The First Baptist Church of Moffat is a two-story concrete-block building constructed in 1911 at the corner of Fourth and Lincoln Streets (401 Lincoln Avenue, Moffat, Colorado). In the 1920s, residents bought the church from the Baptist Association to prevent it from being moved after the shrinking congregation could no longer support a resident pastor, and in the 1930s they left the Baptist Association to become the nondenominational Moffat Community Church. The building fell into disrepair in the late twentieth century, but in 2002 it was acquired by the town of Moffat and converted into a town hall and community center.
Moffat’s Prosperous Years
In 1889 the San Luis Town and Improvement Company established the town of Moffat in the northern San Luis Valley. The town was named for David Moffat, president of the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad, which was building a line that passed through the town on its way from Villa Grove to Alamosa. With the opening of the rail line, Moffat quickly became an important shipping center where local farmers could bring their grain and cattle; the town’s stockyard was once the second-largest cattle shipping yard in the state. In 1900 the town gained added importance when a spur line connected it to the thriving mines around Crestone.
Over the next two decades, Moffat prospered as the transportation center of the northern San Luis Valley. The Oklahoma Land and Colonization Company promoted settlement in the area, offering migrants a town lot and a five-acre plot of land for $200. Soon the population climbed to nearly 1,000 residents, enough to support three hotels, several newspapers, and a one-room schoolhouse that doubled as the town’s Sunday school and church.
First Baptist Church
In 1911 Moffat’s one-room schoolhouse was replaced by a new, two-story frame schoolhouse. At the same time, local church leaders decided they should move out of the school and open a building for their congregation. In August they officially organized a Baptist Church and laid the cornerstone for a new church building, which was finished by the end of the year.
Located at the northeast corner of Fourth and Lincoln Streets, the First Baptist Church of Moffat was a two-story building featuring an eclectic mix of Romanesque Revival, Classical Revival, and Victorian elements. It had one large corner steeple and two smaller secondary steeples. The designer is unknown, but the building’s style and proportions indicate that the plans must have been taken from a pattern book or laid out by a person with some architectural training.
Perhaps the most distinctive aspect of the church was its concrete-block construction, a method that became popular in the early 1900s because it was relatively easy and inexpensive. Concrete blocks had to be made on-site because cheap factory-made cinder blocks did not become available until later in the decade. In Moffat, J. W. Biggs and his two sons, Arthur and Clarence, hauled sand to the construction site, where Mr. Ingraham led a four-man crew in pressing the blocks. Each day, several hundred completed blocks—which used a mixture of one part cement to five or six parts sand—were spread out to dry before being added to the growing church building. Pressed sheet metal shingles and siding provided a cheap means of covering the concrete walls with some ornamentation.
Inside, the church had three levels: a dirt-floor cellar for storage, a main-floor sanctuary for services, and a small second-story room for Sunday school classes. The church’s 1,100-square-foot sanctuary featured stained-glass windows and a vaulted tin ceiling. The wood pews faced west, where a chancel area for celebrating church services was framed by Tuscan columns and flattened round arches. The church’s first pastor in 1911 was Reverend Ida, who stayed for about a year.
Moffat Community Church
By the late 1910s, Moffat’s population started to drop as residents realized that the five-acre tracts they had bought from the Oklahoma Land and Colonization Company were not large enough to sustain a livelihood in the unforgiving San Luis Valley climate. When the Baptist congregation shrank to the point of no longer supporting a resident pastor, the Baptist Association allowed the local community to use the building for whatever services they could muster. Volunteers led Sunday school classes, and occasionally an itinerant preacher performed a Sunday service.
In 1921–22 the Baptist Association proposed moving the Moffat church nearly twenty miles south to Hooper. To prevent the relocation, Arthur Biggs—who had helped his father haul sand to make the blocks for the church’s construction—rallied other Moffat residents to pool their money and buy the building. In the early 1930s, they reorganized the congregation as the nondenominational Moffat Community Church. To mark the change, one local woman supposedly chiseled the word Baptist off the building’s cornerstone and entryway. Around that time, a plaster ceiling was installed in the sanctuary, hiding the original vaulted tin ceiling, and tongue-and-groove hardwood floors replaced the previous softwood plank floors. The church continued to host services by traveling preachers—usually Baptists or Methodists—who passed through town.
Use of Moffat Community Church declined in the early 1940s but revived in 1944, when a new pastor, Reverend Reimer in Saguache, offered to volunteer at the church. In 1945 Reverend A. D. Schantz became the first resident pastor in Moffat in more than thirty years. Church activity remained strong over the next eight years, with a variety of preachers coming to give sermons. In the early 1950s, the interior of the church was reconfigured so that the preacher stood at the north end of the sanctuary instead of the west end, and the former chancel on the west side of the building was made into Sunday school classrooms.
Moffat Community Church continued to hold occasional services throughout the late twentieth century, but the congregation proved unable to maintain the aging building. In the 1980s, church caretakers built concrete buttresses at the northeast and northwest corners to try to shore up the building’s structural integrity, but by 2000 it was in disrepair. The last surviving church trustee gave the building to the Continental Divide Association of Southern Baptist Churches, which then sold it to the town of Moffat in 2002.
Moffat planned to rehabilitate and expand the church into a town hall and community center, a project that took more than a decade to complete. In 2008 the town got the building listed on the National Register of Historic Places, making it eligible for a broad array of preservation funding. With the help of more than $450,000 in grants from the State Historical Fund, Colorado Department of Local Affairs, and National Trust for Historic Preservation, the town converted the former sanctuary into a community center and added a town office onto the building’s southwest corner. In addition, the town shored up the foundation, removed the dropped ceiling in the sanctuary, restored several windows, and refinished the hardwood floors. The building now hosts monthly town board meetings and other community events. By September 2018 the town hopes to complete its rehabilitation project by adding an accessibility ramp, lift, and restroom.