Churches – Early Days

Rockvale extended from the foot of Oak Creek Grade down into Stringtown where the boundary was marked by a flagpole dividing the Embleton house, the kitchen being in Williamsburg, while the living room and bedrooms were in Rockvale. From the Town Hall and across the tracks Rockvale extended over Oak Creek up into the School Hill, which besides having the school also had the Methodist Church.

Williamsburg did not have a church, but on each Sunday members of Protestant churches met in the home of Mrs. Morgan. She had an organ, and held Sunday school services there. Sometimes they met in the Williamsburg Schoolhouse, while some walked to Coal Creek which had a number of churches, such as Methodist, Presbyterian, and Congregational, all burned.

Mr. & Mrs. Thomas Nash who came to Rockvale in 1881 and died in 1882 during an epidemic of typhoid fever organized the first Methodist Church Sunday School of Rockvale in the early part of 1882.

Initially, the Nash home held Sunday school services. A blacksmith shop later it housed the services. The building of the Rockvale schoolhouse allowed room for church services. Services moved there. In 1887, the Methodist Church structure finally became a reality.

February 1888, was the date of its dedication. Dr. Nurse, Chancellor of the University of Denver, presided at the dedication. Reverend J. Harrington, who was the first minister of the Rockvale Methodist Church, assisted him.

The first official board was composed of John P. Thomas (mine superintendent), Henry John (second mine superintendent), Samuel Richards, E. Cole, Joseph H. Powell (postmaster), Paul Bennett, Henry Purnell, John Bloxhern, John Pollard, Henry Cocking, Ed Davis, and J. T. James.

Among the noted ministers who served the Rockvale Methodist Church were: Rev. William John, a leader of the Prohibition Movement, Rev. Paul Rader, a noted evangelist, and Rev. B. Silkwood, a Brazilian writer.

When the mining industry was at its height, the Methodist Church had a resident pastor and a parsonage. Among the activities, besides religious services, there were church suppers, concerts, and various socials. As the town population decreased, church enrollment declined and there is now no Methodist Church. Pentecostal Holiness Church bought the church in 1954. Rockvale has a small Southern Baptist Church on the banks of Oak Creek. The pastor is Reverend Fred Kitch.

As long as there was no Catholic Church in any of the coal camps, Simon P. Smith would open his Williamsburg house to his friends and Catholics from Rockvale joined them there. Sometimes the priest from Westcliffe would stop at the Philip Crossan house in Rockvale and say Mass there, and Catholics from other camps would join them. Finally, in 1891, Mr. Mc Gonigle, superintendent of the C. F. & I. mines, asked Catholic miners to donate toward a church. Mrs. Susan Boyd, who ran a boarding house for miners, sponsored a church fair and collected enough money to start a building in Rockvale. St. Mary’s parish in Pueblo loaned the rest of the money.

In 1891, Bishop Nicholas Motz of Denver dedicated the church to St. Patrick. Irish, Italian, German, and Slovenian families from Williamsburg and Coal Creek and even from Florence, which did not have a Catholic Church until 1900, rode or walked the dusty roads on Sundays and holidays when the priest from Westcliffe or Canon City rode horseback to say Mass in the little church.

Each newcomer settled near the group which spoke his language. Segregation was noticeable among the various ethnic groups. Ecumenism was no new thing in the coal camps. When St. Patrick’s Church was dedicated, the lovely voices of Welsh Methodists joined with those of the Roman Catholics in singing the hymns to a common God.

The Oak Creek Southern Baptist mission is a relative newcomer to Rockvale. The church was begun November 13, 1977 under the ministry of Jim Royal, former pastor of the First Southern Baptist Church of Florence. On August 13, 1981, the mission was constituted into church status. In October of 1981, an addition to the original building provided the church with a kitchen and Sunday School rooms.

During August of 1986, the parsonage, which was located on the grounds, was torn down to make room for much needed parking space. Land near the church was purchased, and a double-wide mobile is the new parsonage. Fred Kitch is the current pastor.