Flagstaff – A Brief History

Flagstaff is a mountain town situated at the base of the San Francisco Peaks (elevation 7000 feet). With a population of about 70,000, Flagstaff is near the southwestern edge of the Colorado Plateau. The city lies adjacent to Mount Elden, just south of the San Francisco Peaks, the highest mountain range in the state of Arizona. Humphreys Peak, the highest point in Arizona at 12,633 ft, is located about 10 miles north of Flagstaff in the Kachina Peaks Wilderness. With an average of 288 sunny days each year, residents and visitors enjoy a four-season climate (including snow in winter), as well as proximity to the largest contiguous ponderosa pine forest in North America.

Located along an old wagon road to California, the first white settler in the area, Edward Whipple, opened a saloon near a spring in 1871. A second pioneer, by the name of F.F. McMillen, settled north of present day Flagstaff in 1876. Soon, more and more people populated the area that was plentiful with water, game, and lumbering opportunities. Others began cattle and sheep ranching. The city is named after a ponderosa pine flagpole made by early pioneers to celebrate the United States Centennial on July 4, 1876.

Flagstaff’s early economy was based on the lumber, railroad, and ranching industries. Today, the city remains an important distribution hub for companies such as Nestlé Purina PetCare, and is home to Lowell Observatory, The U.S. Naval Observatory, the United States Geological Survey Flagstaff Station, and Northern Arizona University. Flagstaff has a strong tourism sector, due to its proximity to Grand Canyon National Park, Oak Creek Canyon, the Arizona Snowbowl, Meteor Crater, and historic Route 66.

Northern Arizona is a region known for its rich Native American history. Evidence of the earliest native cultures in the Flagstaff area can be found in the cliff dwellings of Walnut Canyon National Monument and the rock-walled pueblos of Wupatki National Monument where the ancient Sinagua and Anasazi tribes inhabited more than 800 years ago. This Native American heritage still permeates the culture today, as tribal lands cover more than 31,000 square miles in this region and are home to the Navajo, Hopi, Havasupai, Kaibab-Paiute and Hualapai peoples. To learn more about the uniquely diverse Native cultures of the Colorado Plateau, visit Flagstaff’s world-renowned Museum of Northern Arizona.

Route 66 is synonymous with the classic American road trip, and that carefree spirit is still alive in Flagstaff today. When Route 66 became a highway in 1921, Flagstaff was established as a popular stop on the iconic highway.

Flagstaff is home to Northern Arizona University, a fully accredited public university with over 27,000 students. Originally named Northern Arizona Normal School in 1899, the first students sought teaching credentials. The school has continued to grow, undergoing several name changes and expanding to include over 90 undergraduate, 60 graduate, and almost 100 online degree programs.

Flagstaff’s combination of high altitude, low humidity and diverse terrain provide mild weather conditions and clear air throughout the year. The ecosystems that surround Flagstaff span from piñon-juniper woodland to alpine tundra, but it is the Ponderosa pine forest in-between that dominates the area. This towering tree only grows at elevations between 6,000 and 8,000 feet, making Flagstaff’s 7,000-foot elevation the perfect home.

Epiphany – A Jewel of Flagstaff

The Episcopal Church first came to Flagstaff twenty five years before Arizona achieved statehood. In the statehood year of 1912, the tiny congregation moved from its temporary quarters at the Elks Hall (at the corner of San Francisco and Aspen) and into the new stone structure on the corner of Beaver and Elm streets.

Master stonemason Herman Dietzman built the Period Revival style church, with its distinctive bell tower and gothic arched stained glass window. The Craftsman style of the interior is seen in the hand-carved finishings and light fixtures. A parish hall was added in 1927, with malpais rock construction and gothic arched windows matching the sanctuary.

The parish’s early history was marked by the World Wars. A wreath commemorating local boys fighting on the European front hung on the church’s wooden double doors during World War I. Records by Church Secretary Kent Rucker show an enormous struggle by church leadership to continue parish business during wartime. The Bishop’s Committee authorized the user of the parish hall for dances for soldiers sponsored by the church. Financial aid for the church was obtained through C. B. Wilson, Dr. H. S. Colton, the Babbitt brothers, and Joe Kellam, to name a few.

Women have always been a guiding presence in the parish. They have contributed in the St. Margaret’s Guild, St. Anne’s Guild, and the present day Altar Guild. They raised money for vestments, candles, and linens. Bazaars were a common way to raise monies, and the huge yard sale held every year in the 1970’s was famous around town. In 2012, a “Jumble Sale” (an Anglican term for a rummage sale), was held in the Parish Hall to raise money for the altar guild.

A Commitment to Service

Epiphany – a moment in which you suddenly see or understand something in a new or very clear way – has been the mantra for The Episcopal Church of the Epiphany to this day, and will propel us into the future. From the world war year’s efforts of “rolling bandages, knitting socks, and tending victory gardens”, to today’s volunteers at Flagstaff Family Food Center, Flagstaff Kitchen (sack lunches), Flagstaff Shelter Services, Northern AZ Interfaith Council, Women in Black, PFlag, Threshold Choir, Assistance League, elementary schools, picking up trash through Adopt+An+Avenue, recycling, Loaves & Fishes food drive, The Giving Tree, and more. Our main outreach for the past ten years has been Random Acts of Kindness that has raised nearly $350,000 for local charities.

The Northern Arizona Food Bank began in 1986 to provide supplemental nutrition and hunger relief to impoverished individuals and families in northern Arizona. Since that time, the Food Bank has grown from serving a few hundred individuals’ and families’ needs to providing supplemental nutrition and life’s essentials to many thousands of needy families each month. In 2013, NAFB and the Flagstaff Family Food Center merged. With help from many sources, including Epiphany Church, they continue to serve hot meals daily, prepare and distribute sack lunches, provide children’s literacy programs, and distribute over 30,000 emergency food boxes to the food-insecure of our community.

North Country HealthCare’s roots reach back to the Flagstaff Community Free Clinic, which was founded in 1991 by a group of local healthcare providers and administrators, many from Epiphany Church. The founders were concerned about the large number of uninsured people who were coming to the Flagstaff Medical Center Emergency Room, because they had no medical home. In 1996, North Country Community Health Center became a federally qualified health center (FQHC) and moved into an old roller skating rink in Flagstaff’s Sunnyside neighborhood. Today, North Country HealthCare serves 14 communities across northern Arizona.

Marshall Elementary School is a Title I school with a culturally diverse population. In 2005, Epiphany “adopted” this neighbor school and began providing Christmas for some of Marshall’s families – not just the children, but the parents as well. In 2014 we shared our bounty with six families, offering clothing and toys, along with food and basic necessities. The joy of giving is reflected back to us in the faces of these families.

Our church facility has been opened for homeless sheltering in the winter, musical recitals, and organ concerts. We also provide a meeting space for AA and other “12-Step” programs.

Epiphany celebrated its 100th year at the corner of Beaver and Elm in 2012, reflecting on those who have gone before, and on the legacy that we are leave for the future. We have rededicated ourselves to supporting the growth of our congregation, maintaining our historic building, and supporting our wonderful Flagstaff community in many creative and significant ways. All is done in God’s name, in love for this life and the life to come.

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