Keystone UCC Church: 120 years of Service

Throughout its 120 years  in Keystone,  the Keystone Congregational United Church of Christ not only served as an on-going place of Protestant worship, but often served as the community auditorium, as well.  


Bob Hayes, recognized Keystone historian who now lives in California, always referred to the church as the school auditorium. “People had to work together  in a small, close-knit community,” Bob noted.  


Church, school and community needs were met in creative, sensible ways as evidenced by the back-and-forth between schools and the church.   


On June 29, 1895, six people met in the log school house to organize a church.  By December,  the church group was established enough to rent Willis Bower's newly completed private school on Second Street for $3.00 a month where they held church services and Sunday school.


When the first Church Board meeting was held eight months later on August 12, 1896 in the new church, the first order of business was to rent two rooms and the hall of the church for $22.50 a month to the School Board to hold classes.


The Reading Room Association


One of the first community facilities in the church was The Reading Room Association, which was established  January 10, 1896 to serve town churches, the school and the community.  Amendments were added at that time to the church Constitution relative to the Reading Room.


A nine-member board oversaw the reading room and set policy.  This nine-member  board was elected by the Reading Room Association, pastors of various churches and the principal of the public school.  Lighting, heating and furnishing the reading room was the responsibility of the Association.  Just where this Reading Room was located in the church basement isn't known.  One stipulation stated that the Reading Room was to be closed during regular Sunday services.


Any person could become a member of the Association simply by paying the sum of twenty-five cents per quarter in advance, and subscribing to the Constitution and By-laws.  


Church members on the board included Miss Quinnie Bower who was also one of the school teachers.  David Swanzey, who later married Carrie Ingalls, served on the board from 1896 until January 10, 1899.


Theater and Concert Hall


Keystone had its share of talented people.  Concert and theater programs preserved at the Keystone Museum as part of the Laura Bower Van Nuys Collection refer to the ladies of the church as the sponsoring group.  This was no doubt the Ladies Union which at that time was the main social and fund raising group at the church.


The ladies of the church presented what was probably their first concert on Tuesday evening,

May 18, 1897. Since the church was  completed by August 12, 1896, this may have been the first opportunity to use the church for this purpose.   


The first concert opened with an overture by The Bower Band.  At this point, the band probably consisted of parents J.C. and Kizzie, and area family members Quinnie, Nettie, Laura, Mayo and his wife Carrie.  Rose did not arrive in Keystone until the spring of 1899, joining the church  April 26, 1899.


A concert played on April 23, 1898  appears to be a community event.  Although church members such as Mr. Pinder and Mrs. J. H. Fall were involved, others appear to be community members.  The Keystone Band played, rather than the Bower Band.


Fund raising to pay the pastor's salary was an ongoing concern.  On July 27, 1897, the Ladies Union pledged to raise $30 for the pastor's salary over the following 6 months.  The fall 1898 play was no doubt a continuing part of this fund raising.


Sometime in the fall of 1898, the ladies of the church turned out in full force to present the play, Queen of Fame. Mrs. Brown, the new pastor's wife played the Queen of Fame. Both Nettie and Quinnie Bower had roles. Other members portrayed Cleopatra, Martha Washington, Florence Nightingale, Nellie Bly and Susan B. Anthony.  The cast also featured  a half dozen youngsters.  


An undated program for a concert at the church was probably from 1899 since it featured Rose Bower playing a cornet solo, “Star of England.” The Congregational Choir sang “Song of the Whipperwill,”  The Keystone Band, of which the Bower girls and their brother Mayo were members, played three selections.


School Events


The Keystone School Board faced severe overcrowding in the booming community.  They began renting two school rooms and the hall at the church for $22.50 a month for the 1896-97 school year.  It is unclear if the hall referred to the sanctuary, or a larger room downstairs.   Students also continued to meet in the log school house and Willis Bower's private school, as well, until the new school was completed in 1900.


Bob Hayes' book, Mt. Rushmore and Keystone, features an 1898 photo of one of the classes posed beside the church.


No doubt, the chancel or stage as it is so often referred to, hosted school plays and concerts during this period.  Over the years, the church continued to serve as the school auditorium.  


Bob Hayes, recalled his school years in Keystone in the 1930s and 1940s  “Christmas programs were held in the church, as was a spring play.  Four five-foot sections were put up on low sawhorses to extend the stage.  These  were stored in the school basement, and the kids hauled them over to the church.”  


These plays had a professional look.  “An extension cord ran from the back of the church to run the foot lights on the stage,” Bob explained.  “I was the electrician who ran the lights at different times.”  To turn it into a real stage, a heavy wire or cable stretched across the front to hold  the curtain which was then manually drawn.


Bob recalls having a lead in a school play in junior or senior high school.


Bob attended the Keystone School through 10th grade, before finishing high school in Rapid City where he stayed in a boarding house with three other boys.  Seven girls from National Business School lived upstairs, “But that area was off-limits,” according to Bob.


The church continued its involvement with the school.  Beginning in the 1940-41 school year, the church Ladies Aide prepared and served a hot meal in the church for the School Hot Lunch Project.  


Picture Show House


Perhaps the most unusual decision was turning the sanctuary into a once-a-month picture show house, a joint venture of the Ladies Aide and Mr. Eyrich of Consolidated Mining Co.  Beginning in April 1928, the Ladies Aide would sponsor and pay for one picture show each month, and the mining company paid for the power.


This was a great entertainment addition to the community.  Not only did the picture shows  serve area residents and mining families, but provided entertainment for workers coming to the area to help carve Mt. Rushmore.


According to Bob Hayes, a projection booth was built onto the side of the church where a double window stood. Church records don't indicate how long the church served as a picture show house.  


Today, with the Keystone Community Center and Library available to the residents, the church no longer hosts community events.  It simply functions as a church.