Congregational Church in Colorado

In November, 1859, a union Sunday school was established at the mouth of Cherry Creek for both settlements (Denver and Auraria) and for all denominations. This may fairly be called the beginning of Congregationalism in the Rocky Mountain region. "During most of the period of this pioneer Sunday school's existence," says the record, "Miss Indiana Sopris, who later became Mrs. Samuel Cushman, served as assistant to the superintendent." Miss Irene Sopris, who was afterward Mrs. J. Sidney Brown, was also active in this work. Samuel Cushman was another active Congregationalist in the Union Sunday School and its superintendent for a considerable time.

It was no fault of the independent Congregationalists that a church of this denomination was not organized. Repeated appeals were made to the east but without success, and in 1863 when the subject received proper attention it was found that more active churches had succeeded in drawing many Denver Congregationalists into their membership. It was for this reason rather than any other, that the first Congregational church organized in Colorado was that at Central City, August 23, 1863, long since lapsed; and the second was that at Boulder, July 17, 1864.

In the winter of 1863-64, however, Mr. Cushman had made an eastern trip as far as Boston, and his earnest appeal to the church leaders in that city not to neglect the Denver field doubtless had considerable effect in determining the foundation of the church in that city.

The organization was effected through the aid of an ecclesiastical council convened for the purpose at the invitation of a dozen interested men and women of Denver. The place was the People's Theater, at that time the principal amusement house of the city, located on the west side of Larimer Street, about half way between Fourteenth and Fifteenth streets, and as nearly as can be determined today, on ground now occupied by the Schaefer Tent and Awning Company. Rev. William Crawford, an energetic agent of the American Home Missionary Society and the first Congregational minister in Colorado has written of a visit made by him to Denver in February, 1864. The town then had a population of 5,000, was a mile long and a quarter of a mile wide, and "was getting to be a stylish place." Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian and Episcopal churches were already established, but Mr. Crawford discovered twenty-five Congregationalists, mostly ladies. In population, wealth, resources and business activity Denver was surpassed by both Central City and Boulder.

In October of that year, the advisory council to establish the First Congregational Church of Denver was convened. Its members were: Rev. Jonathan Blanchard, of Wheaton College, Illinois, who was a casual visitor in the city while returning with his son from a trip to Montana; Rev. Norman McLeod, a missionary of the American Home Missionary Society, stationed in Denver; Rev. William Crawford, the first Congregational minister in Colorado, then pastor of the church in Central City, which he had organized as well as that in Boulder; Deacon James Hubbard, representing the Congregational Church in Boulder; Mr. Colton, of a Congregational Church in Kansas. The twelve charter members of the church were: H. A. Goodman, D. G. Peabody, I. J. Stevens, W. N. Ellis, Mrs. Elizabeth Sopris, wife of ex-Mayor Richard Sopris, Mrs. Melona Ellis, wife of W. N. Ellis, Mrs. C. A. Tolles, Mrs. S. W. Trumper, Miss Indiana Sopris, later Mrs. Samuel Cushman, Miss Irene Sopris, later Mrs. J. Sidney Brown, Miss Isabella R. Glenn and Miss Ellen Cooper.

The first pastor of the church was Rev. Norman McLeod, a home missionary who was released for this service by the society for the period of three months. At the end of this time he was transferred to Salt Lake City. Great difficulty was experienced in securing his successor, and it became necessary for Mr. Crawford, who was the Congregational leader of the region, to make a trip east. He attended the National Council of Congregational Churches at Boston, and after a personal appeal to the young men at Andover Theological Seminary, three of the graduates volunteered to return to Colorado with him. One of these, Rev. G. D. Goodrich, became the second pastor of the Denver church. Mr. Goodrich's pastorate lasted until March, 1867, and in September of that year, Mr. McLeod, who was the first pastor, returned.

On December 6, 1867, the church decided to build a house of worship. Services had previously been held in the district court room, in the assembly room of the University of Denver then known as the Colorado Seminary, Fourteenth and Arapahoe streets, and in the partially completed basement of the Baptist Church, which was commonly called "the dug-out," where now stands the America Theater, Sixteenth and Curtis. Two lots were purchased at the corner of Fifteenth and Curtis streets for $600. The period of prosperity was not, however, long continued. Mr. McLeod gave lectures and worked on one of the city papers, but the combination of Indian wars, grasshoppers and general hard times reached a crisis in 1869, and the church was left again without a pastor for more than a year. It is significant of the vitality of the church that in this period, the church building was completed and dedicated, October 25, 1870.

The next pastor was Rev. Thomas E. Bliss, who was called from Andover, Massachusetts, January 15, 1871, and began his work in Denver February 12th of the same year. The early months of I\Ir. Bliss' pastorate were among the most prosperous in the history of the church. The membership increased to l01. Unfortunately, however, the new membership was not harmonious and in 1872 the church entered upon the most troublous period of its existence. Irreconcilable differences regarding matters of church polity led to a controversy between the pastor and prominent members of the church, and finally resulted in charges filed with the prudential committee against the pastor and also against some of the members. On March 8th the trustees effected a final settlement by which upon payment of $800 in full of all demands, Mr. Bliss relinquished all claims to the pastorate. A considerable number of Mr. Bliss's sympathizers withdrew from the church with him and organized a second Congregational Church, which maintained an existence for only a few months, when it was transferred to the Presbyterians.

The next regular pastor was Rev. J. M. Sturtevant, Jr., who came to Denver from Ottawa, Illinois, and whose father was at that time president of Illinois Col-lege at Jacksonville. The period of his pastorate was one of harmony and progress. He was succeeded by Rev. C. C. Salter, who served as pastor from January, 1877, to October, 1879. Mr. Salter is chiefly remembered for his success-ful effort in starting the Second Congregational Church on the west side, and for his achievement in clearing the church property of debt. The old church and lots at the corner of Fifteenth and Curtis streets were sold for $14,500, and without waiting for the arrival of a new pastor the church purchased lots on Glenarm Street, just west of the Denver Club for $5,000 and began the erection of a building which was completed at a cost of $40,690.

On January 7, 1880, a call was extended to Rev. J. V. Hilton of East Boston, Massachusetts, at a salary of $2,500, and in March, 1880, Mr. Hilton accepted the call. While the new church was building services were held in Walhalla Hall, which had been erected for a general public meeting place upon the foundation of the old Baptist dug-out, at the corner of Sixteenth and Curtis streets. On May 22nd of that year the completed building was dedicated free from debt. This was made possible very largely through the liberality of Messrs. J. S. and J. F. Brown, who continued for many years among the staunchest and most liberal of the church's financial supporters. The four years of Mr. Hilton's pastorate constituted a period of great prosperity. Two hundred and thirty names were added to the roll of membership, and the creed and covenant were considerably simplified and broadened. Mr. Hilton resigned December 12, 1883, to take effect April i, 1884, and he was succeeded by Rev. Myron Reed, whose pastorate continued for more than ten years, the longest in the history of the church. Mr. Reed came to this city from the First Presbyterian Church of Indianapolis and he was a dominant figure not only in the church and in religious life of the state, but in politics and industrial matters as well. It is impossible even at this time to speak of Mr. Reed's career without partisanship, for he was himself partisan. His ideas were radical along many lines and his acts were not less extreme. He made many very warm friends and many bitter enemies. His salary was repeatedly raised by the church until it amounted to $7,000 annually, and the church contributions for benevolent purposes were proportionately large. The stormy and disastrous year, 1893, brought confusion and distress to almost every individual and organization of the state, and this church was not exempt from the common lot. Mr. Reed had come to be one of the recognized leaders of public thought and action, and in a time when every man was a partisan he felt it to be his duty to act as well as to speak for what he believed to be the truth. Like other public men of the period he was the victim of misrepresentation and abuse. His political and other public activities in addition to the work as pastor of this church were more than could be carried on by one man. On March 14, 1894, Mr. Reed asked for a six weeks' leave of absence on account of failing health, and on June 6th he presented his resignation, which was accepted a week later. After leaving this church Mr. Reed continued independent religious work m Denver for a number of years and died in Denver in January, 1899. He was unquestionably one of the most aggressive and influential leaders in religious and political thought of his time, and he had a lasting effect not only upon the church, but also upon the city and the state.

Mr. Reed's successor was Dr. John P. Coyle, who came from the Congregational Church of North Adams, Massachusetts. At the beginning of his pastorate he attracted the attention of some of the more active of Mr. Reed's critics, and the excitement of this publicity, coupled with the unaccustomed altitude, is believed to have been responsible for the development of a malady of the heart, from which he died after a pastorate of about four months.

From February, 1895, to January, 1896, the church was without a regular pastor, services being conducted for the most part by Chancellor McDowell, the head of the University of Denver. Dr. J. H. Ecob, the tenth pastor of the church, came from Albany, New York. He remained nearly three years, and re-signed in September, 1898. His successor was Dr. David N. Beach, who remained until August 15, 1902. The pastorates of both Doctor Ecob and Doctor Beach were disturbed by financial difficulties growing out of the general business disturbances that followed the great panic of 1893, which was especially injurious to Denver and generally throughout the Rocky Mountain region.

The coming of Rev. J. Monroe Markley from Pittsfield, Illinois, may be fairly said to mark the beginning of a new era in the church's history. He was the first pastor of the new century. During his pastorate the church home was changed from Glenarm Street to its present location. On December 27, 1905, it was voted to sell the old building and lots, from which $45,000 were received. The lots at the corner of Tenth Avenue and Clarkson Street were purchased for $7,250. The last services were held in the Glenarm Street building on January 13, 1907, and the same night it was destroyed by fire. While waiting for the construction of the new building, services were held in the Jewish Temple Emanuel. The corner-stone of the Tenth Avenue Church was laid March 18, 1907, and the first service was held in the new building on November 10, 1907.

Mr. Markley's pastorate ended by his resignation on December 22, 1907, and for exactly four months the church was without a pastor, though services were held regularly. Rev. Elbert H. Alford followed and remained until Memorial Day, 1909.

The' following Sunday, June 6, 1909, the pulpit was supplied by Rev. Allan A. Tanner, of Alton, Illinois. Three days later the Committee on Pulpit Supply recommended that a call be extended to Mr. Tanner. The report was approved unanimously by church and congregation. During Mr. Tanner's years of service 474 new members have joined it, of whom 400 are now on the rolls, the total membership being 511. Of the fifty-six who have united in 1917, twenty-seven are men and twenty-nine women. Dr. Tanner retired from the pastorate in 1917.

The following is a complete list of Congregational churches in Colorado in 1917; with date of organization, date of building of church, and members for 1917. The total membership in the state at that time was 11,865; Sunday School enrollment, 12,776:

Churches City or Town Church Organized Church Erected
1 Arickaree 1917 ....
2 Arriba 1895 1909
3 Ault 1901 1903
4 Berthoud, 1st German 1908 ....
5 Bethune, German 1911 1912
6 Boulder 1864 1906
7 Briggsdale, German 1911 1911
9 Brighton, Platte Valley 1901 1879
10 Brush, German 1910 1910
11 Buena Vista 1880 1907
12 Clark, Elk River 1901 1906
13 Collbran 1902 1903
14 Colorado City 1901 1904
15 Colorado Springs, 1st 1874 1888
16 Colorado Springs, 2d 1889 1890
17 Cope 1912 1911
18 Cortez ....
19 Craig 1900 1900
20 Creede 1894 1905
21 Crested Butte 1880 1884
22 Cripple Creek 1892 1897
23 Crook, German, Sterling 1912 ....
24 Delta, German ' 1917 ....
25 Denver, 1st 1864 1907
26 Denver, 2d 1879 1890
27 Denver, 3d 1881 1893
28 Denver, Boulevard 1882 1895
29 Denver, Pilgrim 1883 1884
30 Denver, Plymouth 1884 1899
31 Denver, Tabernacle 1884 1901
32 Denver, 4th Avenue 1888 1892
33 Denver, South Broadway 1890 1891
34 Denver, 7th Avenue 1890 1913
35 Denver, North 1891 1894
36 Denver, German 1894 1897
37 Denver, Ohio Avenue 1904 1910
38 Denver, Englewood 1904 1914
39 Denver, City Park 1906 1910
40 Denver, Berkeley 1916 1917
41 Denver, Washington Park 1913 ....
42 Denver, Union 1906 1916
43 Denver, Free Evangelical 1916 189S
44 East Lake 1915 1915
45 Eaton 1886 1890
46 Eaton, German 1907 191 5
47 Flagler 1888 1914
48 Fondis 1917 ....
49 Fort Collins, German 1904 1904
50 Fort Collins, Plymouth 1908 1909
51 Fort Morgan, German 1907 1916
52 Fountain 1904 1909
53 Fruita 1888 1889
54 Fruita, German ....
55 Genoa 1910 1907
56 Grand Junction 1890 1904
57 Greeley 1870 1907
58 Greeley, German 1906 1915
59 Green Mountain Falls 1917 ....
60 Grover, German 1914 ....
61 Hayden 1889 1893
62 Henderson 1905 1909
63 Joes 1916
64 Julesburg 1885 1914
65 Keota, German, Pilgrim 1914
66 Lafayette 1890 1891
67 Longmont 1871 1894
68 Loveland, 1st German 1901 1915
69 Loveland, Zion, German 1904 1908
70 Lyons 1889 1894
71 Manitou 1878 1880
72 Marble 1917
73 Maybell 1901 1904
74 Minturn 1917 ....
75 Molina 1906 1908
76 Montrose 1885 1886
77 Montrose, Spring Creek 1912 ....
78 New Castle 1889 1890
79 Nucla 1911 1913
80 Paonia 1901 1912
81 Paradox 191 1 ....
82 Plattville, Highland Lake 1881 1896
83 Proctor, German 1912 ....
84 Pueblo, 1st 1878 1889
85 Pueblo, Pilgrim 1880 1890
86 Pueblo, Minnequa 1902 1904
87 Pueblo, Irving Place 1906 1902
88 Raven, Fairview 1915 ....
89 Redvale 1910 19W
90 Rico 1888 1892
91 Rocky Ford, German 1906 1907
92 Seibert 1889 1913
93 Silt 1909 1909
94 Silverton 1881 1881
95 Steamboat Springs 1889 1891
96 Sterling, German 1911 ....
97 Stratton 1888 1908
98 Sulphur Springs 1892 1904
99 Telluride 1889 1889
100 Wellington, 1st 1904 1906
L01 Wellington German 1906 1906
102 Whitewater 1888 1895
103 Windsor, German 1904 1906
104 Yampa 1901 1901

The Congregational Conference of Colorado was organized March 10, 1868. Its officers in 1917 were: William E. Sweet, Denver, moderator; Rev. Frank L. Moore, Denver, superintendent; Rev. Joel Harper, registrar; A. D. Moss, Denver, treasurer.  

History of Colorado

Source: History of Colorado, Wilbur Fisk Stone, Editor, Volume I, Chicago, The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1918

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