Unitarian Church in Colorado

On May 31, 1871, there appeared in the Denver morning papers a notice, which said that at three o’clock on the following Sunday afternoon there would be preaching in the District Court room, on Larimer Street, by the Rev. L. E. Beckwith, Unitarian minister from Boston, and that all persons interested in Liberal Christianity were cordially invited to be present.

After the close of the services the congregation, forty or fifty, who were mostly strangers to each other, remained to introduce themselves to Mr. and Mrs. Beckwith and to each other, and it was then and there learned that Mr. Beckwith was recently graduated from Harvard, had as yet charge of no church, but was visiting his parents, who resided in Denver, and desired, if practicable, to establish a Unitarian Society in Denver.

A meeting was called early in June, 1871, at the residence of D. D. Belden, to organize such society.

This organization was effected under the name of “The First Unitarian Society of Denver.”

The officers of the First Unitarian Society then elected were: Pastor, Rev. L. E. Beckwith; trustees, D. D. Belden (chairman), George C. Beckwith, Alfred Sayre, D. C. Dodge, John L. Dailey; secretary, Mrs. William H. Greenwood; treasurer. Col. E. H. Powers.

From the District Court room the society went to the old Denver Theater, corner of Lawrence and G (now Sixteenth) streets, where they continued until the summer vacation. Upon their re-assembling, October 1, 1871, the school-room of the Methodist Seminary (now Denver University) had been rented, but after holding service there two Sundays, notice was received from the trustees of the seminary that the society could no longer occupy the room.

Being unable to secure any suitable hall or public room, the pastor opened the parlor of his house on California Street, between Seventeenth and Eighteenth, and there religious services were first held October 15, 1871.

The number attending the Unitarian services, during all these months, ranged from thirty to fifty persons.

On December 5, 1871, a hall was rented in Crow’s Block, on what was then called Holladay Street (later Market Street). This hall was occupied during the week, through the winter, by the House of Representatives of the Territorial Legislative Assembly. The floor was covered with sawdust, and all the surroundings and appointments were as un-church like as possible.

One hundred common wooden chairs were purchased, and the small cabinet organ previously secured was removed thither, and in this bare, unattractive hall, reached by two long flights of stairs, the little society continued to struggle for an existence.

On May 8, 1872,: Mr. Beckwith resigned his pastorate of the church because of failing health.

In August, the Rev. S. S. Hunting, western secretary of the American Unitarian Association, visited Denver to ascertain the condition and wishes of the little society, and to assist in securing a pastor.

Correspondence was at once opened with Rev. W. G. M. Stone, of Berlin, Wisconsin, which resulted in his accepting the call made to him, and on the 8th day of October, 1872, he arrived in Denver and reported himself in readiness for the work.

The committee secured for Sunday, August 30th, at three o’clock in the after-noon, the place then familiarly known as the “Baptist Dug-Out,” corner of Curtis and G (now Sixteenth) streets. This consisted of a cellar or basement, mostly underground and wholly without superstructure, and roofed over with common rough boards. There were held, with forty persons present, the first religious services under the Reverend Mr. Stone.

It was, however, decided by the committee not best to engage this basement further, because of its want of light and other unfavorable conditions, but to accept the offer of Messrs. Belden and Powers for the free use of their offices, in Ruter’s Block, in G Street, which offices were upon the ground floor.

There was organized by Reverend Mr. Stone, on Sunday, February 2, 1873, the first Sunday school of the Unitarian Society, with nineteen named as members.

In June, 1873, the society purchased four lots, corner of Seventeenth and California streets, and the work of building was at once commenced. The building was of wood, of Gothic architecture, with stained glass windows and a seating capacity of 225. It was neatly finished and furnished, and was dedicated Sunday. December 28, 1873.

Rev. S. S. Hunting was present, and assisted, preaching morning and evening to a crowded house, and on that day, by unanimous vote, the name “Unity” was given to the church.

On Sunday, January 23, 1875, Reverend Mr. Stone resigned the pastorate of the church, although remaining some three months thereafter. From that date until October 27, 1878, no regular pastor occupied the pulpit.

In the autumn of 1878 a call was sent to the Rev. Wm. R. Alger, who accepted, and preached his first sermon in Denver October 27, 1878.

The Rev. R. L. Herbert, having accepted a call to Denver, preached his first sermon September 19, 1880.

In August, 1881, Mr. Herbert died suddenly. The payment of the church debt is Mr. Herbert’s memorial.

From Mr. Herbert’s death, in August, 1881, there were no regular services until March 19, 1883, when Rev. A. M. Weeks, of Chelsea, Massachusetts, preached his first sermon in Unity pulpit. His sudden death occurred January 29, 1884, at the age of thirty-three.

In July a call was extended to Rev. Thomas Van Ness, and on Sunday, October 13, 1884, his installation took place at Unity Church. Present and assisting: Rev. John Snyder, of St. Louis; Rev. E. Powell, of Topeka; Rev. J. T. Gibbs, of Greeley; Rev. C. G. Howland, of Lawrence.

During the first two years of Mr. Van Ness’ pastorate, the steadily increasing congregation made the need of a new and larger church building more and more imperative.

In the spring of 1887 the church property, corner of California and Seventeenth streets, was sold for $24,000, and lots purchased at the corner of Broadway and Nineteenth Avenue for the sum of $14,000. Here, on November 9, 1886, was laid, with appropriate and impressive ceremonies, the comer-stone of the present church building. The building is of brick, with red stone trimmings, of Romanesque architecture, and has a seating capacity of 920. Besides the spacious entrance hall, and the beautiful audience room, there are commodious Sunday school rooms, parlors, and all that is necessary to the social as well as the religious work of the society.

Beautiful memorial windows keep fresh the memory of their beloved dead. The new church was dedicated September 4, 1887. The Revs. Minot J. Savage and Brooke Hereford, of Boston, were present, and preached morning and evening.

Failing health compelled Mr. Van Ness’ resignation October i, 1889.

On November 10, 1889, Rev. Samuel A. Eliot, son of President Emeritus Eliot of Harvard, of Cambridge, Massachusetts, was ordained in Unity Church. Under his ministry large numbers were added to the church, and the Sunday school doubled its numbers. Dr. Eliot is now president of the American Unitarian Association.

Rev. N. A. Haskell succeeded Rev. Samuel A. Eliot in 1893, and remained until 189s, when Rev. David Utter, now pastor emeritus, followed.

Doctor Utter remained in active charge of the church until 1917, when Rev. Fred Alban Weil, originally of Boston, succeeded him. Doctor Weil was for ten years at Bellingham, Washington.

There are now small but active Unitarian congregations at Pueblo, Fort Collins, Greeley and Colorado Springs, all of which are thriving. The Greeley church was founded in 1880; the church at Colorado Springs in 1891; that at Fort Collins in 1897; that in Pueblo in 1898.

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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