St. Paul’s Episcopal Church – Tombstone, Arizona - Atlas Obscura

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St. Paul’s Episcopal Church

The first Protestant church in Arizona and only Gothic Revival style adobe church in the world.  


Tombstone is best remembered for a Wild West culture comprised of notorious gamblers, gunslingers, and outlaw cowboys, but the majority of residents were actually respectable, law-abiding citizens. Founded in 1877 after silver was discovered in the area, Tombstone had up to 10,000 residents at the height of its mining boom in the 1880s. Some historians indicate this number only reflects white males registered to vote and speculate that the population may have been as high as 20,000 if women, children, and ethnic minorities were counted appropriately. By late 1881, Tombstone had several hundred mining claims, over 100 saloons, and numerous gambling halls and  brothels.  There were also fancy restaurants, banks, a bowling alley, an opera house, three newspapers, and many other businesses needed to keep a town that size running. 

Episcopalians had been meeting in the Mining Exchange Building and decided it was time for a church. Reverend Talbot organized a building project for the new church but left after only a few months and was replaced by 25-year-old Endicott Peabody, who had just completed his first semester at Episcopal Theological School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. After raising $5,000  from the miners, gamblers, sporting women, business owners, and other citizens, the church was completed and the first service was held on June 18, 1882, with services held every Sunday since. It is the oldest Protestant church in Arizona and the only Gothic Revival style church built out of adobe in the world. 

Listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1971, many features of the building are original, including the pews and the Belgian stained glass windows. The timber used for the ceiling and roof was hauled in by ox carts from the Chiricahua Mountains. The original light fixtures are said to have come from a sailing vessel, possibly an 1870s whaling ship. There have been renovations over the years, including electrifying the old lights. The bell tower was replaced after being struck by lightning and the building was stuccoed in 1970 to protect the hand-formed adobe brick. 

Peabody was from one of the wealthiest families in America, and his life both before and after Tombstone was spent among the wealthy. He was homesick while in Tombstone and left after only six months to return to theological school in Massachusetts. He graduated in 1884 and went on to found the Groton School, where he served as headmaster for 56 years. Notable students included Theodore Roosevelt’s four sons and future president Franklin D. Roosevelt. One may wonder if perhaps his time spent with the little congregation in Tombstone influenced his ideas and values about the importance of public service and in turn influenced the course of America. 

Know Before You Go

This church is still in use and services are held every Sunday at 10:30 a.m. 

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