Museum Musings

Rector of West Concord Bishop of Wall Street


Investigating West Concord’s history has led to discovering some fascinating stories.

At the top of the list, along with jazz musician, Doc Evans, is the story of William Wilkinson, who was the rector of the Episcopal Church in West Concord in the early


Recently I was skimming the October 3rd, 1935 edition of the West Concord Enterprise, celebrating the 50th anniversary of West Concord’s founding. The following paragraph caught my eye as the editors provided a short historical sketch for West Concord’s Episcopal Church completed in 1900. “For a period of many years the Rev. William Wilkinson conducted services both in Wyman Hall (West Concord’s Opera House before City Hall was built in 1911) and in the church. Rev. Wilkinson later attained fame as the so-called Bishop of Wall Street where he daily conducted services at noon at Wall Street, New York City.”

After reading that I had to know more. When I was a child West Concord’s Episcopal Church was the brown church on Arnold Street. When it was built it had a large congregation. As the new Methodist, Baptist, Lutheran, and Catholic churches were built, the number of Episcopal church members grew smaller. The Episcopal Church’s last service was in 1966. In 1994 the church was completely torn down, but the roof was taken intact for a replica church in the Little Log Pioneer Village near Hastings. Marilyn and Wes Miller, who had purchased the parsonage and the church next to it, used many of the beautiful features of the church in their parsonage home. From the Altar Chair to stained glass windows, these touches made the Miller home unique.

Who was this unique man who was known as the “Bishop of Wall Street”? After reading about him, he looms almost “bigger than life” to me. Obituaries from the New York Times, The New Yorker magazine, and the Star Tribune provide many insights about this unusual man. William was born in Yorkshire, England in 1848. His father was a woolen weaver and William was apprenticed at the age of 10 to become a weaver as well. He followed the trade for 20 years, and by studying at night, became a self-educated man. Even as a child William was interested in religion and eventually wrote a series of articles about the dismantling of the Church of Ireland, a big topic in British politics. His articles were so well received that influential members of the public

said this young man belonged in the pulpit, not at the loom. William prepared himself for the ministry and became an Episcopal clergyman.

When William found himself in poor health, his doctors recommended that he go to the United States and live somewhere out in the open. Minnesota qualified for that

recommendation and he arrived in our state in 1882, first working under well known

Bishop Whipple and eventually becoming rector of St. Andrew’s Church in Minneapolis.

He also for a time was chaplain of the Minnesota House of Representatives.

William’s tenure at Minnesota coincided with the great Hinckley fire. His obituary tells us that “he assisted in the relief work among the victims and survivors, helping to conduct burial services for 418 of the dead, 113 in one day.” On my desk next to me is a 500 page historic book I ordered from Amazon, written by William Wilkinson and titled

“Memorials of the Minnesota Forest Fires in the Year 1894”. All who perished, known and unknown, are listed in the book, as well as many accounts of survivors, photos, and how the people of Minnesota helped with relief work. I cannot imagine a more comprehensive account of what happened during the fires and after. Because of

Rev. Wilkinson’s efforts in the Hinckley Fire aftermath, he was called to California in 1906 to render service following the San Francisco earthquake.

The 1904 West Concord Enterprise tells about Rev. Wilkinson conducting confirmation services at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in West Concord. It also mentions that he was a house guest of W.T. Schmidt, of the First National Bank. W.T. was a prominent member of St. Matthew’s.

In 1905 the national general convention of the Episcopal church was held in Minneapolis. A delegate to the convention was J.P. Morgan, one of the wealthiest and most powerful businessmen in the world at the time. After hearing Rev. Wilkinson preach, he asked him to come to Wall Street and paid all his expenses for the first year. Loosely affiliated with Trinity Church located at 89 Broadway, just opposite Wall Street in the financial district, Rev. Wilkinson preached a noonday sermon every day, standing on

a box in the middle of a gathered crowd. It was said that J.P. Morgan always came to the window at Noon and watched William preach to the people below. In 1912 Wilkinson preached one of the memorial services at Trinity Church for John Jacob Astor IV who died with the Titanic when it sank.

There is no doubt that William Wilkinson made his mark on Wall Street. Upon his death in 1925 at age 78, when he lay in state at the famous Trinity Church at the head of Wall Street, four thousand people passed through the church to pay their respects. There were so many mourners that 12 special police officers were hired to keep open the central aisle of the church so that the presiding church officers would have a way for their procession to reach the front of the church. The Star Tribune reported that hundreds of Wall Street men and women missed their lunches to give respect to Rev. Wilkinson. More than 20 honorary pallbearers included some of the most distinguished men of Wall Street. Among them were the Chairman of the Board of the United States Steel Corporation, the president of Metropolitan Life Insurance, the Vice-President of the New York Stock Exchange, and a former governor of New York.

The New Yorker sorrowfully stated, “With the Bishop gone, New York has one less kindly face to cheer it. He was a nice old man, filled to overflowing with the milk of human kindness, an Episcopalian more because he had to be something than because he believed in one sect above all others. His was a congregation that gathered together in the open not because of unity of creed but because of a common desire to consecrate a few minutes of the busy day to thoughts of the higher things of life.”

A second funeral was held at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Minneapolis. The Bishop of Wall Street was laid to rest in beautiful Lakewood Cemetery in Minneapolis.

I wish I could have known him.