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History of Portland Oregon Jewish Churches

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Besides the churches named, the Baptists of Portland maintain missions at North Portland and Albina.

The first minister of the Presbyterian denomination in Oregon was Lewis Thompson, a native of Kentucky, and an alumnus of Princeton Theological Seminary, who came to the Pacific slope in 1846. He was soon after joined by a minister from Ohio, Robert Robe, who with E. R. Geary, of Lafayette, formed the Presbytery of Oregon on 19th of November, 1851.

In 1853 there were five Presbyterian ministers in Oregon, the three already mentioned and J. L. Yantis and J. A. Hanna. At a meeting of the Presbytery held at Portland in October of this year, a petition from a number of persons for the organization of a church in Portland was received and considered. The request was granted and Rev. J. L. Yantis, D. D., who had preached here for some months was appointed to organize the proposed church.

Under Dr. Yantis’ efforts the First Presbyterian Church of Port-land was constituted and organized January 1, 1854,’ with twelve members and the election of Wm. P. Abrams and James McKeon as elders. Dr. Yantis was assisted in the work by Rev. George F. Whitworth, who had recently arrived in Oregon and who supplied the Portland church for two months.

On May 1, 1854, Dr. Yantis reported the organization and the church was taken under the care of the Presbytery. When the church was organized it was expected that Dr. Yantis would be its permanent pastor, but he divided his time between the Portland church and the church at Calipooia, his previous charge, in Linn county, eighty miles from Portland, whither he journeyed on horse-back twice each month, until an affliction of the eyes compelled him to give up the Portland work. After this the church was only occasionally supplied, until June 4, 1860, when Philip S. Caffrey, a recent graduate of Princeton, became stated supply. Mr. Caffrey continued his ministerial work in Portland until January 1, 1867, when failing health caused him to resign. During this period, in the summer of 1862, the lots on the corner of Third and Washington streets were purchased for $1,500, upon which a church building was erected at a cost of about $20,000, being dedicated on May 22, 1864, the dedication sermon being preached by Rev. George H. Atkinson.

On October 23, 1865, the society was duly incorporated as “The First Presbyterian Church and Society of the City of Portland,” by Messrs. W. S. Ladd, J. C. Ainsworth, O. P. S. Plummer, J. D. Holman and M. B. Millard. The value of the property then owned by the society was $25,000.

At the close of Mr. Caffrey’s labors, the church remained for nearly two years without a pastor. Rev. A. L. Lindsley, D. D. was extended a call in August, 1867, which he finally accepted and was installed April 25, 1869, as the first regular pastor of the church. At this time there were only eighty-seven members, but under Dr. Lindsley’s ministry the church rapidly grew in influence and members. He was especially active in mission work among the Indians of the Northwest, aiding in establishing missions among the Alaskans, Nez Perces, Puyallups, Umatillas, Spokanes and others. His pastorate continued for over eighteen years and during this period he organized twenty-one churches and dedicated twenty-two, while the gifts of the church for all purposes amounted to over $240,000. His election to the chair of Practical Theology in the San Francisco Seminary led to his resignation as pastor in November, 1886.

In January, 1886, the old church property was. sold at public auction for $68,000 and the erection of a new church on the quarter block on the corner of Alder and Tenth streets, which had been purchased in 1883, was commenced. The chapel of this church has been completed and the main building will soon be finished. It is a magnificent stone structure, the total cost of which, including furnishings, will be about $125,000. Dr. Lindsley’s resignation and removal to California left the church without a pastor, and so it continued until January, 1888, when a unanimous call was extended to Rev. Arthur J. Brown, of Oak Park, Illinois. Mr. Brown accepted the pastorate, and on May 9, 1888, was duly installed.

This church now numbers over 400 members and is in a most flourishing condition. For many years it was the only Presbyterian church in Portland and vicinity, but when it became apparent that other churches were necessary, some of its members withdrew for the purpose of forming new organizations. Where recently but one Presbyterian Church existed, eight are now doing effective work, and to this development the old church has been able to contribute to a considerable extent, in both membership and means. The Portland Seaman’s Friend Society, and the Bethany Mission, the latter organized in August, 1889, are also largely sustained by the First Presbyterian Church. The officers of the church are as follows: Ruling Elders, Royal K. Warren, William B. Gilbert, Stephen P. Lee, Edward Quackenbush, Alfred Stowell, William M. Ladd; Trustees, Henry W. Corbett, Thomas N. Strong, William S. Ladd, Donald Macleay and Dr. George M. Wells.

Calvary Presbyterian Church was organized in February, 1882, by some fifty members who withdrew from the First Presbyterian Church, since which time it has been maintained independently of the parent church, and the ” Board of Home Missions.” The first officers elected were: George J. Ainsworth, H. C. Coleman, John Honeyman, Wesley Jackson, William Wadhams, and Dr. Curtis C. Strong, Elders, and Henry J. Corbett, treasurer. On July 1, 1882, Rev. Edward Turnbull Lee became pastor. Soon after Mr. Lee began his labors a lot was purchased on the corner of Clay and Ninth streets and on this site the corner stone of the present church building was laid September 11, 1882, Dr. Lindsley of the First Church delivering the address. The building was completed, in about a year’s time, and cost $35, 000. It is a neat gothic structure, having an auditorium, pastor’s study, chapel and Sabbath school room on one floor. The seating capacity of the auditorium is 500, and the chapel, 300. A little to the North of the church building is the church parsonage, which is owned by the church and occupied by the pastor. Mr. Lee resigned in 1887, and was succeeded by the present pastor, Rev. Wm. H., Landon. This church is in a thriving and growing condition and is doing an excellent work.

St. John’s Presbyterian Church in North Portland is the out-growth of the mission labors of Rev. R. J. McLaughlin, who was sent to this field by the Presbyterian Board of Home Missions in 1881. His labors, however, were largely sustained by the First Presbyterian congregation. A Sabbath School was first organized at the Couch Engine Room on G street about the middle of August, 1883, while preaching services were held every Sabbath evening at Watson’s Hall, corner of Sixteenth and T streets. A short time after the mission was opened two lots on the corner of Sixteenth and M streets were donated by Mrs. J. H. Couch, and upon them in 1884 the present church edifice was built. The congregation was organized in November, 1884, some thirteen of the members of the First church withdrawing from that body to complete the organization. Mr. McLaughlin was succeeded as pastor in 1888 by Rev. J. V. Milligan, who still presides over the congregation.

The United Presbyterian Church was organized in April, 1884, and has a suitable church building on the southeast corner of Sixth and Montgomery streets. Rev. Wm. R. Stevenson very acceptably labored in the establishment of the church and for four years continued as pastor. He was followed in 1888 by the present pastor, Rev. Wm. W. Logan.

The Fourth Presbyterian Church was organized in 1887, and is located in South Portland, on South First street, between Grover and Gibbs streets. Rev. Thomas Boyd has been pastor since the formation of the church.

The Chinese Mission maintained by the Presbyterians of the city has been in existence for several years. Rev. Wm. S. Holt is the missionary in this field of work.

In response to a call issued to the Israelites residing in Portland, a meeting was held at the National Hotel Sunday, May 2, 1858, for the purpose of organizing a Jewish congregation. Eight gentlemen assembled; M. Mansfield, Jacob Mayer, Samuel Levy, David Simon, L. Cohen, S. M. Lyon, and B. Simon. One week later, May 9, 1858, the gentlemen named and H. F. Bloch, Leopold Mayer, Abraham Frank and J. Mecholup completed the organization of Beth Israel congregation, at which time the following officers were elected: Leopold Mayer, President; M. Mansfield, Vice President; Abraham Frank, Treasurer and B. Simon, Secretary.

Burke’s Hall was secured as the place of worship and Rev. S. M. Laski was engaged as Reader. The congregation rapidly increased in members and the erection of a Synagogue was soon discussed. In October, 1859, a lot on the corner of Fifth and Oak streets was purchased. On May 12, 1861, the corner stone of the Synagogue was laid, and in August following the building was completed and consecrated. In May, 1861, Rev. H. Bories was chosen minister, remaining in charge of Beth Israel until July, 1863, when Rev. Dr. Julius Eckman was elected the first Rabbi of the congregation.

The Synagogue was enlarged in 1865 to meet the requirements of the congregation, and for more than two decades thereafter was used for religious purposes. In the meantime the congregation had grown so large that it illy answered for a house of worship. The erection of a more suitable building was periodically discussed, but no decisive action was taken until Col. L. Fleischner took the mat-ter in hand and in response to his efforts the necessary steps were taken which led to the erection of the present Synagogue. He was ably assisted by Rev. Dr. J. Bloch, who had been elected Rabbi in October, 1883.

In May, 1887, the necessary ground was secured at the corner of Tenth and Main streets. Plans for a Synagogue drawn by Williams & Smith were accepted and on January 8, 1888, work was commenced. The building, costing $70,000 was completed and dedicated on January 2, 1889. In exterior dimensions the structure is one hundred and fifteen feet by fifty-eight; the two ornamental towers being one hundred and sixty-five feet from the street to the apex. The basement is of stone and brick and divided into school and meeting room. The superstructure is of wood. With the gallery the auditorium will seat seven hundred and fifty persons.

The congregation now numbers one hundred and fifty male members. The present officers are: S. Blumauer, President; J. Kaufman, Vice President; N. Baum, Treasurer; Sol Friedenthal, Secretary. Following are the names of those who have served as Readers and Rabbis of the congregation: Rev. S. M. Larki, Rev. H. Biers, Rev. H. Bones, Rev. Dr. Julius Eckman, Rev. Dr. Isaac Schwab, Rev. M. May, Rev. Alexander Rosenspitz and the present Rabbi, Rev. Dr. J. Bloch.

The Jewish congregation of Ohavi Sholem was organized in 1872 by Dr. Julius Eckman, and has a Synagogue on Sixth street between Oak and Pine streets. Since that time Revs. Mellis, Robert Abraham, I. Kaiser and A. W. Edelman, have officiated as Readers. The present Reader is Rev. Robert Abrahamson. The congregation numbers fifty members.

Prior to the year 1866 there was no Unitarian church in Portland. There were four or five individuals and a few families who cherished a faith in the principles of ,liberal Christianity, a term which has come to cover not only Unitarians and Universalists, but all who, holding to the essential principles of Christianity, have felt dissatisfied with the exclusiveness, dogmatism or formalism, which the traditions of men have added to the simplicity of the gospel. Thomas Starr King had visited the country, but chiefly as a ledurer. We are told that he preached in the State one or two times. His name will always be identified with that of the Unitarian church upon this whole coast. In the year above mentioned, three individuals united in a letter to Rev. Horatio Stebbins, pastor of the church in San Francisco, inviting him to make a visit to Oregon and preach in Portland, with a view to find out whether it were best to found a liberal church in Portland. Mr. Stebbin’s visit created a profound feeling in the community. He preached three Sundays, and was heard by large numbers of every class and name. The result was a permanent organization, and the adoption of a constitution, which was signed by twenty-three persons. On the 30th of June the church was duly incorporated by the first Board of Trustees as corporators.

A sum of money was subscribed toward obtaining a minister from the East, and by various agencies a sufficient sum was obtained, even before a pastor was secured, to purchase two lots and erect the present building on the corner of Yamhill and Seventh streets-the land costing $2,000, and the building the same sum. In the fall of ’67, Rev. T. L. Eliot, then settled in. St. Louis, was invited, through the American Unitarian Association, to take charge of this, the most distant of the churches in the country. Starting from St. Louis the 11th of November, the pastor and his family arrived in Portland by way of the Isthmus and San Francisco, the day before Christmas. On the last Sunday of the year the church was dedicated, the services being conducted by three of the ministers of the place-Methodist, Baptist and Presbyterian. Since that time services have been conducted without any interruption, to the present time. Rev. Dr. Eliot has been the minister for twenty-two years-the longest protestant pastorate in the city and during that time has officiated at 500 funerals, 440 weddings and 488 baptismal services. The church now numbers two hundred communicants, and has a strong constituency and parish additional. Its pastoral and charitable work has always been large, in proportion to the age and strength of the church; the expenses, usually about $3,500 a year, are paid by voluntary subscription. A charitable fund, amounting to $300 a year, is formed by collections upon the first Sunday of each month. The Sunday School now numbers about one hundred and fifty scholars and twenty-two teachers, and is full of earnestness and life and the congregations are always large, frequently filling the church to its utmost capacity. Its members are in the main influential in the community, and among the foremost in the city’s public enter-prises and charities. The business of the society is conducted by a board of nine trustees-three retiring by expiration of their term and three chosen every year.


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