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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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Upriver Catholic pioneers and church

(Lillian and Bessie Martin)
Lillian and Bessie Martin, about 1900

      Ed. note: the editor remembers fondly when his parents took him upriver to the old Henry Martin homestead for picnics attended by upriver Catholics. We Catholics knew that Henry and Katharine Martin were mainly responsible for forming a nucleus of the church upriver from Sedro-Woolley, where we normally attended mass. As a child, I always thought that the St. Catherine's Mission church was named for Mrs. Martin, and maybe that was a play on words behind the scenes. Back then, especially during the summers, we would celebrate the festive aspect of gathering together to give prayers of thanks. The editor only wishes that he could have seen into the future and had paid more attention to descendants of the O'Brien and O'Connor families and other pioneers. Like Henry Martin, who walked upriver across the Nookachamps and many other streams to claim his homestead in 1889, nothing was easy for those pioneers, but instead, they reveled in the struggle and their long trips back and forth to celebrate with each other was a central tenet of their frontier experience. Many of the memories and notes below were given to us by descendants of the Martins who welcomed us to their joint reunion with the von Pressentins in 2001. We hope that they will soon send us more photographs that will illustrate the beautiful Martin homestead and the breathtaking views of the Skagit river and Illabot creeks.

Lillian Porter memories
      My first acquaintance with the Catholic church was in 1910. My good friend Lucy O'Connor urged me to become a Catholic and her mother, Mrs. Roderick O'Connor, gave me instructions. At that time, Father Barrett, the parish priest at Sedro-Woolley, would make a trip to Rockport once or twice a year. There were only about three or four Catholic families in that region at that time, the O'Briens, Henry Martins, Roderick O'Connors, and perhaps a few others. Father Barrett would arrive on Friday evening, I believe, and stay overnight at the Henry Martin home, six miles across the river from Rockport. The families around would arrive the next morning by horse and wagon to attend mass. Confessions would be heard before mass.
      Every summer, Father Barrett would pick out the children who had not made their First Communion, but were old enough to do so, and arrange for them to stay with some Catholic family in Sedro-Woolley, so they could receive several days instruction in catechism before making their First Communion with the class on Sunday. The same was true in regard to confirmation.
      In 1911 a small schoolhouse was built about a mile from Rockport, across the Skagit river from there. Then the priest would go to the Martin home as usual, say mass there first, then say mass again in the schoolhouse for the people nearer Rockport, on this return.
      Father Barrett was transferred to Bellingham about 1911 and was succeeded by Father Ryan. He was there for only a few years when Father Sampson was appointed pastor of the Sedro-Woolley parish. About that time, automobiles became common enough so when a mission church was built at Concrete, the people from the Upper Skagit could attend services there.
      Ed. note: Lillian Porter (1898-1971), was a daughter of Thomas Francis Porter, born in Friendsville PA, and Mima Seveight Kerr, born in Bathurst, New Brunswick. Her parents married in Lyman on Dec 24, 1891. They established a notable farm on the south side of the Skagit river, near the Sauk river and Illabot creek, and were notable pioneers in that area. Tom died in 1927 and Mima died 1904 and are buried in Lyman along with two of their children Robert and Thomas. After Mima died, Lillian went to live with her uncle, but soon returned to grow up on the Porter farm until she and her sister Bessie moved to Tacoma after their father's death. Neither of them married. Thanks to Ted Porter for family information. He is a grandson of Thomas F. Porter and graduated from Sedro-Woolley High School in 1960, two years before the editor. He and the editor were members of the Sedro-Woolley parish of the Catholic church.

Memories of unknown writer
      Lillian told me that Lucy and she went to Sedro-Woolley to make their First Communion. They stayed with the Hebert family there and the day of First Communion, Father Barrett mentioned the two little girls who came all the way from Rockport and knew their catechism so well, thanks to a kind, Mrs. O'Connor. Mrs. O'Connor got Frank Porter to become a Catholic soon after Lillian and he had to go to Concrete [for church]. He stayed with the Lang family there, Bob and Kate. He was ten years old then. Fred Martin is his godfather.
      Early memories of the Catholic church in the Upper Skagit Valley are taken from Mrs. Elizabeth (Martin) Pressentin, wife of Mr. Edward von Pressentin of Rockport, and daughter of the late Mr. and Mrs. Henry Martin, whose home was the Martin farm southeast of Rockport, where her brother Fred J. Martin [the future state senator] and family now reside. [That was where] in the early days at their home Mr. and Mrs. Henry Martin had the parish priest of Sedro-Woolley come to have mass every few months and all other Catholic families came from far and near to worship. The transportation was very primitive, by horseback or horses and wagons.
      The first priest to come to the Martin home was Father LaRue in 1902, followed by Father [George S. Van Goethen] in 1905, then Father Sampson, later Father Barrett in 1915, and Father Noonan, followed by Father Murtaugh in 1917, who came regularly, once a month, for several years. Mrs. [Katharine] Martin had an altar built for the home with lovely linens and blessed candles. Mrs. Pressentin was married in the farm home and all her four children were baptized there by Father Murtaugh.

(Martin living room)
      Henry and Katharine Martin in the 1930s in their parlor, where they hosted many upriver Catholic church services in the first decades of the 20th century.

Memories of Irene Porter
      When I first went to teach in the small school across from Rockport in the fall of 1915 I boarded with a Southern Baptist family and needless to stay that the [Roderick] O'Connors, who were the neighbors, were happy to see a Catholic teacher again. Several years before, Eva Lang De Bolt taught in the same school and there was mass held in the schoolhouse, so Mrs. Roderick O'Connor Sr. told me. She told me of [illegible] there and having the children gather wild flowers to place on it. However there came new school directors and teachers who were not so friendly towards the idea of mass in the schoolhouse so it had been discontinued when it first appeared and they went to [Henry] Martins [instead].
      Father Sampson was the priest at that time and it was really an occasion when the father was coming. Mr. O'Connor would hitch up the wagon and all the O'Connors, Frank Porter and myself made our way up to mass. Lillian porter and Lucy O'Connor were then going to Assumption School in Bellingham [some time after 1911]. Bill was not a Catholic at that time.
      Mass was said in the Martin living room and this room had a rug with the usual bare floor around it. Mrs. O'Connor would be talking to the kids on the way up: "now remember your catechism . . . don't forget the Act of Contrition, etc." but most of the conversation was [about] who was going to get to kneel on the rug and who on the bare floor. To be able to get a chair to lean your elbows upon was another victory. Everyone looked forward to hearing mass even if it was a little hard on the knees.
      Confessions were heard in a room adjoining the living room. It was an education to me, too, for I had not up to that time knelt down by a priest in an open room and made my confession. I have heard people say how difficult it is for them to go to confession where the priest knows who you are, but I have never minded it in the least since then.
      During Mass, Father always gave a good sermon and instruction but not too long, as I'm sure he had pity on us under those conditions. Poor knees! After mass came breakfast and then everyone visited. Mr. Martin showed the Father around the ranch and the rest of us helped with dishes. I've wondered how many times Mr. and Mrs. Martin knew how much to prepare for those breakfasts. There were the Ed O'Briens, Bill Porters, Roderick O'Connors, several from Marblemount and the Martins themselves. Everyone got fed, even to the littlest one, and I don't remember anyone ever bringing "pot luck" to help out.
      Finally, about 1 o'clock, Father would depart so he could stop at Concrete. After Bill and I were married, he would change with Mr. O'Connor and drive to mass and the O'Connors would go with us. The priest came two or three times a year and often under adverse conditions. I remember one time, Mr. Martin stopped by to tell us he didn't know whether the priest could get across the river because of terrible high water. There were no telephones then across the river and Mr. Martin had to drive his team down to the river just in case Father could make it across. Priests are not easily discouraged, I guess anyway. Father Noonan got Indian Frank Tom to put him across in the canoe so everything was OK. He went to the Martins as usual and said mass and [then] back across in the canoe the next day. I suppose he thought nothing of it.
      Father Murtaugh [priest in area from 1921-44] came a few years later and he had a little Model-T coupe. The roads across the river were anything but good and the good Father Murtaugh got stuck in the mud. Bill had to get the horse and pull him out and he went once again on his way to mass. The priests usually taught catechism after mass to the children and my son, Bernard Porter, and Martin Pressentin received their first Holy Communion from Father Murtaugh at the Martins in 1926.
      Soon came the Model T and we began to go to Concrete. I think about once a month, mass was held. There I helped with the choir and played the organ. I still think we had some of the nicest voices I've worked with and it's still one of my fondest memories. From here on, I'll leave it to you to carry on.
      On looking back, I think the Ed O'Briens, the Roderick O'Connors, the Henry Martins and the Bill Porters have something to be proud of. I hope you have a lot of success with your project and I only wish I could help you more. When mention is made of Porters [in connection with the church] it should read Bill Porters because its only in the last 11 or 12 years that the other [Frank] Porters have taken any interest in the church.
      Ed. note: the late Roberta Irene (Stephens) Porter (1894-1972) was the wife of William Alexander Porter (1894-1974), the second eldest of Tom and Mima Porter's seven children. Bill lived near the original Tom Porter cabin in his own house on his share of the farm with his wife Irene and son Bernard until they moved to Mt Vernon. Bernard died in WWII and Bill Irene continued to live in Mt Vernon until they passed away.

O'Connor Catholic memories
Dictated by Dave O'Connor, written by his wife [unnamed]
(St. Catherine's Catholic mission)
St. Catherine's Catholic mission in Concrete. Does anyone know who drew this wonderful picture? We would like to credit it.

      Father [George S. Van Goethen] from Belgium. Father Barrett, red-headed and red beard, had a temper. Father [Murtaugh] came on train from Sedro-Woolley, met with horse and buggy at [Sauk] ferry, stayed overnight at Martins, O'Briens, Martins, O'Connors, all big families. [We all] walked, came by horseback or sleds, horse and wagon to Martins for mass. Boys walked 3 to 4 miles, barefooted [sometimes]. Ice and frost in late October. We crossed Illabot creek on cottonwood tree for bridge. Little bark nubbins cut the feet. After Mass, breakfast was served. Hotcakes, ham, bacon, eggs, jam. Kids had to wait. Starved a dozen times apiece. Father [George S. Van Goethen] could talk Chinook with the Indians. Dave [?], Fred Martin and Grant O'Brien went to Sedro-Woolley for First Communion, stayed two weeks. Fred stayed with the Fritsches and Dave and Grant at the Boettigers [sp?]
      City kids picked on the country kids and the [3?] of them licked all the boys in the Sedro-Woolley parish. Then Father Barrett really gave the 3 the "what for" for fighting. Their eyes were black, noses out of shape, shirts and pants torn, they were a mess. But the folks they stayed with were real nice to them. There was a big class to First Communion and after mass the ladies of the parish served a big dinner. Just everything. A lace tablecloth on the table and for place cards each kid had a holy picture with his name on it. It was quite an affair.

A history of Catholics pioneers
By Bob Richardson, undated Skagit Valley Herald story, circa 1975
      The early history of Catholic activity in the upper Skagit river valley area is a colorful history of pioneers. And the story begins not in Concrete but eight miles further upriver in the Rockport area. Five miles from Rockport, a pioneer cattle rancher named Henry Martin was still living in a simple homestead cabin when, in 1902, he welcomed into his home a parish priest from Sedro-Woolley. And thus the first schedule of masses were held in the upper valley.
      In 1903, when Mr. and Mrs. Martin completed a new home on their ranch, they had a carpenter build a special altar in one of the front rooms. And for around 30 years, priests would continue to make one regular journey a month to the Martin home to hold mass. One of the Martin children still lives on the cattle ranch. He is former state legislator Fred J. Martin, who resides in a newer home on the property while his son Doug lives in the original ranch home. Fred J. recalls how transportation was primitive in the early 1900s.
      "Dad would go by horse and wagon to Rockport and meet the train and bring the priest to our home," remembers Martin. "And once I remember the priest had to ride a horse the five miles to the ranch." But transportation gradually changed in the upper valley; and in Rockport, transportation was virtually revolutionized by the construction in 1916 of the Rockport bridge.
      As more and more area families purchased their own automobiles, more and more Catholics could easily make the trip to Concrete, where in 1912, St. Catherine's Mission Church building had been constructed.
      The church is located on a hillside in Concrete. Right across the street is the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine building where the religious programs are held.

Catholics and their Concrete mission
From the book, So They Called The Town Concrete, by Charles M. Dwelley
Printed 1980, Re-printed by facsimile and for sale in Concrete, 2004-05

      On the side hill north of the post office building in central Concrete. Built in 1912 by Catholics of the community. Original building has setting improved by some remodeling and addition of present cement steps leading up bank. St. Catherine's CCD center and parish hall was built by the members of St. Catherine's Catholic Church for a social hall. It was dedicated in December 1964. It contains class and study rooms, a large meeting room, kitchen and other utility rooms. Besides use by the church, it has been made available to the community for meeting, entertainment, social events and banquets, both public and private. [Ed. note: In 2004, I attended the Boyd/Royal family reunion there; many reunions are conducted in this beautiful building with a huge stone fireplace.]

Story posted on April 25, 2005
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