Breckenridge Colorado and the Father Dyer United Methodist Church

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Main Street in Breckenridge

The Father Dyer Church in Breckenridge, Colorado is named for John Lewis Dyer, its builder and founder. Dyer was a key figure in Colorado history.

Breckenridge, Colorado, originally spelled “Breckinridge,” was formed by miners who discovered placer gold in the Blue River during the “Pikes Peak Gold Rush” in 1859. The town was originally named for John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky, who was then vice president of the United States. Pro-Union citizens changed the spelling to “Breckenridge” in 1861 after Breckinridge joined the rebellion as a Confederate general.

Breckenridge was the center of an active gold mining district up until the early 1900’s. Placer mining and hydraulic mining along the creek beds and hard rock lode mining in the surrounding hills yielded millions of dollars in precious metals in the late 1800s. In the years following World War II, Breckenridge became an internationally known ski resort.

John Lewis Dyer – the Snowshoe Itinerant

John Lewis Dyer arrived in the Colorado mining camps in 1861. He had been a farmer and a miner in Minnesota and Wisconsin before becoming an itinerant Methodist preacher. When he was 47 he decided to travel west to “Pikes Peak” to try his hand at mining and spreading the gospel. He joined a wagon train in Omaha and paid to have his belongings carried on a wagon while he walked the entire distance to the new city of Denver.

After his arrival in Denver, he walked into the mountains to visit the gold camps in South Park. Since there were few established churches in the territory, he would assemble people in barrooms, boarding houses, or out in the open, and preach to anyone who would listen.

Since preaching didn’t pay very well, Dyer supplemented his income by prospecting, staking claims for speculators, transporting gold dust to Denver for miners, working as a county assessor, or carrying the United States mail. One of the jobs he is famous for was carrying mail in mid-winter 1863 from Buckskin Joe on the northern edge of South Park, over Mosquito pass at an elevation above 13,000 feet, and down to Cache Creek beyond California Gulch (near present-day Leadville), a distance of about thirty seven miles.

Dyer made this trip, as he did many of his other winter wanderings, on what he called “snow-shoes of the Norwegian kind,” which we would call cross-country skis today. He would leave late in the evening and make the trek over Mosquito Pass in darkness to arrive at Cache Creek by mid-morning in order to travel while the snow was frozen and more easily passable.

The Father Dyer Church

Dyer lived and preached in Breckenridge off and on from the early 1860’s to the late 1880’s. In 1880, at the age of 68, Dyer purchased a town lot next to the courthouse and built his small Breckenridge cabin. He donated half of the lot to the Methodists and built a chapel, doing most of the construction himself.

In 1890, the parishioners added a belfry and bell to the church. In 1891, the Reverend Florida Passmore preached a sermon decrying the fact that saloons in town were open on Sundays. This did not go over well with local miners, who retaliated by dynamiting the belfry. The church was renovated several times over the years. In 1977 the church building, including the original structure built by Dyer in 1880, was moved to a lot on Wellington Road.

John Lewis Dyer was recognized as one of the founders of the state of Colorado and is commemorated with his portrait in stained glass inside the state capitol building in Denver. He died in 1901.

Breckenridge Colorado Today

Today Breckenridge is a prosperous resort town. The Breckenridge ski resort is world famous. Breckenridge is also a popular summer Colorado travel destination for white water rafting, mountain biking, fishing, and camping. Since 1981 it has hosted the annual Breckenridge Festival of Film.

Sources:

  1. Snow-Shoe Itinerant, by J.L. Dyer, 1890, reprinted by Father Dyer United Methodist Church, 1975
  2. “Father Dyer United Methodist Church History”
  3. Breckenridge Resort Chamber, “Breckenridge, Colorado”