The first Presbyterian minister to awaken the silence of the Rockies
with the voice of the Gospel was the Rev. Lewis Hamilton, of the
Presbytery of St. Joseph, New School. On account of failing health his
congregation at Lima, Indiana, granted him a six months' vacation with
full pay. Accepting an invitation to act as chaplain of a caravan leaving
Lima for the gold country, he arrived in Denver on June 11, 1859, after
twenty-nine days of traveling with ox teams; and on the next day, June
12th, he preached the first sermon in an unfinished building on Ferry
Street, in what is now West Denver. After the sermon at the same place the
next Sabbath, Horace Greeley said to him, "Mr. Hamilton, you should go
into the mountains; the men are there." Acting on this advice, he went to
Gregory Gulch and Central City, where he preached under the majestic
pines. Afterward he visited Tarryall, Fairplay, and other points and then
re-turned to Lima. In the spring of i860, in broken health, he came again
to Central City by way of Pueblo and Caņon City. He soon organized a union
church into which he gathered sixty-five members. To help support himself,
he, with a partner, engaged in the grocery business. About this time his
son, a promising young man of nineteen, died. This great affliction almost
unbalanced his mind, and as a relief he traveled among the mining camps.
For two years he was chaplain of the Second Regiment, Colorado Volunteers,
and after his army life he was commissioned by the board as an itinerant
missionary. Rev. H. B. Gage says, "We venture to say that Father Hamilton
preached the first sermon in more new localities than any other man in the
west." He was the first moderator of the Presbytery of Colorado and also
of the Synod of Colorado. In 188 1, when over seventy years of age, he
journeyed mostly on foot, eighty miles over the range, crossing the summit
by night on the crust of the snow, to take up the work at Irwin, a rough
mining camp. Here he built a church, supposed to be the highest in the
United States at that time, 10,450 feet above the sea. He went east and
obtained money and a bell for the 'church, and on his return, while
changing cars at South Pueblo, was killed on December 7, 1881. He was
buried at Cedar Rapids, Iowa.. The second Presbyterian minister to visit
this region was the Rev. Alexander Taylor Rankin, who arrived in Denver on
July 31, i860. On August 5th he preached in the Union School to a large
audience, of which service he said, "Made a good start." After holding
services in several different places, on September 2, i860, in a large
room on Larimer Street, he organized the first Presbyterian church in the
Rocky Mountain region, with eight members, Dr. W. P. Hills and Daniel Mayn
were chosen elders, and on September 6th six trustees were elected.
On October 14th the first communion service was held; on November 12th
a Bible class was begun and on November 29th Mr. Rankin preached what was
probably the first Thanksgiving sermon in all this region. He visited
Colorado Springs, Central City and Idaho Springs, and on December 8, i860,
after a stay of a little over four months, left Denver and returned to
Buffalo, New York.
From December 8, i860, there was no
Presbyterian minister in Denver until April 26, 1861, when Rev. A. S.
Billingsley arrived. He preached in various buildings, at one time over a
liquor store, concerning which he writes: "And thus with the spirit of
alcohol below and praying for the Spirit of God above, hope to be mighty
through God to pulling down the strongholds."
On December 15,
1861, he organized the First Presbyterian Church, with eighteen members.
No reference is made to the former organization. Two elders were elected,
one of whom, Simon Cort, having been previously ordained, was on the same
day inducted into office. He was the first installed elder in the Rocky
Mountain region, and with his family had much to do with founding
Presbyterianism here. The organization was effected in International Hall
on Ferry Street.
Mr. Billingsley remained until April, 1862. After
preaching for three months at Buckskin Joe and adjacent points, he
returned east and died in North Carolina in 1897.
The work in
Denver had not been largely successful and when Rev. Alanson R. Day
arrived on November 2, 1862, only six persons could be induced to identify
themselves with the church.
In 1863 Major Fillmore donated lots on
F Street (now Fifteenth) between Lawrence and Arapahoe, and on them a
building 36 by 64 feet, costing $5,200, was erected. It was dedicated on
January 17, 1864, being the second Presbyterian Church building in this
region. To it the Board of Church Extension, Old School, contributed $500
aid, and thus began the important work of helping the churches to obtain
buildings. Mr. Day returned east in March, 1865, but again ministered to
the church during the winter of 1868 and 1869. After this he labored at
Boulder Valley Church until March, 1873.
From October, 1865, to
October, 1867, Rev. J. B. McClure of the Presbytery of Chicago, Old
School, ministered to the church under commission of the Board of Domestic
Missions, and then accepted an agency for the North Western Presbyterian
and returned to Chicago.
In February, 1868, the Rev. A. Y. Moore,
of the Presbytery of Southern Indiana, Old School, began to supply the
church. He received a call to become its pastor, but declined it and
returned to Indiana in about three months.
Without dismission or
permission, on November 18, 1868, because they could not obtain sufficient
aid from the Old School Board, the congregation, by a majority of one,
"Resolved to place itself under the care of the most convenient Presbytery
connected with the Presbyterian Church, which is to hold its next general
assembly in the Church of the Covenant of New York City." This part of the
congregation took possession of the building, obtained a title to the
property after much litigation, by paying to those who remained in the Old
School branch, $2,500. They were received into the Presbytery of Chicago
on August 10, 1869, as the First Presbyterian Church of Denver, New
School. By a committee of that Presbytery, the Rev. E. P. Wells, who had
arrived in Denver on December 10, 1868, was installed. The church was
received from the Presbytery of Chicago by the Presbytery of Colorado, on
August 16, 1870.
The church became self-supporting in 1871, the
name was changed to Central in 1874, and the location was changed to
Eighteenth and Champa in 1876.
At a congregational meeting held
February 14, 1888, Messrs. Fletcher, Benedict and Woodward were appointed
a committee to secure a suitable site for a new church and parsonage.
Eight lots on the corner of Seventeenth and Sherman Avenue were purchased
at a cost of $40,000. A building committee consisting of Dr. J. W. Graham,
J. G. Kilpatrick, J. B. Vroom, Donald Fletcher and B. F. Woodward was
appointed. A parsonage was erected on the seventh and eighth lots from the
corner at an expense of about twenty-two thousand dollars. The four lots
on the corner of Eighteenth and Champa were sold for $130,000, exclusive
of improvements. The church building and furniture were sold to the
Twenty-third Avenue Church for a nominal consideration. Plans for a new
church at Seventeenth and Sherman were prepared by Architects F. E.
Edbrooke and W. A. Marean. Contracts were awarded to Messrs. William
Simpson and R. C. Greenlee & Sons for the new building, to be completed on
or before June I, 1892, at a cost when completed and furnished of
$165,000. The New Broad-way Theater was rented for Sabbath services for
one year. The First Congregational Church lecture room was rented for
mid-week and Sabbath school services. The farewell services in the old
structure, which was endeared to many by sacred and tender associations,
were held on the Sabbath of December 28, 1890, and soon thereafter the
building was carefully taken down and removed to the new location of the
Twenty-third Avenue Church, there being rebuilt in the same form, and
re-dedicated to the same uses and purposes.
Beginning with eight
members in 1861, the church has organized two other churches from its
membership, viz., the Twenty-Third Avenue and North Presbyterian churches,
and has aided several missions in different parts of the city. The
Railroad Union Mission was established and endowed by one of its members,
the late F. J. B. Crane.
The Old School branch of the congregation
was ministered to by Rev. A. R. Day from April, 1869, to April, 1870. The
Rev. W. Y. Brown succeeded him and began work in July, 1870. He met with
great success and built a church where the Equitable building now stands,
the entire property being worth $12,-250. Afterwards what is now the First
United Presbyterian Church was built, and the congregation removed to that
location. The different names of this church are interesting: First
Presbyterian Church of Denver, Westminster, Stuart Re-Union, First
Presbyterian Church of Denver, distinguished as First Presbyterian, on
Seventeenth Street, Seventeenth Street Church and Capitol Avenue Church,
after which it was united with the First Avenue Church and lost its
identity in 1899.
The second church to be organized was that of
Central City, on January 26, 1862, by Father Hamilton, with nine members.
It was the first Protestant church in the mountains. In the fall of that
year the Rev. G. W. Warner of Weedsport, New York, took charge of the work
and remained about one year. On February 15, 1863, he organized the
Blackhawk Church with ten members, and there built the first Presbyterian
Church building in the Rocky Mountain region. It was dedicated on August
29, 1863, free of debt and without aid from the board.
spring of 1864, the Revs. T. D. Marsh and A. M. Heizer were appointed by
the board, the former to Central City and the latter to Blackhawk.
Doctor Marsh labored at Central City until February, 1865, when he
accepted a call to Blackhawk. He recognized the need of a Presbytery, and
at a convention of Presbyterians in Denver, on January 16, 1866 the
Presbytery of Colorado was informally organized, consisting of three
ministers and four churches. Doctor Marsh was moderator. Strong
resolutions in favor of union were adopted. By it Mr. Marsh was installed
at Blackhawk. But this so-called prehistoric Presbytery never met again
and was not recognized by the General Assembly, and the pastoral relation
was never dissolved.
The next organization was that of Boulder
Valley, effected in September 1863, by the Rev. A. R. Day, having seven
members. He continued to preach for them every alternate Monday evening,
until the summer of 1864, when the Rev. C. M. Campbell, of the Presbytery
of Allegheny City, took charge of the field. He labored for this church
for some two years, preaching also at Boulder City and Upper St. Vrain.
The church was vacant from October, 1866, until October, 1867, when the
Rev. A. R. Day again took charge and continued to labor there until
January 1, 1871. After this the Rev. C. M. Campbell again supplied the
church. A building was erected in 1864.
At the end of ten years,
June, i86g, there were six organized churches: the two in Denver, and one
each in Central City, Blackhawk, Boulder Valley and Santa Fe, with a
combined membership of probably not more than one hundred and fifty. There
were three church buildings, Denver, Blackhawk and Boulder Valley. There
was but one organized Presbytery, that of Santa Fe, including but a small
part of the territory.
As early as 1867 the Cumberland
Presbyterian Church at Caņon City, then in charge of Rev. B. F. Brown,
erected the largest and finest religious edifice in southern Colorado.
In 1890 there were four Presbyteries in Colorado, those of Boulder,
Denver, Gunnison and Pueblo. Churches had been established at Boulder,
Boulder Valley, Cheyenne, Fossil Creek, Fort Collins, Timnath, Greeley,
Fort Morgan, Longmont, Laramie, Crook, Rankin, Rawlins, Berthoud,
Julesburg, Denver, seven churches, Akron, Otis, Blackhawk, Idaho Springs,
Westminster, Littleton, Georgetown, Hyde Park, Central City, Brighton,
Wray, Laird, Yuma, Abbott, Golden, Tabernacle, Pitkin, Grand Junction,
Aspen, Leadville, Salida, Glenwood Springs, Ouray, Lake City, Delta,
Poncho Springs, Irwin, Fairplay, Palmer Lake, Monument, Mesa, Pueblo,
Trinidad, Saguache, Monte Vista, Valley View, Colorado Springs,
Walsenburg, Eaton, Table Rock, Canon City, Huerfano, Durango, Antonito, La
Luz, Cinicero, Las Animas, Silver Cliff, West Cliff, Alamosa, Del Norte,
Rocky Ford, La Junta, El Moro, Eagle, La Veta. In its eighty churches
there were the following number of communicants: Boulder, 1,080; Denver,
2,449; Gunnison, 901; Pueblo, 2,142. The Presbyterian College of the
Southwest, which had been established in 1884 at Del Norte, and the Salida
Academy, established at Salida in 1884, both received aid at this period
from the General Assembly. In 1900 there were forty-seven students at the
Del Norte College, and 161 at Salida. The General Assembly was continuing
its work of aiding these institutions.
The growth of the
membership of the church in Colorado was gratifying. In 1891 it was 6,674;
in 1892, 7,312. In 1897 it was 9,327; in 1899 it was 10.310. In 1910 it
had grown to 20,167. In 1900 there were 128 churches in the four
Presbyteries which formed the Synod of Colorado.
In 1910 there
were 155 churches, with a Sunday school membership of 20,112.
1917 there were 149 churches in the Synod of Colorado, and communicants
were as follows: Boulder Presbytery, 4,811; Denver, 7,724; Gunnison,
1,993; Pueblo, 8,216; total, 22,744. Sunday school membership, 20,839.
In 1899 and in 1904 the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in
the United States met in Denver. In 1884 Dr. George P. Hays, of Denver,
and in 1903 Dr. Robert F. Coyle, of Denver, were chosen moderators of the
General Assembly. Dr. R. F. Tinnon, of the Rocky Mountain Synod was chosen
moderator of the Cumberland Branch, General Assembly, in 1903.
Closing Westminster University
On June 8, 1891, the Westminster University of Colorado was
incorporated. Among the leading figures in the movement were: Rev. T. M.
Hopkins, D. D.; Ben F. Woodward; E. B. Light, and J. J. Garver.
The corporation acquired title to 640 acres of land from Ben D. Spencer
and H. J. Mayham, of which forty acres were set apart as the campus of the
university, eighty acres as the college farm, and the remainder plotted
into lots and blocks. This section of land is located seven miles north of
Denver near the station then known as Harris on the Colorado & Southern
A handsome building was erected, costing more than two
hundred thousand dollars, the funds being secured from loans and advances
made by the estate of H. A. W. Tabor, The Sayre-Newton Lumber Company, The
Colorado Mort-gage & Investment Company, Ltd., and from the proceeds of
sales of real estate.
Before the enterprise was completely
launched the so-called panic of 1893 came on and it became necessary to
defer the plans of the founders. No faculty was organized and no
On March 14, 1903, a certificate of
incorporation of The Westminster University Corporation was filed in the
office of the secretary of state. The management of the corporation was
confided to twenty-four trustees, at least two-thirds of whom "shall be
ministers or members in good standing of some church or churches in
connection with and under the control of the General Assembly of the
Presbyterian Church in the United States of America."
18, 1907, the college was formally opened, work being carried on for the
first year in the Central Presbyterian Church of Denver.
deficit was, however, continuous, and at the session of the synod in
Pueblo, October 16, 1917, the college was officially closed, arrangements
having been made to clear the institution of debt.
History of Colorado
Source: History of Colorado, Wilbur
Fisk Stone, Editor, Volume I, Chicago, The S. J. Clarke Publishing
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