Trinity Episcopal Church History
It was shortly after the end of the Civil War and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, in the year 1870, that Butler county had a population of 3,000. At that time, El Dorado had perhaps 300 souls. El Dorado was the home of a thriving blacksmith shop, a land office, a wagon shop, and not much else.
Just after the first saloon opened in town (a source of great humiliation for the new and thriving community) Mrs. Thomas initiated litigation for “damages” to her husband caused by the saloon. Counteracting the saloon element and prior to the establishment of any churches in town, the first semi-religious organization was born in El Dorado with the establishment of a Lodge of the Sons and Daughters of Temperance.
In the same year, the Right Reverend Thomas H. Vail, the first Episcopal Bishop of Kansas, left Wichita by stagecoach for El Dorado. He spent the night, probably at El Dorado House, which stood on the present site of the southeast corner of Main and Central.
Bishop Vail’s visit, nearly 140 years ago, is mentioned in the Episcopal Diocesan records and nothing else. Not even a whisper that the pioneers might be interested in organizing an Episcopal Church in this frontier village.
It was not until 1884, after the founding of the Presbyterian, Baptist, and Methodist congregations, that efforts were begun to establish an Episcopal congregation in El Dorado (which now had a population of some 400). At the insistence of a small, self-organized group; The Reverend Mr. Morrison of Nebraska, was brought to El Dorado for a “three month trial.” Unfortunately, in less than three months, the Reverend Mr. Morrison returned to Nebraska. At that time, Bishop Vail wrote to Mrs. Susan B. Allen (after whom, many years later, the local hospital was named): “You can little realize the difficulties there are in the way of church extension in Kansas. The entire lack of means as well as the scarcity of the clergy are almost insuperable obstacles. You say the men say that if I sent a really eloquent man, without mention of money, the church will succeed. Now put that into practical form. There are few eloquent men to be found and they are all secured by the large and wealthy parishes of the East. I write to one of these and ask him to give up his support, leave his home, his friends, remove his family at his own expense to this western state, and tell him if the people like him they will probably raise sufficient money for his support; if they do not he must do the best he can. Is there a man in this country that would take such a risk?”
It was hard to establish a church in Kansas during those early days. Even so, a devout group of dedicated women were insistent. In 1887 Bishop Vail sent the Reverend Mr. Thomas to El Dorado and he organized Trinity Guild. The object of the Guild was to purchase property upon which a church would one day be built.
Toward the end of 1887, Mr. Thomas again visited El Dorado and preached an Episcopal worship service held at the Presbyterian Church. In 1888, an Episcopal chapel, believed to be Trinity’s first permanent place of worship, was established in a second story room in the first block of South Main Street.
The Episcopal Women worked hard to raise money for their church. The congregation grew, and moved into the old Masonic Hall. From there they moved to the High School. The Sunday School grew to forty students and five teachers. Finally a missionary, the Reverend Mr. P.B. Peabody, began conducting one service per month in El Dorado and was paid $250.00 per year for his services. It was also in 1889 (120 years ago) that the property on the northeast corner of Washington and Pine was purchased for $500.00. In 1891, the Bishop reported that the mission was organized and incorporated.
The new church building just wasn’t getting completed, so the women took charge. Mrs. Susan B. Allen set out to raise money. She drew and contracted the glass works, $85.00 total cost, installed! Finally, in 1894 the building was completed and the first services were held on March 27, 1894. Bishop Thomas (remember the Reverend Mr. Thomas?) was present and confirmed 6 new Episcopalians and baptized 5 new Christians. He returned on June 17 of that same year, to consecrate Trinity Episcopal Church to the worship of Almighty God.
With the coming of the railroad and the discovery of oil in Kansas, El Dorado was “booming”. Trinity, along with the other churches in town, were beneficiaries of these events. However, the “boom” didn’t last for Trinity. A lack of funds caused the church to close from early 1924 until late 1926. Eventually, funds were raised and the parish was open again. Trinity was able to remain open throughout the difficult times of depression, dust storms, and in 1936 (when air conditioning wasn’t even a dream) there were more than 100 days when the temperature topped the 100-degree mark.
During the thirties, forties, and early fifties the parish experienced what one unnamed historian referred to as “years of alternate growth, pause, and retreat.” The great drought and depression took their toll, and the war years were difficult. However, the late fifties seemed to offer new hope and growth. By 1958, Trinity had outgrown their facilities at the corner of Pine and Washington. Fundraising was begun. By the end of 1958, the property had been purchased at 215 and 219 South Washington. Ground-breaking ceremonies were held on January 12, 1960 and the cornerstone was laid on June 12, 1960. The first services were held in the beautiful, new $160,000.00 structure on December 18, 1960. The Right Reverend Edward C. Turner, Bishop of Kansas, dedicated the facilities on February 17, 1961.