Like many other things in the history of Dalton, the origins of St. Mark’s church may be rooted in the turbulent years of the Civil War and its aftermath. After the Confederate withdrawal from Chattanooga in November, 1863, the opposing armies spent the winter of 1863-1864 facing each other across the flooded expanse of Mill Creek Gap in the northern end of Whitfield County. During the early spring, as they awaited suitable weather for military campaigning, the Confederate troops experienced a series of intense religious revivals in which the leading role was played by the Rev. Charles Todd Quintard, an Episcopal chaplain. His vigorous preaching constitutes the earliest significant Episcopal presence in the area.
In 1866, Colonel Benjamin Green arrived from Washington, D.C., and began holding Sunday School in his law office in the courthouse. With a nucleus of persons from Tunnel Hill, Ringgold, and Dalton, St. Mark’s mission was founded and the Rev. John J. Hunt was placed in charge.
In 1867, St. Mark’s petitioned for membership in the Diocese of Georgia and was accepted by the convention held in Macon. Colonel Green donated land for a church building located at what is now 105 South Glenwood Avenue, and the cornerstone was laid in 1869. However, it was not until 1871 that the first services were held in the new structure with John Beckwith, Bishop of Georgia, as officiant.
By 1869, a smaller church was built on North Pentz Street, on what is now the BB&T bank parking lot. The first church was sold in 1900 and was subsequently demolished. The cornerstone, which was later found beneath a pile of debris, was eventually installed in the second church, which seated just over 100 people. The new frame and shingle building was adorned with a bell tower and stubby spire.
For most of St. Mark’s history, there were no resident clergy. Lay services were held, and for many years these were the mainstays of the church. Throughout most of the first half of the twentieth century, St. Mark’s grew little and often did well to survive. By 1907, when the Diocese of Atlanta was formed, the church had been reduced in standing from a parish to an organized mission.
The years from 1946 to 1952 were trying, and at one time a delegation from the national Episcopal Church evaluated St. Mark’s potential for survival and recommended that it close its doors. The turning point came in 1952. Seeing a promise in St. Mark’s that had escaped others, Bishop Walthour assigned the Rev. Donald G. Mitchell, Jr., to the congregation as its third priest. Under his guidance and inspiration, the mission began to grow. In 1958, after nearly a century of nurturing from two dioceses and a small but steadfast band of clergy and laity, St. Mark’s became a self-supporting parish.
The next decade saw the size of St. Mark’s more than triple. In 1959, under the guidance of the Rev. Frank K. Allan, the congregation moved away from the picturesque little building that had been the congregation’s home for over sixty years to its present location on West Emery Street.
Over the next 25 years, St. Mark’s continued to grow under the guidance of The Rev. George H. Sparks, Jr., The Rev. Albert H. Hatch, The Rev. Donald L. Cramer, and The Rev. James Edwin Bacon, Jr. In February of 1990, The Rev. C. Dean Taylor, arrived from Louisville, Kentucky, to become the seventh leader of the congregation since its revitalization in the 1950’s.
The growth patterns that had begun in the 1950’s continued through the following decades. Growth, however, meant change. As the local economy flourished, the ambience of St. Mark’s changed from that of a small-town parish toward that of a cosmopolitan “downtown” church, though still the only Episcopal Church within a radius of twenty miles or more.
Drawing upon a history of wide involvement in Dalton affairs, the members of St. Mark’s made the parish the center of a number of outreach programs, ranging from a Preschool to the Hospice movement. St. Mark’s continued its outreach to the community with programs to deal with illiteracy, teenage pregnancy, coordinating with other local churches in rendering assistance to the indigent and transients, and provision of low-cost housing through Habitat-for-Humanity. A wide range of support programs emerged to help others deal with addiction, cancer, diabetes, and AIDS.
The Christian education program was also revived and the 1979 Book of Common Prayer was introduced and made the standard of worship. A new commitment to musical excellence led to the hiring of the parish’s first full-time organist-choirmaster, and the parish house was rebuilt and enlarged after a devastating fire destroyed the church office and most of the early records in 1978.
Through the grace of God and able lay and clerical leadership, the people of St. Mark’s mobilized their talents and resources in the years that followed to achieve goals that few would have thought possible a couple of years earlier. The most visible accomplishments were the construction of a 10,500 square-foot addition to the parish house, with a complete redesign of the older facility, and the installation of a new 26-rank Holtkamp organ, made possible by a designated bequest from Edith Heins Westcott. This also involved the remodeling of the sanctuary and the construction of a new sacristy. Both of these projects were completed in 1988.
The early 1990’s saw the congregation define its mission and goals more clearly in an effort to unify the congregation so that all might have a voice and be included in the life of the parish. In that spirit of “unity in diversity”, the vestry adopted the following mission statement for the parish in 1991:
“By the Grace of God, the people of St. Mark's Episcopal Church seek to know Christ in our corporate life through worship, education, and nurture of one another and to make Him known by offering our diverse gifts and talents to the human family throughout this community, the diocese, and the world.”