History: The First Church to be Built in the North Fork Valley

The First Church to be Built in the North Fork Valley

By LaFawn Hamm Brown – Herald Intern

There were many pastors, preachers and ministers who brought the “Word of God” to people in theNorth ForkValley. The first one recorded was a “circuit rider” minister named Moses A. Clark, a Baptist Missionary. He walked over a100 milesfrom Crested Butte twice a year, stopping along his route to preach and perform marriages.

However the first church historically recognized as being built in the NF was the Andrew L. Webb Memorial Methodist Episcopal Church in Hotchkiss[1], dedicated in 1898. This church was renamed theMethodistChurch in 1937 and then theUnitedMethodistChurch in 1968.

The beginning of the Methodist Episcopal Church in Hotchkiss came about as happenstance, as so many things in history are. OnSeptember 20, 1893, Rev. Henry Harpst arrived to visit his son, W.M. Harpst, in Hotchkiss.  Since Rev. Harpst was a member of the Central Methodist New York Conference, he was asked to a meeting to discuss starting a Church in Hotchkiss.

Rev. Harpst wrote a long letter that recorded what happened and what he thought about all of this.  He wrote, “On inquiry, I found that the North Fork and Smith Fork country had about thirteen school districts and not one church organization, nor a Sunday school, save one on Rogers Mesa taught by Miss Nannie Roberts.” When he was asked to help, he went on to say, “As I was visiting my son’s, I stated that I would do what I could while there, but I would work only in the Sunday School till I could be further convinced the people wanted preaching”.[2] He started the Methodist Sunday School in the “little brick schoolhouse” onMain Street in Hotchkiss with supplies from the New York Ringe Fund.

Rev. Harpst soon found out if “the people wanted preaching”. Later in the letter he wrote, “The appeal for preaching came right along, and thenceforth I held Sunday school at 10:00 a.m. and preaching at 11:00 a.m.”… “Now my appointments were fixed: Hotchkiss in the morning, Bethlehem in the afternoon, and often at the one-room schoolhouse located 2 miles west of Paonia in the evening.”[3]

Rev. Harpst helped organize the new Church, but it wasn’t until Rev. Reuben Smith was appointed Pastor in 1897 that the decision was made to build a church building. This was completedJuly 31, 1898at the current site.  While it was considered to be large when it was first build, by 1927 the membership and activities and increased to the point it was too small.

Local historian Fern Schafer wrote, “they had been having Sunday School classes in tent houses, the parsonage and even on the lawn.  Ashamed to inconvenience our pastors further the women decided to go back into the church…..” This resulted in the stringing of wires to hold curtains made of wagon sheet covers to separate classes. Schafer continues, “…but the women rebelled again. Our church looked horrid……”[4] So they started looking for ways to expand the church building.  Pete Stewart, their carpenter, said it was cheaper to build a new church than to try to expand the existing one.   This was approved and work started in 1926 and was completed with its dedication on April 18, 1929.  Schafer states, “During the tearing down of the old church and the building of the new, all services were held in the Crescent Theatre building which stood next to where the post office is now.”[5][6]

TheHotchkissUnitedMethodistChurchis still located at 2nd and Orchard in Hotchkiss. Their current Pastor, Rev. John Heistand is Pastor for both the Hotchkiss UMC and the Crawford UMC and He continues in the tradition of the church being both a place of worship and family fun to have monthly events open to the community. Breathing Space, a time of relaxation and meditation to music, is the first Thursday of the month in Hotchkiss and the second Thursday of the month at the Crawford UMC. In addition to aBluegrassservice each month, Crawford UMC offers exercise classes, dance classes, guitar lessons each week and a monthly craft time, women’s group and men’s group. Call 733-1080 for more information about joining these groups.

[1] I would like to thank the Hotchkiss/Crawford Museum for providing the reference books used in this article.

[2] “HotchkissCommunityUnitedMethodistChurch” compiled by Fern Schafer

[3] “HotchkissCommunityUnitedMethodistChurch” compiled by Fern Schafer

[4] “HotchkissCommunityUnitedMethodistChurch” compiled by Fern Schafer

[5] “HotchkissCommunityUnitedMethodistChurch” compiled by Fern Schafer

[6] Kathy Addams McKee and Claudia Sutliff  King, authors of  the book “North ForkValley”