Keystone UCC to celebrate 125+1

By Eileen S. Roggenthen

The Keystone Congregational United Church of Christ church celebrates its 125+1 anniversary June 27 in Watson Park. The celebration begins at 10 a.m. with a short service, followed by a short program and a picnic lunch served by the church.  
Everyone is invited to see church records and photos displayed in the park, and to visit the church at 402 Blair St. from noon until 2 p.m. to see more exhibits and view the stained glass windows created by the late Wayne Warvi.
In 1895 when church building construction began, the railroad had not yet arrived so merchandise and supplies up rolled in on horse-drawn wagons until 1900 when the railroad came in.
Building the First Congregational Church of Keystone, now Keystone Congregational United Church of Christ, builders used those same freight line and dray companies. The original record sheet of payment to these companies was found among a treasure trove of papers passed from former treasurers and clerks through the years. The 1896 payment sheet gives a picture of wagon-after-wagon arriving at the church building site.
The J. H. Bonier Line submitted an April 23 bill for $37.50 and a second bill for $19.50 on June 17. Numley Hauling Line and Sheldon Hauling Line were also paid for services.
Cindy Pullen-Esposti has been affiliated with the church since her baptism and is current administrative board president.
“In this era of Amazon Prime, I have a great appreciation for the fact that just getting materials for the church was a considerable task,” Pullen-Esposti said in regard to the many payments recorded for delivery to the church. “The theater-style seats we still use are original, and were brought in by wagon. The idea of replacing them with pews in 2002 led to the largest congregational meeting in recent history. We had a unanimous vote to keep the original seats.”
Once arriving at a railhead, the freight still literally faced an uphill fight to get into Keystone, beginning with climbing Tin Mill Hill out of Hill City; Reptile Gardens hill from Rapid City and the Hayward hill coming from Hermosa.  Building roads following creek beds worked for awhile, but eventually, the wagons had to climb out of the gulches and canyons.
Original pulpit brought out for 2020 live-streamed services
The original pulpit arrived by wagon from Hermosa. In 2020 when the church first closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Pastor Jodi Olson stood at this pedestal-style pulpit and used her phone to live-stream her service via Facebook. Just she and her husband, Jim, were in the church. Eventually, Jim DeHaai and Kelsey McDaniel built a media booth for Steve Dalton to use to live-stream each Sunday.
The 1903 treasurer’s book has the word “quarantine” written in the ledger line for Oct. 26, 1903. The Nov. 13, 1903, Black Hills Union reports, “quarantine has been raised from the home of Mrs. H.S. Poole. Mrs. Poole is recovering from her illness, which was aggravated by death of her little daughter.”
Naomi Jean Poole died Nov. 5, 1903, just shy of her third birthday, and is buried in the Keystone cemetery. Poole was church clerk at that time. Research did not turn up any tragic deaths that affected the church during the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic.
“We were fortunate as a church family during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Pullen-Esposti said. “We are an older congregation, and we worked to keep each other safe.”
Bower girls’
letters of dismission
Also among the records are the original letters of dismission for the Bower girls, including 14-year-old Laura. People wishing to join the church requested a letter of dismission from their current church attesting to their membership in good standing.
Laura Bower Van Nuys went on to write The Family Band, From the Missouri to the Black Hills, 1881-1900. Walt Disney turned it into the 1968 movie “The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band.”
“I remember the Disney movie, and knew the Bower family was connected to founding the church,” Pullen-Esposti said. “We were all surprised to see the Bower family letters of dismission when Lois brought them to the church in 2006.”
Quinnie Bower kept playbills from performances in the church that took place from 1897-99 and are on display in the Keystone Museum, courtesy of her sister Laura, who donated them.
Keepers of the cardboard envelope of records
These records resurfaced in 2006 when a question arose on repayment of the original $1,000 grant mortgage to build the church.  Lois Halley had safeguarded the records which were kept folded and tucked into a cardboard envelope for over 15 years. She received the envelope from Willmeta Johnson, who held them for 54 years before moving to Westhills Village in 1990.
Carrie Ingalls Swanzey had them in 1935, having received them from Winnie Kidder Hesnard, who had received them from Alice I. Ozmun in 1911. Ozmun lived in a four-room house with only one heated room, and she did a fine job protecting them despite the rustic conditions.
“First Congregational Church of Keystone, Estab. August 11, 1895,” the newly released book highlighting the history of the church will be for sale at the event, and available for order at the church website at

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