The Founding and Early History of Saint Mark's Parish (1889–1926)

Audio version read by Hilary McLeland-Weiser. (Transcript below)


The first building housing Saint Mark's Parish (1889–1897), located in downtown Seattle at 5th Ave and Olive St. (Click to enlarge.)  
The second building housing Saint Mark's Parish (1897–1926), located on First Hill at Broadway and Madison. (Click to enlarge.)  


Station 1: Founding of the Parish and Early History

Location: Narthex 

The history of the land Saint Mark’s Cathedral stands on, its geography and geology, begins millions of years ago; the history of the indigenous people of this land goes back thousands of years; and the history of European-American settlers in what would become Seattle begins in the 1850s. The story of Saint Mark’s itself, however, begins in response to the sweeping changes in the city in the decade of the 1880s. In the year 1880, Seattle was a town of about 3,500 residents, served by seven churches, including its first Episcopal Church, Trinity parish. Just ten years later, due to the arrival of the railroad and the enormous wealth generated from the extraction of timber, coal, and other resources, the population had exploded to almost 43,000 people. In response to this breathtaking expansion, Episcopalians in Seattle made a formal petition to their Bishop to request the creation of a new parish

The creation of Saint Mark’s Parish was approved by the Standing Committee of the Missionary District of Washington Territory on June 25, 1889, and by January of 1890 Saint Mark’s was conducting services in its first church building, in what is now downtown Seattle on Fifth Ave and Olive.

It was a turbulent beginning, with conflict over real estate and the departure of the first rector after just a few months. But with the arrival of its pivotal second rector, David Claiborne Garrett, in July of 1890, the course of the new community was set.

Rev. Garret was admired as an inspiring preacher, a teacher engaged with the intellectual and social issues of the time, and a committed advocate for justice who believed that the Church could and should play an active role in relieving suffering, protecting the oppressed, and creating a more just and humane society. Six months after his arrival, he wrote to the parish:

"St. Mark's is becoming more and more a peoples' church. With free seats for all, and a service that all can join in, and a true welcome [from] our members to strangers at the door, no wonder our services are getting popular. Let us keep the work going on this line. Let everybody, irrespective of bank account, or the clothes he wears, or the house he lives in be made to feel that St. Mark's is a true church home." (The Rubric, January 1891).

Under Garret’s successor John P.D. Lloyd (sometimes spelled Llwyd), Saint Mark’s moved into its second building, and its congregation and reputation continued to grow. By 1903, an observer noted that with a communicant list of one thousand, Saint Mark's was now “the leading Episcopal church on the Pacific coast.”

The prominence that Saint Mark’s had achieved made it the obvious choice to be designated as the cathedral of the diocese in 1919, at which point the community began dreaming of a third church building, one befitting its reputation, size, and new status. The creation of a cathedral was about to begin.

The tour continues in the cathedral nave. Enter the large door and turn left; the next station is in the southwest corner.

Additional Resources

Alan J. Davidson's fascinating book The History of St. Mark's Episcopal Cathedral: St. Mark's Parish, 1889–1897 (2018) is available for purchase in the cathedral office. Call or drop by during regular hours, M–F 9 a.m.–4:30 p.m.