by Serena Bettis
While the music played at Off the Hook Arts events has hundreds of years of global history, Grace Presbyterian Church, the host building for many performances, has its own extensive, more local story.
Located at 300 Whedbee Street, the church was built in 1914 by members of the local Bethlehem Evangelical Lutheran congregation. The congregation formed in Andersonville, a small sugar factory neighborhood in what is now north Fort Collins, in 1904 when a large group of German-Russian immigrants settled in the area, drawn to sugar beet farming and railroad jobs.
Formerly worshipping in a building that functioned as both a church and school sold to them by the Great Western Sugar Company, the congregation moved closer to the city center.
To build the church, members cut limestone from the mountains west of Fort Collins and brought them to the city in horse-drawn wagons. They dug the basement out by hand and used lumber for their old church for the basement ceiling.
A 1998 Colorado Historical Society survey said the church has no determined architecture, but is a gothic revival style with classical features. It is built around a central tower, which features a large stained glass window, a third story with an oculus window and a belfry. On top of the belfry is a spire with an affixed cross.
“(The) symmetrical and monumental form and the use of sandstone masonry have effectively resulted in a building that symbolizes the strength and power of religious belief shared by the transplanted German-Russian community,” the survey said.
The church is also considered an integral element of the Eastside neighborhood’s history and community, as it was a primary source of news for many in the area in the early 1900s.
Without telephone communication in many homes, the church served as a useful place to give and receive community news. They primarily did this with their bell, which is still in working condition today.
Venita Schnedier wrote in an article that the bell would ring on Saturday nights and before special services including Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Additionally, it would ring out the years of the deceased at funerals and for five minutes before and after midnight on New Year’s Eve.
Grace Presbyterian’s congregation started worshipping in 2011, which former senior pastor Scott Lowe said was very exciting for their community.
“You know that you’re connected to the fabric of humans that have walked before you,” Lowe said. “A lot of times we live so in the moment that to step back and realize that you’re a link in the chain of what has gone on before you and what you will be for those that will follow you, it’s humbling and exciting at the same time.”