The Black Forest Community Church occupies a row of three buildings on the southeast corner of Shoup and Black Forest Roads in the rural community of Black Forest in northern El Paso County. The church had its origins in a Sunday school started in 1932, with members incorporating a church organization in 1937 and constructing a log church building—the first house of worship in the area—over the next three years. The congregation’s growth after World War II led to the construction of a larger stone church in 1962 and a modern education building in 1996. Today it is affiliated with the Rocky Mountain Conference of the United Church of Christ.
During the early decades of white settlement in Colorado, Black Forest’s ponderosa pines served primarily as a reliable supply of wood for building the growing state’s cities and railroads. In 1869 Denver & Rio Grande Railway founder William Jackson Palmer bought 40,000 acres of land in the area, which soon sprouted more than a dozen lumber mills.
Starting in the 1920s, Black Forest developed a small community of summer residents, and a golf course was built in the area. During the Great Depression, as lumbering declined, the nascent vacation community in Black Forest evolved into a full-time residential suburb of Colorado Springs. As the area gained more residents, new institutions took shape to serve their needs. In 1932 ten local families came together to start a Sunday school under the umbrella of the American Sunday School Union, an organization focused on spreading Sunday schools to rural communities. The Sunday school held its meetings in the Black Forest School, which had opened a decade earlier, and occasionally held church services if a preacher was available.
After four years of the Sunday school, a formal Black Forest Church organization was established in 1936 and incorporated in 1937. At the same time, a Ladies Aid group started to raise money for a church building by holding talent shows, auctions, quilting bees, and ice cream socials. Soon the Collins and Morrell families donated two acres of land for the church building at the southeast corner of Shoup and Black Forest Roads, which was the main crossroads in the area. Church members dragged logs from their own property to the site and started constructing the building themselves.
The church was a simple rectangular building in the Pioneer Log style. Horizontal round logs made up the walls, vertically placed logs stood at the corners, and a square bell tower made of round logs rose from the center of the building’s north-facing façadefacade. Inside, the entry opened onto a foyer that led into the main sanctuary, with the altar and pulpit located at the southern end of the building. Funding shortages delayed the congregation’s work, but the church was mostly finished by 1940 and was officially dedicated on October 4, 1942, as the first house of worship in Black Forest.
The Black Forest Community Church started as a nondenominational Protestant congregation. The first pastor, Joseph McKittrick, was a retired Presbyterian minister, but within a few years the church formed ties with the Colorado Congregational Conference (now the Rocky Mountain Conference of the United Church of Christ). The association took shape after the Bemis Taylor Foundation donated Colorado Springs philanthropist Alice Bemis Taylor’s former summer estate, known as La Foret, to the Congregational Conference in 1942. Two years later, La Foret became a Congregational conference and retreat center. It was located less than a mile west of the Black Forest Community Church, and its camp manager, Reverend William Hall, frequently came to the church to preach. In 1947 he became the church’s part-time minister, and soon the church officially joined the Congregational Conference.
Black Forest entered a period of rapid growth in the 1950s, as the construction of Interstate 25 and the establishment of the US Air Force Academy north of Colorado Springs made the area more accessible. The Black Forest Community Church gained new members and started to expand, first with a basement classroom addition in 1954, then with a new kitchen in 1956. In 1960 the congregation completed a parsonage on five acres of land that Ed and Peggy Morast had donated on Shoup Road.
Eventually the Black Forest Community Church congregation outgrew its log church. In 1962 George Hardesty donated funds for a new church in memory of his wife, Stella, and construction started just west of the log church on August 19, 1962. Designed by local architect C. D. King, the new church was a one-story Modernist building with walls of stone rubble and rough-textured stucco. It was laid out in an L L-shape, with a buff brick spire rising from the inner corner of the L on the north side of the building. The building included five stained-glass windows designed by local artist Al Wynne, an abstract painter who later lost 400 of his works when his family’s house burned in the 2013 Black Forest fire.
The stone church—known as Hardesty Hall—was finished in time to hold its first service on Christmas Sunday, 1962. After that, the original log church was used primarily for classrooms and meetings.
Because it was the first church in the area, the Black Forest Community Church has a long tradition of hosting other congregations that had no building of their own. Over the years, its facilities have opened their doors to Catholics, Lutherans, and Christian Scientists. In addition, as one of the oldest public buildings in Black Forest, the church has hosted a wide variety of community events and meetings. In 1984, for example, Kay Stricklan opened First Step Preschool in rented space in the log church’s basement extension; she later gave the school to Black Forest Community Church in 1991.
In the 1970s, the congregation had considered tearing down the log church to make room for new and larger facilities, but that plan never went forward. Instead, with a successful preschool on its hands, the congregation decided in 1996 to sell some of the land that the Morast family had donated for the parsonage in 1959 and use the proceeds to construct a new education building and renovate the log church. The education building, called Morast Hall, was added just east of the log church; today the preschool operates on its lower floor. With the completion of Morast Hall, the log church no longer needed to have classrooms and was converted to office space. The building’s basement addition, which extended out the back side, was demolished and replaced with a simple concrete patio. The original sanctuary space was divided into offices with a dropped ceiling, but the entry foyer retained its original finishes.
In June 2013, the devastating Black Forest fire raged just north of the Black Forest Community Church but did not damage any of the church’s buildings. Today the log church stands along with the Black Forest School (1921), the Black Forest Community Hall (1928), and the Black Forest Store (1928) as one of the four historic log buildings at the area’s main crossroads, and in 2016 the log and stone churches were listed on the State Register of Historic Properties.