History of Portland Oregon Churches


The advent of religious teachers in this portion of the West had an important bearing upon its history and destiny. Those of the Protestant faith became prominent factors in securing American settlement and occupation of the country which resulted in the acquisition of the Territory of Oregon to the United States. The part they bore in the long struggle for possession of this great domain-an empire within itself-has been treated of in preceding pages and needs here no further elaboration. They came at first solely moved by religious motives, but the conditions that surrounded them induced them to play a part of the utmost consequence to their country. Their purely religious mission became in the progress of events a semi-political one-a departure entirely excusable on the ground of patriotism, good morals and common sense.

No organized effort was made to christianize the Indians of the Columbia, until several years after the country had been visited by American explorers. It was not until 1832 that the missionary societies of the East concluded to send religious teachers among the Aborigines of the Pacific Slope. The matter was then taken hold of by the Methodist Board of Missions and the American Board of Commissioners of Foreign Missions, a society supported by the Congregational, Presbyterian and Dutch Reformed denominations. The Methodists were the first to take the field. Rev. Jason Lee was given direction of the work, and associated with him were Rev. Daniel Lee, Cyrus Shepard and P. L. Edwards. This missionary party arrived in the Willamette Valley in 1834, and established a mission station ten miles below the present city of Salem. Somewhat briefly has been traced the progress of this pioneer band of religious workers in preceding pages of this volume. They laid the foundation of Methodism in Oregon and the growth of this denomination from that time to the present forms an interesting theme, but the province of this work precludes a proper treatment of the subject.

When the first Methodist Church was organized in Portland in 1848 there were only ten Methodist ministers in Oregon. Rev. J. H. Wilbur was the first pastor, and during his pastorate a church building was erected in 1850. It was a plain but roomy frame building, with its gable fronting on Taylor street near Third, and became known as the Taylor Street Church. In 1869, the present brick church, costing $35,000, on the corner of Third and Taylor, was erected.

The Taylor Street Church is the strongest, both in members and means, among the Methodist churches in Oregon. It has over 500 members and is the largest contributor to benevolent objects and mission work in the Oregon conference. The following ministers have served this church from the beginning of its history to the present time: J. H. Wilbur, 1848-9; J. L. Parrish, 1849-50; J. H. Wilbur, 1850-1; C. S. Kingsley, 1851-52; H. K. Hines, 1853; P. G. Buchanan, 1854; Wm. Roberts, 1855-6; D. Rutledge, 1857; W. S. Lewis, 1858-9 I. Dillon, 1860-1; D. Rutledge, 1862-4; B. C. Lippincott, 1865; C. C. Stratton, 1866-7; J. H. White, 1868; Wm. Roberts, 1869-70; Geo. W. Ozer, 1871-3; Robert Bentley, 1874-5; C. V.’ Anthony, 1876-7; J. H. Acton, 1878-80; Geo. W. Izer, 1881-83; G. W. Chandler, 1884-5; W. M. Mullinix, 1886; J. W. Alderman, 1886. The present pastor, Rev. Alfred Kummer, came in September, 1887.

St. Paul’s M. E. Church was organized in 1869. The first pastor was Rev. A. C. Fairchild. The house of worship used by the congregation of this church is located on the corner of Hall and Sixth streets. The present membership is one hundred and twenty. The pastors who have officiated in this church in order of service have been: A. C. Fairchild, Wm. Roberts, T. F. Royal, W. C. Chatlin, John F. Flynn, M. Judy, H. K. Hines, G. M. Pierce, J. W. Klepper –and the present pastor, C. E. Cline.

The Centenary M. E. Church of East Portland, was organized in 1867 and has a membership of two hundred and thirty-eight persons. The first pastor was Rev. J. N. Dennison. Rev. J. W. Bushong is the present pastor. The church building is located on the corner of Ninth and J streets.

Grace M. E. Church was organized in April, 1884, at which time several member withdrew from the Taylor street church to perfect the organization. Rev. E. W. Caswell was assigned to the new society, under whose labors a neat chapel was built at the corner of Eleventh and Taylor streets. The society grew rapidly and soon numbered among its members many of the most prominent citizens of Portland. The quarters first erected soon became too small for the large congregations which gathered at the chapel, and the erection of the present beautiful church edifice on the corner of Tenth and Taylor streets was begun. This building was completed at. a cost of $55,000 and dedicated on December 15, 1889. It has a seating capacity of 780. In general architecture the style is colonial. The main tower is principally of stone. The entrance is of the same material in form of an arch and is an impressive and pleasing piece of work. While the superstructure is of wood, the general finish and appearance is such as to give the impression of a stone building throughout.

Rev. Ross C. Houghton, D. D., the present pastor, succeeded Mr. Caswell in October, 1887. He has passed many years in the ministry; has traveled extensively, and is a popular author. His ministration has given great satisfaction to the congregation. Although this church has had an existence of only a little more than five years it stands third in number of members in the Oregon conference, and is regarded as a most desirable appointment.

The German M. E. Church was organized in 1880. A church edifice has since been erected at the corner of North Eighth and D streets where services are conducted in the German language. Rev. Frederick Bohn was the first pastor. He was succeeded by Rev. J. C. Sinclair. Rev. Frederick Bohn again became pastor in 1885, serving until 1888, when Rev. George Hartung, the present pastor, succeeded him.

The Norwegian-Danish M. E. Church was organized in November, 1882, by Rev. C. J. Larsen with fifteen members. At that time meetings were held in a chapel on Third street. Great interest was awakened by these services and but a short time elapsed until a lot was purchased by the congregation on the corner of Twelfth and D street, where a neat and commodious church has since been erected. Rev. C. J. Larson still officiates as pastor.

The Methodists have been foremost in the establishment of mission branches of this denomination in the vicinity of Portland during recent years.

The East Portland M. E. Church, organized in October, 1887, with a new house of worship on the corner of Tenth and Adams streets, dedicated in February, 1890, is the outgrowth of their work in this direction. The Albina M. E. Church, corner of Russell and Kirby street is also of recent growth. Both of these churches are presided over by Rev. G. M. Pierce, under whom they are enjoying great prosperity. For several years a Chinese mission has been sustained, of which Rev. Andrew J. Hanson is superintendent.

The Zion M. E. Church corner of Main and Eleventh streets, was built in 1.881, and is a house of worship for the Africans of Portland. At present no regular pastor is stationed over this congregation and services are only occasionally held.

In membership the Methodists outnumber any other religious denomination in Portland except the Catholics. At the Annual State Conference of 1889, the number of members belonging to the Taylor Street, St. Paul’s and Grace churches of Portland; the Centenary and Adam’s Street churches, of East Portland, and the Albina church was reported as 1,340.

The Catholics followed the Methodists in point of time in the establishment of churches in Oregon. As early as the winter of 1839-40 they erected a church at Champoeg, in the Willamette Valley, although for some years previously they had been steadily making converts to their faith among the Indians. In 1838 Rev. F. N. Blanchet and Rev. Modiste Demers were appointed by the Arch-bishop of Quebec as missionaries to the Pacific coast country, the former as vicar-general. For four years they toiled alone in their mission field which extended from the Pacific coast to the Rocky Mountains, between the California boundary and the northern glacial sea. They were then joined by other laborers in religious work and from that time the Catholic faith has been upheld by able and conscientious workers.

The first movement toward the erection of a Catholic church in Portland was commenced in the fall of 1851, at which time Rev. James Croke was authorized by Archbishop Blanchet to solicit donations for the purpose. About $600 was secured through subscriptions from residents of Portland, with which half a block of ground was purchased from Capt. J. H. Couch, somewhere in the vicinity of Sixth and D streets, and the building commenced.

During the erection of the church, the few Catholics who were then in Portland, used to assemble at the residences of Catholic families, until the completion of the little sacristy at the end of the church, where for the first time midnight mass was celebrated at Christmas, 1851. By February, 1852, the work was sufficiently advanced to have the building dedicated, the services being per-formed by Archbishop F. N. Blanchet, assisted by Very Rev. J. B. Brouillet, Vicar-general of Nesqualy and Rev. James Croke, pastor. The edifice itself at this time was a mere shell, the inside walls being covered with cotton cloth, and the sanctuary and altar with Chinese matting.

The church remained on the original site until 1854, when it was moved to the site now occupied by the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, on the corner of Third and Stark streets. Here the building remained for the next ten years without change. When in 1862, the Most Rev. Archbishop removed from Oregon City to Portland, this humble church became the pro-Cathedral. In October, 1863, Very Rev. J. F. Fierens, V. G., was appointed to take charge of the pro-Cathedral. By this time the congregation had so. increased as to require a larger building. Under Vicar-general Fierens, two wings were added to the main building which were completed in the fall of 1864, the first service in the enlarged church being celebrated on Christmas . day of that year. Seven years later it again became necessary to enlarge the building to meet the needs of the congregation. This was accomplished between August and October, 1871. During the next seven years, the Catholic population of Portland had so increased that it was found necessary to erect a larger building. The old edifice was removed and in its place was built the present Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. It is a Gothic structure fronting on Stark street. It was .dedicated in 1882, and at present is completed with the exception of the main tower. Very Rev. J. F. Fierens, V. G., has been pastor of this church since 1863, but for several years past he has had from one to two assistants. The present assistants are: Rev. Edward O’Dea and Rev. J. Northman.

Since 1862 Portland has been the residence of the Archbishop of the Diocese of Oregon. Archbishop Blanchet continued in charge of .the Diocese until his death in 1885, when the Most Rev. Wm. H. Gross was appointed.

The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception remained the only Catholic house of worship in this vicinity until 1874, when St. Francis Church in East Portland was built. On January 9, 1882, this church, which stood on the corner of Eleventh and J streets, was blown down by the memorable storm of that date, after which the present edifice was built on the same site. Rev. L. Verhaag is pastor of this church.

The next Catholic house of worship erected was the Church of St. Lawrence, on the corner of Third and Sherman streets, built in 1883. In 1886 St. Joseph Church, on the corner of Fourteenth and C streets, was built; and in 1888, St. Patrick’s on S street, between Eighteenth and Nineteenth streets, and the Church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, in Albina. In the Church of St. Joseph the services are conducted in the German language. The pastors of the churches last named are as follows: Church of St. Lawrence, Rev. B. Orth; St. Patrick’s, Rev. P. Gibney; Church of St. Joseph, Rev. Dr. Albert Sommer; Church of the Itntnaculate Heart of Mary, Rev. G. B. Van Lin.

According to the best authority the present Catholic population of Portland and vicinity is between 7,000 and 8,000.

The first Congregational minister in Oregon was Rev. Harvey Clark, an independent missionary, who organized a church in Oregon City in 1844. In 1847 the American Home Missionary Society sent Rev. George H. Atkinson and wife to labor in Oregon. In the early part of 1848 Mr. Atkinson held two services – in Portland, one in a log shingle shop, and the other in an old warehouse, the congregation crowding in among bales and boxes of goods. Occasional services were afterwards held by Mr. Atkinson and Revs. Harvey Clark and C. Eells.

Church, History,

Harvey Whitefield Scott. History of Portland, Oregon: with Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of Prominent Citizens and Pioneers. Portland, Oregon. D. Mason & Company, 1890.

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