Church History

Hammond’s first Christian congregation developed from a Sunday School established by Melzar Waterman and his daughter Mertie Ann Waterman Cate. In 1872, Episcopal Deacon the Reverend Herman Cope Duncan began missionary work along the route of the New Orleans, Jackson, and the Great Northern Railroad. In Hammond, he found a Christian community that favored the Episcopal Church. Through his cultivation of the people in Hammond came the Hammond Mission Society in November 1872 and from that beginning came Grace Memorial Episcopal Church. The congregation signed a formal charter on January 29, 1876 and accepted a donation of a full square of ground and $500 from pioneer developer Charles Emery Cate. Desiring to erect a church building, the people engaged in a variety of money raising efforts. A $500 donation from a New York churchwoman aided the cause and construction began.

Grace Memorial’s beautiful frame structure in “country-Gothic” style displays pointed arches over the windows and doors, and this pointed arch motif is continued in the exterior board and batten. A steeple containing the church’s bell rises over the narthex. Handsome wooden detailing furthers the Gothic appearance of the structure, and, originally, a wooden shingle roof covered the building. Graceful plaster arches and cornice-work enhance the interior. Much of the labor on the church was donated. Men and boys assisted the carpenters, Charles E. Cate donated lumber and bricks, and volunteers with special skills provided the chancel furniture. The completed building cost $3,500.

The Right Revered Joseph Pere Wilmer, Episcopal Bishop of Louisiana, conducted the first worship service in the new building on Sunday, March 12, 1876. Bishop Wilmer noted in his diary: “Almost like a vision of enchantment the Church arose, and now stands complete, with its tower and vestibule, Church furniture and storied windows, as perfect in its architectural form and its appointments, as if the congregation has been a stray colony from old Canterbury, born and educated in the Church.”

The church was consecrated on October 28, 1888 under the name Grace Memorial Episcopal Church in memory of Mertie Ann Waterman Cate, the late wife of Charles E. Cate. Over the years, additions to the church property have been made. A small chapel in memory of the Durkee family, a Parish Hall containing stained glass windows from Christ Church of New Orleans, Louisiana’s first Episcopal congregation, and an architectural prize-winning Sunday School Building erected in the 1960’s completes the ensemble. Additionally various families have donated the extraordinary stained glass windows which enhance the church. The church was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in American in 1973.

Several movies have used this lovely setting, among them, Otto Preminger’s “Hurry Sundown” features both interior and exterior scenes and members of our distinguished choir made their cinematic debuts with Jane Fonda, Michael Caine, and Burgess Meredith.

Visitors are welcome not only to our buildings and services but also to stroll through the cemetery behind the church which includes the graves of Charles E. Cate, Mertie Waterman Cate, former Hammond mayors Henry C. Mooney and Charles C. Carter, former church Rector Howard Giere, and numerous other persons prominent in the history of Hammond and the life of Grace Memorial Episcopal Church.

- C. Howard Nichols


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