A few excerpts from articals and documents from different sources at different times during the life of the Esterbrook Community Church.
Peg Layton Douglas, Wy. (1968?)
WHO SAYS A GHOST T CAN’T SUPPORT A CHURCH?
Unusual-as it may seem, it’s true that ghost towns can and do support a church! A case in point is Esterbrook, Wyoming —— an old lead—mining camp tucked away in the “foothills of the Laramie Mountains, 25 miles south of U.S. Highway 87 in eastern Wyoming, near Douglas.
Perhaps in reality one must admit it’s not the “ghosts”, but rather the residents of the ranching community around this old settlement, who keep Esterbrook’s little Church of the Ascension on a paying basis. But, nevertheless, this hand—hewn log church —— set in a broad mountain meadow with a panoramic view of 10,274-foot Laramie Peak —- holds unusual charm for everyone who enters it.
“We like to think of our church as something very special,” said one of its members, recently. “A place where we can meet in Christian fellowship to meditate and enjoy with reverent awe, the majesty of God’s handy work in these mountains.”
These words seem to sum up the feelings of just about everyone in this mountain community. It’s obvious these people consider their church something more than a tourist attraction; and, herein lies their hope that their little church will always be able to keep its rural charm. But there’s no guarantee their wish will be granted.
The fact is that Esterbrook, in its picturesque setting at the edge of Medicine Bow National Forest, is each year becoming less rural and more of a summer retreat for people throughout southeastern Wyoming. So much so that summertime activity, today, along Esterbrook’s single, winding street is rivaling that of the old town’s “boom days” of the 1890s. Last summer, nearly 400 people signed the church visitors’ book, and its probable that corning years will be bringing even more tourists to the Church of the Ascension. But even though its members accept Esterbrook’s changing times with mixed emotions, they go out of their way to make every church visitor feel welcome.
It’s something of a miracle that Esterbrook —— long vexed with a fluctuating population —— has a church at all. The community’s dreams for a church finally became a reality in 1942, when it was learned that the Episcopal Diocese of Wyoming was interested in establishing new churches in the state. A prominent Esterbrook family, the Jim Newells, were instrumental in relaying the community’s desire for a church to the Right Reverend Winfred Ziegler of Laramie, Bishop of the Wyoming Diocese. The Bishop took a great personal interest in Esterbrook’s project, from the date of its inception till the new church was completed three years later, and traveled there frequently to conduct services. The first of these, held in the community schoolhouse, was on Ascension Day.
During that summer, Bishop Ziegler visited residents throughout this mountain community to enlist their help for the church building campaign. One of the village citizens, Mr. Luther Freeman who had recently purchased the Esterbrook patented mining claim, donated a lot for the church site. He also volunteered to raise the necessary funds and supervise the building of the new church which, in accord with Ziegler’s wish, was to be modeled after the Chapel of the Transfiguration at Moose, Wyoming, in Grand Teton National Park. Through Freeman’s contacts among friends and other interested persons, money for Esterbrook’s church began pouring in from across the U.S. —— one sum coming from a New York financier, who had also been a benefactor of the University of Wyoming through the years.
The community’s residents, greatly encouraged by this response, met a few weeks later to fell the timber for their new church which had been donated by several of the area’s ranchers. This gala occasion also included a woodcutters’ feast, prepared by the ladies of Esterbrook. ‘Without a single exception,” said one who was present that day, “every person in our community had a part in building the church.”
One of the area’s long-time citizens was contracted to lay the logs and build the church furniture, including the altar, the pulpit and lectern, and the pews. The beauty of these rustic appointments, each hand hewn from native pine, adds immeasurably to the Old West charm of this little church. But perhaps its most distinctive feature is its picture window which extends nearly the full width of the wall, behind the altar, and frames majestic Laramie Peak with its crown of ever changing sky.
In recalling highlights from the church’s dedication day — July 21, l —— one of the church’s organists, Mrs. Ray Cooper, said, “We who were there will always remember that lovely summer day. Through the altar window a great eagle could be seen circling about, as Bishop Ziegler conducted the impressive dedication service. It seemed this beautiful bird was adding his blessing to ours - as if he were a part of the welcoming committee, swooping his thanks!”
The old Story & Clark pump organ which provides music for regular worship services, as well as for weddings and baptisms, was brought by wagon into Esterbrook in 1891 by its former owners. This early—day pioneer couple, along with other Esterbrook old-timers, are buried at Spring Hill —— a rural cemetery a fey; miles west of the church. The belfry bell was given to the church in 1947 by Freeman’s sister, Mrs. Julia Carey., the wife of Wyoming’s late Governor and U.S. Senator, Robert D. Carey. This bell can be heard ringing for more than a mile preceding summertime Sunday services —— or whenever some visitor decides, through curiosity, to give a few tugs on the rope dangling in the church vestibule.
The Church of the Ascension is, today, one of 29 mission churches in the Episcopal Missionary District of Wyoming. Regular Sunday services are held here, June through September, with special ones often being conducted by church laymen at the Easter and Christmas seasons. Denominations other than Episcopalian are always welcome to hold special services here, and congregations eastern Wyoming often take this opportunity to enjoy the inspiring beauty of this Laramie Peak region.
The Right Reverend J. Wilson Hunter of Laramie, presiding Bishop of the Wyoming Diocese since Ziegler’s retirement in l948 is responsible for. the minister who fills this church pulpit regularly. Currently serving at this post is Mr. Russell Fawcett, a lay minister. Fawcett, a life—long resident of the Esterbrook community, combines church duties with ranching and journalism -— and is editor of The Wyoming Stockman-Farmer a western journal published monthly in Cheyenne. Fawcett’s wife is the present church organist.
Attendance at the church .varies, depending upon the day and the number of weekend visitors in the village; but its sixty—five—seat capacity is always filled to overflowing on the Sunday the Bishop makes his annual visit.
The main support of the church comes through Sunday contributions, gifts to the memorial fund and donations left by tourists. The only expense paid by the Bishop’s office is the church insurance and the mileage of its attending minister. Regarding church support, Mrs. Ester Norcross, church Treasurer and Historian said, “Through the grace of God and faith in our fellowmen, the needs of our church have always been met —— just as they are in any church.”
Church maintenance is seldom a problem, according to Mrs. Norcross. “If repairs are needed,” she says, “someone is always willing to do the work, without charge.” It’s generally known among church members that this someone is her husband, Ross! The of them have been Esterbrook residents for nearly fifty years.
Historically speaking, the Laramie Peak country has had an interesting and colorful past. A total of four flags have flown over this region —— the white Bourbon flag of France, dating back to 1682, and later two others, on of Spanish and another of French origin. “Old Glory” became the fourth when, in 1803, the U.S. gained possession of this territory through the Louisiana Purchase.
The village of Esterbrook sprung up in 1896, as a lead—mining camp. By the end of the century, however, the rich veins of ore were mostly
depleted and the town’s population quickly dwindled. In 1910, Esterbrook. regained some of its former eminence with the building of the Rustic Inn, a small but popular guest lodge and dining room. At this time the town also had a small grocery, a one—pump gas station and a Post Office. Summer vacationers and the homesteaders, who were moving in to help fill up Wyoming’s wide open spaces, brought renewed —— thought temporary —— prosperity to these few places of business, thus paving the way for the eventual building of Esterbrook’s church. In 1954, however, the village lost its U.S. Mail contract when rural delivery took over, and the Inn and other businesses soon closed. The only one remaining, a Freeman family enterprise, is the popular Ester— brook Hunting Club, a summer tavern with dining facilities and cabin rentals.
Today, the village of Esterbrook - in the heart of deep—snow country -- has no year—round residents. The advent of spring, however, finds the community’s old—timers migrating back from their places of winter refuge to enjoy -— along with a growing number of summer-cabin residents —— the pleasures of this region with its piquant aroma of pine.
During the 1968 season, the HR Ranch Camp near Esterbrook —— a newly— expanded summer camp facility for Episcopal youth — will be attracting young •campers from throughout this Rocky Mountain area. This camp site located in a scenic canyon on homestead land, was donated for this purpose by Mr. Hank Raymond who helped build Esterbrook’s church. The camp, which bears his initials in its name, will provide still further opportunity for this picturesque church to serve as a meeting place in this inspirational mountain setting.
Although the Church of the Ascension has played a vital role in the life of the community of Esterbrook for a quarter of a century, its members believe that still greater years of service are in store for their beloved church. And along with their hopeful assurance of this fact, lies a deep, abiding faith that their church will continue to remain a sanctuary of peace and quiet, amid the rush of this modern, jet—age world.
AS FAR AS I CAN COMPREHEND THE LAST MINING DONE IN THIS AREA WAS IN 1943 WHEN DEAN BUTLER OF LUSK, WYOMING STARTED FURTHER WORK ON THE MINE AT ESTERBROOK, A NEW SHAFT HOUSE WAS BUILT OVER A NEW DEVELOPMENT. SOME ORE WAS SHIPPED, BUT THE RESULTS WERE NOT VERY SATISFACTORY AND AGAIN THE MINE WAS CLOSED. WILL IT EVER BE REOPENED? TIME WILL TELL. TRAVELING MINISTERS OR MISSIONARIES CONDUCTED CHURCH SERVICES IN THE RANCH HOMES FROM TIME TO TIME DURING THE SUMMER. THE HOUSEWIFE COOKED A BIG CHICKEN DINNER AND THE
NEIGHBORS FROM ALL AROUND THE COMMUNITY CAME TO ATTEND CHURCH AND STAYED FOR DINNER AND ON THROUGH THE AFTERNOON FOR A SOCIAL TIME OF VISITING. FOR MANY YEARS THE PEOPLE OF THE COMMUNITY HAD TALKED
OF HAVING A CHAPEL FOR A PLACE OF WORSHIP, BUT NOTHING WAS DONE TOWARD THIS GOAL UNTIL BISHOP ZIEGLER CAME TO VISIT HERE. LUTHER FREEMAN DONATED A PLOT OF GROUND FOR A CHURCH AND THE STEPS WERE TAKEN TO START WORK FOR THE ERECTION OF THE CHURCH . LOGS FOR THE BUILDING WERE DONATED BY JIM
NEWELL, ROSS NORCROSS AND LUTHER FREEMAN. IN JUNE OF 1943, A GROUP OF PEOPLE GATHERED AT THE NORCROSS HOME TO CUT LOGS AND A BASKET LUNCH WAS SERVED BY THE WOMEN. EVERYONE IN THE COMMUNITY CONTRIBUTED IN SOME WAY TOWARD THE BUILDING OF THE CHURCH, EITHER WITH MATERIAL, LABOR OR MONEY. THE CONSECRATION OF THE CHURCH OF THE ASCENSION WAS HELD ON JULY 21ST, 1946, SEVERAL YOUNG PEOPLE WERE CONFIRMED BY THE BISHOP AND THERE WAS ONE
BAPTISM. AN OIL PAINTING OF THE CRUCIFIXION BY 3.R. WILSON OF GLENDO WAS UNVEILED AND PRESENTED TO THE CHURCH. IN 1947, MRS. ROBERT D. CAREY PRESENTED A FINE BELL TO THE CHURCH AND IN 1948 REV. GALE OF THE CONGREGATIONAL CHURCH OF DOUGLAS, HELD SERVICES IN THE CHURCH . THE SILVER
OFFERING AMOUNTING TO $71.50 WAS GIVEN TO HELP PAY FOR A NEW FLOOR HANK RAYMOND VOLUNTEERED TO LAY THE FLOOR FREE OF CHARGE. IT HAS BEEN THE POLICY OF THE CHURCH TO ALLOW MINISTERS FROM OTHER DENOMINATIONS TO HOLD SERVICES IN THE CHURCH DURING THE DATES WHEN OUR MINISTER ARE ABSENT. MORT
PETERS OF DOUGLAS OFTEN ATTENDED SERVICES IN OUR CHURCH AND HE DECIDED A MUCH LARGER WINDOW WOULD GIVE A BETTER VIEW OF BEAUTIFUL LARAMIE MOUNTAINS. SO HE PRESENTED A WINDOW FIVE FEET HIGH BY TWELVE FEET LONG FOR THE CHURCH AND ALSO GAVE RIPPLE WOOD PANELING FOR THE WALLS AROUND THE ROSTRUM AND LUMBER FOR NEW FRONT DOORS. THE SITE FOR THE EPISCOPAL CAMP FOR CHILDREN WAS DONATED TO THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH BY HARRY RAYMOND AND INCLUDED CABINS AND GROUNDS LOCATED ON THE BEAUTIFUL MARY COOPER CREEK IN THE SUMMER OF 1946. IT IS STILL USED TO THIS DAY AT VARIOUS TIMES.
From the late 60’s to the early nineties the church remained a mission church under the Episcopal Diocese of Wyoming. During this time the Christ Church in Douglas was in charge of renting the church for weddings, funerals, etc., but other than that the church was used intermittently during the summer for worship. In the late seventies a Christmas Eve service was started and has remained a tradition of the community. People come from all over the region to enjoy an old fashioned country candlelight service. In the early nineties Dave Byer of Douglas was the director of HR Camp and would conduct Sunday worship services in the summer. At this time there were approximately 20 full time residents. A core group of seven residents desired regular worship services and established a parish church no longer under the direction of the Douglas church but still part of the Episcopal Diocese under leadership of Bishop Bruce Caldwell. Bishop Bruce Caldwell was instrumental in starting leadership programs for small churches called Mutual Ministries.
The church grew and once again became a vibrant part of the community. In 2003 Kirby Kudlak became the first ordained Deacon at the Church of the Ascension.
In 2005, with the blessing of Bishop Bruce, the congregation became an independent community church called The Esterbrook Community Church. The church building is still owned by the Episcopal Diocese of Wyoming. The Esterbrook Community Church rents the building from the Diocese.
The church continues to be a vital part of the Esterbrook community under the leadership of pastor Kudlak. The church has undergone various upgrades but has not lost the simple pioneer spirit in which it was built.