Biography of Rt.-Rev. John Franklin Spalding of Denver, Colorado

RT.-Rev. John Franklin Spalding, D. B. The life of this distinguished bishop began in Belgrade, Kennebec County, Me., August 25, 1828. He is a member of an old and patriotic family that has been identified with the history of America since an early period of its settlement. In 1619 two brothers, Edmond and Edward, came to this country from Lincolnshire, England, the former settling in Maryland and the latter in Virginia. However, in 1627 he went to Massachusetts and settled at Braintree, but later he and his son, Col. John Spalding, with others, incorporated the town of Chelmsford. Col. John, who gained his title by service in King Philip’s war, had a son Joseph, whose son, Lieut. John, was an officer in the Revolution, while a brother of Lieut. John, Hon. Simeon Spalding, was a member of Washington’s staff and a prominent statesman of Massachusetts. Jesse, son of Lieut. John, was born in Chelmsford, where he engaged in farming until his death. He was a young man at the time of the Revolution and enlisted in the American service.

John, son of Jesse and father of Bishop Spalding was born in Chelmsford, but removed to Maine and improved a tract of land lying on the Kennebec River. He was selectman of Belgrade and a man of prominence in his locality. His death occurred when he was quite advanced in years. His first wife, who died in early womanhood, bore the maiden name of Lydia Coombs, and was born at Vinalhaven, Me. Her father, Sylvanus, who was a shipbuilder and farmer there, was the son of a Revolutionary soldier, who removed from Massachusetts to Maine and entered land around Coombs Neck. He married a daughter of James Stinson, also a soldier in the Revolution and a member of a Massachusetts family. John Spalding had four children by his first marriage, of whom three are living, John Franklin being the eldest. By his second marriage he had two children, one now living.

Having fitted himself for college at Camden, Kent’s Hill (Me.) Wesleyan Seminary and North Yarmouth Academy, the subject of this sketch entered Bowdoin College in 1849 and graduated in 1853 with the degree of A. B., later receiving the degrees of A. M. and D. D. from his alma mater. Afterward he taught school, being principal of East Pittston (Me.) Academy for one term, and preceptor of Dennysville Academy in the winter and spring terms of 1854. In October of that year he entered the General Theological Seminary of the Protestant Episcopal Church, New York City, from which he graduated June 24, 1857. July 8 he was ordained deacon of St. Stephen’s Church, Portland, Me., and August 1 was appointed missionary to St. James Church, Oldtown, Me.; July 14, 1858, ordained priest by Bishop Burgess in Christ Church, Gardiner, Me.; August 1, 1859, appointed rector of St. George’s Church, Lee, Mass.; November 1, 1860, became assistant minister of Grace Church, Providence, R. I., of which Bishop Clark was the rector; November 1, 1861, dissolved his connection with that church and April 1, 1862, became rector of St. Paul’s Church in Erie, Pa., where he remained for twelve years and of which his son, Rev. Frank Spalding, is now the rector.

In 1865 he commenced the erection of a church edifice of stone, built in the early English style of architecture, and with a seating capacity of eight hundred. This magnificent building cost $65,000. During the same year he was elected a member of the Board of Missions of the Protestant Episcopal Church for Western Pennsylvania and was subsequently re-elected every third year for the diocese of Pittsburg. In 1866 he organized St. John’s Church of Erie and the following year built a church that cost $5,000. In 1868 he was a member of the general convention of the Episcopal Church, meeting in New York. The next year he organized the Church of the Cross and Crown in Erie, and built a church that seated three hundred. In October, 1871, he was a member of the general convention that met in Baltimore, and the next year he built Trinity Chapel in Erie.

September 28, 1873, he was unanimously elected and December 31 was consecrated bishop of Colorado, Wyoming and New Mexico, as successor to the late Bishop Randall. He reached Denver February 27, 1874, and at once entered upon the duties of his large diocese. Railroads were few and far apart in those days, and the bishop was obliged to do much of his visiting on horseback or by stage over rough mountain roads. The labor was enormous, but his courage was equal to the responsibility. Soon the number of communicants was greatly increased. New churches and chapels were built, parsonages were erected and parishes were organized. The work grew to such an extent that in 1881 New Mexico was separated, and in 1887 Wyoming was formed into another diocese. He built the Wolfe School for girls and Jarvis Hall, a military academy for boys; also Matthews’ Hall Theological School, of all of which he is the president. He also was instrumental in the erection of St. Luke’s Hospital and the Home for Consumptives.

In Erie Bishop Spalding married Lavinia Spencer, who was born there and received an excellent education. She was a daughter of Judah C. Spencer, a native of Connecticut and a descendant of Revolutionary ancestors. She is a lady of sweet disposition and noble character, a fitting companion for her husband in all his responsible undertakings. They are the parents of five children, of whom Frank is a graduate of Princeton and rector at Erie, Pa.; William, also a graduate of Princeton, is engaged in business in Denver; Elizabeth and Sarah were given splendid advantages, the latter being a Vassar graduate; and John Edward died in Erie.

Three times Bishop Spalding has gone to Europe to attend great meetings of bishops in London, and twice, in 1878 and 1888, he also visited the continent, but the last time, in 1897, his visit was limited to England. Fraternally he is a Knight Templar Mason. The degree of D. D. was conferred upon him by both Bowdoin and Trinity Colleges, the latter of Hartford, Conn. He is a fluent writer and has published a number of books, among them the ”Church and Apostolic Ministry” (1886); ”The Best Mode of Working a Parish” (used in the Syracuse (N. Y.) Theological Seminary); ”Jesus Christ, the Proof of Christianity” (1889), and many pamphlets and short articles. In length of time of service he is next to the oldest bishop west of the Mississippi. He is a member of the Sons of the Revolution, was its first president, and served for two years; is also identified with the New York Society of Colonial Wars and the Colorado Society, having been a charter member of the latter and its president for two years.

The life of Bishop Spalding has been a busy and active one. Nor is there any noticeable diminution of his activity now, although his twenty-five years of service in his present position certainly entitle him to a lightening of labor, should he so desire. By all who know him, whether or not they are identified with his denomination, he is recognized as a man of scholarly attainments and great executive ability, and is respected and admired for his kindness to the poor, his great heart that is open to every deserved appeal for assistance, and his noble character that has stood the fiery crucible of hardships and has conic unscathed through every trial.


Source: Portrait and biographical record of Denver and vicinity, Colorado : containing portraits and biographies of many well known citizens of the past and present : together with biographies and portraits of all the presidents of the United States.. Chicago: Chapman Pub. Co., 1898.


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