Red Dragon historic tea set for Sunday afternoon

By the Rev. Belle Mickelson

The new roof on the Red Dragon. Courtesy photo
The new roof on the Red Dragon. Courtesy photo

For The Cordova Times

Come enjoy a cup of tea from 2-4 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 25, at the Red Dragon.

It’s a party to thank and honor the people of Cordova who have helped keep the church going for 108 years. We’ll be collecting stories and pictures for a Church and Red Dragon Yearbook — and drawing for the roof raffle.

A couple years ago, I started thinking about the people that built the church and those that have kept it going year after year. Maybe they were an acolyte, and helped run the soup kitchen, bought something at a rummage sale, cut the grass, came to a square dance, mailed a Christmas package to kids in a village — or just went to the church for a few months. Little by little, everyone has kept it going so these buildings and grounds are there for us to enjoy — sacred places that inspire us and bring out the best in each of us.

Since we announced the Red Dragon Party, I’ve heard from the Rev. Bob Thwing, and met some of the Rev. Glen Wilcox’s family who lived in the rectory in Cordova during the ’64 earthquake.

Historical photo of the interior of the Red Dragon. Courtesy photo
Historical photo of the interior of the Red Dragon. Courtesy photo

In 1983, Nicki Nielsen wrote “The Red Dragon and St. George’s: Glimpses Into Cordova’s Past,” about Cordova’s oldest building, dedicated on July 14, 1908 as a clubhouse and reading room for the community and men building the Copper River Railroad.

The Rev. E. P. Newton wrote about the Red Dragon Clubhouse in 1910 in the Alaska-Yukon Magazine, noting that the “… future church will be called St. George’s, and the dragon is a proper concomitant.”

St. George’s Church was consecrated on Easter Sunday, April 20, 1919. It was designed in the English architectural style, by Cordova’s first priest, Eustice P. Ziegler, who later became one of Alaska’s best artists.

Michael Heney, the builder of the Copper River Railroad gave a large donation to Bishop Rowe for the building of the Red Dragon — and in his will “left $10,000 to the Bishop for the work of the Episcopal Church among the Interior Natives.”

The church was dedicated in memory of E.C. Hawkins, chief engineer of the Copper River and Northwestern Railway.

For many years, the Red Dragon served as the town’s library.

With the decline in the railroad, the church ceased regular services from 1934-39, but the Red Dragon Clubhouse remained open. From 1939 through 1951, Father Mervin Wanner took up residences in both Cordova and Valdez, “spending a month at a time in each community.”

In 1956, “the Rev. and Mrs. Lewis Hodgkins arrived in Cordova, giving St. George’s a full-time resident priest for the first time in 25 years.

In 1961, the Rev. Glen Wilcox and his family arrived. A photographer and founding member of the Cordova Historical Society and Museum, he also worked with state officials planning to widen the Copper River Highway to be sure the Red Dragon stayed in place.

The Rev. Diane Tickell, one of the first ordained women, arrived as priest-in-charge in 1979. She revived the tradition of opening the church and the Red Dragon in the summer as a reading and gathering place for those fishing and working in the canneries.

In 1982, “the Red Dragon and the church building were accepted into the National Register of Historic Places under the listing ‘Red Dragon Historic District.’