The Church of St. John’s in the Wilderness, of Denver, the first Protestant Episcopal Church in Colorado, was officially organized February 19, 1860, by the erection of a temporary vestry. The name of the church was given it some weeks earlier by William H. Moore, who had begun this mission, as he said, “seven hundred miles from the nearest church.” His sister, who was known as Deaconess Moore, born in 1830, and who assisted at the founding of the first mission, was still alive and active in 1917.
The first temporary vestry consisted of Charles A. Lawrence, Thomas L Bayaud, later its first senior warden, Amos Steck, soon elected mayor, Samuel C. Curtis, then postmaster, E. Waterbury, Thomas G. Wildman, D. C. Collier, C E. Cooley, Dr. A. F. Peck and Richard E. Whitsett. On November 6, 1861, St. John’s Church in the Wilderness was incorporated by legislative enactment, with the following incorporators: Amos Steck, Benjamin H. Blanton, John S. Fillmore, Oscar D. Cass, Thomas G. Wildman, Roswell W. Roath, Henry B. Rogers, Milton M. Delano, Samuel S. Curtis, Thomas J. Bayaud. In the incorporation the church was legally exempted forever from taxation.
In the church records the first rector. Rev. John Kehler, who had for many years been rector of the parish of Sheppardstown in Virginia, and who had reached Denver early in January, thus announces this historical beginning of Protestant church services in Colorado under date January 17, 1860: “January 17, We inaugurated our services in Denver City in the Union School House on Cherry Creek, McGaa Street. Then and there doubtless for the first time since the creation were the solemn and befitting words spoken: ‘The Lord is in this Holy Temple. Let all the earth keep silence before Him.’ ”
“Father” Kehler, as he was ever affectionately called, resigned the rectorship June 3, 1862, after his appointment as chaplain of the First Regiment of Colorado Volunteers. After his term of service, spent mostly, in the field in New Mexico, he returned to Denver, where he continued to reside, much beloved, and serving the church, as his age and infirmities permitted, until 1876, when he removed to Washington, where he died February 21, 1879. From 1866 to 1876 he was a member and president of the standing committee.
Bishop Talbot, missionary bishop of the Northwest from 1859 to 1865, made his first visitation August, 1861. He was surprised and delighted to find a flourishing parish in this city of the plains, maintaining regular worship in a rented building, humble in character, but well adapted to the services of the church. He spent the entire month in Denver, and in the mining camps of what were subsequently Gilpin and Clear Creek counties, holding service and preaching in Central City, Idaho Springs, Spanish Bar, Golden, Mountain City, Nevadaville, etc. Central City was the only point at which in his judgment a missionary should then be stationed.
On the next visitation in the summer of 1862 more substantial results were accomplished. St. John’s Parish had recently become vacant. By his advice, the chapel of the Southern Methodists, the only place of worship in town, was purchased and fitted up for services, at a cost of $2,500, of which, according to the bishop’s report, the congregation contributed $1,000. It was consecrated on Sunday, July 20, 1862. To supply the parish till a rector could be found, the Rev. Isaac A. Hagar, deacon, was called from Nebraska. Mr. Hagar, in addition to his services in Denver, officiated occasionally during his stay at Central City and Golden. At the former, including surrounding camps, was a population of nearly five thousand, at the latter about one hundred. Denver had perhaps three thousand. The bishop, after holding several services and much personal visiting and intercourse, secured the organization of St. Paul’s, Central City, as a parish, the earnest churchmen of the place having obtained subscriptions, which guaranteed the full support of a clergyman. Soon after he sent to them the Rev. Francis Granger, who became and was for two or three years their rector. The bishop visited all the places where he had been the year before, and also the Clear Creek Valley as far as Empire and Georgetown. He also made an extensive journey to the South Park, visiting Tarryall, Montgomery, Georgia, Buckskin Joe, California Gulch (on which is the present city of Leadville), and Breckenridge. He returned by way of the Ute Pass and Colorado City, the first capital of the territory, where he held services.
In 1863, the bishop made another visitation occupying the month of August.
He brought with him the Rev. Wm. O. Jarvis, and appointed him missionary at Empire, Gold Dust and Idaho, a most discouraging field, for the early promise of growth was not realized, and after a year of arduous labor, the missionary returned to the east. The bishop had secured the Rev. H. B. Hitchings to succeed Mr. Hagar at Denver, in the autumn of 1862. His labors had been so successful that it became necessary to enlarge the church, giving it a seating capacity of over three hundred. It was opened by the bishop August 16th, and on the same day Mr. Hitchings was instituted rector.
Bishop Talbot was again in Denver and officiated on Sunday, November 22d, the same year, on his return from Utah and Nevada. This was his last visit, until the consecration of Trinity Memorial, Denver, September 1875.
The church was now firmly established in the two most important centers, Denver and Central City. At both of these, parish schools were established. The two rectors held occasional services at Golden, Blackhawk and Nevada. Mr. Granger having resigned, the Rev. A. B. Jennings was secured for Central City in August, 1865.
The Rt. Rev. Geo. M. Randall elected missionary bishop in October and consecrated December 28, 1865, arrived in Denver June 11, 1866. His jurisdiction included Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. In 1867 Idaho and Montana were assigned to Bishop Tuttle, and New Mexico was at the same time given to Bishop Randall. He entered upon his work with great zeal and enthusiasm. The Rev. Father Kehler and Reverends Hitchings and Jennings were in the field. He brought out the Rev. Wm. A. Fuller, deacon, and placed him at Nevadaville, two miles above Central City.
The bishop during his first summer visited all the points seen by his predecessor and a few others on the Arkansas and its tributaries. Going east for the winter to secure men and means, he came back in the spring with the “army of one” he had succeeded in “recruiting,” the Rev. F. Byrne. He met on his way back the “first army,” the Reverend Mr. Fuller, returning. This was the clergy-man who made so narrow an escape from the Indians when they attacked the stage-coach in the Platte Valley. Soon after, however, 1867-69, he secured a few additional clergymen, the Reverend Lynd, for Golden, Reverend Whitehead, for Blackhawk, and Reverend Winslow, for Empire and Georgetown.
On April 1, 1869, the Reverend Mr. Hitchings having resigned, the bishop assumed the rectorship of St. John’s, Denver.
In 1868 and later the work was considerably extended. Churches consecrated were: Christ, Nevada, September 17, 1867; Emmanuel, Empire, September 18, 1867; St. Mark’s, Cheyenne, August 23, 1868; Calvary, Golden, September 23, 1868; St. Peter’s, Pueblo, June 27, 1869; Calvary, Idaho, July 15, 1869; St. Matthew’s, Laramie, September 21, 1869; St. Paul’s, Littleton, April 2, 1871: Grace, Georgetown, May 9, 1872; Heavenly Rest, Baldwinsville, March 29, 1873. Missions were established at Greeley, Canon City, Ula and Trinidad. In Pueblo, Georgetown, Cheyenne, Central City and Golden, parish schools were established until the public schools became so good as to render the former impracticable.
No sooner had the bishop entered upon his work than he began to make plans for the establishment of schools of a higher grade for the youth of both sexes. In the autumn of 1866 he purchased a small house in the outskirts of Denver with a view of opening a girls’ school. In the following year this plan was abandoned, on the citizens of the city subscribing the money to purchase five lots in a more central location. On these he erected in 1867 the central part of the old Seventeenth Street Wolfe Hall, at a cost, for the building itself, of $18,000. John D. Wolfe gave most largely towards the enterprise, and the school was called by his name. The bishop with his family took up his residence in the school and opened it in the autumn of 1868 with seventy pupils. In 1873 he added a wing costing four or five thousand dollars.
While building Wolfe Hall he was also planning for a school for boys and young men who might be looking to the ministry. His purpose was in 1866-67 to accept a large block of land on Capitol Hill in Denver that had been offered him, and build upon it a clergy’ and bishop’s house, a school for boys with a training school of theology and a cathedral chapel, extending the buildings be-yond the chapel in the center, as the needs should require. His plan, as detailed in his reports of 1866 and 1867, was well conceived. The location was the best possible. In 1868, however, he accepted a deed for school purposes of twelve acres in the vicinity of Golden conditioned on a collegiate school being maintained thereon; and began the erection of a building seventy-two by thirty-five feet, two stories high, with Mansard roof, to contain living apartments, schoolroom for thirty, recitation rooms and alcoves for twenty pupils. Mis-fortune seems from the first to have attended the undertaking. On the early morning of Thanksgiving Day, November 24th, a terrible hurricane blew of¥ the roof. The cost of building and rebuilding was $17,873.42. On September 17, 1870, the school, which had been carried on by the Rev. Wm. J. Lynd in a rented house in Golden, was opened on “College Hill” with appropriate services. Through the generosity of Nathan Matthews, of Boulder, George A. Jarvis, Rev. Ethan Allen, Rev. Samuel Babcock and others, the first Matthews Hall was erected in 1872, and opened September 19th of that year, with Rev. R. Harding in charge and six or seven students for the theological course. The Legislature had voted several thousand dollars for a school of mines as an adjunct to Jarvis Hall. This seemed the beginning of a great educational center.
The schools in Golden never met the expectations of their friends. The School of Mines was in 1874 given back to a board of trustees of the territory created by the Legislature to receive it. The territory remunerated the church in part for what it had cost beyond the sum appropriated from the territorial treasury.
In 1874 Matthews Hall had seven students, but only two of the scholarships that were relied on to support them could be secured. There were no funds for the professor’s salary. Five of the young men were ordained. The professor went east. Thenceforth the few theological students were teachers in Jarvis Hall.
On the 4th and 6th of April, 1878, Jarvis and Matthews halls were destroyed by fire. The next year, with the approval of all the largest benefactors of the schools and the clergy and laity in convocation, it was decided to remove them to Denver.
In 1883 Bishop Spalding built the second Matthews Hall at Twentieth and Glenarm, and this was used for years as an Episcopal residence. In 1888 the second Jarvis Hall was erected in Montclair. When this was destroyed by fire in 1901 the few theological students were taken care of at Matthews Hall. In 1917 Matthews Hall was sold by the diocese. The Jarvis endowment fund began with a gift of $10,000 by George A. Jarvis, of Brooklyn, in 1870. It was designed to be the nucleus for the theological school which has since been discontinued.
The Wolfe Hall fund was started by Bishop Randall through gifts obtained chiefly in Grace Church parish. New York. The first building erected at Seventeenth and Champa cost $18,000, and before it was opened the cost was a little over thirty-seven thousand dollars. The largest donor was Mr. Wolfe, of Grace Church, who gave $7,000 of this. Bishop Spalding sold this property and with this as a nucleus in 1888 began the erection of Wolfe Hall on its present site. Jarvis Hall and Wolfe Hall together cost $317,000, and it was not long before the diocese was in serious financial trouble. Seth Low and nine others presented the diocese with $22,000 to save the property.
Miss Anna Wolcott (Mrs. Vaile) was placed in charge of the Wolfe Hall school for girls, and this she conducted for five years, when friends established her in what is now still conducted as the “Miss Wolcott School for Girls,” one of the finest institutions of its kind in the country.
Wolfe Hall continued as a school for girls until 1913, when it was discontinued. The building is now used for the collegiate school for boys, and as headquarters for the diocesan jurisdiction.
In 1873 Bishop Randall died, and his successor. Bishop J. F. Spalding, was consecrated February 27, 1874.
In 1874 the stone churches at Central City and Colorado Springs, costing each about ten thousand dollars, were completed, with Trinity Memorial, Denver, erected in memory of the late Bishop Randall. In 1875 Fort Collins was permanently occupied, and the church at Greeley built. In 1876 Christ Church, Canon City was built.
Work was begun in North Denver, and also at Rosita and church buildings undertaken. In 1877 the church entered with a missionary the San Luis Val-ley and established services at Saguache, Del Norte, and Lake City, and at the last two places secured chapels. Emmanuel, West Denver, was also completed. In 1878 Bishop Spalding visited Silver Cliff and Leadville and began more permanent work at Boulder, placing a new missionary in charge. In 1879 churches were built at Ouray, Silver Cliff and Boulder. In 1880 a mission was planted at Rico, and churches built at Leadville and Manitou, and the cathedral of Denver commenced. Bishop Spalding had secured the lots for the cathedral in 1876. In 1881 the church rebuilt All Saints, North Denver, and occupied Durango and Gunnison and Longmont, and built, or began to build, churches, and had a missionary at Breckenridge and Pitkin. In 1882 it organized at South Pueblo, Alamosa, Buena Vista and Alma, and built in 1883 at South Pueblo, Fort Collins, Villa Grove and Alamosa, and began work at Silverton.
The most important work of church building was the former Denver Cathedral. It was begun in July, 1880. The corner-stone was laid on St. Matthew’s day, and the opening service was held on November 8, 1881. It was built of brick and stone in Romanesque style, with porch, nave, transepts, aisles and chancel. The building, with its ample grounds, including organ and gifts of expensive memorial windows, cost about one hundred and fifteen thousand dollars.
Another very important work of those years was the founding of St. Luke’s Hospital, Denver. A lady residing in Denver had bequeathed a small property worth $l,800 for a hospital to be under the control and management of the Episcopal Church. She died in January1881. A sermon in the cathedral soon after excited quite general interest. The board of managers, all churchmen, was organized February 12th, and the hospital was opened in June of that year on the north side.
The new St. Luke’s Hospital was erected on Pearl Street, between Nineteenth and Twentieth avenues, and the success in raising the fund needed for this great diocesan benefaction was due largely to the donations and personal efforts of the late Judge Hallett, of the United States District Court, and of the late Walter S. Cheesman.
The bishops of the Diocese of Colorado, which is now known officially as “The Bishop and Chapter of John the Evangelist, Denver, Colorado,” were: missionary bishop, Rt. Rev. George M. Randall, D. D., consecrated December 28, 1865; died September 21, 1873. First diocesan bishop, Rt. Rev. John Franklin Spalding, D. D., consecrated 1873; died March 9, 1902. Rt. Rev. Charles Sanford Olmsted, bishop, consecrated 1902. Rt. Rev. Irving Peake Johnson, D. D., consecrated bishop coadjutor, 1917. The institutions founded by the diocese are: The Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist, of which Rt. Rev. H. Martyn Hart is dean; St. Stephen’s School for Boys at Colorado Springs; St. Luke’s Hospital, Denver; the Home for Consumptives at Denver, of which Rev. F. W. Oakes is superintendent; the Convalescent Home, at Denver, of which Mr. V. R. Jones was president in 1918; the Collegiate School for Boys, Denver, now occupying part of Wolfe Hall, which is also the office of the diocese. Rev. G. H. Holoran was principal of the school in 1917.
New Mexico was detached from the Diocese of Colorado in 1881 and grouped with Arizona. Wyoming was detached in 1886 and grouped with Idaho. The missionary jurisdiction of Colorado was organized as a diocese in 1885 and ad-mitted into union with the general convention in 1886. In 1892 all that part of Colorado west of the counties of Larimer, Boulder, Gilpin, Clear Creek, Park, Lake, Chaffee, Saguache, Rio Grande and Conejos was detached from the Diocese of Colorado and made a missionary jurisdiction by the House of Bishops. In 1893 Bishop Spalding gave up this part of his diocese to the newly appointed head, Rev. William Morris Barker, D. D. This is now known as the Missionary District of Western Colorado.
In 1873 the number of church families in Colorado reported was 360; in 1883 it was 1,921; increase, 433 per cent. There were reported in 1873, 550 communicants; in 1883, 2,112, an increase of 284 per cent. Sunday school teachers and scholars: In 1873 the report gave 658; in 1883, 2,082, a gain of 216 per cent.
In 1899 there were 5,267 communicants in the church. In 1912 they were 6,700. In 1917, 7,002. In 1917 there were fifty-seven rectors, and seventy-one parishes and missions. From 1902 to 1912 the diocese built or organized twenty-six churches, seventeen rectories and seven parish houses.
On May 15, 1903, St. John’s Cathedral was destroyed by fire, and within a few weeks the work of planning a new cathedral was under way. In his “Recollections and Reflections,” published in 1917, Dean Henry Martyn Hart says:
“We collected $66,000 of the insurance company, sold the site for $30,000, and after much debate purchased the block opposite Wolfe Hall, on which we built a Chapter House to accommodate some of our congregation. We invited eight architects, to whom we paid $150 each, to supply us with designs; ten others also competed. Tracy and Swartwout of New York presented a design for an elaborate Gothic cathedral.
“When the designs were submitted for bids, the least bid was $300,000, a sum far beyond our reach. The architects then begged to be allowed to design a simpler Gothic structure to fit the same foundations, and they produced this very dignified and satisfactory drawing, entirely changing the construction; the weight of the roof was born by the piers, each one supports 200 tons of masonry, whereas the aisle walls only supported themselves. In altering the construction the architects did not sufficiently consider whether the original foundations of the piers would be sufficient to carry the extra weight; the consequence was, when the building had reached the gutters of the roof, I found on September 5, 1909, that one of the pillars had cracked. The whole structure had to be taken down, larger foundations constructed, and the fabric re-erected at a loss to us of $30,000. For seven years we worshipped in the Chapter House.
“The Cathedral was finished without further mishap and on November 5, 191 1, we held in it our first service.
“The stone is Indiana Oölite limestone from the Bedford quarries. The two front towers are 100 feet high. The great tenor bell occupies alone the east tower, and the other fourteen are hung on iron girders in the other. The tenor bell can be swung; the rest are stationary.
“The Reredos, which is unique, represents the chief personages through whom we have received the Bible. The central figure is Giotto’s Christ. His right hand is raised in Blessing, his left hand holds the Book. On the ‘north’ side are eight Old Testament saints; on the other side are figures of Jerome, who gave us the Vulgate; Erasmus, who edited the Greek New Testament; Wyclif, the translator of the Saxon Bible; Tyndale, the inimitable translator; and Cranmer, by whose authority the Bible was delivered to the English people. All these beautiful figures were carved in oak by Josef Mayr, who for so long personified the Christus in the Oberammergau Passion Play. The front of the Holy Table is an exquisite carving by Peter Rendl, Mayr’s son-in-law, of Gilbert’s ‘Last Supper.’ ”
The missionary district of western Colorado has had the following bishops: Rt. Rev. William Morris Barker, D. D., consecrated January 25, 1893; transferred to Olympia in 1894. The second bishop was Rt. Rev. Abiel Leonard, who in 1894 had western Colorado added to his jurisdiction of Nevada and Utah. From 1898 to 1907 the jurisdiction was a part of the Missionary District of Salt Lake City. Rt. Rev. Edward J. Knight, D. D., was consecrated December 19. 1907, and died in the following year. Rt. Rev. Benjamin Brewster, D. D., was bishop from 1909 until his transfer to Maine in 1916. At present the missionary bishop is Rt. Rev. Frank Hale Touret, who lives at Grand Junction. There were in 1917 fifteen rectors, and forty-one parishes and missions; communicants, 1,096. Its eleventh annual convocation will be held in May at St. Matthew’s Church, Grand Junction.
It has parishes at Breckenridge, Delta, Durango, Glenwood Springs, Grand Junction, Marble, Meeker, Montrose, Ouray, Pueblo, Silverton, Steamboat Springs, Telluride, and missions at Aspen, Axial, Craig, Dillon, Grand Valley, Grand Lake, Gunnison, Hayden, Hotchkiss, Ignacio, Kremmling, Kokomo, Lake City, Mancos, Maybell, Montezuma, Montrose County, New Castle, Norwood, Oak Creek, Ohio City, Olathe, Paonia, Pitkin, Placerville, Rico, Ridgway, Rifle, Hot Sulphur Springs and Yampa.
The St. Peter’s Episcopal Church was the first in Pueblo and was started in 1867. In this church was the first church bell in Colorado south of the Divide and the third in the territory. This bell was hauled from Missouri by ox teams.
Source:History of Colorado, Wilbur Fisk Stone, Editor, Volume I, Chicago, The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1918