St. Paul's By-the-Sea Episcopal Church

Built 1887

The white wooden church previously known as the Beaches Chapel was consecrated on August 14, 1887 as St. Paul's By-the-Sea Mission Church. The Right Reverend Edwin Weed, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Florida, officiated. It was the first protestant church on the barrier island built in “modern” times. In the absence of a proper church building, people gathered in the hotel lobby of the Murray Hall Hotel (a grand hotel built in 1886 and destroyed by fire only four years later) for religious services on Sunday. That year the hotel guests and other prominent local residents contributed $ 800.00 (ca. $ 20,000 in current dollars) towards the construction of a modest church.  The new building was located on 2nd Street and 2nd Avenue South in Pablo Beach. It had a bell tower on the North side, while the entrance faced West. The land had been donated by the Jacksonville & Atlantic Railroad company and the architect Robert S. Schuyler offered his services pro bono.

Pablo Beach in those days was a small beach community of around 450 residents according to a census of the period. There were “75 good-sized buildings and several hotels.” One fifth of the small population was African-American. There was a lot of building activity judging by the census report.  That document listed 29 carpenters as head of households, one baker, six cooks, and fourteen domestics. The latter group was probably employed in the hotels. One railroad section foreman and seven others worked on the railroad.

The Jacksonville & Atlantic Railroad built in 1884 connected Jacksonville's Southside with Pablo Beach bringing tourists and “snowbirds” to the hotels. Travel by road was arduous in these pre-automobile days; a ferry brought passengers to Mayport. Some wealthy Jacksonville citizens had “summer cottages” in the Beaches area; a total of 75 were counted in 1890.

The 1880s experienced a building boom of Episcopal churches in Northeast Florida. All situated on or near the St. Johns River, they have been grouped as River Churches. A combination of forces combined to produce this extraordinary period of religious construction: a fast growing Episcopal community, the presence of a determined Bishop, the Rt. Rev. John F. Young, the influx of wealthy and influential Northerners such as Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe in Mandarin* and Mrs. Margaret Fleming in Hibernia,* and the increase in seasonal travel due to improved modes of transportation such as river steamboat and railroad car.

St. Paul's By-the-Sea has been moved a number of times. Originally the church was on the corner of 2nd Street and 2nd Avenue South in Pablo Beach. In 1952 it was moved to 11th Avenue North and Fifth St. in Jacksonville Beach. In 1960 the church building was turned to face west towards Patricia Lane to allow for the addition of new classrooms to the church school. In 1970 the church was moved to Florida Boulevard and 5th Street in Neptune Beach, and became Central Christian Church. Later the name of the church was changed to Beaches Chapel. In June 2012, under the auspices of the Beaches Area Historical Society, the church was moved to Pablo Historical Park in Jacksonville Beach.

St. Pauls By-the-Sea - Front

St. Pauls By-the-Sea - Photo taken before July 24, 1906*

St. Pauls By-the-Sea - Back

Beaches Chapel - During Construction

The Final Move

Help us cover the cost of moving this magnificent church to its new home in the Beaches Museum & History Park.

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