Trinity United Methodist Church: Pioneers of Colorado Methodism
The First Settlers
In the mid-Nineteenth Century, the city we now call "Denver" was of little interest to the rest of the world. The fur trade was bottoming out and most new settlers were only passing through on their way to California.
For years it had been rumored that there was gold in the Rocky Mountains. Much of the talk was considered gossip, until the Russell brothers of Georgia arrived with a small party in 1858. They soon began panning for gold near Dry Creek, a tributary that ran into the Platte River south of Cherry Creek. It didn't take long to learn that the tall tales were true, by July the brothers had found the first traces of gold. Word spread like wildfire throughout the country and within five months 100 more hopefuls had arrived. Once considered "the region of savages and wild beasts," the Rocky Mountains quickly became proprietor of the American Dream.
Winter conditions forced the Russell brothers to set up camp on the west side of Cherry Creek; they called it "Auraria." Across the banks, a General William Larimer and his party from Leavenworth, Kansas arrived November 16, 1858 and staked their claim. They dubbed their new home "Denver City" after James Denver, Governor of the Kansas Territory.
Within a week of their arrival, George W. Fisher, the resident carpenter and Methodist lay preacher was asked to hold religious services. General Larimer's son, William, described Sunday, November 21 in his diary: "Fisher, father, myself and perhaps six or eight others held the first religious service ever held in the country. In the opposite end of the cabin I could hear the money jingle where the gambling was going on at the same time that Mr. Fisher was preaching."
With a flood of people moving west, Bishop Levi Scott of the Kansas-Nebraska Conference realized the need for evangelism in the newly established Pikes Peak Region. On May 30, 1859, William H. Goode and 23-year-old Jacob Adriance were sent to establish new churches in the region. Goode was an experienced frontier minister from Iowa. His partner, Adriance, had yet to be ordained and was a probationary member of the conference. Soon after their arrival in early July, Goode and Adriance formed new churches in what are now the towns of Central City and Golden. By this time, George Fisher had relocated to Central City. He was promptly appointed minister of the town's new church. On August 2, 1859, Adriance and Goode reached Denver City and established the Auraria and Denver City Methodist Episcopal Mission, known today as Trinity United Methodist Church. At the end of six weeks, William H. Goode returned home. Adriance would stay and battle harsh weather as a circuit rider until 1863. Those years were spent nurturing three of the churches he helped to establish, the newest of which was Boulder.
The Lawrence Street Church
Growth in the region was slow over the next ten years. All that changed on February 28, 1861. President James Buchanan signed a bill making Colorado a territory. The previous year, Denver City and Auraria voted to unite and keep the name "Denver City." Soon, streets, homes and schools were built; with the construction came stability.
The new Colorado Territory prospered, as did the Methodist church. While the population grew, more and more settlers joined local congregations. So much so, that Bishop Edward Ames arrived from Indianapolis in July of 1863 and helped to establish the Rocky Mountain Conference. Aware of the church's potential, the bishop challenged Denver City's congregation to build a "substantial brick church eligibly located in the city." He promised to give the congregation $1000 if the building was completed and paid for by January 1, 1865. Former church member and governor of the Colorado Territory, John Evans, matched the bishop's challenge dollar-for-dollar. The following day, July 22, the church incorporated, renamed itself First Methodist Episcopal Church and soon bought a parcel of land on the northeast corner of 14th and Lawrence Streets.
Tragedy struck on the night of May 19, 1864. A combination of heavy rains and melting snow flooded Cherry Creek. Much of the Auraria side of the creek was washed away, including the carpenter's shop that had been the home of First Methodist Episcopal Church. The congregation was hard hit, its 1864 membership stood at 81. A year after the flood it had dipped to 50. Services were held at the Colorado Seminary, now the University of Denver, until construction of the new church concluded.
Times were difficult, but building continued throughout 1864. As a testament of fortitude, church construction was finished and paid for at a cost of $23,000 later that year. The first service was held on February 12, 1865. Though the proper name of the church was "Denver First Methodist," people began referring to the building as the "Lawrence Street Church." Over time, the name stuck and began to show up in official documents.
Denver flourished even more with the advent of the railroads in 1870. Lawrence Street had the largest congregation in town; their new home became the hub for social, musical and religious activity.
The ingredients that made the Lawrence Street Church strong would eventually became their biggest obstacle. As the cornerstone of Methodism in the region, many lay leaders of the church were primary financiers and decision-makers for the conference. While the sun shone bright at the corner of 14th and Lawrence, the territory's smaller suburban churches struggled as a result of this strength.
By 1880, the luxuries that Lawrence Street had become accustomed to began to fade. In ten years, the population had grown from 5,000 residents to 35,000 and the city exploded with new construction. Families raced to the subdivisions. As a result, many of the church's strongest lay leaders opted for suburban churches closer to their new homes. Lawrence Street was in serious debt. It was apparent by February 1883 that a radical change needed to be made to keep from drowning.
Trinity Methodist Episcopal Church
The Lawrence Street congregation was determined to survive. After long debate, the church decided that relocation was their best hope for survival. With the help of a major loan and a number of contributions from church members, four lots on the northeast corner of 18th and Broadway were purchased for $18,000. Over the next three years, the church would hang in the balance, borrowing to survive.
Things soon changed with the arrival of Reverend Henry Augustus Buchtel in July of 1886. In a matter of two months, he was able to rejuvenate the congregation's commitment and harness it with his own inexhaustible energy. The church rallied around a common goal: to build a new home that would breathe life into the city's oldest congregation.
Initial plans called for a church that would seat 700 at a cost of $60,000, fifty percent of which was needed before construction could start. This was a huge goal for a congregation that only months earlier was on the brink of bankruptcy. With an estimated $12,000 coming from the sale of the Lawrence Street Church, the Finance Committee was faced with the challenge of raising the rest. On November 14, 1886, the first of many subscription services was held. After the Sunday sermon, the congregation was asked to make its financial pledges. By the time the service ended, a total of $42,000 had been promised. Two days later, Robert S. Roeschlaub was hired as the church architect.
After numerous attempts to sell the Lawrence Street property, the Trustees were becoming concerned. Finally, Isaac Blake, the church's Music Director and founder of Conoco, purchased the property. Sunday services had become "standing room only" and the lack of space forced the church to move its services to the Tabor Grand Opera House. The jump in attendance meant that seating in the new church would have to be increased. By September 5, 1887, the architectural drawings had been finalized and the foundation's cornerstone was placed. Costs were skyrocketing, but the congregation was left with no other choice than to forge ahead.
Church Committees were resolved that the new church needed to be complete by Christmas of 1888. Financial pledges were being met, but they were nowhere near final costs. The first service was held on Easter in the unfinished Lecture Hall, now Fellowship Hall. Another call went out for pledges. Within one hour, fundraising had garnered an additional $60,000.
On December 23, 1888, a capacity crowd of two thousand filled Trinity Methodist Episcopal Church's new sanctuary. The Rocky Mountain Christian Advocate was there to report, "The morning service began at 10, an hour earlier than usual, with a choir of 116 voices marching into the sanctuary. Then, the great organ, as if conscious of the mighty success to be celebrated, pealed forth its note of triumph. The first hymn, 'Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty!' was announced by the pastor and sung with great spirit by the congregation."
In the span of two and a half years, Trinity scrapped its way from the brink of bankruptcy and raised $175,000. They had met their goal; the new building revitalized the congregation and became a symbol of pride for a growing city.
Dawn of a New Day
Trinity United Methodist Church
Trinity United Methodist Church has called 18th and Broadway "home" for more than a century. In that time, the congregation has ridden many waves and seen numerous changes.
The American family of post-World War II was radically changing during the late 1960s and early '70s. The Colorado frontier represented an ideal that many Americans thought had been lost. With the gold rush long passed, the state found a new commodity; the "Rocky Mountain High." The effects of which would cause the ghosts of Trinity's past to surface.
The population of the Denver metropolitan area surpassed one million in 1970, more than double the 1940 census. Families who had long been downtown residents felt the congestion and relocated to the suburbs. For Trinity, it was Lawrence Street, 1883, all over again. By 1979, membership was the lowest it had been in more than sixty years. The church's congregation was aging, programming was unstable and finances were wavering. Methodism had grown and Trinity couldn't save itself this time by building a new home. Changes would have to be made from within.
In early February 1980, Reverend James E. Barnes left one of the Conference's largest Methodist congregations and arrived to pilot Trinity's resurgence. With the support of a strong staff and caring congregation, new methods of evangelism and programming were introduced. Finances and needed renovations continued to be a problem. A solution soon took shape. The church began negotiations with a Canadian development company to sell 12,500 square feet of land north of the church, including development rights. The real estate agreement allowed Trinity the opportunity to build new office and educational facilities, as well as renovate the sanctuary building. Without the unconditional support of longtime members, Trinity's rebirth in the 1980s would have never been possible. Coupled with thought provoking programs, church membership more than doubled by 1990.
During questioning times, historic Trinity has found the will to survive, relying on a foundation of God's love and ascendant strength.
Penciled on a rafter in the church attic is this quote:
This church was built during A.D. 1887 and 1888 and was opened for worship and Henry A. Buchtel was the pastor during those years and Bishop H.W. Warren preached in the main audience room at the opening service December 1888.
Reader, what have you done since this church opened to make it a benefit to mankind? We trust your entire duty to this mission. This church extended a helping hand to the poor people outside of this church.
Do you allow the poor to enter this church with the same welcome as those in costly robes?
-- Author Unknown January 20, 1889
Architecture and Ornamentation
Trinity United Methodist Church is one of the finest examples of "Modern Gothic" architecture in the United States. According to definitions of design, "the church is an auditorium clothed in a Gothic shell." What made the building "modern" in 1888 was the marriage of Gothic detailing, and a Rococo theater with the latest technology.
By using blocks of locally quarried Castle Rock rhyolite on the building's face exterior, Robert Roeschlaub was able to stay true to the traditions of the "Arts and Crafts movement." This simply means that he looked to nature for inspiration. The rhyolite facing and sandstone trim allow the church to blend with its native surroundings.
The opportunity to build Trinity's spire was "the magnificent goal of Robert Roeschlaub's career as a church designer." The spire stands 183' 7 1Ï2" from the ground. Because of the height, the usual scaffoldings and cranes couldn't be used during construction. Roeschlaub invented a cage-like mechanism that surrounded the spire, allowing workers and needed materials to be raised and lowered. In 1888, it was one of the tallest stone towers in the United States.
At the main Broadway entrance to the church you will find patterned wrought-iron gates. Portions of the gates and their hinges were designed by the architect in the tradition of medieval prototypes. Additions have since been made.
More Than Meets the Eye
Trinity's Roosevelt Organ (no. 380)
One's sense of curiosity is often provoked by the east wall's towering pipes and ash casing. If that doesn't satisfy your inquisitive mind, then how about the knowledge that behind the facade of 108 pipes is a room filled with intricate components, each one depending on the other?
Full responsibility for the organ's selection and installation in 1888 was placed in the lone hands of Music Director, Isaac Blake. Not only did Blake carry the load of this monumental task, but he also committed to cover full costs. An accomplished musician, Blake set out to find the finest organ builder of the day. His search didn't take long. New York's Roosevelt Organ Works was world renowned for their technical innovations and musical quality. Once the agreement was signed in early 1887, Blake committed an additional $20,000 toward the organ's final $30,000 price tag. Construction of the instrument was complete in eighteen months. Frank Roosevelt personally supervised the five months of shipment and installation.
Trinity's new Roosevelt organ (no.380) quickly gained attention as a crown jewel in the flourishing west. The electricity needed to power the organ's electro-pneumatic action was originally generated by a dynamo; innovative because electricity had yet come to much of the city. The dynamo was turned by means of a water wheel powered through an artesian well found in the basement. Three Ross water motors, fed by city water lines, operated large feeder bellows which pumped air into reservoirs that would then supply the organ's pipes.
The 108 pipes you see from your pew on Sunday only foreshadow what lies in wait behind them. Masked behind the casing is a chamber filled with an additional 4,094 pipes, whose "speaking length" ranges in size from less than one inch to 32 feet. In total there are 4,202 pipes. The pipes are constructed of varying materials: pine, mahogany and assorted hardwoods; the larger metal pipes are made of zinc, while cast alloys of tin and lead make-up the smaller pipes.
The ash casing was designed by the foremost organ architect of the Victorian Era, George Ashdown Audsley of London, England. Originally, the pipes displayed in the casing were finished in silver and gold. A red stripe with a black Oriental stencil divided the two finishes.
After more than one hundred years, Trinity's Roosevelt organ has gone through numerous restorations. From 1970 to 1972, the organ was restored, as close as possible to its original tonal specifications, by Fred H. Meunier & Associates. With the help of a matching grant from the Colorado Historical Society, the restoration of the windchests and other mechanical systems was completed in May 1998, by Ivan P. Morel & Associates, successor to Fred H. Meunier Associates. At an estimated cost of two million dollars to replace, this historical giant stands as one of the largest American-built organs of the Nineteenth Century still in operation.
For more information on the historic Roosevelt Organ, click here.
Gifts of Light
Admirers of Trinity's beauty should feel lucky that, at the time of construction, the church's Board of Trustees had an eye for detail and quality.
The majority of Trinity's stained glass artwork was designed by Healy and Millet of Chicago. The firm was considered an innovator during the Arts and Crafts movement. Their artists would use colored and textured opalescent glass, uncommon from the painted glass method of the day. Distinctive of Healy and Millet was their use of jeweled shapes, as well as plants and flowers. Examples of their work can be found on the north and south walls of the balcony. The two rose windows are identifiable by their twelve spokes which symbolize the twelve apostles and the twelve tribes of Israel.
The three-panel Resurrection window in the west balcony was designed by the J. & R. Lamb Company of New York. A painted glass application was used, making this window noticeably different from the others. The window was commissioned by longtime church members Peter Winne and his children. It is a tribute to the memory of Lucy Parsons Winne, Peter's wife. Priceless in terms of its historic value, the original cost in 1888 totaled $2,500.
The three panels of the Resurrection window are symbolic of the Holy Trinity. The focal point of the center panel is the outstretched arms of an angel meant to welcome all visitors. Look a little higher and you notice the signs of the Alpha and Omega, which translates to beginning and end. Flanking either side of the center panel are double lancets. In those windows you'll find the tablets of the Ten Commandments, along with the Scrolls of Scripture. Lilies are symbolic of Jesus' Resurrection and the iris is representative of the sovereignty of God.
Since the original installation, the Watkins Stained Glass Company of Englewood has played a vital role in the continued beauty of the windows. Four generations of the Watkins family have repaired and maintained Trinity's stained glass artwork over the years.
The ornaments that decorate Trinity's sanctuary each tell a story. You see generations of charity in the pulpit's continual shine. The baptismal font radiates with the joy of proud parents, while years of care have led to the preservation of Trinity's beauty.
A stickler for detail, Robert Roeschlaub hand-drew exact specifications of each incision for his woodcarver to follow. Crafted of oak, the stem, foliage and blossom designs found in the posts and rails of the sanctuary stay true to the traditions of the Arts and Craft movement.
In terms of church symmetry, Trinity is considered a pulpit-centered sanctuary. Crafted of solid brass, with an oak stand, the pulpit was a gift from former Trinity minister, Rev. Henry A. Buchtel and his wife Mary. It was designed by the J. & R. Lamb Company for the price of $300. The front panel contains the Roman cross and three intertwined circles, symbolic of the Holy Trinity. Below, the inscription reads, "Go ye into the world and preach the Gospel to every creature." Mark 16:15.
Flanking either side of the chancel are the four original pulpit chairs, gifts to the church by Mrs. Sarah C. Failing in memory of her husband. Still in use today, the pulpit chairs are made of solid oak with a high polish finish.
To the left of the chancel sits the baptismal font, a gift from former members, Mr. and Mrs. Eddy. The angel was carved from pure white Carrara marble in 1888 at a price of $825. The font sits in the angel's extended hands.
The Bishop boxes (originally termed invalid boxes) on the north and south walls are believed to have been built as seating for expectant mothers. Today, they're used only for special events and religious holidays.
Symbols of Faith
As a result of Reverend Henry A. Buchtel's visionary thinking, religious symbolism was included in final designs of the church. The original architectural sketches were reported to have been rather plain, calling for a stone building that only seated 700. Working together, Buchtel and Roeschlaub were able to find a common vision that expressed the church's message.
Fundamental in Christian theology, the three entities of the "Holy Trinity" (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) can be found throughout the building's design: the three arches over the Broadway entrance, the three intertwined circles on the ends of each pew, interior doors, communion rail, in much of the woodwork throughout the sanctuary, the three sections of the spire, and in the wooden arches above each side of the balcony. Within the proscenium arch, above the organ's pipes, you'll count 66 lights; each represents a book of the Bible.
In keeping with the traditions of Gothic cathedral design, the architecture directs a viewer's line of sight skyward, "toward Heaven." The church spire is a prime example, your eyes are led up the stonework, eventually past the highest point, the copper cross. The sanctuary, as well, is built on the second floor, symbolic of the belief that one should walk upward to worship God.
A True Western Original
Trinity United Methodist Church is considered by its architect, Robert S. Roeschlaub (1843-1923), as the crowning achievement of his extensive career.
In 1873, Robert and his family set off for Denver in search of opportunity, leaving behind the stability of Quincy, Illinois. The early years for Colorado's first licensed architect were lean. There was plenty of need for rudimentary design at "bargain basement" prices.
Robert's corner office at 15th and Larimer stayed open throughout Denver's recession. It wasn't until 1875 that he established himself as the area's leading architect by designing Central Presbyterian's first church home at 18th and Champa. As a result of his work, the East Denver School Board offered Robert a permanent position to design plans for needed schools in the area, the grandest being East Denver High School. The late 1880s brought an influx of commissions. Not only did Roeschlaub design Trinity, but numerous other historic buildings across the state: the Central City Opera House (1879), Pueblo's Central High School (1881); the University of Denver's Chamberlin Observatory (1888), University Hall (1890) and Carnegie Library (1906).