At the beginning of the 20th century, early Greek immigrants escaping religious, cultural, and political persecution from the former Ottoman Empire (modern Turkey), sought relief from a lack of economic opportunity or famine in Greece. Many had their properties confiscated and were driven from their homes. Coupled with civil war and the outbreak of WWI, they ventured to America seeking freedom, peace and a chance for a better and more prosperous future.
West Virginia was only a young state of 37 years at the turn of the century, around the time Clarksburg’s boom years began, as coal and glass production increased. The availability of natural resources along with easy railroad access attracted industry and manufacturing to Clarksburg, including chemical plants, brickworks, potteries, hardwood and casket companies and a tin mill.
The most significant immigrants during this time were from Asia Minor, and from the islands of Chios and Kos, settling around the Tin Mill. Several families from Thessaly and Sparta settled in downtown Clarksburg as early as 1907, operating restaurants and candy shops. As more families arrived, “Tinplate,” as Summit Park became known, was a thriving Greek community, earning the name “Greek Town.” Eventually, some of the men left the mill and started businesses of their own.
In 1905, James R. Phillips and Ernest T. Weir, U.S. Steel employees in well-paid positions, founded the Phillips Sheet and Tinplate Company, located in the Summit Park area of Clarksburg, WV. In 1907, John Williams, general supervisor at the Monessen, PA plant, arrived in Clarksburg, bringing with him two workers, Pete Pantelaras and Harry Cardiges, immigrants from the island of Chios, who, in turn, made it convenient for other young men, some with their families, to embark for Clarksburg to find employment in the Tin Mill.
Nicholas Demetriou Daramaras, who had envisioned building a church, has been credited as the “Founder” of St. Spyridon. Unfortunately, he left Clarksburg before the laying of the cornerstone, an opportunity that fell to John Demetriou Papathanasiou (Pappas), who had bid generously for the honor. Stelios Anastasakis provided the church with its first constitution. The cost of a new church in 1918 would be $35,000, a considerable amount at the time. A treasury of $5,000 had been acquired and monthly dues of $.50 per family were assessed.
On November 6, 1918, the men, women and children of the newly organized Greek Community stood viewing the ceremony celebrating the beginning of their new church. Officiating was the Very Rev. Archimandrite Parthenios Kolonis, a missionary priest from the island of Patmos. Church archives indicate that he traveled to Clarksburg from 1910-1918, performing many sacraments, most likely in people’s homes.
Bricks for the new church were donated by the Weirton Steel Mill from a dismantled oven. Mill employees Andreas Stratakis and Constantinos Andreadis donated their time and skills in the art of woodcarving to design the Iconostasis and to adorn the interior of the church. The four large icons on the Iconostasis were painted by A.M. Antoniadis. Icons and furnishings were gifts of individuals or groups of individuals. In 1948, all of the woodcarvings were restored and refinished by John Spanos.
The name “St. Spyridon” was recommended by Stelios Anastasakis, who suggested that since the nearest feast to the completion of the church was that of St. Spyridon on December 12th, it was only fitting to honor the saint by bestowing his name on the new church.
On December 12, 1920, the first Divine Liturgy was celebrated by the Very Rev. Archimandrite Parthenios Kolonis and Rev. Anthony Papademetriou, the first appointed priest to serve the community.
Rev. Emmanuel Panos, who followed in 1922, established the first Greek School, and is credited with having electric power installed at Tin Plate. It became evident that a place was needed to hold meetings, celebrations, Greek and Sunday School classes. Rev. Panos and a few women parishioners sold bonds to raise money for a new structure adjacent to the church.
St. Spyridon was honored with two visits by Archbishop Athenagoras, who became the 268th Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople from 1948-1972.
During the Second World War, a number of parishioners served their country overseas as the United States and its Allies became involved. On March 25, 1945, during the celebration of Greek Independence Day, a special ceremony honored the St. Spyridon Veterans as well as the two fallen heroes, Louis N. Kaites, US Navy, and Pete Sotirakis, US Marine Corps.
In 1946, the St. Barbara/St. Markella Ladies Auxiliary became a chapter of the newly organized Ladies Philoptochos Society of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese. The Ladies Philoptochos of St. Spyridon is dedicated to carry on the philanthropic and charitable objectives of the Greek Orthodox Church in America.
In 1979, the Ecumenical Patriarchate decreed the establishment of full bishops for its dioceses. His Grace Bishop Maximos became the dynamic spiritual leader of our Pittsburgh Diocese. With his appointment, major changes occurred, including elimination of dues. The Fair Share Program of Stewardship provided a more realistic method of meeting the budgetary requirements of the parishes. The first Stewardship Committee, appointed by the Parish Council in 1982, included Irene Muscatell, Gloria Palios, and Alex Xenakis. The second Stewardship Committee members were Alex Xenakis, Maria Alex, Ann Koukoulis, and Greg Player. Today’s Stewardship Committee members are Gus Alastanos, Maria Alex, and Nick Lambernedis.
In 1985, during His Grace Bishop Maximos’ annual pastoral visit, the late Bill Kourpas recalled a dream to His Grace, during which St. Spyridon told him that it was time for his church to be consecrated. Upon hearing this, His Grace immediately encouraged the Parish Council to begin necessary preparations for the consecration.
Through the formation of a Church and Building Fund and the generous donations of friends and supporters, the church received new bricks, the Narthex enlarged, and the Holy Altar redesigned. A new roof and new carpeting were installed and the church hall was remodeled, including enlargement of the kitchen. Outer window frames were added to protect the stained glass, and a walkway replaced the steps leading to the hall.
The Consecration took place on Sunday, September 28, 1986, by His Grace Bishop Maximos, assisted by several clergy. Holy Relics of early Christian martyrs were deposited and sealed in the newly constructed Holy Altar of God, a symbol of our “renewal” and “dedication” to the Church of Christ. At the end of the Divine Liturgy, pieces of St. Spyridon’s savanon (shroud) were distributed to the congregation, as a sacred remembrance of this very significant event in the history and life of the parish.
In early 1990, arrangements were to operate a concession stand at the West Virginia University football games, a venture which proved financially successful. For three years, parishioners, friends, relatives and neighbors worked twelve-hour days spanning twenty games.
The first ordination took place in late 1991 as Fr. Deacon Dean Dimon was ordained by His Eminence Metropolitan Maximos and assigned to the parish.
A GOYA basketball team was organized and on April 23, 1993, the team, accompanied by family and friends, traveled to Cleveland, Ohio, to participate in the Diocesan Basketball Tournament, where they were awarded the prestigious Sportsmanship Trophy for exemplifying exceptional sportsmanship throughout the tournament.
On June 27th, 1999, His Eminence Metropolitan Maximos officiated at the ground breaking ceremony for a new hall, blessing the cornerstone that was embedded in the foundation. On December 12, the feastday of St. Spyridon, the new hall, except for the kitchen, was fully operational and again blessed by His Eminence.
With the new and spacious commercial kitchen and dining room, St. Spyridon saw its first successful food festival in June, 2002. As the surrounding community became aware of our Greek cuisine, customs, and religion, the festival has continued to grow each year.
With the acquisition of the property bequeathed by the Anastasakis family, a large parking lot was constructed, necessary for the success of our festival. The property across the street from the church was also acquired, which offered additional parking. The run-down house behind the church was purchased and demolished, allowing for landscaping and a retaining wall to support the hillside, as well as a cement pad allowing for outside dining.
In anticipation of the 100th Anniversary in 2018, a capital campaign was launched to preserve the foundation laid by our forefathers to make much needed renovations. These included a new roof and bell tower, refacing of the wall along Factory and Pinnickinnick Streets, new chain link fence, restoration of the stained glass windows, new prothesis (preparation table) in the altar, painting the interior of the church and hall, and new flooring in the hall.
On Saturday, September 22, 2018, the 100th Anniversary was celebrated with a Grand Banquet followed on Sunday by a Hierarchical Divine Liturgy officiated by His Eminence Metropolitan Savas, Chancellor George S. Callos, and assisted by several visiting clergy.
As we now enter our 103rd year, we remain hopeful for the future growth of our parish.
30th Anniversary Album, 1948, 50th Anniversary Album, 1968, Consecration Album, 1986
Sprouse, Mary Virginia Davis: It All Began on Murphy’s Run, Bramhall Family Publishing, 1996