayed in New Orleans and Arkansas to take care of sick family members.
The families traveled with optimism upriver on the steamer Franklin landing at Lafayette Landing near the mouth of Priest Coulee Wexford Creek. In the same year, other immigrants from the Loodianah and Chasca arrived in Allamakee County. A list of some of the new settlers included: Burn, Brennan, Brinkley, Brophy, Bulger, Collins, Curran, Esmond, Fennel, Finn, Gavin, Heatley, Heyfron, Hoare, Howe, Kavanagh, Joyce, Kelly, Kinsella, Lamb, McKeogh, McNamara, Mullins, Murphy, Noland, ONeil, Ryans, Stafford, Sullivan, and many others. The new settlers cleared the land of trees, which were used to build cabins, and farmed - raising wheat, corn, potatoes, and cattle.
Three miles upstream from Lafayette Landing away from the Mississippi River, the parishioners built a small log church on a knoll overlooking the Wexford valley. Since the building was completed near the feast day of St. George, the church was dedicated to St. George. Hugh Vincent Gildea, a pioneer church builder in Iowa, was given credit in helping design and build the church as well as a two-story house and barn for Father Hoare. Word spread rapidly about the prosperous community at Wexford, Iowa and many additional immigrants soon arrived.
The settlers at Wexford came with a deep religious faith, hope for a better future, and a brotherly friendship toward neighbors that has been passed down through the generations.
|As the population of new immigrants
increased in the Wexford valley, the settlers were
required to build a number of churches, each bigger than
the last, to accommodate the growing number of people.
The following short narrative provides information and a
brief history of how and when the churches were built as
well as some historical perspectives and interesting
stories involving events occurring in the past.
Timothy Madden and early settlers in northeast Iowa welcomed the new Irish immigrants and helped with their effort to quickly build St. Georges Chapel, the first Catholic Church built in northeast Iowa. St. Georges Chapel was a small log church located on the edge of a scenic knoll overlooking the Wexford valley. Hugh Vincent Gildea, a pioneer church builder, was given credit for helping to design and build the church at Wexford. The Wexford church was one of several churches built in Iowa under his expert direction and supervision.
Building a log church is quite an undertaking requiring the help and support of the whole community. Men quickly set to work felling trees from the small knoll, which were then cut into logs to build the church. The logs were placed on blocks and held in place with wedges while a light rope coated with crushed charcoal was stretched along the length of the log, lifted, and twanged to mark a straight line. The log was scored along two sides with a double-bladed axe at two to three inch intervals. A broadaxe was used to slice off chips and hew a flat surface on the top and bottom of the log to form the wall logs and support beams. One key to working with logs was to saw or cut joints running against the wood grain and chisel when working with the grain of the wood.
A foundation of limestone rocks was constructed to raise the lower logs off of the ground and keep the wood from rotting. The bottom sills were wooden beams that rested on the rock foundation with sleepers or floor beams running the width of the church spaced at four-foot intervals and covered with boards making a rough but usable floor. The ends of the logs were notched to fit together similar to comers on a Lincoln log set. Joists were set on top forming a point or pitch where the rafters attached. The pitch or angle of the roof was steep to help keep the rain out when using wooden shingles. They originally wanted to use straw bundles to cover the church roof but decided on using oak shingles split using a board brake and shaving knife that pried off individual shingles which were then smoothed before placing on the roof using four and six inch overlaps.
The cracks between the stacked logs were chinked using local clay that was moistened with water and packed between the logs. The chinking helped hold the logs in place and sealed air leaks between the logs. A small fireplace and rock chimney were constructed to keep the church warm in winter.
The parishioners built Father Hoare a comfortable two-story house and a small barn in the vicinity of the church. When he had time between missionary trips, Father Hoare raised crops and kept a few sheep and cattle.
The people of Wexford rejoiced at having a place of worship in a free land away from the greedy landlords and starvation occurring in Europe. They corresponded with friends and relatives telling of this wonderful piece of paradise on earth with acres and acres of good black soil for raising crops.
Within the first year, the number of people in the Wexford area tripled as new settlers arrived from the eastern and southern states as well as many immigrants from Europe. By the late 1850s, the log church was too small to accommodate the large number of parishioners and a larger wooden framed church was built using local lumber cut at nearby sawmills. The wooden church was also called St. George since construction finished near the date of this patron saint. St. George Church, nearly double the size of the log church, was placed near the center of the plateau still commanding a good view of the Wexford valley. The parishioners, including Timothy Madden, completed building St. George Church in late 1857 or early 1858. Father Walsh was the pastor and had the honor of saying the first Mass in the new wooden church that was built with a small earthen basement beneath.
The congregation at Wexford rapidly increased in number and the wooden church was again crowded with every pew full. An especially large number of people attending a memorial Sunday Mass caused the wooden floor in the church to give way dumping many of the parishioners into the earthen basement. Poor old Mrs. Thornton, who was boisterous, large in stature, and quite a bit overweight, yelled in exasperation with the efforts of friends and neighbors to free her Leave me be. You be bruising me!"
The collapse of the floor necessitated the building of a newer, bigger church which could hold the growing population of Wexford. The people of Wexford wanted to make sure that any future church would be able to stand the rigors of time and hold a larger congregation. They got together and decided to build a church made of limestone rock quarried from the hills in the Wexford valley. The next segment in Wexford Wanderings will take up this adventure.
The people of Wexford wanted to make sure that any
future church would be able to stand the rigors of time
and hold the ever increasing flock of worshipers. The
parishioners decided to build a church made of native
rock dug up from the local limestone quarries in the
The new rock church was being built for the
communities and everyone wanted to be involved in the
construction process. A total community atmosphere
prevailed during the construction of the church with each
family involved in building their future church.
CHURCH - WINDOWS
Using the architectural design of Hugh Vincent Gildea
and the construction knowledge of John Doyle, the
limestone walls were constructed with evenly spaced
openings for exquisite stained glass windows. Soon after
the construction, the best quality multi-colored glass
windows that money could buy were made for and used in
the Wexford church.
CHURCH - WEST WINDOWS
The windows located on the west side of the church do
not receive as much direct sunlight through the
multi-colored glass. Yet, the sun shining through still
provides a dazzling array of colors as the light passes
through the many different shapes and sizes of embedded
glass. They have an unearthly radiance composed of
shifting shadows from the darker stained glass and
subdued sparkling colors from the lighter colored glass
page 1-- Introduction & Articles: 1-5
page 2 -- Articles: 6-10
page 3 -- Articles: 11-15
page 5 - Articles: 22 & 23
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