1867 - 1944
Canon Charles Winfred Douglas was regarded as a renaissance man and leader of Evergreen’s early Episcopalian movement.
His musical compositions and translations of Gregorian chants were his life’s work. The pieces he translated from Latin to English made hymns for Episcopal church services adored and sung by congregations worldwide.
Charles was born in Oswego, New York in 1867; and his father, Virgil Chittenden Douglas, encouraged an interest in church music.
It was during his youth that Winfred first considered the ministry.
By his early twenties, he had entered Syracuse University, followed by a role in 1892 as organist and choirmaster at St. Timothy’s Church in New York City. He also attended St. Andrew Divinity School.
He received an invitation from Dean Henry Martyn Hart of St. John’s Cathedral in Denver to work on its musical program. The relocation to an arid climate was beneficial to his health, which was always a concern.
The association with Doctor Josepha Williams, of Evergreen, led to marriage in 1896 and later a son. Three years later, Evergreen’s Church of the Transfiguration was established; and Charles was designated priest.
The union would change Douglas’ life, since “Dr. Jo’s” mother’s estate, which included most of downtown Evergreen, provided the financial independence he needed to travel and work toward the publication of his plainsong compositions. Most notably he wrote Church Music in History and Practice, which was reissued in 1963. The St. Dunstan Kyrial, a compilation of 12 plainsong masses, was published in 1933.
One of Douglas’ greatest contributions to Evergreen’s religious and cultural history was the formation in July 1907 of The Evergreen Conference, a six-week summer school of church music. It was a summer retreat for visiting faculty and clergy candidates. People came from all over the states to attend.
In Evergreen, classes in Christian education, liturgical music as well as chorale techniques and conducting, were offered for choirmasters, organists and clergy.
Under Douglas’ direction, the program was centered on religious education, social service and missions. Credit was given for teachers in training and a special program was offered for the wives of clergy. Fees were about $10 to $15 a week. In 1925 attendance was reported to be 325. At its peak in 1961, it had grown to 1,200.
In 1937 Douglas became Vicar at Evergreen’s Mission of the Transfiguration and spent most every summer at the school where cabins and buildings continued to multiply.
In 1972 there were 57 on campus involved in music school. The family conference was poorly attended with only four conferees in residence and 5 to 12 commuters. The largest attendance for any one session that year was 24. The governing board worried about declining attendance and the lack of winterized facilities.
But in 1982 a news headline shouted: “A summer of all-stars!” Classes were open to the public. At this time the Episcopalian Diocese of Colorado was in the process of taking over the conference with plans to renovate buildings for year-round use.
In 1983 fees were $200 per week. Other churches sometimes inquired about renting the camp for a day for a group of up to 50 people for $100. The Conference also advertised to offer 10 matching grant scholarships for week-long conferences in July.
Classes were held at what is now Center Stage, as well as on the southern end of the campus across Bear Creek. Sessions originally were 10 days to two weeks. The Church Conference was designated a National Historic District in 1979.
Early on, Douglas and his wife donated much of the property for the school to the Diocese with an added annual amount of $1,000 per year for maintenance.
After Douglas died in 1944 Rev. John W. Norris wrote in The Living Church: “Canon Douglas established the Evergreen Conference for clergy and laity and built it in to one of the largest and most influential of its type.”
Shelley Black, one of the current historians at the Church of the Transfiguration, said, “We usually sing at least one of his orchestrated pieces each year.”
In 1996 the conference moved to Winter Park where it operated until 2001. Although the intent was to restart in Evergreen, that did not occur.
A message in an unsigned letter on Evergreen Church Music Conference letterhead reads: “Thank you for your interest in the Evergreen Music Conference. The 2002 Evergreen Church Music Conference has been cancelled due to funding issues, please watch for next year.”
Sources: Hiwan Homestead Museum archives; To Praise God: The Life and Work of Charles Winfred Douglas by Leonard Ellinwood and Anne Woodward Douglas; The Episcopal Church in Colorado 1860-1963 by Allen DuPont Breck; The Summer Conferences for Clergy and Lay Workers of the Episcopal Church at Evergreen, Colorado; "Church of the Transfiguration" 1899-1999 by Ruth Brookfield, Canyon Courier, June 2, 1982 and May 17, 1962; Local history files of Mary Helen Crain
Photo courtesy St. John’s Cathedral, Denver