May our beloved bell tower keep ringing

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By Hank Alderfer

Jock Spence constructed the bell tower at the Mission of the Transfiguration in 1911. Then, the Army Corps of Engineers restored it in 1978. The 35-foot tower, besides calling families to service, has greeted travelers as they entered Evergreen after driving Highway 74, climbing through Bear Creek Canyon. Many citizens of Evergreen still consider the bell tower one of the gateways of town.

At an early age, I realized that I made a better achoylte than a choir member. While serving both Father Lewis “Bud” Marsh and his successor, Father Charles Blakeslee, I had hundreds of occasions to ring the bell by its original rope system. It was a marker of growth when the backswing of the 1,100-pound cast bell ceased to be able to lift even the littlest one in our group of altar boys toward the heavens.
Until 1959, the state highway ran right in front of the bell tower and its gateway to the church grounds. At that time, due to growing traffic, deterioration of two bridges and the expansion of the Evergreen Metro treatment plant, the highway and the creek were relocated away from the tower. This move preserved the quiet ambience of the Transfiguration grounds, along with summer housing of the sisterhood and their small chapel of St. Raphael, and the facilities supporting the Evergreen Conference School of Music.
With the addition of the Stone Library on the Hill and the summer home of the Bancrofts, which now is the office of Evergreen Christian Outreach, this quiet end of town has been designated a historical district — a district at whose center lies one of Evergreen’s oldest yet recently restored structures.
When Robert Steward was granted, on the 1st of March in 1883, the homestead patent to his 120 acres along Bear Creek in the northeastern corner of Section 10, his hotel and tavern were already up and running. Earlier, in 1871, Steward acquired the parcel from Edward Malet, who had operated a sawmill in town for a decade. Steward proceeded to enlarge the sawmill bunkhouse into a hotel, with 24 tiny rooms.
Although the hotel was in use for church services, by 1896 Mary Josepha Williams gained ownership of the hotel and property. She later passed it on to the Mission of the Transfiguration. The west end of the hotel was remodeled into a small chapel, known as St. Mark’s, and later became our home church.
Prior to the construction of the new church in 1962, Dad and I delivered the fieldstone and boulders that ring the Bishop’s Garden, which is between the new church and the bell tower. We also planned to remove an old garage that was in the path of the new construction. As EJ backed our flatbed into the garage, I was once again impressed with his homegrown sense of engineering. After raising the truck bed to an approximate height, he nailed a few two-by-eights in the approximate positions. When he lowered the bed, the shed creaked and settled an even 12 inches above the ground. As we drove through town, looking like we just got stuck in a covered bridge, we were thinking we should have timed the garage move to coincide with the Rodeo Parade. Regardless, as Dad slowly drove away from the church, we enjoyed hearing Father Marsh’s low-pitched laugh mixed with his ringing of the bell, celebrating the advent of construction on the new church.

Hank Alderfer, a local resident, was born and raised on a ranch in Buffalo Park. He served on the boards of the Jefferson County Historical Society and the Evergreen Park and Recreation District and is a founder of the Mountain Area Land Trust.