#Lookback: St. James’ Episcopal Church

A County 10 series in partnership with the Fremont County Museum System
where we take a #Lookback at the stories and history of our community and presented by Mick Pryor, Financial Advisor with Edward Jones.

The first regularly stationed Episcopal clergyman in Wyoming was Chaplain William Vaux. He was appointed to Fort Laramie in 1849 and served at that post until 1862. After William Vaux, several other Episcopal clergymen came to Wyoming as a part of a military unit or were stationed at forts in the western territories. Reverend Thomas J. Ferril came with the Sixteenth Kansas Cavalry and Reverend Edmond B. Tuttle was stationed at Fort A.D. Russell.

When the Union Pacific Railroad reached Cheyenne in 1867, Reverend Charles A. Gilbert came to spend his summer vacation in Cheyenne.He became the first Episcopal minister in Riverton.A year later, Reverend Joseph W. Cook was appointed to serve as a minister in Cheyenne.He arrived in Cheyenne on January 14th, 1868, to begin establishing St. Mark’s Church.On August 23rd, 1868, Bishop George Maxwell Randall came to Cheyenne to consecrate St. Mark’s Church.Bishop George Maxwell Randall was the Missionary Bishop of Colorado who oversaw managing the activities of the Episcopal Church in Wyoming.In 1873, Bishop George Maxwell Randall died and was succeeded by John Franklin Spalding.

The first Convocation of Wyoming was held in St. Mark’s Church in Cheyenne during June 1882. In the Episcopal Church, a convocation is a meeting of clergy and lay representatives from a section or area of a diocese. The second Convocation of Wyoming was held at St. Matthew’s Church in Laramie in May of 1883. At this Convocation, Bishop Spaulding sent Reverend John Roberts to the Wind River Reservation to be a missionary to the Eastern Shoshone and the Northern Arapaho. During his time at the Wind River Reservation, Reverend Roberts established Episcopal churches around the reservation. These were as follows: Trinity Episcopal Church in Lander, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Milford, St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Hudson, St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church in Dubois, and St. James’ Episcopal Church in Riverton.

When the town of Riverton was being formed, Reverend John Roberts entered the drawing for the townsite. His number, 331, was drawn early and he was able to get the third lot from the corner of Seventh and Main on the north side of Main Street. At his new lot, Reverend John Roberts built a small frame church with some money that was donated by Mrs. Baird Sumner Cooper from Pennsylvania. St. James’ Episcopal Church was the first church built on the townsite. The building was finished in 1907 and Grace Sessions taught school at St. James’ Episcopal Church over the winter of 1907. Reverend Roberts held a service at St. James’ once a month until October 3rd, 1913. During Reverend Roberts’ time at St. James’ Episcopal Church, there was also a young student priest, named R.F. Philbrook, sent to Riverton by the Bishop of Wyoming in 1909. R.F. Philbrook was very popular and was even asked to officiate the wedding of Ethel Cram and Edgar Hurst during his time in Riverton. He refused the young couple at first because he was not officially ordained, but with the help of the Baptist Minister, Reverend Wiley, the young couple was able to be married by R.F. Philbrook. Reverend R.F. Philbrook served in Riverton until 1913. 

After Reverend John Roberts and R.F. Philbrook left, the church did not have a reverend until 1915, when Reverend A.H. Watkins was transferred to St. James’ from Thermopolis. A small, brick rectory was built next to the church where Reverend Watkins lived until 1917. Also, during Reverend Watkins’ time in Riverton, the Bishop of Wyoming bought lots 1, 2, and 3, on the corner of Sixth and Park from Goyne Drummond. In 1917, ownership of these three lots was transferred to St. James’ Episcopal Church. In June of 1917, Francis E. Chipp was transferred to Riverton from Torrington. He served at the Church until April of 1922 when he retired. 

After Reverend Chipp retired, there were a few reverends who stayed in Riverton until a new church was built on the lots on the corner of Sixth and Park.  During the summer of 1925, a student priest, named John R. Patte, served in Riverton. In September of 1925, Reverend Thomas E. Winecoff became St. James’ Clergyman at Riverton. He stayed in Riverton until he retired in 1927. 

In 1931, a church was built on the corner of Sixth and Park.The church was made of logs donated by Ricker Van Meter from the Wyoming Tie and Timber Company.The log church was consecrated in 1934.The old church on Main street was sold to I.D. Woodward and was moved to 710 East Adams to serve as a private residence.The lot the church was on was sold to Ben Laws for the expansion of his business.

From 1931 to 1944, several reverends served Riverton by making regular trips from other small towns in Wyoming to give services.The first, from 1931 to 1933, was Reverend Frederick M. Morris who made trips from Ethete.From 1934 to 1941, reverends from Lander traveled to Riverton to give sermons.The first reverend was Nelson L. Chowenhill who gave services from 1934 to 1937.Next, was Reverend Frederick C.H. Hurd who served from March 1938 to December 1939.Lastly, Reverend Zachery T. Vincent served from April 1940 to October 1941.After Reverend Zachery T. Vincent, J.E. Ellis briefly served St. James’ Episcopal Church from Riverton.Starting in April of 1942, Reverend W.H. Hurd served Riverton from Lander until he moved to Colorado in December of 1944.

Finally, on December 10, 1944, Reverend Z.T. Vincent became resident clergy for St. James’ Episcopal Church.He served as resident clergy until September 1945.After Reverend Vincent, a series of resident clergy served at St. James’ Episcopal Church until a new church was completed in 1973.The resident clergies were:

Reverend NameStart DateEnd Date

Reverend Charles Lever November 1, 1945, May 28, 1947

Reverend Glenn Reddick August 8, 1947, May 15, 1952

Reverend Bruce Henry Cook October 1952, October 1, 1955

Reverend Van G. King November 1, 1955, September 1, 1960

Reverend John Warner Day November 15, 1960, December 13, 1969

Reverend Robert Moody September 6, 1970, December 31, 1974

The log church that was built in 1931 had to be abandoned because of dry rot in the supporting walls.The last service in the log church was held in November of 1973.While the new church was being built, services were held in Jewett Hall, which had been constructed in 1952.The new church was finished, and the consecration was held on December 1st, 1974.The church that was constructed in 1973 is the building in which St. James’ Episcopal Church is currently operating.

Next up for the Fremont County Museums

Oct 17th, 5:30-9:00 pm Riverton Museum “Pumpkin Trail”

Oct 17th, 5:30 pm Riverton Museum “Haunted Riverton Walking Tour”

Wind River Visitors Council Adventure Trek

Consider supporting The Dubois Museum, the Pioneer Museum in Lander, or the Riverton Museum with a monetary donation. The museums are more reliant than ever on donations from the private sector to continue to provide quality programs, collections management, exhibits, and services that have become their hallmark. Please make your tax-deductible contribution to be used specifically for the benefit of the museum of your choosing by sending a check to Fremont County Museums 450 N 2nd Rm 320 or taking it directly to the museum you choose to support.  

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