Historic Churches of Washington

When the first American immigrants to Puget Sound arrived in 1845 at the head of Budd Inlet, they found the Methodist Mission at American Lake, near Nisqually, abandoned. The Catholics, however, still held their ground among the natives and H. B. Co.’s servants; and there was the mission church of St Francis Xavier at Cowlitz farm, and what was claimed, for preemption purposes, to be a chapel, on Whidbey Island. At Vancouver in 1840 the church of St James, begun the year previous, was completed, by which the Catholic Church subsequently endeavored to hold the town site of Vancouver, and the garrison grounds with property which was worth a million of dollars. This claim, as well as the one on Whidbey Island, failed after long litigation. East of the Cascades in 1846 were already established the mission of St Ignatius in the Flathead country, the chapel of St Paul near Fort Colville, while St Francis Regis in the Colville Valley was projected. These were the works of the Jesuits under De Smet. In the Stillaguamish Valley Hancock in 1849 found the Indians making the sign of the cross. Hancock’s Thirteen Years, MS., 160. The year previous Pascal Rieard of the Oblate fathers, with some lay brethren, established the mission of St Joseph on the east side of Budd Inlet a mile north of Olympia, on the 14th of June, securing by a continuous residence a donation claim for his church. At the same time or a little earlier the same order established the Ahtanam Mission in the Yakima Country. The Cayuse War and other causes operated against missionary work among the Indians; but Blanchet, bishop of Walla Walla, remained for some time in the Cayuse country and stationed a priest in the valley when he left it to go abroad. Father Lionnet took up his residence among the Chinooks in 1851, accompanied by an associate, Le Pretre. According to Swan, they made little progress beyond baptizing their so-called converts. Near the forks of the Chehalis River the church secured 640 acres of land, and the claim formerly occupied by Thibault, at Monticello.

After the close of the Indian War on Puget Sound, in 1857, the diocese of Nisqually being divided into four districts, Blanchet appointed the abbé Rossi cure of Puget Sound, to minister to those of his denomination whom he might find there, and to act as vicar of the lay brethren established among the natives. He established himself near Fort Steilacoom, here was erected for him a rude chapel and residence, and where he could enjoy the society of the officers of the garrison, as well as endeavor to restrain the intemperance of the soldiers. During the six years of his residence in Washington half his congregation were non-catholic. During his stay he baptized 400 or 500 native children, performed 20 marriages, erected six churches, and received the abjurgation of three Protestants. The church at Port Townsend, for which 5,000 francs had been collected, called Etoilo de la Mer, was erected in 1839 -60. The church at Olympia was small, but must have been sufficient for the congregation, which numbered but fifteen parishioners, including children learning the catechism. Six lay fathers had an establishment an hour’s ride southwest from Olympia, where the superior had taken a claim of half a section of land, and where there was a dwelling-house, chapel, huts for the Indians, a garden, and orchard. In 1858 the superior of this community returned to Europe, and two others established a mission on the Snohomish River, another opened a mission at Esquimault, and the youngest two joined the two priests at Olympia. The Snohomish Mission was but a hut of bark, with a few boards, and straw thatch.

Rossi-see Souvenirs d’un Voyage en Oregon et en Californie, appears to have been industrious, and to have preached whenever occasion offered, to Catholics and Protestants alike. In 1859 he prevailed upon the legislative assembly to incorporate the Sisters of Charity at Vancouver, where they had established an orphanage, and it was greatly through his influence that the care of the insane of the territory was committed to them. He left Washington for California in 1800, but did not abandon the territory definitely until 1863.

In the latter year J. B. Brouillette purchased forty acres of land from E. H. Barron near Walla Walla, and erected on it St Vincent’s Academy for Girls, which was opened in 1864. A chapel was also erected on the land of William McBean on the Walla Walla River at or near the site of the modern Whitman. St Joseph’s school for boys was opened at Walla Walla about the same time, and in 1865 a church was dedicated at that place, fathers Holde and Delahunty officiating. Father Cherouse, who was formerly at Walla Walla, was in 1868 conducting an Indian boys’ school at Tulalip Reservation. A building was subsequently erected for girls, who were instructed by Sisters of Charity.

The first Catholic Church dedicated in Olympia was in 1870; the first in Seattle in 1871, tho latter being built under the superintendence of Father Prefontaine. Seattle Times, April 2, 1871.

In 1852 the Methodist conference of Oregon assigned Benjamin Close to a pastorate at Olympia. He preached his first sermon on the 26th of Dec. in schoolhouse just erected in that place. The congregation had but just left it when the roof fell in from the weight of accumulated snow. Olympia Columbian, Dec. 25, 1852, and Jan. 1, 1853; Roder’s Bellingham Bay, MS., 18. The snowfall of 1852-3 was excessive, being about 4 feet in depth. A meetinghouse was erected in the following April, services being held in the mean time in any rooms which could be obtained. The same month Close and an associate, Morse, made a tour of the settlements down the Sound, and Morse was assigned to duty. A Methodist Church was dedicated at Steilacoom in Feb. 1851, the pastor being J. F. Devore, who preached the dedication sermon, an address being delivered also by I. I. Stevens, the newly arrived governor. Devore, politician as well as preacher, arrived by sea in August 1833. At the same time arrived D. Blain, who was stationed at Seattle.

In the spring of 1854 George F. Whitworth arrived at Olympia, having immigrated from Indiana the previous autumn, and wintered at Portland, where the Oregon presbytery had assigned him to Puget Sound as the first missionary of the Presbyterian Church since the destruction of the mission in the Cayuse Country, and the abandonment of those of Lapwai and Chemakane. He began preaching in the hall of representatives in July, organizing a Sabbath school, and dividing his time between Olympia, Grand Mound prairie., and Claquato, until the Indian War interrupted travel between these points and forced the settlers into blockhouses. Olympia Echo, July 31, 1873; Whitworth’s Statesmen, MS. 1-3. The first Presbyterian church of Olympia was organized by Whitworth in 1854, and according to Edward R. Geary, who wrote a centennial history of the Oregon presbytery in 1876, Mr Goodsell of that organization formed the church at Grand Mound prairie. Whitworth continued preaching and teaching, being at one time in charge of the territorial university at Seattle, and engaging subsequently in various enterprises more profitable than those pertaining to his profession in a new country.

The first Presbyterian Church incorporated by legislative enactment was that of Chambers’ prairie, the Presbyterian Church and School of Chambers’ Prairie, Feb. 1, 185S, with A. J. Chambers, Joseph White, A. W. Stewart, Marcus McMillan, David Chambers, and Abijah O’Neal as trustees. Wash. Stat., 1857-8, 46-7-and the second that of Olympia in 1860-trustees T. M. Reed, W. G. Dunlap, R. L. Doyle, J. K. Hall, and Butler P. Anderson. In 1838 the presbytery of Puget Sound, embracing all Washington, was erected, the members being Goodsell, Whitworth, and G. W. Sloane. Goodsell died in 1560, and about this time Mr Evans arrived at Olympia from Pennsylvania and took his place, but he too soon sank under the hardships of pioneer life. Before 1866 the Puget Sound presbytery had lapsed, and the churches coming under the care of the Oregon presbytery, Anthony Simpson was assigned to Olympia in this year. In 1868 John R. Thompson, a native of Prince Edward Island, and educated in Scotland, succeeded to the ministry of the church in Olympia, where he remained. In 1873 this church was repaired, refurnished, and rededicated, a tower and spire being added. In 1875 H. P. Dunning began preaching to a congregation of Presbyterians at Seattle, and a church edifice was later erected.

In May 1854 Thomas F. Scott, missionary bishop of the Episcopal Church for Oregon and Washington, visited Olympia, holding services in the hall of representatives. But it was not until about 1865 that he was able to send a clergyman to take charge of the Episcopal Society in the capital of Washington, when P. E. Hyland resigned the rectorship of Trinity church, Portland, to assume this duty. In the mean time the bishop and occasional missionary clergy had ministered, the communicants numbering ten at Olympia. When Hyland settled here a church edifice was already completed by this small number, none of whom were rich. The consecration of St John’s Episcopal Church of Olympia took place September 3, 1865. There was at the same time at Seattle a lay reader, C. Bennett, who also superintended a Sunday school. At Port Townsend a church that had been three years in building was completed in 1865. After the death of Scott, which occurred in 1867, little advancement was made until the arrival of the newly elected missionary bishop, B. Wistar Morris, who displayed much energy in founding churches and schools. The number of Episcopal Churches and chapels in 1880 was as follows: St Luke’s Church of Vancouver, communicants 35; St John’s Church of Olympia, com. 37; Trinity Church of Seattle, com. 77; St Paul’s Church of Port Townsend, com. 21; St Paul’s Church of Walla Walla, com. 26; St Peter’s Chapel of Old Tacoma, com. 11; St Luke’s Church of New Tacoma, com. 4; St Andrew’s Chapel of Kalama, congregation small; Upper Columbia Mission, com. 17; other communicants 100.

The fourth denomination in Olympia to erect a house of worship to the same deity was the Baptist society, which, although somewhat numerous, did not file articles of incorporation until the 15th of March, 1872. The board of trustees were: William H. Mitchell, Bennett W. Johns, M. E. Tracer, F. W. Fine, and Roger S. Greene. Olympia Standard, Dec. 28, 1878. Two years afterward a church was erected and paid for, the pulpit being successively filled by Joseph Castro, Roger S. Greene, and J. P. Ludlow; one was also built at Seattle. In 1877 the Baptist association of Puget Sound proposed to place a gospel-ship on the waters of the Sound, a floating missionary establishment, propelled by steam, which could visit all the out-of-the-way places on the Sound and in B. C. waters. We would thus have work for our pastors, gospel bands, or general missionary, the readiest, cheapest, and most practical conveyance for years to come,’ said the circular. Ludlow, Greene, and Wirth were appointed a committee to present the matter to the churches. Olympia Wash,. Standard, Dec. 29, 1877. In time the little steamer was built and furnished-and used as a tugboat.

There were several preachers, chiefly Methodists, who followed the mining exodus from the Willamette Valley in 1862-4, and who held services weekly wherever a congregation could be had. Ebey’s Journal, MS., S, 77. The first minister settled in eastern Washington, not of the Roman church, was P. B. Chamberlain, who in the spring of 1864 purchased a building known as Ryan’s Hall and fitted it up as a church, where he made war on wickedness with a singleness of purpose rare in modern times. Chamberlain founded the first Congregational church in Washington. Nine years afterward a church of this denomination was organized at Olympia, which purchased the lot and building formerly owned by the Catholic Church on Main street for a few hundred dollars, and in Sept. 1874 repairs had made the edifice fit to be again dedicated to religious worship. Services were kept up to 1876 by volunteer preaching, C. A. Huntington, George H. Atkinson, and Cushing Eells officiating. The first regular pastor was G. W. Skinner, who remained but six months, when he returned to Kansas, and David Thomas succeeded him.

In 1885 there were in Olympia seven churches, including the modern Roman Catholic and the Unitarian, the latter in charge of D. N. Utter. Seattle had six, Port Townsend three, and the whole number for western Washington was about thirty. The whole number in eastern Washington was given at nineteen, seven of these being at Walla Walla, namely, the Methodist, Cumberland Presbyterian, Episcopal, Congregational, Catholic, Seventh-day Adventists, and United Brethren.

Bancroft, Hubert H. Bancroft Works, Volume 31, History Of Washington, Idaho, and Montana, 1845-1889. San Francisco: The History Company. 1890.

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