One of the first institutions established in Laramie City is set to celebrate 150 years of ministry this weekend.
With the arrival of Union Pacific railroad tracks in 1868, Laramie became a town almost overnight. A week later, passenger trains arrived with the city’s first residents, who lived in tents on treeless plains.
Saloons and dance halls sprang up like weeds, and lynchings and shootings were common as the provisional government crumbled. But those early residents began planting businesses, schools and churches that sunk deep roots in the Laramie valley and became part of the civic canopy that survives to this day.
The First Regular Baptist Church of Laramie City, Wyoming Territory, was established in 1870 when a district superintendent visited on New Year’s Day to preach. Members of the Baptist denomination gathered to begin meeting, and by May 1870, they began constructing a building on the corner of Fourth Street and Grand Avenue, on lots donated by the Union Pacific.
“There were five churches that organized in 1869 and 1870,” said Elnora Frye, a local historian and member of the church.
Other congregations that began meeting were the Presbyterians, Methodists, Episcopalians and Catholics. The latter two still meet in their original downtown locations.
“The train got here in 1868, and just two years later, we had all these churches,” she said.
First Baptist member Mary Burman said the enduring nature of Laramie’s churches is a testament to the role of the Christian tradition in bolstering the community.
“People realize there’s a need for faith,” she said. “They came (to Laramie) into very challenging times, and our times are challenging in a very different way.”
First Baptist Church finished its building by fall 1870. The first pastor, Rev. D.J. Pierce, arrived in time for the dedication together with his wife, Marietta. They also opened the Wyoming Institute, the town’s first institution of higher learning.
The original building burned down in 1904, with a new brick building rebuilt by 1908. The church’s current facility, located at 1517 Canby St., was completed in the 1960s.
Pastor Jeff Lundblad, a University of Wyoming graduate, has been leading the congregation since 2012.
Burman said the facility has opened its doors to numerous community groups over the years, including fellow churches, a day care, food distribution programs and blood drives, among others.
“It’s used a great deal by other groups,” she said.
Burman and Frye traced the establishment of Laramie’s churches and other institutions to its earliest female residents. Jane Ivinson, who arrived on the first passenger train, started the first Sunday school. Groups of women raised money to open schools by hosting dances and selling food.
“The women that came out here were adventuresome and weren’t afraid to step in,” Burman said. “Later, those Sunday schools became the beginning of the churches.”
She said a women’s organization at First Baptist raised money by making and selling aprons and dust caps. When the church trustees were rebuilding the first building in 1904, the group loaned them $4,000, plus interest.
“The women throughout the years in all these churches have been a very mighty force,” she said.
In celebration of the 150th anniversary of First Baptist, several events are scheduled for this weekend. A desert buffet is set for 7 p.m. Friday at the church, and visitors will have the chance to look at historical displays.
The church is planning a float for the Laramie Jubilee Days parade on Saturday, followed by an all-church picnic on the patio at 6 p.m. Rev. Jane Davis Langdon will share memories of growing up in the church, and others will have the chance to share their stories.
A special worship service is planned for Sunday, starting at 11 a.m. Musicians will sing, play handbells and play violin. Mary Beth Mankin, a former pastor now living in Colorado, will deliver the sermon. Other visiting pastors will also participate in the service.
An all-church chicken dinner will follow the service. All events are free to the public. Go to www.laramiefbc.org for more information.