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Long Time Gone and Faith of Our Fathers

By Priscilla Waggoner, history by Joyce Berry

February 22, 2023

Professors of Sociology and other high academic areas who have made a study of those small towns that survived the early days on the High Plains and those that didn’t often make the same observation and illustrate that observation by using the same image. They typically, more or less and in one way or another, describe the towns that survived as being similar to a three-legged stool.

Of course, the Professor of Whatever isn’t literally describing the physical structure of the town. An image such as that would quickly have those listening to the professor dismiss him (or her) with a single wave of the hand. No, the Professor of Whatever is, of course, speaking metaphorically, referencing the societal structure of the town and the “institutions” within that town, which were often built by the people of that town, themselves.

Everyone knows that a stool, handy little piece of furniture that it is, needs all three legs to stay on its feet, so to speak. Remove one of the legs and the stool falls over, quite probably doomed for the wood pile. But with all three legs firmly in the right place, that little stool can withstand almost anything, even Uncle Harold who weighs 300 pounds and uses it to reach the bag of candy corn hidden at the back of the shelf where it was never meant to be discovered.

Okay, enough of the stool discussion and on to the more meaningful matters at hand.

Small towns frequently survived because of the presence of three things: a school, a hospital (or, in its absence, a beloved and trusted doctor) and a church. They formed the cornerstone of the community, and whether they were created by design or were born of an innate need of the people is neither known nor important. All that matters is that the town survived, in large part, because the institutions of that town met the needs of the people who lived there. The school provided the education that satisfied the mind. The doctor provided the care that supported the body. And the church, of course, fed the soul. Of course, entrepreneurs bringing goods and services to the burgeoning community greatly contributed to the town’s success, but those three places were the anchors that steadied the town in times both good and bad.

Likewise, there’s no denying that faith has played a crucial role in Eads since the days when Eads was barely more than an ink spot on a map. During the early years of the town—before the county was even a county—the people of Eads attended a Community Sunday School in a small brick schoolhouse on Luther Street. Before 1900, rancher and preacher W. Perdue offered sermons in the building, that is, until the building was destroyed by a tornado. In 1903, reportedly due to the strong urging and persuasion of Miss Lizzie Goff, proprietor of the Goff Hotel, the town then became part of the Sheridan Lake Circuit of the Methodist Church under the leadership of Reverend S.A. Drais. In 1907, Reverend Drais ended up being the first pastor regularly assigned to the church, at which time pioneer and town benefactor George France, donated town lots to be used for construction of the Methodist Episcopal Church. Two years later, and during the tenure of Reverend G.W. Cook, a small white frame church was built and dedicated with much celebration and fanfare as the Eads Community Church.

By 1920, Eads was one of only three communities possessing a church, and citizens felt the town needed a “more adequate” building to be used as a church for the community, “a building” as reported in the Kiowa County Press, “the people of Eads would always be proud to call ’our church’ and would also serve as a community center with a basement to accommodate basketball and other large events.” (Gotta say…going to basketball games in God’s house? If the townfolk then were like the townfolk now, that must have truly been as close to heaven on earth as anyone would have thought humanly possible.) It was agreed by all that the church would occupy the site of the 1909 building and, in July of that year, Harvard graduate and associate of the esteemed John Gray and Walter DeMordaunt Architectural firm, Pueblo architect W.W. Stickney came to Eads to meet with the Building Committee and present plans for the basement. Plans for the entire building were expected by the end of the month.

On August 24, 1920—coming up 103 years ago—excavation for the first component of the projected $35,000 Eads Community Church began. Sixteen teams and several men and boys lifted out 2,000 cubic feet of dirt for the basement, which was planned to be 120’ x 64’ and 9’6” below grade. The men worked hard for several days. As reported in the Kiowa County Press, “Men and teams came from all directions around Eads, and the spirit of good-fellowship came with them.” Dinner for the workers was provided by local woman.

Observations in the Kiowa County Press summarized it perfectly. “People may soon forget all who have helped in this great work, but people will never forget the work done, and years hence as they meet in this church building for worship or for social life or for the funeral service, they will be thankful that someone in days gone by was prompted to build such a place for the community life.” Reverend Roy Hills, the pastor of the church at the time, worked alongside the congregation.

The building is on the National Register of Historic Places. This is an exceptional honor for the church.

Eads Community Church is significant in the area of Architecture at a local level, as an example of Jacobean revival-style ecclesiastical building. It was designed and erected over the course of 30 years that reflects the design efforts of two well-regarded architects including William Stickney of Pueblo, 1923, and John James Wallace of Colorado Springs, 1951. The building is further distinguished by its exceptional, highly artistic brick masonry, which enlivens and ornaments the walls and represents the leadership and skill of master local mason, John B. Hostetter, who is Verna Ebright’s grandfather-in-law and many volunteer workers.

The church is important as Kiowa County’s oldest, largest, and best-preserved religious building. The church is also significant in the area of Social History, at a local level of significance, as building integral to the social life of Eads, which began as a community effort and received widespread community support. The building hosted a wide array of the community’s civic and recreational events including contest of basketball, and other high school team games, adult and younger children’s sports competitions and practices also took place here.

In addition, gatherings associated with clubs, weddings, holiday events, funerals, and other group activities took place. One activity that I was impressed with was the lectures by members of the Women’s Christian Temperance union. The building stands today as an important reminder of past generations’ commitment to community life. These social gatherings tarted at the completion of the basement in 1923 and continued until many of these activities were transferred to the Eads School Gymnasium, now known as the Old Gym or Elementary Gym, built in 1929.

Starting in 1920, a respected Pueblo architect, William Stickney, provided an ambitious initial design for the church, which ultimately proved to be beyond the financial capacity of our small town. Our town was dependent on agriculture as its economic mainstay. Eads experienced the effects of a prolonged depression that begin in the early 190s and extended until World War II. Using mostly volunteer labor of members of the community, construction efforts proceeded sporadically to complete the church basement and a portion of the first story walls, which were covered with a roof intended as temporary.

In December 1922 a church house warming, dinner, concert, and bazaar welcomed the entire community. Workmen had just laid and oiled the floor in the athletic room in October 1923, when a fire broke out that burned holes in the floor and roof and caused the entire town to rush to the site and assist in extinguishing the flames. Fortunately, the damage was covered by insurance. Church services took place in the school until the building was repaired. Following cleaning and rebuilding, which included replacing the roof, refinishing the walls, laying a new floor, and the addition of a new steel ceiling, the church was rededicated with all day services on December 9, 1923.

Ruby Wissel related to me that at nine years old she accepted the Lord in the basement of this church. Her father was a minister in the Church of Brethren and presided over many funerals in this church building and many schoolhouses. Faye Barber remembers attending a school event, in our basement and gave a reading in a contest where she won first place. That was in 1929.

After the war and the return of local residents from military service, growing sentiment in the community favored completion of the church. Longtime Eads resident and retired builder W.T. Holland prepared plans he believed could be reasonably completed with manpower and funds available locally. The church turned to Colorado Springs architect John Wallace to prepare drawings and provide professional advice for completion of the building. Holland served as chairman of the building committee.

Retired brick mason John B. Hostetter volunteered his services to complete the brick work. The church has been called ‘a memorial to his fine workmanship.’ It should be noted that both of these men, Holland and Hostetter, were in their 80s when they took over the project of finishing the church.

A relative of William Holland’s, Robert C. Miller, observes the two men decided if they were ever going to see a completed church in their lifetimes, they would have to build it.

In January of 1951 the project began. Work included lowering the ceiling of the basement and completing the upper walls of the entire building. An octagonal projection on the east was removed, and the center and upper portion of the east wall was finished as it appears today. These improvements cost an estimated $15,000.

Eads builder Warrant Portrey was the superintendent of the construction. A little side story is that he also designed and built two round houses in 1951 and 1952 for George Crow, Charles Crow’s father, and the 1973 Best Western Country Manor Motel in Eads for Clyde Crow. This Warren Portrey was married to Audrey Barksdale who was Clyde Crow’s wife Bernice’s sister.

The first services of the new sanctuary were held on October 28, 1951 when Rev. Kenneth Hicks reported the upstairs proper is virtually finished. New pews and a Wurlitzer organ were in place, and other furnishings were being made.

A capacity crowd gathered at the church to celebrate Thanksgiving Day in November 1951. Entertainment for the event included the Eads School Band, school and church vocal groups, the Girls Glee Club, and soloists.

In December 1951 a Christmas Cantata, the annual event that run until COVID stopped it in 2020, was presented in the chancel decorated with a Christmas tree, poinsettias and wreaths.

However, a Methodist rule at the time required buildings and furnishings to be paid for before dedication ceremonies could occur, resulting in a year’s delay.

On November 30, 1952 dedication services were held for the completed, debt-free building. Denver bishop Glenn R. Philipps resided over the service. The pews provided seating for 220 people, and additional 125 chairs could be added in the north hallway.

The newspaper published a photograph of the building and commented, “With the new building completed and paid for, the people under the leadership of Kenneth Hicks as minister have reason to rejoice and offer their thanks for a successful conclusion to their many years of labor and anticipation.”

In 1969, the congregation combined with the Evangelical United Brethren Church and became the United Methodist Church of Eads. This union brought into the church building many wonderful Christians that have contributed a great deal to the history of the church.

The bell in the belfry came from the former Evangelical United Brethren Church. These two united churches have continued to worship in and preserve the building.

In 2013 Joyce Berry presented the history of the church building. In part, she recognized those who came before who made the United Methodist Church what it was. “We build on the work that others have done before us. I came to Eads over 50 years ago and the church, the people, I remember were Mrs. Roberts (Jimmy Brown’s grandmother) who taught the Dorcas class; Madge France; William McDaniel (Cardon Berry’s grandfather), who was one of the men that helped dig out the dirt for the basement of the church building; Abbie Dunlap; Trix Miller, who played the piano and was Marty Miller’s grandmother; Art and June Blooding; Lawrence and Lee Pyles; Dr. and Babes Graham, who delivered our daughter Cindy; Mrs. Lindholm; Mrs. Herzog; Mr. and Mrs. Fred Hennigh; Tal and Roleta Teal; Lloyd and Belva Berry; Tommy and Philomene Liesen; Lou York, and many others.”

As far as what else might have fortified the people of Eads and others who loved this church before it was even built…well…that’s up for the reader to decide for himself.

Here’s to one of the most beautiful buildings in town….now going back to its roots and its original name as of February 12, 2023…Eads Community Church.

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