LS: History Here and Now Column December 26, 2009
First Baptist Church has original Estey reed organ
As the American frontier moved westward, Baptist pastors and Methodist circuit-riding preachers typically were among the pioneers. In the Southwest there also were Catholic missions established as far back as the 17th century. It is not unusual that the first three churches in the new town of Grand Junction were Baptist, Methodist and Catholic.
The building lots for the Baptist church were expected by the town company to be at Third Street and White Avenue. The Baptists, however, had other ideas. They chose lots in the middle of a block at 526 Grand Ave. This placed them at the edge of the settled area, but they now were on an avenue that was designed to be a major cross-town street. Main, Grand,
Gunnison and Seventh were wider than other streets with a right-of-way 100 feet across.
A group of eight Baptists incorporated a church on Feb. 7, 1883. They met in the office of mayor Charles F. Shanks and drew up incorporation papers. The small group held church services in homes until a new building was ready.
Rev. W.D. Weaver was called as the first pastor in 1884. The Baptist Home Mission Society of the national organization helped financially during the early years.
The new brick building was ready by May 21, 1884. It was a rectangular plan with lancet windows and a belfry. The current building still has that 125-year-old bell and it is still used on occasion.
Another artifact from the early days is an Estey reed organ that still resides with the congregation. The earliest churches in town all used reed organs before they upgraded to pipe organs. The reed organs were special church models that had the range and volume to accompany numerous singers.
The Baptists now have a large contemporary organ, but the old reed instrument is still playable.
Seating in the 1884 building was ponderosa pine pews that were made by a member of the congregation. One of the 1884 pews also is among the artifacts that the church still has.
The First Baptist Church was associated with the Northern Baptist denomination and they did not have to deal with regional feelings. Churches of the Southern Baptist Convention did not organize here until about 70 years later amid general good will.
The church was built large enough to house a growing congregation. It accommodated them until they began to outgrow the building in the early 1900s.
A new location was bought at the corner of Seventh and Grand. That is at the center of the original square mile of Grand Junction. This central location was convenient for members, because most people walked to church, or came on the streetcars. There were few automobiles and parking lots were not needed. Country people who drove into town with horse and buggy only needed hitching posts.
Foundations for the new building were laid in 1911 and the basement was finished in 1912.
Church services were held in the basement as the upper reaches of the handsome new building were constructed. Use of the old building was phased out, but records are vague about when the building was sold. By the 1920s it was razed, and a house was there. That parcel of land now is occupied by the children’s wing of the Mesa County library.
David Sundal researched and wrote the local history at http://www.gjhistory.org. He is a charter member of the Mesa County Historical Society since 1976, has been an officer and contributes articles to the society’s newsletter.