Cordova’s version of the Dragon and St. George’s
During Cordova’s early days (1908-1911), when it was a boisterous railroad boomtown, the religious and social needs of both construction workers and the more genteel town residents were served by an Episcopal social club called the Red Dragon. Built on land donated by the Copper River and Northwestern Railway and painted railroad red with paint provided by the railway, the Red Dragon was a 24-feet-by-36-feet wood-frame building perched atop a steep hill overlooking Odiak Slough (the oldest section of town).
The Red Dragon served as a social club six days a week, but on Sundays an altar was lowered from the rafters for services. This arrangement served the needs of Cordova during its early years before the railroad was completed, but by the mid 1910s, the now well-established parish needed a church building.
The priest in charge of the Cordova parish during the 1910s, Eustace Ziegler, was also an accomplished artist and draftsman. He drew up plans for a church building that shared the same dimensions as the Red Dragon. Although smaller in size, Cordova’s Episcopal church is similarly-styled to Seward’s St. Peter’s Episcopal Church (built in 1906), with steeply-pitched gable roof, arched windows, decorative buttresses and shingle siding.
It took several years to arrange adequate financing, but in the fall of 1918 construction of the Cordova church started at a site about 100 feet east of the Red Dragon, at the corner of Lake Avenue and Second Street. Construction was financed in part by a large contribution from the Kennecott Copper Corporation. According to Nicki Nielsen’s book, The Red Dragon and St. George’s, the church’s pulpit was even constructed in the railway’s shops.
By the spring of 1919 the church building was debt-free and sufficiently finished to be consecrated on Easter Sunday, April 20 as St. George’s Episcopal Church. The building was dedicated to the memory of Erastus Corning Hawkins (1860-1912), who was the chief engineer in charge of construction of the White Pass and Yukon Railway as well as the CR&NW. He was also an active member of the St. George’s parish.
National Park Service documents state that St. George’s, as constructed, was a 24 feet wide by 36 feet long single-story wood-frame structure, with an 8-feet-by-12-feet entrance vestibule at the building’s northern end. Both the sanctuary and the entrance had steeply pitched gable roofs. Atop the sanctuary roof’s northern gable end sat a square, pyramid-shaped belfry with steeple, and a chimney occupied the sanctuary’s southern gable end.
Decorative buttresses divided the sanctuary’s east and west walls into four bays, and each bay had a tall arched multi-paned window centered in it. Smaller matching windows were located on the east and west walls of the entrance vestibule. The entire building — roof, steeple, and walls — was sheathed in wood shingles, with the shingles painted a dark brown and trim painted white.
The original structure had a concrete basement under half the sanctuary. In 1980 the concrete basement was extended under the entire structure.
The church has changed very little since it was constructed. In 1982 it, as well as the Red Dragon parish hall next door, were added to the National Register of Historic Places as the “Red Dragon Historic District.”
In 2013 St. George’s parish began restoration work on both the Red Dragon and St. George’s Church, including roof replacement, and foundation and electrical work. Most of the work on the Red Dragon has been finished, but work continues on the church building.
The National Park Service, through its Heritage Documentation Programs division, has produced a fascinating 2-minute “fly-through” of both the Red Dragon and St. George’s. The video can be viewed at bit.ly/3h0QFUb.
- Buildings of Alaska. Alison K. Hoagland. Oxford University Press. 1993
- “Cordova’s Red Dragon Historic District” website, <https://reddragoncordova.org/>. 2016
- “Red Dragon Historic District, National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form.” Nicki J. Nielson & Michael S. Kennedy. National Park Service. 1982
- The Red Dragon and St. George’s. Nicki J. Nielsen. Fathom Publishing Company. 1983