The church that built themMar 25, 2020 02:29PM ● By Eileen O'Toole
The church erected by Redlands Women’s Club inspired Easter Sunrise Service, celebrations
These women had virtually nothing. Nothing except abundant ambition and an opportunity to settle into a real home.
The women that made up the Redlands Women’s Club came from different backgrounds, religions and experiences. They came together even if they didn’t always enjoy each other. Finally, they came together to build a community under very adverse conditions. Even the scenic Colorado National Monument didn’t soften their backbreaking hardship.
Life in the Redlands
The hills and red sand soil of the Redlands was one of the last areas of the valley to be developed. After years of construction, conflict and controversy around the earliest developers, Charles Rump arrived in 1919. He was assigned to develop approximately 2,000 acres after the Doherty Company purchased the Redlands Power and Irrigation along with the land.
“Sox” Sutherland—whose family was one of the first to take advantage of what he called the “housing boom” of 1920—made several attempts to develop the land successfully. A Daily Sentinel “Growers News” article on January 8, 1921, claimed, “The company has picked their buyers from men that were conscientious farmers—good neighbors and good American citizens.”
It was a devilish, time-consuming effort to create a producing farm out of the desert, taking years—especially for fruit trees—to provide any wage at all. The sandy soil promised great crops if it didn’t wash away. But it did, especially along the extensive canal system which required constant attention.
Everyone worked together to shape their farms, not only for themselves but for the Redlands Company. They earned extra pay riding the canals and working the company’s home ranch. They dug what few low-quality coal mine sites there were for fuel, and the ladies worked a farm cannery that supplied their own homes and earned them extra money from selling the products. According to Sutherland, the land now owned by Two Rivers Winery was the home ranch garden that produced food for the workers and the cannery.
Establishing a church
The women, sometimes rather pushy, worked with the men to build a two-room school with land donated by Redlands Realty. But they also wanted a church. Some already attended established churches in Grand Junction and Fruita, but the roads weren’t paved, the bridges often washed out and most didn’t have cars. They soon established a community church, meeting Sundays at the school.
As new people arrived, a formal attitude shaped the Redlands Women’s Club with Robert’s Rules and all. By 1935, the club consisted of 68 women from virtually every family. They earned money with quilting bees, potlucks, parties and dances. Within the group and individually, they sold whatever they made to bring in extra money.
The creation of the church inspired Easter Sunrise services. The Monument’s red-orange morning glow as a backdrop served as a particularly religious experience. Sunrise services started around 1922-23 on the hill overlooking the school (what is now the Church of the Nativity). It proved to be too much of a climb for older folks, so it was moved to what is now Easter Hill, where it became a tradition.
A cross was built and used every year at the top of the hill. Mason Mowry, with the help of some schoolboys, cut pinyon branches to nail to the cross. Opal Boss, who was secretary-treasurer of the Sunday School, ordered white carnations and calla lilies. Her daughters, Betty and Clara, climbed the hill in the early morning darkness to insert the flowers in the pinyon covered cross. Mowry and the boys also put rocks on each side of the trail to the top and smoothed the path. After the service, they celebrated with a giant pot of coffee and donuts.
The community wanted to buy Easter Hill for their church, but they lost the option when the owner passed away. In the 1950s, they moved sunrise services to the campground on the Monument and built the Redlands Community Church in 1961.
The end of an era
During these years, the Redlands Women’s Club purchased the Grand Junction Country Club, until the Great Depression forced it to close. They continued to run the club until the 1990s when it was converted to the Redlands Community Center.
Over the years the Women’s club dwindled to a few older ladies. The last surviving member died at age 92 in 2016.