Elk Mountain Museum
A Short History of the People’s Church of Elk Mountain
The little church was built in or around 1905. John and Lawrence Quealy, some of Elk Mountain’s founding fathers, donated the land and a church was built. An empty building from Old Carbon was reportedly donated to the cause of getting a church in Elk Mountain. So the story goes that the little church came from Old Carbon originally, although we have no solid evidence of this, just an oral history. The first meeting of the Board of Trustees was held December 26, 1906. The land was officially deeded to the people on January 21, 1927 under the name Elk Mountain Union Church…. But it wasn’t officially filed with the courthouse until August 27, 1948 when the Quealy’s sold their interests to Palm Livestock. Somewhere along the way it was renamed the Elk Mountain Community Church.
Samuel E. West writes of his missionary adventures in Wyoming in a work entitled Cross on the Range, Missionary in Wyoming. In his writings he recorded his experiences with the People’s Church of Elk Mountain. He informs us that it was known as the People’s Church because it was built by the people of the area. It was owned by the people and belonged to no denomination. It was agreed that any minister of any denomination Protestant or Catholic could come and hold services at Elk Mountain if he received permission from the board of trustees; which board was elected by the people of the community. Each minister would take turns preaching at the church. If there were two ministers it was every other week and if there were three ministers, every third week and so on.
When Samuel West arrived in the Hanna- Elk Mountain area in the spring of 1912 as an Episcopalian Missionary, he discovered that a Presbyterian divinity student was holding occasional services in Elk Mountain. It took a few days and a signed petition, but Mr. West was able to arrange holding services on alternate Sundays opposite the Presbyterian student. They shared the same choir, same Sunday School and the same congregation. Of the church building he said this; “The church was a very well built frame structure, of which the people were immensely proud, and they took excellent care of the property. It was always clean, and had a stove which was adequate in the most severe weather.”
Mr. West soon discovered that John Evans, the Welsh proprietor of the Hotel and local bar, was musical; and after some persuasion convinced him to organize and conduct a church choir. Mr. Evans even agreed to close the saloon on Sunday afternoons and evenings so he could conduct choir practice and attend evening services. Mr. West even went on to say that to his great credit, Mr. Evans was ‘entirely sober whenever he conducted the choir’. He also mentioned that a large majority of the people were somehow involved in the timber industry and that there were a lot of Scandinavians, who very much enjoyed their coffee and cake practically every afternoon and especially at gatherings.
Another great story recounted was the first time a Bishop came to Elk Mountain. Bishop Thomas came to confirm 10 adults that summer of 1912. To honor this occasion, Mr. Evans, the fearless choir director, had prepared for the choir to sing “Nearer My God to Thee”. On the day of the Bishop’s visit, the church and the church yard were packed with people. The humble church was unable to hold them all. Sometime during the Bishop’s sermon, he took occasion to criticize the very hymn that was to be sung by the choir immediately following his sermon. John Evans was equal to the moment and quietly whispered to the choir to hand in their music for “Nearer My God to Thee” and just as quietly handed out music for a hymn that the choir had performed 2 weeks before. The congregation and the visiting Bishop were none the wiser.
The beautifully quaint Community Church still stands today as a testament to the people who founded this community and although services aren’t held regularly, it is still used for weddings and funerals and other cultural events.