The only church in Marble serves as a visible reminder of the town’s past.
With a population of just 133 souls at the last census, Marble is small even when compared to other mountain towns across Colorado.
Like the church, there is only one restaurant and one inn. The nearest gas station and post office are 30 miles away. If you include Schofield Pass, a seasonal mountain pass that requires four-wheel-drive vehicles, there are two roads in and out of town.
The limited road access also makes Marble an exclave in Gunnison County. Outside of summer, when a well-maintained shortcut that regular cars can easily take, the drive to the county seat of Crested Butte is at least 150 miles. By contrast, the ritzy ski resort of Aspen, seat of Pitkin County, is just 58 miles away.
Given the isolated location, it may seem like there is little reason for the town to exist. While that may be true today, the history of its existence lies in the mining of the town’s namesake.
Marble quarried at 9,500 feet in elevation from deep inside the mountains was used to build iconic buildings and monuments, including the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, the Roman Catholic cathedral in Denver and the state capitols of Colorado, Arkansas and Utah. It's also why that church is here.
The church’s simple carpenter Gothic architecture is a clue that the building is old. In fact, it’s actually older than Marble itself.
Originally built in 1886 as St. John’s Chapel for Episcopalians in Aspen, it was dismantled, transported by rail car and rebuilt at its present-day location in 1908. The tower and narthex, the latter of which also functions as a breezeway, were added a few years later.
Rededicated as St. Paul’s Church, the space was also used by Roman Catholics and Congregationalists until 1941, when a series of natural disasters combined with the economic pressures of the Great Depression and American entry into World War II resulted in the closure of the quarry and mill. Almost overnight Marble became a ghost town.
By 1950, the shuttered church was once again being used for worship after the Marble Community Church received permission from the Episcopal Diocese of Colorado. A subsequent dispute with the diocese locked out the interdenominational congregation until the 1970s, when it was finally allowed back inside. However, the Episcopalians wouldn’t deed over the National Register of Historic Places-listed building until 1985.
While additions and renovations have occurred over the ensuing years, much of the church, including the pump organ and altar, is original to the late Victorian era. The building is also a good representative of the wooden churches that gradually disappeared as congregations across denominations expanded and built larger churches out of stone or brick.
Unfortunately, Marble Community Church isn’t open to visitors outside the weekly Sunday service at 10 a.m.
If you go
Learn more about the town at the Marble Historical Museum, which is housed within a circa 1910 former high school. While cluttered and in need of a more professional curation, it has a range of exhibits and artifacts that give visitors a better understanding of life in a Colorado mountain town in and around the turn of the last century.
The closest airport with significant commercial flights is about two hours away in Grand Junction.
Dennis Lennox writes a travel column for The Christian Post.
Dennis Lennox writes about travel, politics and religious affairs. He has been published in the Financial Times, Independent, The Detroit News, Toronto Sun and other publications. Follow @dennislennox on Twitter.