History in Focus: The Christian endeavor
January 9, 2019
One of the most recognizable buildings in the downtown area is the Center of Craig. Built in 1902, it was originally the First Christian Church. It is a reminder of how the early history of Craig was shaped by people of strong faith who were willing to put their religious beliefs into action and work to develop a vibrant community in our remote corner of Colorado.
Craig was founded in 1889, and organized religion soon followed. In 1891, the Rev. L.G. Thompson and 16 charter members created First Christian Church. Without a building, they met in the town hall to worship. Today, a few of these charter members are remembered on street names around town: Tucker, Breeze, Ranney, and Taylor.
By 1894, the growing congregation built a church on the northeast corner of Sixth and Yampa. The cornerstone of the new church was laid Sunday, July 16, 1893. An article in the July 21 Pantagraph covered the ceremony. The Rev. Teagarden, "delivered a ringing speech, pointing forth the merits of the Good Book and the benefits to be derived from leading a Christian life."
For the next seven years, First Christian opened its doors to all, but on the bitterly cold night of Feb. 14, 1901, disaster struck. According to old news articles and church histories, temperatures dipped below minus 20 degrees F, and it appears a chimney fire from the overworked furnace ignited the wood rafters.
About 5 a.m., a Mrs. Humphrey, who lived only 30 feet away, was awakened by the bright glow of the burning church shining through her bedroom window. She alerted her family and sounded the alarm. A bucket brigade was formed in the early morning cold, but the church quickly burned to the ground, and only the bell was saved.
In an Incredible feat of determination and faith under the guidance of Pastor J.L. Ellis, a brand new church was constructed in the same location almost exactly one year after the fire. At the dedication in November 1902, three ceremonies were held: one in the morning, one in the afternoon, and a third in the evening. There was no excuse to miss the celebration of the rebirth of the church.
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Through the next eight decades, the church was the hub of an active faith community. This history is highlighted in the 1977 church directory written by Lois Norman, former church secretary. In particular, there are details of the women's society and its 75 years of of dedicated service. Formed in 1897, it is the oldest active community organization in Craig.
The women held bazaars, bought war bonds during World War II, raised money for missions work, purchased items for the parsonage, taught Sunday School, and provided clothing and money to the needy. In short, faith energized members of the church to be involved in the local community.
After several additions to the church through the decades, it was clear by the late 1980s the venerable building was outdated. A committee was formed, and after considering several properties, First Christian purchased property owned the by the family of Cullie Walsh on West Victory Way, next to Pizza Hut. Groundbreaking ceremonies were held May 5, 1991, and its first service was held Aug. 30, 1992.
However, the fate of the iconic old church building hung in the balance. Fortunately, it was purchased by the city of Craig and added to the Colorado State Historical Registry. Various old additions were stripped away, the insides were renovated, and the church was resurrected as the Center of Craig.
Today, the spirit of the original congregants is still alive as the Center of Craig plays host to parties, art shows, weddings, graduations, and public gatherings of all sorts.
Thanks to Dan Davidson and Museum of Northwest Colorado for access to the museum archives. Email James Neton at firstname.lastname@example.org.