The Church

Christ Church Has A Good And Godly Heritage


Reverend Dr. Melancthon Hoyt

The Episcopal Church was introduced to the village of Yankton on June 30, 1860 by the Right Reverend Joseph C. Talbot, Bishop of the Northwest Territory, and the Reverend Dr. Melancthon Hoyt, a priest from Sioux City, Iowa. They also held Christian services among small settlements along the Missouri River between Sioux City and Fort Randall. At that time Yankton consisted of three log cabins and two frame buildings, one of which was the Frost-Todd trading post where they were reported to have gathered. J.B.S. Todd, brother of Mary Todd Lincoln, lobbied in Washington a year later for the Northwest Territory status, which included both Dakotas, Montana, a portion of Nebraska, and most of Wyoming. The Hoyt family had reached Sioux City in 1858 from Fox Lake, WI, traveling 39 days in two covered wagons with an entourage of their nine children.


By March 1861 fewer than a dozen buildings had been built in Yankton when Reverend Hoyt arrived to build a church that also served as the home for his family. His wife, Ann Eliza, and children stayed in Sioux City where their eighth child, William, had died the previous year. The family included five young children, three married children with three grand-children, and a tenth son, age 19, studying at the seminary in Davenport, IA. A year later, March 17, 1862, nine councilmen and thirteen representatives arrived by pony, wagon, and stage for the opening session of the Territorial Legislature.  Dr. Hoyt hosted the House of Representatives in St. John’s church where he lived and held services.


The summer of 1862 was the year of a Sioux uprising which extended from Minnesota, to eastern Dakota near Sioux Falls, Yankton, and into Nebraska. The Dakota Militia was authorized to form a fort as protection for the village by the first legislature. Dr. Hoyt was named militia chaplain and the roster of eighty men included many of the early members of St. John’s Episcopal Church. His family arrived in late fall and were welcomed with a surprise visit from a delegation of the local citizens carrying some monetary gifts.

 The early settlers attended services in the Hoyt home at 4th Street and Linn until they outgrew the home. For a period of time when they were busy raising funds to build a church, St. John’s met in the new Territorial Capital building. Dr. Hoyt was busily raising funds from connections in the east, where he had grown up and gone to school.  He had earned a law degree from Yale and had also been offered university’s Greek chair but decided he wanted to serve as a missionary and entered seminary. Serving Trinity Church, NY while in seminary gave him many good connections!


The church members reorganized during the planning stages as “Christ Church” and elected several new vestry members. The building site at 3rd Street and Walnut was donated by J.B.S. Todd and $250 was received from eastern friends of the Hoyts.


The “Little Brown Church,” built of chalkstone and cottonwood siding that was painted brown, was dedicated in 1866, Hoyt’s 29th anniversary of ordination to the priesthood. It served the community until the late 1870s when the neighboring businesses and traffic caused too much congestion.


“Little Brown Church”


In 1868 Dr. Joseph Ward arrived in Yankton to start a Congregational church. Methodist and Catholic missionaries moved through the Yankton area. The Catholic church assigned a priest to the city in 1871 and the Methodists began building a church in 1872.


 Outgrowing the “Little Brown Church” the congregation had resorted to using the Territorial Capital building and Hoyt had retired in 1875. Land was located at 6th Street and Douglas Avenue and Hoyt found time to return east for a visit and brought back $1000 from Trinity Church. The challenge to match the funds was met in one hour by local residents. Three priests served during the building process, about one year each. In 1880 the corner stone was laid and the blue prints from Charles C. Haight, architect, arrived from New York. Coincidently a “Church Manufactory” was begun by John T. Coxhead, also from N.Y.! In 1882 Wm. J. Harris began as priest and construction progressed. Two services were held in July and September without windows or pews, but by November 13 all was ready for Christ Church’s dedication, complete with pews, windows, Bishop Hare, and a large congregation, although the tower, having been blown off during the summer in a storm, was missing. The Press and Dakotaian stated, “The building is now completed with the exception of the tower and spire, and it is said to be the finest church edifice in Dakota. It is a brick structure of the gothic style of architecture, finished with all the modern improvements, and will seat five hundred people.” The talents of master wood carver John Coxhead are still obvious in the pulpit, altar and reredos, railings, baptismal font and screens at the front and back of the nave.


Christ Episcopal Church Altar


Five days later the Ladies of Christ Church began organizing an organ fund! Twenty-nine members were paying dues and a year later another twelve had been added to the roster. Mrs. Eugenia Coxhead organized a group of young women to learn embroidery and to sew linens for the Altar Guild. Some of her original red and purple embroidery continue to be used in the Church. At least one of her sets was sent for display to the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893! In November of 1883 Dr. Harris returned to his home in the East. His wife had never joined him in Yankton. He had served two full years during the finishing of the present church building and the dedication.


In a period of ten years, twenty-four children had died of typhoid fever and many adults succumbed to cholera, tuberculosis, and scarlet fever. On December 18, 1887 the fire alarm sounded for Christ Church. “This was the most stubborn fight of over two hours, with a loss to the building of about $800.” Value of the building was about $15,000. This posed a big problem for the Christmas season - new flooring, furnace and a good amount of new woodwork needed to be done as funds permitted. About eight days later Reverend Hoyt developed pneumonia after the Christmas services in Scotland, Dakota Territory, where he had been establishing his last parish. Reverend Hoyt died on January 2, 1888. He had retired in 1875 but the Bishop found something for him to do. At age 66 years, Hoyt became General Missionary for Southern Dakota Territory. This took him to Swan Lake, Hurley, Canton, Parker, Huron, Watertown and many other communities, where he was credited with being the founding priest. Dr. Ward offered the use of the Congregational church for the funeral, considering the fire damage to Christ Church. A major blizzard caused numerous problems for family and friends traveling. The Bishop arrived a day early by train from Sioux Falls.


The Reverend Wyatt Hannath arrived from Omaha shortly after and recommended replacement of the old furnace convection unit with a steam system, which was finally installed two years and three months later (Feb. 1891).  Life was not dull for the Hannaths. The Western Portland Cement Co. arrived from England to establish the cement works in 1889 with John Summers as manager. He and his family were active in Christ Church for over eighty years! Mr. Summers and Reverend Hannath set up a mission especially for the winter months. It included a school and they even installed an organ and choir with lay readers assisting and as many as forty members attending. Fifteen years later the president of the cement business died and his successor was left with some new equipment. Debts and poor management caused the business to fail. Many of the English families remained members of Christ Church. The Hannaths lived in the upper level of the Guild Hall on the lot behind the church on Sixth Street. A fire in their living area caused severe burns and they lost most of their possessions. They had to resign and seek medical help for burns in 1894. Deacon P.C. Webber, Reverend Dyke, and Reverend Litchfield followed in the next five years.

 The St. Andrews young men’s guild was organized with about twenty active members. In the 1888-90’s era they spent their dues to purchase wood for the communion railings, a stained glass window, and the brass altar cross, plus many helpful projects. They held their own Sunday school and special programs on Sunday afternoons.


The Altar Guild was always necessary, and several older women kept it going during slack times. After W.W. II, Grace Livingston asked for assistance. Many war brides and soldiers were coming home and twenty women signed up. At present we have six members.


The Reverend Dr. Doherty came from Trinity Cathedral, Omaha in 1898 to 1909. Christ Church hosted convocation the first year he was here, and by a year later he had thirty-three members in the choir for Easter. They were wearing robes, cassocks and cottas made by the Ladies of Christ Church. He had a very active ten years, but resigned due to health problems.


The Ladies of Christ Church met regularly from the 1870’s to the current years assisting with fund-raising, the Sunday School, and care of the physical needs. They raised the funds for one of the stained glass windows, attempted to build a hospital, but lost it due to a time limit for the land, and for many years had weekly gatherings to sew, had a study lesson from the priest and sold their handmade items to their friends and at “teas.” Someday we will enlighten you about a “Blue Tea”, a trip on the Immigrant Ship, Oyster Suppers, lawn socials for the Organ Fund, and, if anyone can enlighten me, “Kafoozalum!” The name of their organization has evolved several times and, in more recent times in accordance with women from across the larger Episcopal Church, the Episcopal Church Women (ECW). In the early years of the Church’s existence, their activities also were a much appreciated part of the entertainment for the entire community.


Reverends MacKenzie and Freeman served the next eight years. The Guild Hall was remodeled as a rectory and St. Andrews continued to grow. In 1923 Dr. A.P. Larrabee, a professor at Yankton College, arrived and regularly served as a deacon numerous times during his thirty years, leaving in 1945. Reverend Edgar Siegfriedt arrived in 1917 and served until 1934. The Siegfriedts required a different rectory after they welcomed twins to their growing family. Other unexpected problems were the flu epidemic of 1918, a decision to excavate the basement of the church, convocation in 1923 and another fire due to a defective chimney on the church roof. This man started a Boy Scout troop and, feeling sorry for the girls, promoted the effort to get their troop organized, too. A Young Peoples Fellowship was organized, and they had forty-three confirmands in three services one Sunday, assisted by two Bishops. A total of 161 were confirmed and 140 buried during his 17 years. No wonder the Bishop announced it was the strongest parish in the state! People were driving in from nearby towns!


Reverends Reid and Becker served here during the eleven years from 1934 – 1946 during the Depression, war years and a time of families coming home. Alexander Wood arrived in 1949 and served 12 years. The church had purchased the home next door for a rectory in 1945. During Wood’s ministry he was very active with the Dakota Indian group (several guilds), had a handicapped son and devoted many hours together with his wife to organizing the Yankton Adjustment Training Center (now known as Ability Building Services). They had two daughters and his mother-in-law, who lived with them until she died. The 20-40 Club was started for newcomers and as a social group for all returning military people. Their service project was to raise scholarship funds for St. Mary’s Indian Girls School at nearby Springfield, SD. When these young members became too busy for social outlets, the scholarship program was taken over by the ECW and continued until the school closed.


Gavins Point Dam was being constructed in the late fifties, which brought new members and a bigger Sunday School. In 1960 the parish successfully planned for the 100th year celebration for 1961.


Reverend Wood resigned and James W. Munck arrived in 1962. At the annual meeting in 1964 the annual report showed 81 families, 50 individuals, and 374 baptized members. Robert Shoemaker, the Sunday School superintendent, reported 101 children registered and 11 teachers. At that time the Sunday School was large enough to take up the entire Dakota Hall, located behind the main church building, along with four or five classes in the undercroft. We used those accordion folding doors! They also had nine acolytes and 30 children in the junior choir. Fr. Munck was a “prayer book“ priest. He and his family were very musical and active in both choirs.  A music major, he also subbed when the organist was sick or out of town! College Club met on Sunday evenings and folks in the parish helped serve dinner since the campus had no evening food service. The rectory was small and the Church needed an office, so a new rectory was purchased. Fr. Munck held a weekly service and small well-received concerts at Str. James nursing home. He also presided at a monthly service of communion at Human Service Unit where ECW members served treats and coffee. He offered several Rogation services to farms when weather permitted. ECW was very active – talented members did needle point cushions for the communion railing, purchased 20 new robes for choir, started the library which was growing well, and participated in the Altar Guild, the St. Ann’s and St. Elizabeth’s Guild (study groups), plus Youth Group, Confirmation classes, fall bazaars and soup kitchens for the public. The “bats” even enjoyed the good atmosphere! On December 15, 1972, Fr. Munck died of a heart attack at age 48 years. A sad Christmas for all!


Fr. Nickerson filled in for one year and Donald Wilson was here six years, 1977-1983. This was the time of Prayer Book change and mixed emotions for many.  By 1985 we recorded a loss of 40 families and at least 200 members. Reverend Allen Lewis served here four years leaving in 1987. Fr. Tim Vann and Deacon Walter Rasmussen served 1987-1988. The church was searching again! Fr. Thomas Hurley accepted an invite in 1988 and served until 1995, when invited to serve as Dean of the Cathedral in Omaha. Tough competition! During his seven years he and his family were very involved in church and music; his wife, Diane, taught music in high school and directed Junior choir. They and their three daughters were very involved in the community.


In 1996 Reverend Tony Buquor accepted our call. He and his wife had spent many years in the military service before seminary. She was also a musician and their two boys were in college. Tony remained with us three years before he received a call from the Bishop of South Dakota and moved to Sioux Falls. It was too short a stay, but they were a blessing while they were here.


Fr. James Pearson and Gloria have served the parish since June, 2000. The usual activities have continued, except with fewer people. Gloria was a stalwart leader and advisor for the Sunday School and the Ability Building Services. Many activities have been tried the past 17 years. These include daytime Bible studies, an evening group with discussions, videos, and St. Patrick Day dinners which proved popular but tiring for the workers, who were fewer each year. Life-long member, Bob Beilby, started the Kids’ Hope program in 2010 at Lincoln Elementary School. The program was picked up by other churches in the community until all four public elementary schools were involved. The program still continues although it has been more difficult to find mentors the past few years.


 In 2010 almost everyone in our church community worked on parish dinners, invitations, a video of our history, currently on the church website, and many other committees for our 150th anniversary. The celebration included a choir with past members invited and other musical offerings, an Open House, displays of all the memorabilia, a celebration dinner with speeches, and a back yard picnic on Sunday after the enthusiastic service for all attending. About 150 attended – very appropriate! Families of past members spent the afternoon visiting under a large tent on a glorious day!


This parish has supported and encouraged five young members as they prepared for formal church service. They were The Reverend Richard Pieper (1941), Reverend Franz Oilerman (1949), Reverend Robert Dunn (Long-time member Pat Christensen’s brother, 1953), Reverend James Maars (1956), Reverend Robert Folds Livingston (great grandson of Dr. Hoyt, 1958), and Mary Louise Donaldson (Lay Church Worker). The parish also supported another long-time member, Deacon John Keyes (2010).


L-R:  Carriage House, the “Olde Rectory” (Pastoral Center) and Christ Episcopal Church


Along with Christ Church in the Historic District is the “Olde Rectory” (now known as the Pastoral Center) next door to the church, which was built in 1877. Captain Grant Marsh and his family were the first inhabitants. His steamboat, the “Far West”, owned by the Coulson Steamboat line, was the boat that went up the Yellowstone River to rescue General Reno’s men, who survived the Custer massacre. After ice flows damaged the whole fleet of steamboats in Yankton in 1881, the Coulson line went downhill. They were down to one boat by 1885. Sometime after 1881 Marsh and family moved to Bismarck to continue with steam boating. This home, the “Olde Rectory”, was purchased by Christ Church in 1945 and used as a rectory until 1962, when it was converted to a church office and meeting rooms. The home was lived in one year by Tom Brokaw’s parents while their home was in the process of being built. The carriage house in the back yard, shaded by two beautiful pear trees, is one of few still remaining in Yankton and is used for storage.


More community activities for all ages, competition among churches, differences of opinions on ways of worship have all lowered our numbers. Those who have stayed active feel the need for this church, a wonderful place to worship, and the closeness of the friends we have made.  Many have said “Everything goes full circle” – We pray that is still true!