Life of First Presbyterian Church

Corvallis, Oregon

The Early Years (1852-1904)

1852 – Three weeks after their wedding, Rev. Joseph and Esther Belle Hanna left Cannonsburg, Pennsylvania and headed for St. Joseph, Missouri to meet the Presbyterian Colony, consisting of 60 persons and 18 wagons. The purpose of the colony was to start schools and churches in the West. Leaving in April, they traveled the Oregon Trail. The Hannas arrived in Oregon City on September 20, 1852. Both Joseph and Esther Belle kept journals. Joseph and Esther Belle arrived in Marysville (Corvallis) with a letter of recommendation from John McLoughlin of Oregon City. The Averys invited the Hannas to stay in their cabin. They meet with other residents of the small town. The settlement of Marysville (Corvallis) had only 10-12 families and two stores at this time. When the residents of the town heard that Rev. Hanna and his wife were supporters of education and the formation of a college in Corvallis, they asked them to stay. Baptists and Methodist/Episcopalians had already organized churches.

1853 – On September 24, 1853, the First Presbyterian Church of Marysville (Corvallis) was organized at the Rev. Hanna’s homestead cabin, 3 miles south of town. It became the second oldest Presbyterian Church in Oregon and identified as an Old School Presbyterian Church

First members of the church were Rev. Joseph A Hanna; John Grubb from Nile, Michigan; S. K. Brown from Newton, Ohio; Mrs. Esther Belle Hanna from Cannonsburg, Pennsylvania; and Louiza Irwin from Fairfield, Iowa. The Grubbs’ were in the wagon party and also kept a journal.)

On December 20, 1853, Marysville was renamed Corvallis.

1854 – On May 4, 1854, the name changed to First Presbyterian Church of Corvallis.

Rev. Hanna traveled many miles around the territory in all kinds of weather, preaching and starting churches.

1859 – Oregon became a state on February 14, 1859.

Church services were held in homes, the log schoolhouse at 2nd and Jackson, and the old courthouse.

Rev. Hanna was one of the incorporators pushing the organization of Corvallis College.

1860 – Rev. Henry R. Avery, minister (1860-1862), membership: 23

The first wooden church was started in April 1860. Some of the lumber was shipped from the Peoria mill to the Corvallis waterfront. Rev. Hanna brought down 10,000 feet of rough sawn lumber from the mountain mills, 12 miles distant.

“The membership and friends donated their time and labor thus showing their devotion to building a church from timbers that were hewn with old-fashioned broadax.”

Dr. James Bayley, J. B. Congle (first mayor), John Grubb, John Wren, Andrew Roberts contributed their labor.

Corvallis population was now 620 people.

1864 – The church at 4th and Jefferson was dedicated in June.


Republican State Convention was held in the new church building

Rev. Richard Wylie, minister (1864-1866), membership: 36

1866 – Rev. Walter Montieth, minister (1866-1867), membership: 63,

1867 – Rev. Anthony Simpson, minister (1867-1868)

1868 – Rev. Walter Montieth, minister, returned for six months

1870  – Rev. D.K. Nesbitt, minister (1869-1874)

The church grew as the town grew.

Old and New Schools of the Presbyterian Church united.

Rev. Joseph Hanna went back East to raise funds for the Albany Collegiate Institue-Presbyterian now Lewis and Clark College.

1872 – First Presbyterian Church hired their first organist.

1874 – Rev. J. D. Downing, minister, stated supply (1874-1875)

1875 – Rev. James F. Knowles, minister (1875-1876

1876 – Rev. Harlan Page Dunning, minister (1876-1883)

1878 – Oakridge Presbyterian Church, a church spin-off, 8 miles SW of Corvallis, was developed. First Presbyterian Church “supplied the initial membership and the ministry”

1882 – Ladies Working and Missionary Society raised money for new hymnals and money for Home Missions

1883 -A group withdrew, forming the Congregational Church; membership, 21.

1884 – Rev. E. R. Murgatroyd, minister (1884-1885)

1885 – Rev. John Reid, minister (1885-1886)

“With each succeeding year her (First Presbyterian Church) membership has increased and influence in the community broadened and deepened.”

1886 – Rev. E. J. Thompson, minister (1886-1901)

1889 – The church steeple and front of the wooden church needed repairs and was rebuilt.

1893 – Ladies Aid Society and the Women’s Missionary Society formed.

1901 – Rev. R. L. Meily, minister from September to December

1902 – Rev. Andrew Carrick, minister (1902-1904)

The Church Choir and Music committee formed and made a commitment to fine music offerings.

Mission work continued. Individual communion cups purchased.

1904 – Rev. Merchant S. Bush, minister (1904-1907)

A New Century (1907-1926)

1907 – Rev. J. R. N. Bell, minister (1907-1914)

With large Sunday school classes and substantial growth, plans started for new building and location.

1909 – Rev. J. R. N. Bell, minister, 161 members

The four lots on the SW corner of 8th and Monroe were purchased. On October 14, 1909, the cornerstone was laid for the new church building on the corner of 8th and Monroe. New church building plans were initiated. The foundation was 88’ x 92’.

Rev. J. R. N. Bell was a big football fan. Bell Field at OSU was named for Rev. Bell.

1910 – The church building at 4th and Jefferson was sold and the funds were used for the new building.

The architects, John Bennes and E. E. McClaran, used the Akron model. Allen of Portland was the builder. Church members helped build the church including teams of members that laid the bricks. The building cost $18,600 including the steam heat and the 63 stained glass windows and 4 large memorial windows comprising 827 square feet of stained glass. The stained glass windows were created by the Povey Bros. Studio of Portland, Oregon. With the cost of the organ at $5,000, furnishings, the total cost went up to $25,000.

The new building at 8th and Monroe was completed and dedicated in October 1910.

The building housed the first pipe organ in Corvallis (the fourth in the state). The Kimball organ had 1000 pipes. It was dedicated in 1910 with a community concert. The organ recital that year was considered the beginning of our church as a center for music and other community events.

Archie Johnson, Virgil Walters, F. L. Miller, M. H. Bauer & Mrs. Minne Lee and J. A. Bexell served as trustees and W. P. Lafferty served as Clerk of Session

1915 College Class

1914 – Rev. A. F. von Tobel, minister (1914-1917), 152 members added

1916 – The church was dedicated again when the debt was paid off.

1917 – Rev. Clinton Greene, minister (1917-1918)

1918 – Rev. Jacob E. Snyder, minister (1918-1922)

1919 – The church started Westminster Foundation, the campus ministry.

Rev. Clark, the first student pastor was appointed to work with OAC students.

1920 – The reconstruction of the sanctuary chancel (front platform) to harmonize with the organ was a memorial to Mrs. Boguw, daughter of Archie Johnson.

By 1920, Corvallis grew to a town of 5,752 people. Many major buildings during this decade, churches, schools, hotels, banks and the Majestic Theater, were constructed.

1921 – The Westminster Guild formed a ladies aid society.

1922 – Rev. M. K. W. Heicher, minister (1922-1924)

1923 – Additional women’s group formed. Dr. Heicher helped reorganization plans.

1924 – Departments of Worship, Fellowship, Evangelism, Missions, Education, Property & Finance were suggested.

1925 – Rev. Angus MacLeod, minister (1925-1929)

W.P. Lafferty was chairman of the building committee, elder, and clerk of session for 19 years.

1926 – 2 adjacent lots with small houses, just south of the church on 8th were purchased for $5,000.

The Federated Years (1928-1968)

1928 – Westminster House was built at 23rd and Monroe, campus ministry and staffed by campus ministers.

Classes for 400 students of all ages were held in the balcony, under the balcony, in the basement, in the old Central School building, and on campus. The need for classrooms led to the construction of Education Hall.

Education Hall addition was designed to accommodate a church parlor, and 5 Sunday school rooms on the first floor, with an auditorium, kitchen, and classrooms on the second floor. F. G. McFadden was the contractor. The cost-$35,000 included the 2 lots, the addition and the furnishings.

1929 – Oakridge Church disbanded

1930 – Rev. John S. Burns, minister (1930-1940)

1931 – In 1931, First Presbyterian formed a federation with the Congregational Church which lasted 31 years.

On March 15th morning services were held at the Congregational Church and the evening service in the Presbyterian Church where all further services were held.

1932 – The church name changed to United Churches to Federated Churches of Corvallis, Oregon.

1941 – Rev. Wilbur Simmons, Congregational minister (1941-1947)

The Junior Matrons, a young women’s group formed.

In the 1940s, the church mission included an annual contribution of $1000 to Yenching University in China and $1000 to East Harlem Protestant Parish.

The Christian Education program expanded.

1942 – During WWII, the building of Camp Adair brought a sudden influx of 40,000 newly recruited soldiers to a town of 8,400. The church opened the Service Men’s Center providing services for Camp Adair soldiers and their wives. Full-time hostesses, were Adrion Johnson, and Mrs. McCallister. Services provided were housing assistance, a dormitory in the church basement for weekend leave and a service organization for wives was created. The church maintained a War Service Center, like the USO, first for the Army men training at Camp Adair, later for the Naval Hospital at the same site and finally for the Marine Air Base” (now the Corvallis Airport).

1944 – The Servicemen’s Center closed.

The Cradle Roll Mothers was organized as a study group for mother’s with children less than 3 years of age.

1945 – The Servicemen’s Center re-opened after Camp Adair was made a separation center and a replacement depot. Mrs. McCallister mothered returning vets and servicemen.

Sunday School attendance reaches an all-time high during WWII.

1947 – Rev. Robert Bulkley, minister (1947-1954)

The church made an Annual contribution of $1000 to East Harlem Protestant Parish.

1949 – Rev. Kenneth Brown, the new minister of Education supervised the expanding Christian Education program.

1951 – Boy Scout Headquarters was moved to the church basement. The basement remodel gave Boy Scouts 4 patrol rooms, a large activity area and a storeroom for equipment and records. The space replaced their cabin, which was torn down for a parking space for Gill Coliseum at the OSU. The walls of the activity room were paneled with the wide cedar boards taken from the former scout cabin.

1953 – The Centennial observance of the church’s organization was celebrated.

The women’s group sponsored the Leper Relief centennial project.

The sanctuary choir loft was remodeled to provide room for an enlarged seating capacity and better performance for the choir. The platform was extended and a new communion table was added and a pulpit was constructed, all for making the sanctuary more conducive to worship.

1955 – Rev. Perry D. Avery, minister (1955-1959)

1958 – Capital improvement fund was established.

1959 – The Porter House was purchased from Fred J. Porter for $22,500. It is now used as the Youth House.

Mrs. Thatcher deeded her home at 864 Monroe to the church. The church took possession of the house in 1967.

1960 – Kay Fletcher was hired as the first Christian Education Director.

1961 – Dr. Millard Scherich (1961-1968)

1962 – The manse on Madison Ave. was purchased from George F. Buxton for $25,000.

The office was remodeled.

1963 – Defederation of the First Presbyterian Church and the Congregational Church.

1964 – The parlor was remodeled and new furniture was purchased.

1967 – The church begins offering support for Christian Education for the mentally challenged

1968 – The church purchased the Daily property at 135 SW 9th St.

Education Hall was remodeled with new flooring, acoustical tile and new draperies.

Growing and Serving (1969-1999)

1969 – John Dennis, minister (1969-2006)

The Presbyterian Preschool serving the community began. Kay Fletcher was the director

1970 – The church started FISH with the League of Women Voters.

The Preschool program expanded to 70 children.

1972 – The J. S. and Tillie Jones education wing was added at a cost of $61,000. The two rooms were used on Sundays for kindergarten, first and second-grade classes and used for the annual summer vacation church school. The Presbyterian Preschool program for 3 and 4-year-olds used the rooms on weekdays. More than 70 children are participating in the daily preschool program.

1976 – The chancel platform was expanded. Dean Almgren and his volunteer crew constructed the new platform and did the woodwork in back of the choir loft for the new Balcom & Vaughn organ installation.

1977 – Rev. John Conner, a campus minister at Westminster House and member of First Presbyterian Church, was elected moderator of General Assembly.

1978 – Susan Wilburn was the first full-time music director.

1979 – The Vesper Circle for women formed.

1980 – The third-floor room was remodeled for a choir practice room.

1982 – The church and Community Services Consortium start the community aid program We Care.

1983 – On a national level, the women’s organization had become known as United Presbyterian Women (UPW) in the northern churches. With the 1983 merger of three branches of the Presbyterian Church, a new name was selected for all women’s groups, simply Presbyterian Women (PW).

1986 – The Leatha Porter addition to the Jones wing provided a nursery, 2 classrooms and the Allison room chapel and multipurpose room. It was renamed the Jones-Porter wing.

1988 – Emily Steele completed the stained glass window for the Allison Room.

1989 – All day weekday Presbyterian Child Care Center added to morning preschool program. Kay Hawley was the first director.

1991 – Choir trip to Russia

1996 – Dedication of the Youth House (Porter House)

1998 – Nicaragua’s Hurricane Mitch help.

1999 – Choir tour

A New Millenium (2004-present)

2004 – The sanctuary was remodeled and earthquake bracing added for safety.

The downstairs of Education Hall was opened up and the rooms were reconfigured to provide space for a new office, library, and an elevator.

2006 – The New Orleans Hurricane Katrina assistance mission was organized by Rev. Linda Gebetsberger. A church group traveled to New Orleans trip annually for 10 years. Other mission trips included rebuilding villages in Nicaragua after Hurricane Mitch, Cambodia and aiding the Sheldon Jackson College in Alaska.

2008 – Rev. Gordon McClellan, minister (2008-2011)

2010 – Dennis Hall was constructed and dedicated on October 17, 2010

2013 – Rev. Matt Gough, minister (2013- )

2018 – All four of the large stained glass sanctuary windows are restored.

Now – First Presbyterian Church offers Sunday worship services with the Gratitude Jazz Band, choir and organ music. The worship service is streamed. Sunday School classes meet on Sunday mornings. The church is dedicated to education, spiritual life, and fellowship.

Fellowship and community service groups include the Piecemakers (quilters), In Stitches (knitters & crocheters), Presbyterian Women, adult education, and Bible study. The library provides books on spiritual growth and Bible literacy.

First Presbyterian Church supports Westminster House, a campus ministry, and community and international mission.

The Presbyterian Preschool and Child Care Center continues to operate on weekdays.