Christian Church of Craig rises from ashes
November 1, 2008
Written in cooperation with the Museum of Northwest Colorado and Craig Daily Press.
The early residents of Craig knew the importance of building homes, clearing the land and creating infrastructure for their new town, but they also knew the importance of fellowship and faith to strengthen them.
Numerous missionaries had traversed the Yampa Valley wilderness in the late 1800s – stopping at lonely cabins and shacks to encourage the earliest homesteaders.
In October 1891, one such missionary, the Rev. L.G. Thompson, organized a small group of people to form Craig’s first official church. The 16 charter members soon were joined by others who wanted to be a part of the new church, and they gave their time and money to make it a reality.
On Nov. 18, 1894, the Christian Church membership dedicated their new building at the corner of Yampa Avenue and Sixth Street on lots donated by the Craig Land Co. At its dedication, the building was debt-free and complete in nearly every way.
J.W. Hugus decided that a bell was a necessity and offered to pay half the cost of the bell if the community would raise the other half. In the true pioneer spirit of cooperation, the people raised the matching funds in a matter of months, and the bell was installed to call the town to worship.
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One of the biggest plagues on buildings in the 19th century was fire. With nearly all buildings built from wood and heated with stoves that consumed wood and coal, there was an ever-present threat during cold weather. On Feb. 14, 1901, fire struck the church and quickly destroyed the frame structure.
In a history of the church written by Rosella Breeze and taken in part from the Craig Courier, we can read a first hand account of the sad Valentine’s Day:
“The Christian Church building was totally destroyed by fire early Thursday a.m. giving Craig its second baptism by fire. Nothing was saved from the building as it was completely enveloped in flames before the citizens were aroused. (The only item salvaged was the bell, which still hangs in the building today.)
“Mrs. Humphrey (M.H.) whose residence is only 30ft from the north wall of the church, was the first to discover the fire. She was awakened about five o’clock in the a.m. by the reflection in her bedroom from the burning building. Mrs. Humphrey aroused her children Robert and Bill and they aroused the nearest neighbors.
“Clyde Seymour, who resides across the street from the church, was the first upon the scene and he was joined by R.V. Bryan. Mr. Seymour said the fire was burning furiously in the northeast corner of the church when he arrived and that part of the interior through which the chimney passed was a seething furnace of white heat. He secured an ax and forced the door to the main entrance, but he could not enter the building owing to the suffocating smoke. He groped about until he found the bell rope but could give but a few vigorous pulls until the smoke forced him to abandon his efforts to sound an alarm.
“Messrs Seymour and Bryan saw that it was useless to devote any time to the church and they turned their attention to saving Mrs. Humphrey’s residence. A few moments later, others arrived and there were plenty of willing hands ready to exert every effort to save property. Chas Collom hastened to the school house soon as he was aroused and gave a general alarm by tolling the school bell (Breeze St. School).
“As it was twenty below zero, those who served in the bucket brigade, suffered not a little in being drenched.
“Fortunately, there was little wind and the slightest breeze that prevailed veered southward carrying the blaze and sparks away from Mrs. Humphrey’s house. The residence suffered scarcely any damage beyond the crackling off some window panes by the intense heat.”
It was a hard blow for the congregation, but they immediately began to plan the construction of a new church to rise from the ashes. They quickly completed the new structure and dedicated it on Nov. 16, 1902, again debt-free.
In 1892, the women of the church had organized their activities into the Women’s Mite Society. They provided services to the members of the church and to the community in general. Through fundraising activities, they were able to help the church add furnishings and teaching materials. In an interesting decision, the likes of which are not often seen today, the group decided that half the money they raised would go toward their church while the other half would be banked in a special account to go to the next church – regardless of denomination – to be built in Craig.
First Christian Church continued to grow and provide a gathering place for the citizens of Craig. New construction throughout the years added to the numbers of classroom and meeting rooms. During the 1970s, the building was swathed in dark cedar planking according to the style of the day.
In 1989, the church membership could no longer fit into the space of their first building, and they purchased a large lot on West Victory Way and built a new church which was dedicated Aug. 30, 1992. The old building was sold to the city of Craig and was added to the Colorado State Historical Registry. The 1970s siding was removed, and the old church emerged as from a cocoon to its original beautiful style.
Today, the building is used for weddings, classes and meetings, and as its new name claims, it is truly the Center of Craig.