At dawn on April 21, 1935, “the throbbing greeting of the trumpets provided a perfect start to a beautiful Easter service” at Easter Hill on the Redlands, The Daily Sentinel reported the following day.
The service was “the most impressive this city has ever had,” the Sentinel added. “Hundreds of people, hundreds more than ever in previous years, were in attendance before dawn broke” at 5:29 a.m.
An accurate count of those who attended the service on the hill west of Grand Junction was not given by the newspaper. But 1935 was probably near the height of Easter Hill’s popularity for Sunrise Services.
Although services there continued for nearly two decades, they did not receive the same publicity in the Sentinel as the service in the midst of the Great Depression.
In 1954, if not earlier, Sunrise Services stood at the Colorado National Monument—as well as a few other places around the Grand Valley—and Easter Hill began to fade.
Today Easter Hill is part of a 600 acre property known as the main planned community of Redlands 360, which was recently approved as a planned development. Easter Hill is a short hike from the end of Easter Hill Drive.
The Redlands 360 project will include a considerable amount of open space, cycle paths and hiking trails, many of which already exist, including the one that leads to the top of Easter Hill.
Easter Hill will be maintained as open space and the existing trail network will be improved during development.
One of the development’s many small parks, with a paved parking lot and trailhead, will be built next to Easter Hill. The developers hope to include information highlighting Easter Hill’s history in their trail signage.
This history as a site of religious services began around 1924.
However, the first Sunrise Services on the Redlands, from 1920 or 1921, actually took place a few miles west of Easter Hill, on a hill behind what was then the Redlands School, which is now the 2175 Broadway.
A Redlands resident named George W. Kelly came up with the idea of an Easter sunrise service in the area after attending a similar service in California.
With his Sunday school class, or the Kelly boys as they were called, he built a path to the top of the mound, built a wooden cross and arranged for local clergymen and choir singers are present for the first service.
Women from the Redlands prepared breakfast and coffee for attendees, and Kelly and her youngsters brought firewood to keep attendees warm that March morning.
Newspaper accounts of this first Sunrise service estimate that 150 to 200 people attended.
Most arrived before 6 a.m. in cars and parked at Redlands School, then walked up the hill to where the service was held.
Others walked from places on the Redlands. A man named William Buthorn reportedly walked from Grand Junction, refusing all offers of a ride.
For the next 35 years Easter Sunrise Services would be held almost annually in the Redlands, although in 1924 the service was moved to a site more easily accessible to automobiles.
This place soon became known as Easter Hill.
During the first few years after moving to the new location, the Kelly boys built traffic lights along Grand Junction Road to guide motorists to the new site.
A number of children present slowly climbed the hill “with a gift of flowers to scatter at the foot of the cross”, according to a 1928 article in the Sentinel.
At the time the services were moved to Easter Hill, they were conducted under the auspices of the Grand Junction Ministerial Alliance.
Attendance in the late 1920s ranged from 400 to 600 people each year, according to newspaper accounts. But in the 1930s, estimated attendance in some years was close to 1,000.
According to newspaper reports, by the early 1930s, Kelly and the boys in her Sunday school class were no longer the primary organizers of the event. A variety of churches from different denominations helped with preparations and services.
And the Redlands Women’s Club was an integral part of Easter Hill services, continuing to provide food, flowers and other amenities.
However, Easter Hill on the Redlands was not the only place to acquire this name.
By the late 1920s, the Palisade and Clifton churches had begun holding their own Sunrise service at a point in East Orchard Mesa, which they also called Easter Hill.
To add to the confusion, the first site in the Redlands where Sunrise Services had taken place began to be called Old Easter Hill, much like the Grand Mesa sledding and snowboarding hill that never became part of the Powderhorn ski resort was called Old. Powderhorn for a while.
School classes and individuals marched up the hill where the first Easter sunrise services were held.
Sunrise Services continued at the second site, Easter Hill in the Redlands, until the early 1950s.
However, religious services were not the only things that happened there.
In October 1935, the Sentinel reported that a group of more than 40 people gathered at Easter Hill to enjoy a roast sausage to celebrate the birthdays of three local men: Marvel Chinn, Howard K. Smith and Willis Blevins.
For several years before World War II, the Sunset Riders Motorcycle Club held a series of motorcycle races on and around Easter Hill each fall.
In 1940, the main race –– for what was called the Tourist Trophy –– attracted amateur and professional riders from several states. It has been sanctioned by the American Motorcycle Association.
The races were apparently abandoned during the war, but in the post-war years a new contest was born.
In 1947 and for several years thereafter, the Grand Junction Gun Club held a turkey hunt on Easter Hill in late December.
And on July 4, 1951, Easter Hill was the site of a large fireworks display, sponsored by several local American Legion posts.
In 1954, a Sunrise Service sponsored by the United Christian Youth Movement was held at what was called the Colorado National Monument Picnic Ground.
It is unclear from newspaper reports of the time if this was the first Sunrise Service at the monument, or if they had been occurring for several years.
With a few exceptions, such as the 2020 hiatus due to COVID-19, Sunrise Services has been at Colorado National Monument every year since then.
Services this year are scheduled at the Saddleback Campground on the monument, beginning at 6:30 a.m.
The services will be sponsored by the United Methodist Churches of Redlands and Fruita.
Yet Easter Hill remains a prominent feature of the Redlands, which will continue to be accessible to the public.
Sources: historical editions of the Daily Sentinel at www.newspapers.com. Redlands 360 development.