A photograph taken Monday, March 19, 1923 shows the damage caused by a fire which started in the back of St. Joseph’s Church on the evening of March 18. By the time the fire was out, the parish house was “completely ruined” and all that was left of the church was the foundation, a chimney and the church bell. Fortunately no injuries were reported.

Highlights from 

The Herald Democrat

100 years ago


Austrian Place of Worship on West Second Street Destroyed by Fire Early This Morning — Parish House Damaged.


Monday, March 19, 1923


Within less than an hour after the alarm was turned in to the fire department at midnight last night, St. Joseph’s church, situated at the end of the four hundred block on West Second street, was reduced to a mass of smoldering ruins. The flames had a start of possibly half an hour before they were noticed by Joe Francis and Steve Frankovich, who were on the corner of the five hundred block and Elm street when their attention was drawn to the fire. The flames, fanned by a brisk wind from the northeast, quickly enveloped the entire building and the glare from the fire could be seen from all parts of the city. All efforts of the fire department and volunteers were centered on saving the home of the priest which lies just east of the church and is connected to the church edifice in the rear.

Some delay was caused in making connections with the fire plugs and getting a stream of water on the conflagration. Two hose lines were used by the department in their efforts to check the rapidly spreading flames. Volunteers aided in removing the personal effects of Father Miklavcic and the church records from his home.

Father Miklavcic stated that he believed the fire was started by a short circuit in the electric wires at the rear of the church. He said that at about 10:30 he attempted to turn on the electric lights in his home and that for a second they burned brightly and then immediately went out. He did not suspect a fire at this time. He locked up the church building at about 9 p. m. and said that the fire in the furnace was all right at this time. He was not aware of the fire until informed by Joe Francis about midnight that the rear end of the church was in flames. When they attempted to gain entrance to the church thru the rear side door connecting with the domicile, the entire end of the church on the inside was a mass of flames. Not a thing on the inside of the church was removed and no entrance to the church building could be effected.

A large crowd gathered around the scene of the fire immediately after the flames broke thru the roof. Scenes of hysteria among the Austrian women and children as they gazed at the burning buildings was evident on all sides. Huge burning planks were blown from the roof of the church for a distance of half a block by the wind.

The fire evidently started in the rear of the church and the steeple was the last remaining piece of the structure to burn. Within half an hour after the department arrived on the scene, the tall spire, topped with the glistening cross, crashed to the ground. The heavy bell fell thru the steeple soon after the fire reached the front end of the building.

St. Joseph’s church was built in the early ‘90s and the erection of it was materially helped by a substantial gift from the A. S. & R. company. The church and the parish house cost approximately $40,000, it was stated. It has housed all religious activities of the large foreign element which has played so large a part in the development of this city.



Parishioners of St. Joseph’s Decide to Raise Funds at Once — Will Start With $5,000 Insurance, and Other Funds Have Been Pledged.

Tuesday, March 20, 1923


A meeting of the members of St. Joseph’s parish was held in the Austrian hall at 531 West Elm street last night and approximately 200 were present. The meeting was presided over by Frank Zaitz, Jr., and a vote taken on the wishes of the members as to building a new church was unanimously in favor of such a move. Subscriptions for the new church were then pledged and approximately $5,000 was raised.

Word was received by Frank Zaitz, Jr. yesterday from Bishop Tijen in Denver that the church and parish house were insured to the amount of $5,000. With $10,000 in sight as a starter for the erection of the new church, committees were appointed to arrange a champaign in which it is hoped that sufficient money will be raised in the near future. Father Miklavcic addressed the meeting and made an appeal for subscriptions to all members of the church both in this city and in the state, and to non-members who could afford to aid the worthy cause.

In an interview last night with Father Miklavcic and Frank Zaitz, Sr., it was emphatically denied that there was any basis for the rumors that the church was set on fire by enemies of either the church or of any of the local members. It was stated that an anonymous letter was received by Father Miklavcic some time ago, but it was traced to its writer and the whole theme of it claimed to be a joke.

Services will be held in the Austrian hall at the end of the five hundred block on West Elm street until the new church has been built. Arrangements to have the hall improvised so that it can be used for the religious services were made before the meeting adjourned last night.

The fire which razed St. Joseph’s church and completely ruined the parish house adjoining early Monday morning was brot under control about 5 o’clock yesterday morning. The church building is burned to the ground, the foundation and a single brick chimney towering towards the sky remain as mute evidence of the fine building which for the past twenty-four years has housed all religious activities of the Austrian settlement in this town. The parish house is completely ruined, altho two front rooms escaped the ravages of the fierce flames which consumed the remainder of the church buildings.

The fire was one of the most spectacular that has been witnessed in this community in a number of years. The flames were burning fiercely by the time the department had arrived at the scene and inside of an hour the buildings were consumed by the flames. The flames, fanned by a stiff wind from the northeast, leaped hundreds of feet into the sky and could be seen from all parts of the city. The firemen were hampered by the wind and zero weather in their attempts to get the blaze under control. Three streams of water were played on the fire before it was finally brot under control.

St. Joseph’s church was built by Father John Perse in 1899. The corner stone was laid in that year by Bishop Matz, of this diocese, and is so inscribed. The huge bronze bell is inscribed, “Sancte Joseph, ora pro nobis, A. D. 1901.” Father Perse was succeeded in this parish by Father Ivan Judnic, who preached his first mass after being ordained in St. Joseph’s church on June 9, 1912. Father Judnic reigned supreme as leader of the church activities here until February 1921, when he was called to the Holy Rosary church in Globeville near Denver. Since Father Judnic left this parish there have been three priests at St. Joseph’s church, however none of them remained over a year. Father Capitan took charge of this parish in 1921 when Father Judnic left, but he remained here just one year. He was followed by Father Aloisius Miner, who also lasted about one year. Father John Miklavcic, the present priest, assumed his duties here about two months ago. Father Miklavcic came to Leadville from Cincinnati, but he has been in America only a short while and does not speak the English language.

In an interview with E. L. Siekmann, manager of the Colorado Power company, yesterday, he stated it was a 30 to 1 shot that the fire originated in some manner other than electricity. He said that there is no city inspection and that every one does his own wiring, and for this reason the power company is not any more responsible for the condition of electric wires inside of a house than they are for the color of the wallpaper in that house. Mr. Siekmann said that it could not be definitely stated that the fire was not caused by defective wiring, but expressed his opinion that if complete evidence was had the origin of the fire could be laid to some other source.

NOT “HIGHEST DWELLING IN U. S.” — Two half-page cuts of a dwelling “which houses comfortably 25 persons” situated on the side of Mt. Rainier at an altitude of 10,000 feet and an accompanying story with bold headline proclaiming it to the be “Highest Dwelling In U. S.” appears in a recent issue of Popular Mechanics. The pictures and story look nice in print; however, they strike a discordant note in the spirit of local citizens and business men who have made their home in Leadville, an incorporated city nestling at the foot of one of the highest mountains in the United States at an altitude of 10,200 feet.

Leadville raises its voice in protest to the proclamation that one mere dwelling, “for the purpose of providing shelter for mountaineers who may be overtaken by storms,” situated at an altitude of 10,000 feet is the highest dwelling in the U. S. Possibly the history of the Cloud City has escaped the attention of a very few citizens in the United States.

Leadville is an incorporated city and claims an altitude of 10,200 feet. It has a population of 3,500. Its streets are well kept and well lighted, while its business houses and residences are substantially built. Schools offer the best educational possibilities, churches are well founded and public institutions are well supported. No need to repeat the history of Leadville — it is the History of the West.

Public spirited citizens yesterday took steps to inform the editor of Popular Mechanics as to the altitude, location and history of Leadville, and also to protest the story which recently appeared in that magazine.


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