GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (CBS4) – Each year, a list of Colorado’s Most Endangered Places brings attention to those sites with historic significance that are in danger of being lost. This year’s list includes Grand Junction’s first black church. Worshipers are still heading to the Handy Chapel for services today.
The familiar sounds of Sunday morning greet families as they enter the Handy Chapel in Grand Junction. With those familiar sounds, they’re also greeted by a familiar face.
“I have been in this church since I was a child. My family has been here for 6 generations. My great, great grandfather, William Austin, he helped to carry some of the bricks and things to build the church,” said the Handy Chapel Caretaker Josephine Dickey.
The church was built back in 1892. Ten years earlier, George Crawford, the town’s founder, deeded land to all the religious groups in Grand Junction. All except members of a certain community.
“He gave the same amount of lots to all the different denominations. That was 1882, but he didn’t give us any,” said Hickey.
The black community got left out of that deal. Instead, they began attending the local Methodist church. That’s the same church where Crawford and other founding fathers worshiped.
“The next year they got together and they decided they would give the blacks some land so they could build a church of their own. That’s how we acquired this property,” said Dickey.
The black community struggled for 9 years to raise the $900 needed to build the diminutive chapel.
“Although the blacks that lived here at the time didn’t have too much themselves, they shared,” said Dickey.
That sense of sharing set the tone for the role the Handy Chapel would play in years to come.
“Like Christ said we should do, love one another regardless of race, creed or color. That’s what Handy Chapel has always stood for.
Through the years, Handy Chapel has been a refuge for those stranded or just needing a little help.
“If they come in here and want to know about the Lord or need something, we try to help them,” said Dickey.
That tradition continues to present day. Josephine’s grandson, John Paul, leads the Sunday praise service.
“For me, it’s just a blessing to be able to come here and experience the same kind of relationship with the Lord that she has, and to do it here where she has for all those years,” said John Paul Dickey.
On this day, the pews are full. It’s not always filled with worshipers.
“It goes up and down. I used to think it was amazing that grandma was here alone. But she’d tell me she wasn’t here alone, she was here with the lord,” said John Paul.
With few people attending, the coffers are low.
“We never had too much money to take care of the church the way we should have because we were too busy helping people with food and rent and sickness and everything,” said Dickey.
“We have kept it open and kept it going. It’s maintained, but it do need some structural work,” said Harry Butler, who leads the Saturday services.
“What’s needed? Well, you can see the cracks in the walls, paint, the fading of the wood and everything,” said Butler.
The Fellowship Hall has seen better days. Once a place of refuge for the homeless or weary travelers, it’s now boarded up, and a grey tarp keeps the falling snow from coming in.
“Sometimes I go and put my hands on the bricks to see if that’s the same brick that he probably helped touch,” said Dickey when speaking about her ancestors who helped build the church.
For the faithful at the Handy Chapel, they remain steadfast in their belief that the lord will provide. It’s gotten them this far.
“If it wasn’t for his grace and his love, where would we be?” said Dickey.
To learn more about Colorado’s Endangered Places, visit ColoradoPreservation.org.