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.