History of Portland Oregon Presbyterian Churches

In November, 1849, Rev. Horace Lyman and wife arrived. Mr. Lyman had been sent out by the Home Missionary Society in 1847, but remained at San Jose, California, one year engaged in teaching. After his arrival in Portland he at once began the work of building up a church. In 1850, one of the town proprietors, D. H. Lownsdale, gave the ground and the citizens made liberal donations to carry out the project. With this assistance Mr. Lyman began the erection of a church building at the South end of Second street. Much of the manual labor connected with the task was performed by this zealous minister, and so hard did he work that he fell ill from over-exertion. He soon, however, rallied and prosecuted the work with such vigor that the building was completed and dedicated June 15, 1851. Revs. George H. Atkinson, J. S. Griffin and Harvey Clark assisted Mr. Lyman in the dedication ceremonies. The building was 32×48 feet in dimensions; had a belfry and a small spire and cost $6,400. Mr. Lyman was pastor for four years and a half when he removed to Dallas. For a year and a half thereafter Rev. Geo. H. Atkinson officiated as pastor but continued during this period to reside at Oregon City. In November, 1855, Rev. P. B. Chamberlain was installed pastor. During his pastorate, which covered a period of over five years, a large number of the congregation withdrew to form another Presbyterian Church, as had been the case during Mr. Lyman’s pastorate, but both movements were unsuccessful. When Mr. Chamberlain’s labors closed, in March, 1862, the church was in a very weak condition, and for more than a year thereafter was without a settled pastor.

In July, 1863, Rev. George H. Atkinson became pastor and under his labors many were added to the church. In 1870, the old house of worship became too small for the congregation and the present church building on the corner of Second and Jefferson streets was begun. It was finished in the following year and first used on August 6, 1871. During the labors of Dr. Atkinson, which continued until December, 1872, the church made substantial progress and was placed on a firm basis.

Dr. Atkinson was followed by Rev. J. D. Eaton, who remained until May, 1876, when he resigned to enter another field. For a year and a half thereafter Rev. J. H. Acton, of the Methodist church, supplied the pulpit. In April, 1877, Rev. J. A. Cruzan became pastor. He was succeeded by Frederick R. Marvin in 1883, who remained three years, when the present pastor, Rev. T. E. Clapp, assumed charge of the congregation.

During Dr. Atkinson’s pastorate Plymouth Church congregation was organized, in 1871, and soon after the present church building on the corner of Fourteenth and E streets was erected. For some years Dr. Atkinson officiated at both churches, but in 1880 Rev. E. P. Baker assumed charge of the Plymouth congregation. The latter remained but a short time and since that time the following pastors have been stationed at different times over this church : Revs. E. R. Loomis, George H. Lee, George H. Atkinson and Ezra Haskell. The present pastor is Rev. C. T. Whittlesey.

The Mount Zion Congregational Church was also established through the efforts of the members of the First Church. It was organized in 1879 and during its early existence was almost wholly dependent on the First Church. It has now become self-supporting and for several years has been presided over by Rev. A. W. Bowman.

The first Episcopal clergyman who came to Oregon was the Rev. St. M. Fackler. He crossed the plains in the year 1847, in search of health. The first services of the church of which we have any record were held by him in Oregon City in 1847. His health continuing poor, however, he made no efforts to establish anywhere any stated services or to organize a parish.

It was not until 1851 that any definite steps were taken by the church in the East to send a missionary to Oregon. In April of that year Rev. William Richmond, of the Diocese of New York, was’ sent to Oregon and on Sunday, May 18, together with Mr. Fackler he .held services in the Methodist house of worship in Portland. Some idea of the newness of the country and of the hardships endured by missionaries at that time may be gathered from the following extract from a letter written by Mr. Richmond shortly after his arrival in Portland: “I occupy a room in a shanty, merely clap-boards, quite open to the air; with a rough, unplanned, ungrooved floor; no carpets, no plastering, no ceiling. For this I pay twelve dollars a month, three dollars (fifteen was the price) having been deduced on account of my mission. I also do my own cooking, and gather my own wood out of the forest behind me; yet my expenses will be as great as in a good boarding house in New York.”

At the conclusion of his first service in Portland, May 18, 1851, Mr. Richmond organized Trinity Parish, it being the first parish organized in the Diocese of Oregon and Washington. From that time until the arrival of Rev. John McCarthy, D. D., of the Diocese of New York, who in Jan., 1853, as Chaplain in the army, came to Fort Vancouver, Mr. Fackler at stated times held services in Trinity Parish. There were only about two or three families connected with the church. On his arrival Dr. McCarthy was persuaded to take charge of the work here in connection with his chaplaincy at Vancouver.

In October, 1853, Rev. Thomas Fielding Scott, of the Diocese of Georgia, was elected Missionary Bishop of Oregon and Washington, and arrived in Portland in April, 1854, to enter upon his new field of labor. The first church erected in Trinity Parish was consecrated by Bishop Scott, September 24, 1854. It stood on the northwest corner of Third and Oak streets and was the first church building of this denomination consecrated on the Pacific Coast.

In 1867, Trinity Parish bought a half block on the corner of Sixth and Oak streets, upon which the present church building now stands. The corner stone of this building was laid on April 25, 1872, but the edifice was not completed until the following year.

Upon the creation of the Diocese of Oregon and Washington, Portland became and has since remained the headquarters of the Diocese. Bishop Scott, although his labors extended over a vast field, resided at Portland and did much to strengthen and build up Trinity Parish. He died in New York City in 1867, whither he had gone for the benefit of his wife’s health. His genial manners and his marked ability, as a preacher, won for him the affection and commanded the respect of all who had ever heard him preach, or who had been personally acquainted with him. He did much for the church during its darkest days in this portion of the North-west, while his labors in behalf of education have since borne abundant fruit. He was succeeded as Bishop by Rt. Rev. B. Wistar Morris, D. D., in June, 1869. For several years thereafter the Diocese continued to embrace Oregon and Washington, but during late years Oregon has been a separate Diocese, over which Bishop Morris still presides.

The following are the names of the clergymen who have officiated in Trinity Parish from time to time, since its organization to the present day: 1851 and 1856, Rev. William Richmond, Rev. St. M. Fackler, Rev. John McCarthy, Rt. Rev. Thomas Fielding Scott, D. D., and Rev. Johnston McCormas; 1856, the Bishop, Rev. James L. Daly and Rev. John Sellwood; 1857 to 1860, Rev. John Sellwood, Rev. Carlton P. Maples and Rev. Peter E. Hyland; 1861 to 1865, Rev. Peter E. Hyland; 1866 to 1871, Rev. William Story; 1871 to present time, Rev. R. D. Nevins, Rev. George Burton, Rev. George F. Plummer, Rev. George W. Foote and Rev. Thomas L. Cole, the last named being the present Rector.

In the year 1863, St. Stephen’s Chapel, on the corner of Madison and Fourth streets, was completed and opened for service, thus affording two places where Episcopal services were conducted in Portland. It was projected and built at his own expense by Bishop Scott. Rev. John Sellwood was the first Rector. In 1870 Rev. John Rosenberg became Rector and has ever since most ably discharged the duties of pastor. On June 1, 1882, the present church building on the corner of Jefferson and Fifth streets was consecrated.

The parish connected with St. Matthew’s Chapel was formed in 1885, and has a commodious church edifice on the corner of First and Caruthers streets. Rev. B. E. Habersham has been rector ever . since the parish was organized.

Trinity Mission Chapel is of recent origin, and for a time was under the charge of the Bishop of the Diocese. A chapel has been built on the northeast corner of Eighteenth and Q streets. For some time Rev. Wm. MacEwan has been rector.

St. David’s Episcopal Church parish, East Portland, was formed in 1871, and in December of that year the first services were held by Rev. J. W. Sellwood in the present church building, but the edifice was not completed until nearly a year thereafter. Rev. C. R. Bonnell assumed charge of the congregation in 1872 and remained about a year. For a time Rev. James R. W. Sellwood officiated. He was followed in 1874 by Rev. Arthur W. Wrixon, who continued as rector for seven years, when Rev. J. W. Sellwood 1 took charge of the work. The church numbers one hundred and eighty-five communicants and is in a prosperous condition.

The first Baptist church on the Pacific coast was organized at West Union, Washington county, Oregon, May 25, 1844. Two years later the first Baptist meeting house was built at this point. From 1844 to 1848, Rev. Vincent Snelling, Elders Hezekiah Johnson, Erza Fisher and Porter ministered to the congregation. In 1848 the Willamette Baptist Association was organized, at which time there were six churches in the State.

In 1850 the first steps toward the organization of a Baptist church in Portland, were taken. In this year Hezekiah Johnson secured from Stephen Coffin the donation of a half block, corner of Fourth and Alder streets, upon which the First Baptist Church now stands. Five years later a church organization was perfected with ten members. Rev. W. F. Boyakin was chosen pastor and Josiah Failing deacon. The church was unfortunate in the choice of a pastor and in 1860 only three members remained. With the hope of reviving the church, the Willamette Association appealed to the American Baptist Mission Society to place a missionary in the field. In response to this request, Rev. Samuel Cornelius, D. D., was sent to labor in Portland. He arrived in June, 1860 and on the first Sunday in July preached in the Methodist church. A public hall on First street was afterward secured where regular meetings were held until January, 1862, when the basement of the present church was so far completed as to be used for religious services.

In September, 1864, Dr. Cornelius returned to the east, leaving a membership of forty-nine persons. During the next two years the church was without a pastor. December 27, 1866, Rev. E. C. Anderson arrived to take charge of the church.

March 9, 1867, the society was incorporated, and in January, 1870, the church edifice was completed and dedicated. Mr. Anderson completed his labors in December, 1870, after which a pastoral vacancy of nearly eighteen months occurred.

On the second Sunday in June, 1872, Rev. Henry Medbury’s began his pastorate. The church soon after became self-supporting, and under Mr. Medbury’s guidance the first mission work of the church was began. A Sunday School was organized in East Portland; land purchased there for a church and preaching services were for some time maintained by Rev. Addison Jones. The Mission school in Stephen’s Addition, and the Chinese Mission were soon after founded.

In August, 1875, the pastorate of Mr. Medbury closed and that of Rev. D. J. Pierce began. Failing health induced Mr. Pierce to tender his resignation in June, 1877, and in August following, Rev. A. S. Coates became pastor. The latter was succeeded by Rev. John A. Gray in December, 1880, who remained for three years. During his pastorate the church was enlarged and refitted.

In May, 1884, Rev. J. Q. A. Henry became pastor, and during the four years of his pastorate the church had a very prosperous period, over 400 accessions to the membership being made. The present pastor, Rev. John Gordon, was installed in October, 1888.

The First Baptist congregation is one of the largest in the city, the members numbering over 500. Large contributions to mission work, local and foreign are made, while every effort put forth to establish Baptist churches within, or near the vicinity of Portland, has been liberally sustained by :he congregation. In 1874, a Baptist Mission School was founded in Stephen’s Addition, East Portland. This was the first attempt at home mission work by the congregation Four years later twenty-two members from the First Church were dismissed to form the First Baptist Church of East Portland, and about the same time a chapel in Stephen’s Addition was dedicated.

The Emanuel Baptist Church is the outgrowth of the Meade street mission, established early in 1884. In May, 1886, a chapel was erected on the corner of Second and Meade streets, where services are now regularly held by the pastor, Rev. B. F. Rattray, who in 1888 succeeded Rev. Frederick Eason.

The First Scandinavian Baptist Church was organized in 1884, through the efforts of Rev. Gustavus Liljoroth. Rev. O. O’Kerson became pastor in 1885, and was succeeded by the present pastor, Rev. Nicholas Nayland, in 1886. Recently a new church building has been erected by this congregation at 109 North Eleventh street, North Portland.Citations:

  1. Rev. J. W. Sellwood died in March, 1890.[]

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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