The Episcopal Church of Our Savior has stood on the banks of the St. Johns River in Mandarin since 1880. In that year, missionary Charles Sturgess organized the church in the spot where writer Harriet Beecher Stowe and her husband Calvin had been holding bible readings for approximately 12 years.
Since that time, it has weathered 52 hurricanes and tropical storms but has never suffered significant flooding. The church might have endured the high winds of Hurricane Dora in 1964, but a hickory tree fell on its historic chapel, shattering the stained-glass window dedicated by Stowe to her late husband and damaging the structure beyond repair. A replica of the original church with a larger sanctuary was built and dedicated in 1966.
Last year, the church survived Hurricane Matthew's storm surge when the rush of waves and rising water caused severe damage to its riverbank but left the structures unharmed.
But the church's luck changed on September 10-11, when Hurricane Irma brought nearly 15 inches of rain to the city. The runoff from the surrounding neighborhood rose past the church's red brick stoop and seeped into its hallowed floors.
As Jacksonville turned its attention toward the historic rise of the St. Johns River, the church worried about flooding from the other direction. As floodwaters ran off from surrounding neighborhoods, the lower areas on the property acted like catch basins and the water pooled.
Reverend Joe Gibbes, the rector at the Episcopal Church of Our Savior, said the main part of the church and the chapel was spared of any flood damage.
The same could not be said for the adjacent buildings. The office, meeting rooms, nursery, choir room and Sunday school rooms were all soaked with several inches of water that damaged the carpet, walls, and electronics.
After the waters receded, the property was a mess.
"We had some large limbs down around the property and just a ton of debris," Gibbes said. "A ton of really nasty … More