The picture above is of the original Methodist Church buildings, which was the first church established in the young town of Buena Vista in 1879. It is likely that is was also the first church established in Chaffee County. It stood on what is now the location of the Eddyline Brewery on the corner of Cottonwood and Linderman. The church was founded by Father John Dyer, the Snowshoe Itinerant, who also served as its first pastor. In those days there was an unobstructed view of Mt. Princeton in the background.
The establishment of the Methodist Church was soon followed by the building of St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church and the Congregational Church in 1880, and Grace Episcopal Church in 1882. All four churches were in the heart of Buena Vista, three of them merely a block away from each other.
In the late 1920s, as the Great Depression fell upon America, the Methodists found it difficult to keep their church open, so they joined forces with the Congregational Church, and the Methodists ceased to exist as a distinct congregation.
There would not be another Methodist congregation in Buena Vista until a small band of transplanted Methodists, with the leadership of retired pastor Dan Bruce, sought to organize a new work in 2002. They were chartered as a United Methodist Fellowship, which is the first step toward becoming a United Methodist Church.
Grace Episcopal extended gracious hospitality to this fledgling group, and the two congregations quickly recognized the benefits of joining together to form a groundbreaking ecumenical fellowship. Since 2002, this united group has expanded its outreach to the Arkansas River Valley and the world beyond in dramatic and generous ways. Grace Church is a bright testimony to the maxim that a congregation’s size does not determine its significance. Grace is small and mighty!
This picture is of the original Grace Episcopal Church building, which is the only structure in Buena Vista still on its original site being used for its original purpose. There is no date on this picture, but the church was clearly still surrounded by open fields when it was taken. The history of the actual church building dates back well over 100 years.
An influx of English settlers in the 1860s into the Arkansas River Valley brought with them a desire for Anglican worship, leading to the founding of the Episcopal Church on land bought by Bishop Spaulding for $350. Construction costs amounted to $2,160 in 1882.
Hard economic times hit Grace Episcopal along with other churches in the valley and, due to a small number of members and a lack of funding, Grace was forced to close its doors in the mid-1920s. The building sat unused until 1949. Then services started up again, and the congregation began to grow. By 1955, Grace became the base for the Timberline Circuit, which served seven high mountain communities. That same year, a young seminary graduate named William Frey was assigned to serve the church and the Timberline Circuit. Rev. Frey went on to become the bishop of the Colorado Diocese. It would be another 40 years, however, before Grace was granted full parish status in 1995.
In 1978, the church was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and in 2005 was able to complete a two-phase major restoration project with the help of a grant from the Colorado Historical Society. The restoration brought back some of the building’s original features and reclaimed its native beauty as one of the best examples of Carpenter Gothic architecture in the State of Colorado.
Both of our congregations of origin have faced difficult times, and both have persevered thanks to the dedication of many deeply faithful people. This heritage of faith continues to be an essential part of our congregational life.