2013 and 2016 visits. This two part report is from Des Moines, Iowa. The French translation is pronounced demwan and literally means ‘from the monks”. This capital city of Iowa was named for the Des Moines river which splits the downtown area from the State Capitol high on the hill to the east. Four churches lie along Des Moines street, one block north of the Capitol. In order from west to east are Capitol Hill Lutheran www.chlcdesmoines.org, Calvary Chapel www.calvarychapeldm.org, Elim Christian Fellowship www.elimdsm.com , and St. Peter’s Catholic www.stpeterdesmoines.org.
First Lutheran church occupied the oldest building dating back to 1887, after the community was founded in 1869 to serve Swedish speaking families and help Latavian and Sudenese refugees. Central Lutheran ( now closed) was formed in 1876 to serve Norwegian Families and help Vietnamese refugees in the 1970’s. These two communities merged in 2002 to create Capitol Hill Lutheran.
Calvary Chapel and Elim Christian Fellowship have both been established since 2000 only one block from the Capitol. Calvary Chapel started as Heartland Christian Fellowship from Forest City, Iowa in 1976. Elim Christian Fellowship was formed by Pastor Michael Hurst in 2001 and features a reconciliation ministry for all. It is the closest church to the Iowa State Capitol.
St. Peter’s church was established as a branch of another parish in 1915, and eventually transformed into the Vietnamese Catholic Community in Des Moines. 2008 brought the merger with Our Lady of the Americas. Now anchoring the east end of Des Moines street, it is the church with the greatest geographical separation from the State Capitol along this river of monks.
The Iowa State Capitol is unique among the 50 states, with four large green domes surrounding a central gold leaf dome that rises 275 feet above the ground. Finished in 1884, this massive structure commands your attention from every direction. Outside, the west entrance is most impressive with a series of never ending steps stretching towards the river and downtown Des Moines.
It is here on the West Capitol terrace, that Franklin Graham plans to start his Decision America tour of 2016 https://decisionamericatour.com on January 5th. His purpose is to hold prayer rallies at each of the 50 state Capitols to encourage Christians to vote for Christian leaders. He is president and CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. The connection between church and state may never be closer.
Your intrepid Capitols and Churches reporter is planning to be there to witness what transpires.
Bold initiatives. One has to love them. If you do, then you must follow them and put yourself on the road to discovery. When Franklin Graham announced last year that he was going to every state capital to hold prayer rallies, my discovery senses came alive. His first stop would be in Iowa on January 5, 2016 in advance of the Iowa Caucuses, which is also the first political contest on the road to the presidency in 2016.
Decision America 2016 (decisonamerica2016.com) sure sounds political. A visit to the website looks political: red, white and blue, tour dates, pledge support. My first thought was that Graham is running for president, which would be interesting: another Republican in the ever growing field of candidates.
Alas, it was not to be. Evangelist Graham is merely leading his constituency to pray, vote and engage in the political process. He has left the Republican Party and is encouraging Christians to get off the sidelines and get in the game of becoming Christian leaders. No party labels needed.
To this reporter, a fascinating story lies within this effort. Can a famous religious leader make an impact in the United States presidential race of 2016 without running for office himself? Can one walk in the separation of church and state but still construct a bridge between the two? Does one have to build or break down walls to accomplish such a goal?
I packed up my Capitols and churches experience and hit the road to Des Moines. There I found a noon time crowd of 2600 assembled on the west terrace of the Iowa State Capitol. It was sunny, mid 20’s cold with a stiff southwest breeze.
Three Decision America 2016 buses wrapped in Red, White, and Blue set the scene for a 30 minute speech/ prayer rally by Franklin Graham. Orange vested chaplains from the Billy Graham Evangelical Association roamed through the crowd. Silently standing on the outskirts were two political campaign buses. Ben Carson 2016 and Rocky 2016. One Navy veteran stood on the Capitol steps with numerous signs of silent protest. After the event, the Iowa Governor arrived to meet with Mr. Graham on his tour bus.
It was a fine example of the freedom to assemble and express your opinion. With 2600 in attendance and thousands more following in various media forms, I’m sure it will inspire people to pray, vote, and engage. The question is how much? Will it make a difference in the final outcome?
Illinois has had six Capitol buildings since becoming a state in 1818.The first was in Kaskaskia on the Mississippi river, previously the territorial Capitol before statehood. In 1820, the first of three Capitols were built in Vandalia, up the Kaskaskia river and more centrally located within the state. In 1836, a young lawyer named Abraham Lincoln influenced a move to Springfield where the old and current Capitols now stand.
The fifth Capitol, built in 1837, is particularly historic for its Lincoln events, including the Douglas debate, his “House divided” speech, and where he lay in state after his assassination. It is still standing as an historical site, a few blocks east of the current Capitol. The new Capitol was finished in 1868. It is shaped like a Latin cross, aligned to the major compass directions, and features a Zinc covering which does not weather.
The First Church of Christ, Scientist is located one block to the left of the current state Capitol. Directly across from the northeast corner of the Capitol is the current Trinity Lutheran church which was built in 1889. The was the fourth building for this community started by Rev. Francis Springer in 1841 at his home. Rev. Springer and Abraham Lincoln were neighbors for 3 years between 1844 and 1847.
When you visit the land of Lincoln in the Illinois state capital of Springfield, make sure you look for the Zinc dome located between the two churches. It is here that you will find a statue of President Lincoln to greet you.
Continuing with the states beginning with I, we come to the true intersection of America. Indianapolis, Indiana is the most centrally located capital of any state in the union. The first national road actually passed through the early days of this Capitol location. It was founded in 1821 as a planned city to centrally locate the newly formed state government.
Indiana has had 5 statehouses since it became a state in 1816. The first was in Corydon, the next four in Indianapolis. The current Capitol was finished in 1888 and features a statue of George Washington in front of the south entrance. The shape of the building is a cross, very fitting for the crossroads of America.
The oldest Catholic parish in Indianapolis started out as Holy Cross when the first regularly celebrated mass was held at a tavern in 1837 by Father Vincent Bacquelin. He built the first church, called Holy Cross Chapel in 1840. His patron saint was St. John the Evangelist. When it came time to build a new brick church in 1850, the new pastor changed the name to St. John The Evangelist to honor Father Bacquelin.
The current building for this church was completed in 1871 with the twin spires added in 1893. It is located at the corner of Georgia and Capitol avenue. Parishioners started out small, at about 60, rose as high as 3000, and dropped down to 30 as residents moved to the suburbs. Today, the number of registered is 800 and the parish ministers to many visiting tourists in the downtown area. It is located just 3 blocks west of the Capitol.
The story of Capitols and churches in Indianapolis consists of building a cross shaped Capitol in the center of the state and then starting a local church from a tavern a few blocks away. Almost 200 years later, these two staples of the community remain standing at the crossroads of America.
Reciting the 50 capitals in elementary school, I always had to pause when it came to Kentucky. It was one of the easiest to remember because of the association with hot dogs. Until I had to spell Frankfort. I always lost a half a point on that one. Years later, while researching this article, I would discover how this small city came to be the capital of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
Pioneer Stephen Frank was killed while making salt at a ford in the Kentucky River around 1780. Frank’s Ford became the place and over time the name was shortened to Frankfort. After Kentucky became the 15th state, Frankfort won a competition among a number of communities to be the capital. A log house to use as the first Capitol building, supplies, and $3000 in Gold helped sway the decision in Frankfort’s favor. In 1900, Governor-elect William Goebel was assassinated at the Old Capitol, while walking to his inauguration.
By 1910, the new and current Capitol was built across the river and up the hill in South Frankfort. Around it is a mostly residential area. The center of commerce and community still lies in the downtown area. Three original churches built in 1833, 1835, and 1850 surround Capital plaza. South Frankfort Presbyterian church was built in 1904 and became the closest to the new Capitol.
Fast forward to 2012 when a new church neighbor appears just two blocks from the Capitol steps. St. Peter’s Anglican church was established as a renewal effort for Frankfort-area folks from the St. Andrew’s Anglican church in Versailles, KY. As I explored our 50 state Capitols and their closest churches in 2013, St. Peter’s Anglican was the only Anglican church that I found. 35 other State Capitols had an abundance of Catholic, Episcopal, Presbyterian , and Baptist churches surrounding their location. For this church separation, Frankfort, Kentucky stands alone.
Distinct in history, name, and church separation, Frankfort was a fascinating study for this 50 state student. Maybe I can get the half point added back to my grade now. My travels continue on in the Kentucky rain, to three states that begin with the letter I.
It all started simply enough in 1820. The first Catholic church in Tennessee was built by Irish Catholic workers constructing a bridge over the Cumberland river. In 1830, a brick structure known as Holy Rosary Cathedral replaced the original frame building on what is now Capitol Hill in Nashville. The cornerstone of the Tennessee State Capitol was placed close by on July 4th, 1845.
As the new Capitol was being built, so was a new Cathedral at the bottom of the hill. St. Mary’s Cathedral replaced Holy Rosary Cathedral which then became St. John’s Hospital and Orphanage in 1847. The site was then sold to the state in 1857 as the Capitol building was near completion. A small historical marker on the northeast pathway around the Capitol is the only reminder of the original Holy Rosary church.
Today, St. Mary’s of the Seven Sorrows http://stmarysdowntown.org and the Tennessee State Capitol stand a stone’s throw and city block away from each other. Chronologically and visually similar, history is literally buried into these distinct buildings. The architect and designer, the first Catholic Bishop of Tennessee, and the 11th President of the United States and his wife are all entombed on the grounds of these structures.
Buried at the Tennessee State Capitol, is William Strickland. He was the architect of the Capitol and designer of St. Mary’s Cathedral, as well as Downtown Presbyterian church a few blocks away. He died during the construction of the Capitol five years before its completion. His son finished the project and adhered to his father’s wishes and buried him in the concrete. Stickland modeled the Capitol after a Greek Ionic temple. The lantern atop is a copy of the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates in Athens, Greece. St. Mary’s of the Seven Sorrows features a similar Greek Ionic temple supporting the belfry.
The 11th United States President James K. Polk and his wife Sarah are also buried on the east facing side of the Capitol. President Polk was nominated by his party to run for President on the eighth vote in 1844. He was not seeking the Presidency, but felt he should not pass on the attempt if others felt him to be qualified.
He was elected with 50% of the popular vote despite being the only President to not win electoral votes from his state of birth, North Carolina, or his state of residence, Tennessee. He served one term as per his campaign promise, and accomplished all items on his agenda during those four years. He died only 3 months out of office after contracting Cholera.
Bishop Richard Pius Miles was appointed Bishop of Nashville in July 1837, consecrated in Bardstown, Kentucky September 1838, and arrived in Nashville during Christmas season of the same year. He renovated the worn down Cathedral of the Holy Rosary before selling to the state in 1947, and planned for building the new Cathedral at the bottom of the hill. He then saved the materials from Holy Rosary and used them to build another church for Nashville’s German Catholics.
When he arrived in Nashville there were 300 Catholics in the entire state, and no clergy or structures to support them. By the time of his death in 1860 there were 12,000 Catholics, 14 churches, 9 schools and an orphanage. Bishop Miles was buried beneath the altar of St. Mary’s. During a renovation of the church in 1972, Bishop Miles body was exhumed and found to be incorrupt after 112 years. He was interred in a tomb with a chapel in the rear section of St. Mary’s.
On your next visit to Nashville, bypass the many entertainment attractions and take a stroll over to Capitol hill. You may find some history buried in the separation of church and state. A bit of Tennessee treasure to take home with you.
Jackson,Mississippi was the 23rd stop of my separation of church and state Capitol tour. From Little Rock,Arkansas, I followed I-40, US 49, MS 8, and I-55 to the only United States capital to have a dormant volcano under it. The last estimated eruption was 66 million years ago. The land that is present day Jackson, Mississippi,has transitioned from Choctaw Nation known as “Chisha Foka”, to a small village centrally located in the state known as LaFleur’s Bluff, to the state capital named after the 7th President of the United States.
My quest to find the Capitol building and it’s closest church was a much easier transition.From I-55 south, follow the signs. Right off the ramp, left on N. State street, Right on Mississippi and both buildings are right there. First Baptist Church of Jackson and it’s multi block campus is literally a crosswalk away from the east entrance of the Mississippi State Capitol.
Three seems to be a magic number when visiting this location. The city is on it’s third name. This Capitol building, finished in 1903 with its 8 foot tall, 15 foot wide eagle, is the third since statehood. The First Baptist Church started as a group of seven people in 1838. the first church was finished in 1844, the second in 1868 and the third and current structure was completed in 1926. You can read about this 175 year community at fbcj.org.
Even songs loosely attributed to Jackson come in threes. “Jackson” was written in 1963 by co writers Billy Edd Wheeler and Jerry Lieber then released as chart topping singles in 1967 by Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood, then followed by Johnny Cash and June Carter. The writers never specified which Jackson (Tennessee or Mississippi) they were referring to. Kid Rock was quite specific in 2003 in his song, Jackson, Mississippi. Finally, Mark Ronson featuring Bruno Mars in the hit of this past summer, Uptown Funk, uses the state capital in the following lyric.
“Stop.Wait a minute. Fill my cup, put some liquor in it. Take a sip, sign a check. Julio, get the stretch. Ride to Harlem, Hollywood, Jackson, Mississippi. If we show up, we goin show out. Smoother than a fresh jar of Skippy.”
Now there is a traveling salesman problem for you. Which Hollywood is the writer talking about before reaching Jackson? Harlem, NY to Hollywood, AL to Jackson, MS is 1244 miles. Harlem, NY to Hollywood, CA to Jackson, MS is 4640 miles. That’s some serious Foka, Bluff, Funk going on.
The drive from Jefferson City, Missouri to Little Rock, Arkansas was quite pleasant. Most of the 365 miles were on country backroads with just a few stretches on Interstate 40 and 44. From Springfield, Missouri, I travelled through the tourist town of Branson and down through the scenic Ozark mountains. I arrived in Little Rock just after dusk and found the glowing Arkansas State Capitol with few cars or people around at night.
This Capitol originated from the drawings of St. Louis architect George Mann, who had submitted the winning design of the Montana State Capitol. The drawings were put on display in the old Arkansas Capitol to generate interest in a new building. The idea worked and construction started in 1899. I circled this Neoclassical Capitol multiple times, but did not notice any close by church structures.I pulled into a parking garage and found a security guard, who suggested I try looking to the east side of the city.
About a mile away from the Capitol, I did manage to find First Baptist Missionary Church, a Gothic Revival style church at the corner of 7th and S. Gaines Streets. Built in 1882 this church has had some memorable speakers. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave the 118th anniversary sermon in 1963 and Governor William Jefferson Clinton gave the 145th anniversary address in 1990. The community actually dates back to 1845 when a slave, Rev. Wilson Brown, was bold enough to ask his master for a place for the slaves to worship.
With it being late at night, I left Little Rock thinking that there must be some other, closer churches to the Capitol. In the eight years since my church and state tour in 2013, I have discovered two additional worship centers closer to the Arkansas State Capitol.
Central Church of Christ arcentralchurch.org was started in the 1920’s and moved to its present location in the 800 block of 6th street in 2003.
The Ecumenical Buddhist Society of Little Rock ebslr.org is now located on W. 3rd street only two blocks north of the Capitol, having moved from it’s Second street location in 2013. This organization started in the early 1980’s as a group of mixed traditions that would meet for 30 minutes of silent meditation at the Unitarian/Universalist church. It now has practice traditions that include Tibetan Vajrayana, Zen, Theravada, and the practice of Journey into Silence.
With all that silent practice, it is little wonder as to how I missed finding these locations during my visit. When you have the opportunity to visit Little Rock, Arkansas at night. Look for the diverse churches silently hidden in the glow of the Capitol dome.
It had been 11 days, 5000 miles and 19 state Capitols since I left home. Driving through Kansas City, Mo., I was looking forward to a home-cooked meal with old high school friends, John and Charlotte Chauvin. Their home was just off Interstate 70 near the stadiums for the Kansas City Chiefs and Royals. My dear friends had been following my state and church project on Facebook. Charlotte, a school teacher, told me that I was in for a treat at my next stop, the Missouri State Capitol. She said there was a large statue of Thomas Jefferson on the front steps.
Refreshed, I set out in the morning for a pleasant drive to Jefferson City and the Missouri State Capitol. Approaching from the north, it was standing proudly on the bluff above the Missouri river. An impressive site in a city with a population of 43,000. I drove right up to the side of the Capitol and parked.
A few paces to the right was St. Peter Catholic Church, built in 1881. It was about 11 a.m. and I tried the front door of the church, but it was locked. I was tempted to take a few pictures of both buildings, with just a few feet separating them and move on. Then I remembered Charlotte’s advice.
I strolled around to the main entrance of the Capitol and there he was: A 13 ft. statue of Thomas Jefferson staring down at me. I moved back a few steps to take a picture. I felt like his gaze never left. I moved to the right, and even from that angle, his eyes seemed to follow. I jumped to the left and the same effect still happened. It was eerie and cool at the same time.
Even behind the statue, the characteristics of the sculpture seemed to change. It was here that I captured one of my favorite pictures of the journey. I was looking back at the steeple of St. Peter Church and it appeared that the statue of Thomas Jefferson is watching the church from his perch on the steps of the Missouri State Capitol. Switching my iPad picture to video, I tried to capture this illusion. At that moment, the church bells started ringing before the noon service. Charlotte was right, I did find quite a treat in that moment.
Continuing around the perimeter of the Capitol, I saw numerous other monuments on display. However impressive they may have been, nothing could match the experience of going eye-to-eye with Thomas Jefferson in Jefferson City. Watching him, as he watched over the separation of church and state, at the 20th stop of my journey.
There was digging and construction in Topeka, Kansas when I arrived at the 19th Capitol of my church and state tour. Topeka originates from a Kansa-Osage sentence meaning, “Place where we dug potatoes.” Sure enough, when I arrived in March 2013, the state Capitol was under reconstruction. Cranes, bulldozers and scaffolding were scattered all around the north side of the building.
The Kansas State Capitol appears to be the project that never ends. 37 years of construction produced the current Kansas State Capitol that was finished in 1903. 85 years later, a bronze sculpture named “Ad Astra” was approved in 1988. It took an additional 14 years before this sculpture of a Kansa Native American with his bow and arrow pointed at the north star was installed in 2002. “Ad Astra” is the short version of the Latin state motto, “Ad Astra Per Aspera” or “to the stars through difficulty
On the NE corner was Mater Dei church. Mater Dei is Latin for Mother of God. Swing over to the west side street and you will find First Presbyterian Church. The First Presbyterian church community has been standing here since 1859. Patiently observing this good place to dig and speak Latin for over 150 years. If you’re peering from inside this church to the Capitol across the street, you would be looking through Tiffany windows, an example of which can be found here: fpctopeka.org/tiffany-windows.
The views of these windows from either inside or outside are always changing hues and accents depending on the time of daylight and even one’s own mood. The building is one of only three in the world to be outfitted completely in Tiffany window panes.
Separation between this Capitol in Topeka, Kansas and the two churches a crosswalk away is very short. During my visit, no potatoes were found. It could have been because my Latin was sorely lacking, or my shovel was not long enough. More likely, I was mesmerized by the beauty of the Tiffany windows.
Next week, we will acquaint ourselves with Thomas Jefferson on the banks of the Missouri river.
The “Land of Enchantment” has a one-of-a-kind Capitol. “The Roundhouse” was designed to resemble the Zia Sun Symbol seen on New Mexico license plates. Finished in 1966, it connects an indigenous tribe from the past in Zia Pueblo with a modern-day government. The City of Santa Fe (meaning “holy faith” in Spanish) has a long history of being the center of government. In fact, it is the only capital in the U.S. that has housed the governments of three different nations.
Santa Fe also is home to the oldest Capitol in the U.S., the Palace of Governors, built in 1610. It is still standing as a museum located at one end of Santa Fe Plaza. The plaza was home of the original Pueblo villages founded around 1100 C.E. At the other end of the plaza is where I found St. Francis Cathedral. The city’s full name when founded was La Villa Real de la Santa Fe de San Francisco de Asis (The Royal Town of the Holy Faith of St. Francis of Assisi). Not only old, but a breath-taking name. Santa Fe is much easier.
I found this church in the city center, but could not locate the Roundhouse Capitol. Looking up was useless since the Capitol was only a few stories high. I followed the signs to the visitors center and parked. This time luck was on my side. The new Capitol was directly in front of me and a few hundred steps to my right was a very old church.
The New Mexico State Capitol is very impressive but simple in design. A statue called “Morning prayer” stands at the front entrance. The back entrance has a statue of four children, hands clasped, playing a game. A very cool art piece contains a mosaic of all the New Mexico counties. Finally, The Zia Sun symbol reminds you of the four seasons and four compass directions.
A quick walk from the Capitol brought me to the oldest church structure in the United States. San Miguel Church was built in 1610 by the Tlaxcalan Indians from Mexico. The original Adobe walls are standing behind the stucco exterior. It has gone through numerous changes over the years but is still an active church. Daily Latin Mass at 2 p.m., Ordinary Mass on Sunday and a Gregorian chant every third Sunday of the month. Even more astonishing is the wooden altar screen, or reredos, inside at the front of the chapel. It was erected in 1798. I highly recommend researching this amazing building at SanMiguelChapel.org.
In a corner of the chapel was an information table with a man acting as a tour guide. Our conversation discovered much in common. We were roughly the same age, born in upstate NY, moved to New England and fans of the 1967 “impossible dream” team of the Boston Red Sox. Two strangers, standing in the oldest church in America, a couple of Red Sox fans talking about the good old days while in the city of holy faith, Santa Fe. It is indeed a small world.
Once again, it was time to continue my journey. I thanked him for the conversation and information, jumped back in my car and headed east. The wind was still at my back and little did I know, old faith was cooking up a surprise for me. My days drive ended in Shamrock, Texas on the Oklahoma state border. I was exhausted, but satisfied that the Rocky Mountain Capitols and churches were behind me.
How many Denvers do you know? Here are the popular choices:
James W. Denver certainly had the credentials to have a prominent city named after him. Born in Winchester, Virginia, educated in law at the University of Cincinnati, he then started his law practice and acting career in Platte City, Missouri. Next he was commissioned as a captain in the Mexican-American War. After the war, he became a trader in California and killed newspaper editor Edward Gilbert in a duel on August 2, 1852. It didn’t slow the man down, as he was then elected to the California State Senate and shortly after appointed as the California secretary of state. By 1855, he had become a U.S. congressman from California and then appointed as commissioner of Indian Affairs by President Buchanan in 1857. Buchanan kept the appointment train running by making Mr. Denver secretary and then governor of the Kansas Territory. Little wonder as to why William Larimer wanted to hop on Denver’s bandwagon.
For my entry into this equation, I was merely visiting the 16th location of my Separation of Church and State tour. It was time to exit the front range bandwagon down Interstate 25. My experience with visiting the Colorado State Capitol and the churches in near proximity left me amazed that the City of Denver is not a total illusion.
I arrived at the second Capitol of my day and immediately noticed a Capitol dome under reconstruction. I would not be able to see the golden dome. I could see that pedestrians are everywhere. Many of them appeared to be homeless.
As one approaches the west steps of the Capitol, they will find markers on three different steps. These markers identify the elevation as being exactly one mile above sea level. The building was completed in 1894 and the first marker was placed on the 15th step, where the Sun could be seen setting behind the Rocky Mountains. In 1969, a second marker was placed on the 18th step after being surveyed. Modern methods in 2003 produced a third marker, located on the 13th step.
My goal is to find the physical separation between church and state at each Capitol and to document the results. Four distinct buildings quickly caught my eye. The tall steeple of First Baptist Church of Denver was first, directly across the south steps. This community began in 1864, shortly after the town was named.
The Scottish Rite Masonic Center built in 1925 was located on the southeast diagonal corner to the Capitol. One block further to the east, I located the Christian Science building. Finally, the next block to the north contained the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception.
Of the four locations, only the last one had any activity buzzing about. It was 6:30 p.m. and the last Sunday Mass was beginning. I attempted to park and participate. Circling the area two times was fruitless. At the last moment, I noticed a space in the parking lot of the local McDonald’s. Success! Or so I thought.
I jumped out of my car and stopped in my tracks on the way to the church. Multiple signs had the same warning under the Golden Arch: ”McDonald’s customer parking ONLY.” In slightly smaller print, “Customers must remain on premises. All unauthorized vehicles WILL BE TOWED.” Below that, after a space “To reclaim your vehicle call 303 Recovery and Investigation at 707-447-3163.”
Looking at the time, 6:45 pm, I realized it was too late to still attend a full Mass. So I followed the instructions and stayed on the premises. This restaurant was also a temporary haven for the homeless looking for a break from the cold. They would come in, order a coffee with a few coins, take their time drinking and then move on. I decided to do the same and update my Facebook page documenting my trip while I was there.
Looking out the window, the parking lot was full of activity. One, two and then a third tow truck appeared. I peered across the lot and noticed a group of young men, pointing out to the tow trucks which vehicles to hook. In a matter of a few minutes, three vehicles and tow trucks were gone. Quite the slick revenue operation has been implemented here.
I quickly finished my update and coffee, then returned to my car just as an attendee to the church returned to her empty spot. She was confused until I pointed out the signage in the parking lot. I offered her a ride home if needed. She declined and called her roommate to pick her up. Strange how life works at times. She was blessed by attending, but distressed at the outcome. I was distressed at not attending on time, but blessed by the outcome. I could continue on my journey.
Confused and discombobulated in Denver, Colorado, this short timer needed to find a new state to explore. I pointed my Elantra south toward the New Mexico border. A 600 mile Saint Patrick’s Day drive ended in Raton, New Mexico at Motel 6. I fell asleep to a dream of John Denver singing the theme to “Gilligan’s Island.”
My trip to all 51 U.S. Capitols and their closest churches was at another crossroad. It was Saint Patrick’s Day and I was in Buffalo, Wyoming where Interstates 25 and 90 meet. Should I head for the Dakotas to the east or down the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains to the south? The strong wind and weather forecast indicated another winter storm coming from the northwest. A favorite Irish blessing came to mind:
May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.
That settles it. Southeast to Cheyenne we go. The Dakotas will have to wait
It wasn’t long until I doubted my decision. Warning signs greeted me at every exit. “High winds of 60 mph expected. Light vehicles use caution.” 300 hair-raising miles later, I entered Cheyenne looking for shelter.
I passed the large Buffalo statue on the east lawn of the Wyoming Capitol and turned right to the Cathedral of St. Mary at the corner of 21st and Capitol Ave. It was a Sunday afternoon and the streets were empty. I walked up the front steps to the door of St. Mary’s. This time it was open.
I entered and had the entire church to myself. Outside the wind was howling, but the sanctuary inside was still and quiet. I said a prayer for my mother, who had passed almost 33 years earlier, and lit a candle. It was a peaceful, much-needed moment.
I soon left for the Wyoming State Capitol. It was easy to find the closest church, namely First Presbyterian, as it was only three blocks away from St. Mary’s. The First Presbyterian community was the first church in the area, having migrated from the original location,near the railroad and center of town, to the current location two blocks from the Capitol steps. I then continued along Capitol Ave. to the front entrance of the Capitol.
Two distinct statues, Chief Washakie and Esther Hobart Morris, stood at the entrance. Given that discovery leads to more discovery, I wondered how these two churches and people came to be at the Cheyenne Capitol. My curiosity dug deeper.
Chief Washakie was born around 1800. His father was a Umatilla native, his mother a Shoshone native. As a teenager, he chose his mother’s tribe and by 1840 rose to be chief of the Wyoming Shoshone.
Washakie assisted many early white travelers passing through the territory he controlled. A settlement was reached in 1868 to provide a right of way for Union Pacific Railroad. A year earlier, the construction of the first transcontinental railroad in the world had reached the area now known as Cheyenne.
Chief Washakie’s biography is a fascinating study in itself. His early names included “Smells of Sugar,” “Shoots the Buffalo Running” and ”Gourd Rattler” before becoming known as Washakie. In his later years, he became a Mormon (after befriending Brigham Young) and chose episcopalism as his faith until death at the age of 100.
Esther Hobart Morris, the first female Justice of the Peace, came from New York by rail in 1869. She was instrumental in securing women’s suffrage, as Wyoming was the first government in the world to grant women the right to vote. She arrived during the rapid growth of Cheyenne after the railroad brought economic prosperity in 1867.
It was also 1869 when the first church in Cheyenne was established. It was named Krebs Memorial Presbyterian Church because Dr. Krebs’ original church, Rutgers Presbyterian of New York, contributed the majority of the funds to the original building on 18th St. This same community moved to a new building in 1925, on 22nd street, closer to the Capitol and is now known as First Presbyterian (FirstPresCheyenne.org).
The Cathedral of St. Mary (StMaryCathedral.com) was built between 1906 and 1909. 5,000 people witnessed the laying of the cornerstone and then Governor Brooks stated, “Our hearts throb with pride at the thought that this beautiful stone was quarried from Wyoming ledges; that the brain, the brawn, the money with which is to see that the capstone is in place, are all Wyoming. Upon this cornerstone will be a grand cathedral.”
Grand and beautiful indeed … I also found it to be a simple place for a weary traveler to rest on a Sunday afternoon.
I found Cheyenne, way out there in Wyoming, to be an efficient transportation hub. The transcontinental railroad, airport, two major interstate roads, local churches and the state capitol are all neatly tucked into a five mile square in the SW corner of the state, the perfect place for a Cheyenne crossing. In a blink of the eye with the wind still at my back, the state border appeared and I was bound for the Colorado State Capitol in Denver, the 16th stop of the tour.
From the wooded river of Boise, I set out for the great state of Montana. Interstates 86 and 15 brought me to the border as exit ramps stretched further apart. Just before midnight, the snow started to fly. I pulled off the highway to a single dark motel. The sleepy owner gave me the key to a surprisingly comfortable room. Feeling rested, I was up with the Sun and ready to climb the continental divide to Helena, the highest capital in the U.S. at 1.2 miles above sea level.
The nomadic nature of my journey lent itself to the history of the area. Various cultures dating back 10,000 years have moved through these lands on a seasonal basis. The Folsom culture was first. Horse transportation brought the native Salish and Blackfeet tribes. Then, Europeans looking for fur-bearing animals and raw materials from the land arrived in the early 1800s. Finally, the gold rush of 1860 encouraged enough migrants to settle the area. A gold strike in 1864 brought Four Georgians to start Last Chance Gulch, a mining operation. By October, seven men were appointed to name and develop the growing town of 200.
Tomah, a local Indian word, Pumpkinville, and Squashtown were early nominations due to the proximity of Halloween. Helena was suggested based on previous settlements in Minnesota and Arkansas known by similar names. Another thought is that the town was named for the island of Saint Helena in the South Atlantic between Africa and South America. Saint Helena island’s most famous resident was Napoleon, who was exiled there and buried. It is in this naming possibility, that I found a Capitol and Church connection, that encompasses the most distinctive buildings in Montana’s capital.
I arrived at the capitol in Helena on a Saturday morning, March 16th, 2013. It was very quiet sitting up on the highest point south of the city center. In front, a large, frosty hedge spelling of Montana left no doubt which state I was in. During the summer this hedge turns scarlet red. After walking around and taking in the stunning views of the valley, I found a ten commandments monument on the right side of the Capitol building. A woman taking her morning walk, gladly gives me directions to the closest churches, which are beyond the tree- lined residential area surrounding the capitol.
A half mile drive to the NW and I find 2 churches on the same block. The First Presbyterian church is in a clean modern building with a red roof.On the back of the block stands a very distinctive gothic cathedral also with a red roof. St. Helena’s Roman Catholic Cathedral was built shortly after the Capitol at the turn of the 19th century.
As I looked up at this towering cathedral, I wondered about who Saint Helena was.My research has led me to the possible link between city and saint. Saint Helena was the mother of Roman emperor Constantine.The Empress Helena converted her son to Christianity and has been credited to be responsible for discovering the True Cross in 327 A.D. She is revered as a saint by Eastern and Oriental Orthodox, The Roman Catholic, and the Anglican, as well as commemorated by the Lutheran Church. The island of Saint Helena is reported to be named in her honor. Could that be the full circle of symbolism in this Capitol high on the Continental Divide? Can you make the connection from 327 A.D, to 2013? From the Middle East to the South Atlantic, to Helena, Montana?
I’ll leave you with that homework assignment as I turn East and South across the great wide open of Montana and Wyoming. I’ll see you in Cheyenne next week!
The subtle symbolism of Thomas Jefferson’s metaphor in a letter continues in Boise, Idaho. The address of the state Capitol of Idaho is 700 West Jefferson Street. This street runs directly in front of the Capitol. However, the street running East to West behind the Capitol is State Street. It is here you will find a garden of churches lined up, inspiring their patrons, steps short of its Capitol neighbor. Geographically in Boise, Idaho, State Street is the separation between church and state. Jefferson Street watches from a block away.
The city was named by early French settlers for its proximity to the boyce, or wooded river, and is pronounced Boy-see by long time inhabitants. Idaho became the 43rd state in 1890 and started construction on the current Capitol building in 1906 finishing in 1920. The architects were a Connecticut native and a German immigrant. They used 4 types of marble. Georgia Red, Vermont Green, Alaska Gray and Italy Black draw inspiration from St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, St. Paul's Cathedral in London and The U.S. Capitol in Washington. Replicas of the Liberty Bell and Ten Commandments are found easily in a walk around the grounds.
As you finish touring the Capitol, walk across State street to the first intersection going west. Here you will find St. Michael's Episcopal Cathedral (StMichaelsCathedral.org). The St. Michaels community dates back 150 years to the first year of Boise development. Construction of the present-day church started in 1899 and finished just as the Capitol construction was beginning.The founders of the church also built the first hospital and schools in Boise.
Continuing west on State Street, you will reach a different church on each block. First Church of Christ Scientist is next, established in 1989. This is a branch of the First Church of Christ Science of Boston founded by Mary Baker Eddy in the late 1800s. Reinstate primitive Christianity and its lost element of healing is one of the missions described on their website, CSChurchBoise.org. The last church within sight of the Capitol on state street is First Presbyterian Church (FPCBoise.org). This church was established in 1878.
Boise has been called the “City of Trees” dating back to the early days of discovery of the wooded river. Once established, it has seen a flow of materials, people and religion arriving from the east. Arriving downtown from the east you can trace the development of the community in a naturally flowing timeline. Starting with Jefferson and Washington streets, State street, the Capitol and a line of diverse church gardens, spreading to the west.
It all seems to be in a proper placement for the good of the community it serves. You may not want to leave because it feels very comfortable here. I, however, have to keep moving on. There is so much more to explore in the great wide west of our country. My next stop will be the capital city of Montana, almost 500 driving miles away.