Close to 120 years ago, in 1887, a small group of people in the coastal community of Encinitas built a lovely little church in which to praise God. They constructed it well, using the finest heartwood lumber from the giant redwoods of Northern California. It is not known why the Encinitas Methodist Church was moved to San Marcos in 1902. Perhaps the congregation had outgrown its original building. At any rate, the structure was cut into four sections and transported to San Marcos by four horse-drawn wagons.
Like a butterfly, the little church had fluttered its wings and settled on a new flower…the site, which is now the corner of Pico and San Marcos Blvd. During this same period, another church had been established in nearby Richland to serve the folks of what is now east San Marcos. It was located across the road from the present Richland Elementary School. Known as the Richland Methodist Episcopal Church, this congregation eventually disbanded. Another butterfly’s wings were stilled.
In 1902 this church building was also moved to the Pico/San Marcos Blvd. location. Local ranchers supplied the transportation using a steam tractor that burned wood and straw. Another conveyance carried water for the boiler. Once at the new site, the Richland Church was sawed in half and the two sections placed on either side of the Encinitas Church, making the larger winged sanctuary, as it still remains.
Look closely at the church today and you will see the windows of the side wings are shaped differently than those of the center section. On September 16, 1909, papers of incorporation were signed and sealed for the “San Marcos Methodist Church”, and a deed to the land was transmitted six months later in March of 1910. A former member of that church shares some of his childhood memories:
“I recall San Marcos Community Methodist Episcopal Church at its old site in town as ‘center stage’ on Sundays for a country boy seven years old. In those good old days (around 1922) San Marcos had two stores, a gasoline station, a real estate office, blacksmith shop, and railroad station. I reached the ‘1910 school house’ by way of a short cut … a footpath by Chrysler’s store, and through olive groves and a stand of eucalyptus trees. San Marcos had no fire station in those days, but needed one badly. Our country store, where Saturday night dances were held upstairs, suffered a severe fire about 1925. I remember the bright glow of the fire was visible from our ranch, near the present campus of Palomar College.
That little church is so dear to my heart where footsteps of early youth were guided on a moral path by Sunday school and sermons at the worship services in the “Valley of St. Mark”. My dear mother taught the Thunderbird Sunday School Class from 1928 to 1931, as I recall. Mother awarded special pins of the thunderbird to her young folk who did well on their studies of the Sunday lessons. We were a happy lot. Our social life found a youthful outlet in those Sunday morning classes. The beginning of church services was marked by the ringing of the big bell, activated by pulling the stout rope attached. The sound of familiar old hymns brings back a flood of rich memories.”
By the 1940’s the church complex had been “modernized”. A stable was torn down and a garage containing two restrooms was built to the rear of the church. The old windmill was dismantled and replaced with an electric pump for the water supply, and a new gas heater replaced the wood burning stove. Known as “The Little Church in the Valley”, the Methodist congregation continued to worship there for many years. After they moved to their new location on Mission Road, a Hispanic Pentecostal group used the church for about 12 years. Ultimately they, too, built a new church and the “little church in the valley” stood vacant for about 2 years.
The wings of the butterfly again were still. The building was vandalized, windows were broken, and other damage was inflicted. Transients used it for shelter from the elements until city officials began to consider the building an “attractive nuisance” in addition to being an eyesore in its rundown and unkempt condition. The Fire Department was ready to condemn it, possibly even use it as a practice burn. The San Marcos Chamber of Commerce, recognizing the historical value of the building, considered moving it to another location to be used as their office but found the moving cost prohibitive. The Historical Society thought about moving it near the present museum and “The Barn” but had to abandon the idea for the same reason…too high a cost for the move.
In early 1983, the building was offered to the newly formed Grace Episcopal Church (officially considered a “mission”) as an outright gift in exchange for a promise of full restoration and preservation. The Vicar of this congregation [Rev. F. Ted Johnson] looked at the building and liked the idea. He invited his Bishop and other church officials to come and take a look. They, too, could capture the vision of the potential beauty of such a restoration and gave the venture their sanction.
A 3.5 acre site had already been purchased at the intersection of Mulberry and Rose Ranch Road where it had been planned that a new church would be built. Instead, plans for moving the old church were shifted into high gear.
The wings of the butterfly would fly again!
It was determined that the move would be more economical if the roof and the steeple could be removed first and moved separately, eliminating the need for the temporary relocation of power lines along the travel route. Before that could be accomplished, four layers of old shingles were removed from the roof, enough to fill several trucks. Then lath and plaster were removed from the ceiling and walls. This removal revealed more than the bare bones of the building: it uncovered more vagrants living in the attic and belfry….bats! After fumigation, some 1500 dead bats were disposed of, along with untold quantities of “evidence”.
The move to the new site finally took place in January 1984. The building was again split into four parts…the roof, the main sanctuary, and the two side buildings. Without the roof to stabilize it, the structure loosened up considerably requiring some skillful re-squaring before the roof could go back on. All the electrical wiring was replaced with new. The exterior of the church was sandblasted to remove layers of old paint, then the beautiful redwood of the original construction was again painted white.
The old square nails, many rusted through, were replaced and the interior wainscoting was sandblasted and stripped of many generations of paint. The steeple had to be newly braced and squared. A crane was hired to lift the roof sections into place, and then the steeple was swung into its lofty perch.
The Vicar and his flock of willing workers put in many, many long hours accomplishing all the tasks necessary. Some of the jobs were grossly unpleasant and others just plain hard work but they always kept the vision of their goal before them. The old church building kindled and sparked the congregation into a steady flame of enthusiastic participation. The pioneer spirit was alive as hammers, scrapers, paintbrushes, and rakes worked in concert
In the reconstruction, the cross atop the steeple was somewhat askew so the Vicar cut it off with a hacksaw. He approached a workman on a job in a nearby residential area and asked him if he would weld the cross in place sometime when he had some spare time. The man showed up early the very next morning, completed the welding, and smilingly told the Vicar that he did the job “for the Lord” and there would be no charge. There have been many such instances of donated labor and/or materials from non-church members, given for the honor and glory of God, by way of people’s affection for this “born again” church.
The original bell disappeared long years ago, but God knew of the need and supplied a 300 lb. beauty that had been just sitting in storage, awaiting for a new home. Its resonant tones now ring out over the valley from this resurrected church…this beautiful butterfly. The old round stained-glass window over the main door was preserved and as it catches the morning sun its reflected colors paint rainbows inside the church. Three new round windows, including the “Apostle Window” Over the altar, were designed, crafted, and donated by a local stained glass artisans’ guild. Grace Episcopal Church of the Valley now sits on a knoll in a pastoral setting with grazing cattle and horses on the surrounding rolling hills. Nearby neighborhoods of new homes have swelled the membership as families have come to worship in the little country church.
The beautiful butterfly has once again spread her wings.