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A Brief History of St. Paul’s Church

By Robert B. Johnston

In 1869, when “Salinas City” was barely one-year-old, preachers of most of the major denominations, including an Episcopal priest, held services every Sunday.  The Rev. J. S. McGowan began regular services of the Protestant Episcopal Church as missionary priest for the Salinas area at 3 p.m. on August 10, 1873, in the building of the Southern Methodist Church.  He “found one communicant and a few more who were raised in the church”.  His average congregation was “from seven to fifteen souls”.  By the end of the year, it grew to nine families and eight communicants.  Bishop Kip originally assigned McGowan to Castroville and Salinas.  He lived at reduced rates in Michael Tynan’s new Diamond Hotel.  When Monterey became a part of the missionary assignment, during 1874-75 in place of Castroville, the Rev. McGowan was appointed chaplain of the Monterey and Salinas Valley Railroad (narrow gauge) which made it possible for the priest to ride between Salinas and Monterey free of charge.

The original St. Paul’s Episcopal Church building, still in use as a private residence, was erected at the southern corner of California and Gabilan Streets.  Eugene Sherwood donated the lots valued at $600, and $100 in cash, with $1,000 subscribed locally and another $1,000 contributed by churchmen in San Francisco, the “neat little gothic building” was completed in time for consecration by Bishop Kip on July 4, 1875.

On September 1, 1879, the Bishop gave his canonical consent to the formal organization of the Mission at Salinas.  The Rev. J. S. McGowan had put down solid foundations.  By May 10, 1888, St. Paul’s had become a self-supporting parish.  The “year-in, year-out” continuity and devoted service to parish support came from the women who organized St. Paul’s Guild in July 1880 at the home of Mrs. Charles Hudson.  Formal recognition of St. Paul’s self-supporting status came when Bishop Kip deeded the property at California and Gabilan Streets to the parish, though it was May 25, 1895, before the legal incorporation of the parish was achieved.

The growth of St. Paul’s was reflected in the construction of a new church building at the northeast corner of Alisal Street and Lincoln Avenue where the first service was held on December 12, 1897.  Bishop Nichols consecrated the new structure on May 3, 1904.  St. Paul’s by then was sponsoring “… a flourishing Mission Sunday School at the town of Spreckels of 60 children and 6 teachers.”  A parish rectory was completed on the second anniversary of the “great earthquake” April 18, 1908. 

Perhaps the most illustrious personality to be nurtured by St. Paul’s Church and Salinas Valley in the pre-World War I days was John Steinbeck, born 27 February 1902, who later won both the Pulitzer and Nobel prizes for literature.

The decision to build St. Paul’s third church building on Pajaro and San Miguel, a “new St. Paul’s”, was made in the Vestry meeting of March 13, 1951.  The Right Reverend Karl Morgan Block, Bishop of California, dedicated the new church on October 4, 1953.

From the founding of the parish in 1873 until the present day, 26 priests have served St. Paul’s Church in Salinas.