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St. Boniface Catholic Church

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1907, Oswald Miller. 20 St. Boniface Dr., 3.9 miles northeast of Bigelow

St. Boniface parish was formed in 1879 after twenty-five families mostly of German descent settled on the surrounding farmland. They were served by Benedictine monks who traveled down the Arkansas River from Subiaco Abbey (LO4). In 1900, the Choctaw, Oklahoma and Gulf Railroad (later the Rock Island), whose line extended to just south of Bigelow, deeded forty acres for the establishment of a church, and a frame sanctuary was erected there in 1901. The congregation swelled as the railroad aggressively recruited European immigrants. The frame church burned in 1906, and soon afterward parishioner and local coffin-maker Oswald Miller designed and supervised the construction of the present wooden 30 × 100–foot church, using timber from the site. Occupying a low ridge and with a 95-foot steeple crowned with a 5-foot cross, St. Boniface towers over the surrounding pines and bucolic countryside, surprising the traveler with a delightful Old World vision. Its unadorned surfaces clearly reveal the component parts: bell tower with entrance at its base, steeple, nave, and apse with surrounding ambulatory. The front view, especially, with its bilateral symmetry, its dramatic verticality repeated in the steep angles of the roof, the four gables of the bell tower, and even the small gabled entrance porch, reinforces this charmingly naive quality. The interior, with the white beaded board sheathing of walls and ceiling that doubtlessly was like those in the homes of parishioners at the time, augments the vernacular aura. The three ornately carved white and gold trimmed altars are shown to good effect by blue background panels that repeat the lancet-arch-shaped windows. The largest altar, in the center, imported from Germany for the original church, was rescued from the 1906 fire and set within a semicircular apse. Around 1980, dissension arose between those advocating major repair and those advocating building anew. Fortunately, the preservationists won out. The care devoted today to the church, its adjacent cemetery (where the oldest headstones are inscribed in German), and its new parish hall are hearteningly apparent.

The church was the centerpiece of New Dixie, whih once was a self-contained settlement, isolated by poor gravel roads and the Arkansas River. After roads were paved and a bridge constructed in the 1960s, New Dixie lost its post office, its local merchants, and much of its population. St. Boniface is now, more than ever, the heart of this disappearing community.

Writing Credits

Author: 
Cyrus A. Sutherland with Gregory Herman, Claudia Shannon, Jean Sizemore Jeannie M. Whayne and Contributors
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Citation

Cyrus A. Sutherland with Gregory Herman, Claudia Shannon, Jean Sizemore Jeannie M. Whayne and Contributors, "St. Boniface Catholic Church", [Bigelow, Arkansas], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—, http://sah-archipedia.org/buildings/AR-01-PE1.

Print Source

Cover: Buildings of Arkansas

Buildings of Arkansas, Cyrus A. Sutherland and contributors. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2018, 110-110.

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