First Congregational Church building March 1889.

First Congregational Church building March 1889.

BACK WHEN: The first church of Port Angeles

PORT ANGELES DOES not have a long history, relatively speaking.

First settled in 1854 and declared the Second National City in 1862, the town grew slowly.

In 1861, the Caucasian population of Clallam County was 189, whereas the population of Victoria, B.C., was 4,000.

There were no church buildings in the county. Traveling ministers would visit the area a couple of times a month. The first minister to visit Dungeness was a member of the Disciples church. The Disciples church desired to disassociate with any denomination. They also were proponents of congregational church governance.

In this remote part of the world, there was a smorgasbord of beliefs, including orthodox Christianity, spiritism and indigenous spiritual beliefs.

The population began to grow in Port Angeles with the establishment of the Puget Sound Cooperative Colony.

By the end of June 1887, there were 239 colonists in Port Angeles. Of that number, 84 were minors. In fact, two of the new members were born at the town site shortly after their parents arrived. The 239 colonists represented 39 families and 81 individual adults.

Some of the new arrivals believed the town needed a church.

They decided a church was important to their spiritual well being. A Sunday School was first organized on Aug. 14, 1887. There were about 25 students enrolled. This Sunday school was soon abandoned and reorganized in December 1887.

It soon came time to formally organize a church.

One of the founders, Paul Land.

One of the founders, Paul Land.

Articles of Incorporation were written and signed by Paul Land, David Ferguson, Hannah Ferguson, Frederick F. Thompson, Martha R. Thompson, Nettie Shields, Sara C. McConachie and Mary Herriott on Monday, April 23, 1888.

It was a less formal time. Their articles of incorporation were four handwritten pages.

Though there were only eight charter members, community interest was high. The church was truly the community’s church and was named the First Congregational Church of Port Angeles. It was the first church of any denomination in Port Angeles.

The Cooperative Colony’s basis centered on the collective efforts of its members for the common benefit. Therefore, it was not surprising that the first church organized in Port Angeles was Congregationalist. The Congregationalists rejected centralized authority in favor of allowing the local church to run their own affairs. Like the politics of the colony, they also wanted to separate themselves from any outside controls.

The Congregational Society, as it was initially referred to, purchased land within a couple of weeks of incorporation. On May 4, 1888, the Model Commonwealth reported that they “bargained for lot no. 1 in block no. 19, which is purchased as a site for their church building.”

One of the founders, David Ferguson.

One of the founders, David Ferguson.

They expected it to cost at least $1,500. The church had already raised most of the money needed.

Though the congregation did not have a meeting place of their own, the Congregational Sunday School was active and vibrant. On Friday, Sept. 7, 1888, they held their annual picnic east of town.

On Oct. 18, 1888, the First Congregational Church called its first pastor, Rev. A. H. Howells. The church was taking shape. In November 1888, Rev. Howells traveled to Cheney to gather his family and return to Port Angeles to begin his ministry.

This fledgling church still had a long way to go.

The Nov. 16, 1888, issue of the Model Commonwealth reported, “There are no church edifices within the county and few organized churches, but occasionally services are held in schoolhouses or private dwelling homes by traveling clergymen. Two societies will before long make efforts to erect buildings having already secured town lots. While the people generally are benevolent and upright there is a general apathy in regard to religion.”

In spite of a perceived general apathy in the community, a church building began to take shape. By the start of December 1888, the foundations and the floor joists were complete.

It was also a time to celebrate the safe return of Howells. On Dec. 11, 1888, a reception was held at Morse’s Hall for Howells and his wife. The Model Commonwealth reported that “Mr. Paul Land welcomed them to Port Angeles. Mr. Howells thanked the people for their kindness, after which songs were sung and stories related. Among the features of the evening was a fine supper, which was dispensed with great pleasure, and altogether a very enjoyable evening was passed.”

The church building continued to rise. The roof was completed during the last week of December 1888. By February, the building was nearly complete, needing only the finishing touches.

On Tuesday, March 5, 1889, the ladies of the church sponsored an evening of entertainment at the East End Opera House. The admission fee was 25 cents for adults and 10 cents for children. The proceeds were used to plaster the church walls. It was well attended and raised $50.

The evening’s main entertainment was a man calling himself Professor von Eali who exhibited an Egyptian mummy.

Eali appeared in full oriental costume and cheerfully answered all questions about the wonders of Egypt. I expect his presentation was a lot of show and lacked cultural authenticity.

The 1800s were known for what was called “Egyptomania.”

Europeans and Americans were fascinated by Egyptian mummies. Mummies were often the star attraction at shows. In the 1800s, the craze led to mummies being part of a macabre souvenir trade on the streets of Egypt. The world was still decades away from properly studying Egyptian mummies.

The Model Commonwealth reported that “At the close (of the event) an ample repast was served in the preparation of which the ladies of the committee did themselves proud. On behalf of the Society, the Pastor Mr. A. H. Howells desires to extend thanks to all who participated in making the occasion so pleasant and successful. The church will be a model of architectural beauty and is now nearly ready for plastering, to which purpose the receipts of the evening will be applied.”

The building was completed in March 1889.

On March 24, 1889, the first church service was held in the new building.

________

John McNutt is a descendant of Clallam County pioneers and treasurer of the North Olympic History Center Board of Directors. He can be reached at woodrowsilly@gmail.com.

John McNutt’s Clallam history column appears the first Saturday of every month.

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