St. Paul’s Episcopal builds on history with piece of past

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Brainerd was the first church in the nascent community of Brainerd. The historic church building was constructed at its current location near Gregory Park with a cornerstone embedded in its wall that supposedly came from an Old Crow Village church.

St. Paul's Episcopal Church exterior
St. Paul's Episcopal Church was the first church established in Brainerd.
Frank Lee / Brainerd Dispatch

BRAINERD — It’s a piece of history many people probably simply walk by without even noticing.

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Brainerd incorporates a piece of the past unintentionally hidden in plain sight: a stone from Old Crow Wing Village at what is now Crow Wing State Park.

“We have a cornerstone that we believe came from the first Crow Wing church, which was way before 1871 when we were founded,” the Rev. Joyce Rush said.

St. Paul's Episcopal Church historic site marker
A historic site marker to the left of the main entrance of St. Paul's Episcopal Church on the northeast corner of North Seventh and Juniper streets informs visitors of the Brainerd church's history dating back to 1871.
Frank Lee / Brainerd Dispatch

The Rev. Charles M. Bradnon became the rector in 1929. And during his time at the Brainerd parish at North Seventh and Juniper streets, the present church building was constructed.

“When the church was rebuilt, they put it in the ‘new’ building in the 1930s,” Rush said.


The church sanctuary was constructed in the 1930s, and has beautiful and historic stained glass windows. The church’s bell resumed ringing after the historic bell tower was repaired March 25 at a cost of about $18,000; the bell dates back to 1875 and was inoperable for a decade or so.

Brandon had discovered in the foundation of the old rectory, however, what is believed to be the cornerstone of the Old Crow Wing Village church, which was built in 1860.

“On it were crudely chiseled a broken tomahawk, a peace pipe and a cross,” according to a history of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, which is located near Gregory Park.

“This relic is now embedded in the stone wall of the present church, on the right side of the main entrance.”

St. Paul's Episcopal Church historic cornerstone.jpg
A crudely chiseled broken tomahawk, a peace pipe and a cross can be seen on the historic cornerstone believed to have come from a church in Old Crow Wing Village in what is now Crow Wing State Park.
Frank Lee / Brainerd Dispatch

Rush said, “They found it when they were tearing down the last parsonage at St. Paul's.”

Enmegahbowh was the first Native American to be ordained a priest in the Episcopal Church in the United States of America. Bishop Jackson Kemper ordained him deacon in 1859, and Enmegahbowh went to Crow Wing County to assist in founding St. Columba Mission.

“When he was a young man, he wanted to save the settlers from being killed, so he paddled down the Crow Wing River to warn the settlers that another native person was going to have a plan to come in and wipe them out,” Rush said.

The Episcopal calendar of saints remembers Enmegahbowh on June 12.


St. Paul's Episcopal Church main entrance
St. Paul's Episcopal Church is located at the southeast corner of Gregory Park in Brainerd.
Frank Lee / Brainerd Dispatch

Rush said of Enmegahbowh’s life-saving actions, “The good thing is he's credited with it and ‘Yay for us.’ But, in another way, he still is considered by many Native Americans as a traitor.”

The historic cornerstone is “ever a reminder of the Crow Wing Church, built after the mission school on Gull Lake had to be closed on account of the activities of rum trade with the Indians,” according to a booklet handed out to visitors to St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.

“I am not a native Minnesotan. And I lived here about 15 or more years before I even knew it was there,” Rush said of the cornerstone embedded in the Brainerd church’s southwest corner.

The original St. Paul’s Episcopal Church was razed in 1922, and construction began on a basement, to be used as a temporary place of worship, according to Rush. St. Paul’s Episcopal Church was the first church in Brainerd.

“The first church had to be torn down. It was in terrible disrepair,” Rush said. “They built a ‘basement’ — in the Episcopal Church it’s called the ‘undercroft’ — under the church and had services in that for a number of years until they got enough money to build up further.”

FRANK LEE may be reached at 218-855-5863 or at . Follow him on Twitter at .

I cover the community of Wadena, Minn., and write features stories for the Wadena Pioneer Journal. The weekly newspaper is owned by Forum Communications Co.
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