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(Seattle & Northern 1890)

Skagit River Journal

of History & Folklore
Subscribers Edition Stories & Photos
The most in-depth, comprehensive site about the Skagit.

Covers from British Columbia to Puget sound. Counties covered: Skagit, Whatcom, Island, San Juan. An evolving history dedicated to the principle of committing random acts of historical kindness
Noel V. Bourasaw, editor (bullet) 810 Central Ave., Sedro-Woolley, Washington, 98284
Home of the Tarheel Stomp (bullet) Mortimer Cook slept here & named the town Bug

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Itinerant ministers of Sedro and Woolley

Introduction chapters of a 1937 series of the Sedro-Woolley Courier-Times
By Skiyou pioneers Eliza Van Fleet and her daughter, Ethel Van Fleet Harris
and notes from our research

(Catholic Church circa 1910-)
The Catholic church at 807 Puget where an automotive repair shop stands today across from the Episcopal church. The first service was conducted about Easter-time 1900; it became the Lutheran church in 1912. Photo courtesy of Mike Aiken

Feb. 25, 1937

      Church history in Sedro-Woolley dates back to the earliest days of its settlement, the first religious services being held in private homes among pioneer neighbors searching for uplift and strength. As these groups grew in number, the need for homes of worship developed. Starting with the First Presbyterian church, built in 1890, new ones were established one by one, until now, in 1937, Sedro-Woolley has eleven churches, representing as many denominations.

March 4, 1937

      From various sources, Mrs. Eliza Van Fleet and daughter Mrs. Ethel Harris have prepared the following interesting sketch of the earliest church history in this community. Before churches were established, ministers of all denomination made irregular trips up the river by canoe or over the trails on foot or on horseback, preaching in logging camps, homes and school houses.
      Mrs. Mortimer Cook always opened her home for church services as did Mrs. David [Georgiann] Batey, and the school house at Van Fleet's was a popular meeting place, also the Sedro hotel and Sterling school house.
      Among the earliest of these itinerant ministers were the following: Rev. W. B. McMillan [Methodist], who preached at Sterling in 1884, Rev. B.N.L. Davis, who owned a ranch at Riverside, near Mount Vernon, "Daddy" Hawkins of Avon, Rev. Pickles, who spent the winter of 1886-87 here, returning later to be pastor of the Methodist church, the first to be appointed. Also Rev. Dobbs of Whatcom, who conducted services at the Cook residence as early as 1886, Rev. Baldwin, the first resident minister in town [who was a Methodist], and Rev. G.L. Cuddy, who preached in St. Elizabeth hospital [the old Sedro hotel at Fidalgo/Township] a while.
      Many amusing incidents concerning these early visitors are recalled by local pioneers, notably Rev. Pickles' harrowing night spent in a hollow cedar stump, with a storm raging and wild animals howling, and the service in the Van Fleet school house when "Daddy" Hawkins announced that he had to leave early. Mrs. Cook, Sunday school superintendent, said, "we will now start the service by singing 'I'm Going Home Tomorrow'," and Rev. Hawkins, who was slightly deaf, shouted, "Oh no, I've got to go right away."

Added later in handwriting by unknown person from Territorial Daughters

      Among the pioneer families who attended the services in the Van Fleet school house were [Plin] V. McFadden, Van Fleets, Jamisons, Robert Young, Mrs. Mortimer Cook and daughters, George Wicker, Cushman and Charles Wicker, George Benson and "Grandma" Wicker, mother of George, Charlie and Cush, along with the Ira Brown family.
      Rev. Morris also preached in the early day, as an itinerant preacher. Rev. Toms was a Presbyterian preacher in Sedro after Rev. Raymond. Rev. Zellers from Mount Vernon, preached a few times at Mrs. Cook's. He was a Methodist.

March 4, 1937

(Methodist church)
Methodist church on Bennett street in 1895, with the old Franklin school to the east at the left

      However, the Catholics seem to have been the first to spread the White Man's gospel among the Indians. Mrs. Van Fleet tells of an instance shortly after she came here in 1880, of an Indian woman and her daughter coming to call. Since conversation was impossible, Mrs. Van Fleet gave them pictures to look at, including one of the Savior on the cross. The mother knelt down and for some time seemed to be praying. Later, Mrs. Van Fleet asked some of the Indians who could speak a little English, how they found out about this, and they told her that Catholic missionaries had been all up and down the valley years before.
      Father Chirouse was a self-sacrificing priest who was in Yakima in 1847. He came to Olympia in 1855, and in 1857, with Farher Durien, who came to Tulalip, and started a mission with five girls and six boys. Father Chirouse was much liked and respected by all the people, including the Indians, for whom he did so much. When trouble arose along the Skagit [in the late 1870s and '80s] he was often sent for, both to settle trouble among the Indians themselves, and also between Indians and whites. His decisions, always just, were considered law, and he saved many a serious situation.

Nan Pollock Cook's church memories
      Ed. note: Nan Pollock Cook, Mortimer's widow, wrote to Mrs. Lenore Devin sometime in the Teen years and reminded her of how the first church was built in Sedro. Although she had hosted many Methodist services at her home on the banks of the Skagit in the mid-1880s, she was Presbyterian by choice, and that was the denominations of the first church built. Nan was there in an honored pew because she had hosted so many services at their Sedro home:
      We finally decided to appeal to the Presbyterian pastor in Seattle who wrote there would be a synodical missionary there soon and that an effort would be made to help. We waited anxiously for some time, but not until the train brought to our door two ministers did we find relief. One was from Bellingham, the other from Olympia, I think, Rev. McElmon and Dr. Thompson. We believed them to be the ones promised us, but they said they had simply come to see the country. They remained overnight and preached to a fair audience in a room which was then being prepared for a saloon, and it was then decided to organize a church, if a suitable number assembled. This was accomplished the next day, with ten charter members.
      Not having a suitable place to hold our meetings in the town, services previously having been held in a school house a mile away, these clergymen offered to send us a carload of lumber and canvas to cover a tabernacle, which they did with dispatch. Rev. McElmon offered to come and preach to us as often as he could be released from his own charge, until we could secure a regular pastor. This he did and in due time, we secured the services of Rev. Raymond.
      The tabernacle, built in February 1890, was 22 feet by 33, with a canvas roof , and in November of that year, the present church was built near Township street, close to the site of the old [St.] Elizabeth hospital. It was moved to its present site [Talcott street] in 1894, and in 1901, the lecture room, choir loft, pastor's study, belfry and vestibule were added, Rev. Haystead being largely instrumental in securing the additions and doing much of the work. Lots were purchased in 1902, and the manse was then built.

      Nan's letter will be quoted in full in an upcoming story on the Presbyterian church in Sedro-Woolley. The next stories in this series will be on the Catholic and Methodist churches. We hope that readers will share their family memories, photos, documents and copies of family bible pages about area churches — in Sedro-Woolley or elsewhere, for this ongoing series.

More stories about early churches

Story posted on April 20, 2003, updated on March 28, 2004
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