The churches of Colorado were a mighty factor in the early and later development of territory and state, and while the lust for gold was strong in those pioneers of 1858 and 1859, they found time to listen to and to heed the spiritual thoughts that came from the lips of the earliest evangelists. Perhaps the first sermon ever delivered by a Christian in the vicinity of what is now Denver was that of Rev. W. G. Fisher, who in the fall of 1858 made a temple of the cotton-wood trees in the new Town of Auraria near the mouth of Cherry Creek.
In January, 1859, the Auraria Town Company offered lots to the first four religious societies that would “build a church or a house of worship in Auraria.” It was some time before advantage was taken of this proposition.
Similar offers were made by the officers of the Denver Town Company. Nor were these speedily taken up.
Jerome Smiley in his “History of Denver” reverts to Father Mallet, who came into the region of Cherry Creek in 1739, but rather as an explorer than as a missionary. He also refers to Rev. John Beck, who came in June, 1858, with the Russell party, but never preached.
To Rev. W. G. Fisher belongs undoubtedly the honor of having been the first man to preach the Word of God in this section. It was not until June, 1859, when Rev. L. Hamilton, a Presbyterian minister, reached Denver, that the work of Rev. W. G. Fisher was supplemented. The first meeting held in the Pollock Hotel by Rev. L. Hamilton was largely attended, and actually resulted in the organization of a church.
The Union Sunday School, opened on November 6, 1859, at the house ot “Preachers Fisher and Adriance,” grew from an initial attendance of twelve until it was forced to move to the Masonic Hall, on what is now Eleventh Street. Albert D. Richardson, who came with the Greeley party, in June, 1859, saw “several hundred men in the open air attending public religious worship. They were roughly clad, displaying weapons at their belts, and represented every section of the Union and almost every nation on earth. They sat upon logs and stumps, a most attentive congregation, while the clergyman upon a rude log platform preached from the text: ‘Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy.’ It was an impressive spectacle, that motley gathering of gold seekers among the mountains, a thousand miles from home and civilization, to hear the good tidings forever old and yet forever new.”
John L. Dyer, better known as Father Dyer, a Methodist, one of the gentlest and noblest of the preachers of territorial days, came to Colorado June 22, 1861, and went at once into the mining regions to tell simply and eloquently the need of the kindly deed. On July 18, 1861, he was at Buckskin Joe where he gathered the rough characters of that region about him, told them of the sweetness of living and doing right and talked to them of their far-off eastern homes. There were always liberal donations for the church work of Father Dyer. And it mattered not where he went in this region the doors of all cabins, even the doors of saloons and gambling halls, were opened for him to tell his story of the world’s great need of kindness, one to another. He had great misfortune later in life, his son, Judge Elias F. Dyer, dying at the hands of an assassin.
The church history of Colorado is best told by denominations, and in the following pages the facts narrated are either written or supplied by leading members of each sect.
The growth of the churches of Colorado, in edifices and membership, has been accurately recorded in the decennial census returns. Colorado had in 189c, 647 church organizations, with 463 edifices. These were valued at $4,743,317. The communicants numbered 86,837, which was 21.07 per cent of the population. In 1906 it had 1,261 church organizations and 956 church edifices; church property valued at $7,723,200, and 205,666 communicants, an increase over 1890 of 118,829.
In 1910, the date of the last Federal census the records by denominations follow:
The Seventh Day Adventists had thirteen church organizations, two churches, and 414 communicants. Of the other five branches of the Adventist Church none was represented in Colorado when the last census was taken.
The so-called “Regular” Baptists, whose Colorado history is narrated in these chapters, had in 1910, fifty-four organizations, forty church edifices, and 4,944 communicants. Of all the other Baptist bodies, the Regular (South), the Seventh Day, Free Will, Original Free Will, General. Separate, United, Baptist Church of Christ, Primitive, Old Two-Seed-in-the-Spirit Predestinarian, there was no representation in Colorado in 1910.
The Plymouth Brethren, who have no houses of worship, had four organizations in Colorado in 1910, with a membership of seventy. Of these four organizations each belonged to one of the four distinct sects of Plymouth Brethren in the United States.
The Catholics in 1910 had no organizations in Colorado, ninety-four church edifices, and 47,111 communicants.
The Christadelphians, a religious sect founded by Dr. John Thomas about 1845, had two organizations, with sixteen communicants, in Colorado in 1910.
The Christian Scientists in 1910 had four organizations in Colorado and 147 members.
The Christian Union Church had in 1910 twelve organizations in Colorado and 571 communicants.
The Church Triumphant (Schweinfurth) had in 1910 two organizations in Colorado, one church edifice, and forty-one members.
In 1910 there were in Colorado forty-nine Congregational churches, thirty-eight edifices, and 3,217 communicants.
The Disciples of Christ also called Christians had in 1910 thirty-one church organizations, eighteen church edifices, and 2,400 communicants in Colorado.
Of the Dunkards Colorado in 1910 had one church with no communicants, who are known as “The Conservative Brethren,” and one church with seventeen communicants of “The Progressive Brethren.”
The Evangelical Association (in doctrine and polity Methodist) had three organizations in Colorado in 1910, one church edifice and eight-seven communicants.
The Friends had in 1910 one church organization, one edifice and thirty-eight members in Colorado.
The German Evangelical Synod of North America had in 1910 two organizations, one edifice and 135 communicants in Colorado.
The Orthodox Jews in 1910 had in Colorado four organizations, three church edifices, and 662 members. The Reformed Jews had one organization, one church edifice, and 400 members.
The Mormon Church in 1910 had three church organizations in Colorado, three edifices and 1,640 communicants.
The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints had in 1910 five organizations in Colorado, one church edifice and 122 members.
There were in Colorado in 1910 twenty-one Lutheran Church organizations, fourteen church buildings, and 1,208 communicants. Of these, seven churches belonged to the General Synod, seven to the General Council, six to the Synodical Conference, and one to the Norwegian Church in America.
The Amish Mennonites had one organization, one church edifice and seventy-five members in Colorado in 1910.
There were in 1910 ninety Methodist Episcopal organizations in Colorado, with seventy-seven church edifices and 8,580 members. The African Methodist Episcopal Church had eight organizations, six edifices, and 788 members. The Methodist Episcopal Church, South, had in 1910, twenty-six church organizations, sixteen church buildings and 1,299 communicants. The Free Methodists in 19 10 had twenty-two church organizations, eighteen church edifices and 203 communicants. The total of all Methodists in the state in 1910 was 10,870, with 146 organizations and 117 church edifices.
There were in 1910 in Colorado a total of eighty-eight Presbyterian Church organizations, sixty-nine church edifices, and 6,968 communicants. The Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (Northern) had seventy- four church organizations, fifty-six church edifices, and 5,902 members. The Cumberland Presbyterians had five churches and 231 members. The Welsh Calvinistic Methodist Church had one church edifice and 156 communicants.
The United Presbyterians had in 1910 five church edifices, and 537 members.
The Reformed Presbyterians had three organizations, two edifices, and 142 members in Colorado.
The Protestant Episcopal Church in America had in 1910 in Colorado fifty-two organizations, forty-four church edifices, and 3,814 members.
The Reformed Church in the United States had in 1910 one church edifice and thirty-five members in Colorado.
The Salvation Army had in 1910 ten organizations in Colorado, one hall, and 214 communicants.
The Spiritualists had in 1910 two organizations, with 275 members in Colorado.
The United Brethren in Christ had in Colorado in 1910, eighteen church organizations, eight church edifices and 585 members.
The Unitarians in 1910 had in Colorado four church organizations, two edifices, and 644 members.
The Universalists had one church organization in Colorado in 1910, with fifteen members.
Source: History of Colorado, Wilbur Fisk Stone, Editor, Volume I, Chicago, The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1918