The Early Years
The beginnings of First Baptist Church are hard to pinpoint exactly, but
some facts basic to its establishment tell us that sometime in 1904, Levi
Johnson moved to Craig, and in February 1905, his wife and children joined
him. They homesteaded at Illinois Park, at the foot of Black Mountain near
Craig. Mrs. Amy Johnson taught in various schools around the county, so
they kept a home in Craig during the Winter and returned to the ranch each
Spring. Their town residence was located in the 500 block of Breeze Street
and is still in use today.
Rev W.C. Lindsey, a Baptist minister from Missouri, moved to Northwest
Colorado in 1909. He filed on a homestead near Cedar Mountain. Ernest Kline
became his neighbor in 1910, when he established his homestead also near
Cedar Mountain. Ernest Kline and Amy Johnson were both from Methodist backgrounds, but since there was no Methodist church, they decided to work with Mr. Johnson and Mr. Lindsey to organize a Baptist church. Since membership in the church required baptism, Rev. Lindsey baptized Ernest Kline, Francis Johnson, David Johnson and Amy Jane (Wyatt) Johnson in the icy waters of the Yampa river on April 23,1911. Northern Baptist Missionary, Bertha Smith, was sent to help organize the church. The small group of believers met on April 9, 1911 at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Johnson. Brother Lindsey was asked to act as Pastor till other arrangements could be made, and he kindly accepted, without salary. It was then voted that the regular time for church meeting be on the first Sunday of each month. A committee was appointed to arrange the meeting place. Soon after, a building was rented for one dollar a meeting. This property was located at the intersection of Highway 40 and Washington Street, just South of City Park, and was used for a Cork and Bottle shop. Abbey Carpets is located there now.
In the next few years, the church met in several different places. Elkhead
was a favorite place, meeting in homes, including the Davidson Cabin and
meetings were held at the Johnson Ranch in Illinois Park, located on the
present Black Mountain Road just below Freeman Reservoir.
In June of 1912, a special business meeting was held to outline ideas of building a church at Elkhead, as it was thought by some not advisable to build in Craig yet. However, the church thought different and decided to build a small house in Craig, suitable for a meeting place and parsonage, and to postpone the erecting of the main building until later.
Soon Elkhead became the headquarters of the church because most of the members lived in that area. They met at the Davidson Cabin or the J. C. Herod home until the Elkhead schoolhouse was built. When the church was meeting at Elkhead, there was a membership of about 60 to 80 people. Services in the more rural areas were conducted once or twice a month, and several laymen took charge of those meetings as the Lord led them. In addition to Rev. Kline, Bertram Welch, Frank Daggett, Lerch Couvert and others helped in this way. They called them Sagebrush Preachers, and though they might not have been as polished as some, God used them to touch hearts and win souls in a place where a city preacher would have failed miserably. After the Elkhead School was built, regular services were held there. For a time, the First Baptist Church of Craig met in town on Sunday mornings and then drove out to Elkhead for Sunday School in the afternoon. That made for some very long days, especially for the younger children.
After WWII, the Elkhead branch of the church was discontinued altogether.
Many of the smaller ranchers were forced to move away after the Depression
years of the 1930’s and the increased mechanization of the ranching
business. With progress, better roads, and cars becoming more available,
people were no longer tied to their small community churches. More and
more people were able to drive in to town and the church became focused in
Craig. Members of the Elkhead branch were also members of the Craig
branch of the church, and no distinction was made in the church records.