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SHALLOTTE—It’s been more than 50 years since a preacher first pulled his boat over at the end of Gause Landing in Ocean Isle Beach to share a Sunday message.
On Sunday, Dec. 2, St. James the Fisherman Episcopal Church celebrated its 50th anniversary as a church that started underneath the live oak trees on Gause Landing.
“It was the late 1930s—a warm, lazy Sunday in early summer. Today was to be special, though, for word had spread that Rev. Marshall would arrive on his barge that afternoon for church services” shared church historian Carolyn Block as she consulted past articles on the church.
“Gause Landing was one of the three stops on his agenda this Sunday. The others were located at Tar Landing and in Calabash.”
Marshall was an Episcopal priest from Southport who traveled waterways in an old fishing boat with his wife. Marshall would move his lectern ashore where a congregation waited while his wife remained on the boat to play a pump organ.
Dorothy Boyd, 79, and her family often visited Shallotte during the days Marshall arrived by boat.
“My family always came down to Shallotte from Hamlet,” Boyd said. “Daddy worked on the railroad and always loved Shallotte. When he found out about the Episcopalian connection we went to Gause Landing when the minister would come up the river once or twice a month. We always found out by word of mouth.”
Worshipers gathered under two large live oak trees at the bottom of a hill that sloped down to the water. They set up smoke pots to keep the mosquitoes and sand flies away.
Boyd laughed as she recalled the pots didn’t work too well.
Marshall read from his prayer book and the congregation sang hymns to the accompaniment of his wife’s organ. After the service, the congregation often roasted fresh caught mullet or had an oyster roast.
Boyd recalls when she was a child, missionaries arrived and began a Sunday school at Gause Landing.
“In 1940, Miss McMurray and Miss Jettie Odell were sent to Gause Landing as missionaries. There was no building, so the group met under the live oak trees,” Block recounted. “These ladies led Sunday School and Bible study groups.”
With the coming of the missionaries, Boyd said the congregation began to grow.
“The little church became busy,” she said. “People came from Holdens Beach and all over. They talked about moving the church to a more central location. The Sunday my aunt’s husband was baptized, she gave the church a $100 check to start a fund for moving.”
Boyd said the Rev. Nelson Hodgkins led the church in those early days. She also recalled Chandler Rourk gave the church land in Shallotte near his family’s cemetery.
“He wanted someone to take care of the cemetery so he gave us the land on the hill,” Boyd said.
The men of the church built the first church building on what is now Main Street in Shallotte.
The church was built in 1962. Boyd and others still call it “Little St. James.”
“It was a little brick building that held about 50 people,” Boyd said. “My mother’s family gave all of the brass candlesticks, crosses and vases in memory of my grandparents and one of my uncles gave the first organ to the church and the two big magnolia trees that are on Powell Street were dug from my parents yard. The women of the church made the kneeling benches for the church.”
Boyd’s daughter was the first person to be baptized in the building in November 1962.
“Even after we moved to Shallotte we had the Easter sunrise service on Gause Landing.”
In 1993 a new tradition began.
“We outgrew that little church and a new one was built. It was dedicated on Easter of 1993. The altar is in the same spot,” Boyd said. “We stopped the sunrise service at Gause Landing because an outdoor altar was built for services behind the church.”
Boyd said each of the original church families were given four to eight plots in the cemetery and a memorial garden was created.
She recalls the original families of Guy and Alice Culpepper, Isabel and Chick Taylor, Wilbur and Mazel Sabiston and Anne Brooks along with her own family who had since relocated to Shallotte.
Boyd can’t remember exactly when, but she recalls that fisherman was added to the name of the church because the people who founded it loved to fish.
“Today, all that remains is one of the old oak trees,” Block recounted. “The other tree, along with the hill and dock, was washed away in 1954 when Hurricane Hazel came ashore.”
For more information on St. James the Fisherman Episcopal Church visit www.stjamesthefisherman.net, call 754-9313 or stop by at 4941 Main Street, Shallotte.
Rachel Johnson is a staff writer at The Brunswick Beacon. Reach her at 754-6890 or email@example.com.