St. Paul’s Church was formed by an official act of the City Council of Key West. In a petition to the bishop of New York, the City council requested a priest be sent and the Parish of St. Paul’s be established. In 1831, the council gave notice of a public meeting to establish an Episcopal Church, and a committee was appointed.
The first rector was the Reverend Sanson K. Brunot, who arrived December 23, 1832. He held the first service on Christmas Day 1832 in the County Courthouse on Jackson Square. That same day the congregation signed an “Act of Association” of the Episcopal Congregation in Key West to be called St. Paul’s Church.
The first Vestry was elected April 8, 1833, and Rev. Brunot became a permanent house guest of Vestryman William Whitehead, as there was no rectory or church building. Land for a church site was given by the widow of John William Charles Fleming in 1832 with the only stipulation that her husband’s remains stay where they were. He is still buried on the grounds, but the actual site is unknown.
The original church made of coral rock, was built in 1838-39. The building, when completed, was 38 x 58 feet, and the total cost of construction was $6,500. This first building was totally destroyed by a hurricane on October 11, 1846. The second church was a wooden structure measuring 28 x 66 feet. Services were held in this building on June 30, 1848, and the church was consecrated on January 4, 1851, by the Right Reverend C.E. Gadsden, Bishop of South Carolina.
In 1857 a Rectory was erected on the corner of Duval and Eaton Street, facing Eaton. To learn about plans for renovation of the Historic Rectory, click here. To view vintage photos of the church and rectory, click here. For an entertaining and informative list of Q & A about St. Paul's history, click here. The Rev. Osgood E. Herrick was the first in a long line of rectors to call it home. The church was growing steadily, and the seating capacity of 350 was becoming inadequate. This is when St. Peter’s was established (1875), and the Spanish Mission of St. John’s followed.
The second church was destroyed in the Great Fire of Key West in March 1886. By some good fortune the Rectory survived undamaged. Rebuilding the church began immediately, and the third church was completed in 1887. Constructed of wood, it stood in the center of the block facing Eaton Street. It measured approximately 58 x 98 feet.
In 1890, the Vestry voted to purchase a chime of bells. Once installed, the first chime of bells within Florida was inaugurated on Palm Sunday morning, March 22, 1891, at 10:00 am
On October 11, 1909, another disaster struck, and the church was destroyed by a hurricane. The parish hall (completed in 1904) and the Rectory survived the storm and were used for services. Plans for a new church were approved in 1911, which would be constructed of concrete. The church would be located at the corner of Duval and Eaton Streets. This required the moving of the Rectory to its current location in 1914. The first service in the current building was held June 8, 1919. During this time, many of the beautiful stained glass windows were ordered, and installation began in 1920. The organ arrived in 1931 in time for Christmas services.
A major restoration of the church began in 1991 to save the building from collapse. The concrete used in the initial construction had been mixed with seawater and beach sand, causing the steel reinforcing within the walls and columns to split. Work was complete in 1993 at a cost of nearly one million dollars.
Today the church continues to stand as a beacon of light and hope within the diverse cultural community of Key West. The church is open daily for prayer, meditation and visitation. Many concerts and other community events take place here, and St. Paul’s plays a positive role in the community both artistically and spiritually. Thirty-three priests have served St. Paul’s as rector and several others as interim priests. The most recent rector, The Rev. Larry D. Hooper, came to St. Paul’s in June of 2009 and retired in March of 2019. Father Stephen Carlsen is currently serving as the Interim Rector of St. Paul's. His job is to help St. Paul's envision our future and prepare for calling a new Rector.
On February 1st of 2020, St. Paul's will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the current church building, the forth on the same site. If you are willing to help fund the celebration, consider purchasing a memorial brick to honor a loved one. See details here.