The first Baptist congregation in Linn County was organized at Soda Springs (Sodaville) in the summer of 1848, with six members, by Rev. H. Johnson. Its records are lost, but it is known that the church came into the Willamette Association in 1850, reporting 11 members. There was a revival in 1853 under Rev. Ezra Fisher and William Sperry and 50 joined. However, 34 members were dismissed to organize the Pleasant Butte Baptist Church (now Brownsville), leaving 34 members. At the Association in 1854 it reported its prospects bright, but the prosperity was brief. Removals were frequent. Perhaps a more serious cause of decadence was that several of the more active members went with Ezra Fisher who, about 1857-58, organized a new church which would not co-operate with the other Baptist churches of Oregon on account of the slavery question. The church was thus left weak, with no pastor. It was represented in the Association until 1857, then became extinct (312).
The Rev. Ezra Fisher was born at Kendall, Franklin County, Mass., January 6, 1800. Graduated Amherst College, Jan. 19, 1830. Married in 1830. For 13 years a missionary. Built the first Baptist church at Davenport, Iowa. Denounced slavery. Commissioned to Astoria, Oregon, in 1845, salary $200 per rear, with $400 for outfit. Started from St. Joseph, Missouri May 20, 1846. Spent summer of 1846 on Tualatin Plains. Moved to Astoria fall of 1846. In 1849 went to Cal. mines and returned in six months with $1200. Moved to Oregon City. Settled in Linn County in 1855. Moved to The Dalles in 1861. Moved to Cal. 1872. Returned to The Dalles 1873. Died of pneumonia Nov. 1, 1874 (313).
The Pleasant Butte Baptist Church, which 34 members of the Sodaville congregation left to form, was organized November 15, 1853, but is now the first Baptist Church of Brownsville. First meeting was at a schoolhouse north of Brownsville. When the congregation moved to town, the church building was sold and moved to the George Harrison farm, where it is still in use as a barn. Rev. William Sperry was the first clergyman, from 1853-56 (314), and Rev. Carpus Sperry, his son, for many years thereafter.
The United Baptist Church of Providence, located in the Forks of the Santiam, was organized at the home of John Powell, by Revs. J. C. Berkley, Joab Powell and R. Cheadle, with 19 members, on April 9, 1853. The church might almost be called a colony, since nearly all belonging to it came from the same place in Missouri, namely Jackson County. It doubled its membership the very first year, though all who joined, except one, did so by letter, being intended immigrants. In May, 1854, an arm of the church was established about ten miles north, with Pastor Berkley receiving members there -- and almost anywhere else -- when occasion offered. In the fall of 1854 Rev. C. C. Riley held a protracted meeting at Providence and gained 14 members. In 1856 the church gave Revs. J. D. South and Joab Powell permission to receive and baptize members wherever they were preaching, within the bounds of the church, which then comprised the whole Forks of the Santiam. In September and October, 1856, at a protracted meeting, with Rev. W. P. Koger assisting, there were 33 additions. In the summer of 1856 a meeting house was built. Rev. Joab Powell was Pastor, but Brother Berkley was also allowed to receive and baptize members, as always (315). Joab Powell, whose life and preaching have become well known legends in the Willamette Valley, was a short, broad, thickset man, uncouth, a user of tobacco, homespun in his talk, but sincere and honest. His very uncouthness, disregard for anything but the simple fundamentals of life, his prodigious strength and energy, coupled with his stentorian voice - which it was said could be heard a mile when he discoursed or preached - made him a successful saver of souls. He was kin to the people among whom he labored and understood them as they understood him.
He was born in Claiborne County, Tennessee, July 16, 1799, had no education, read poorly and wrote still more poorly. He was married in 1818, professed religion in 1824, and came to Oregon in 1852, settling in the Forks of the Santiam River, where he died January 25, 1873. Providence Church which he labored for grew to 400 members. The Rev. Jesse G. Berkley was born in Virginia in 1796, was married in 1824, became a Baptist minister in Missouri in 1852. He died August 24, 1872. The Rev. Richmond Cheadle was born in Morgan County, Ohio, in 1801, and came to Oregon in 1849. He died in Linn County October 30, 1875 (316).
The great enthusiasm of the early Baptist preachers and their many trips afield resulted in the organization of quite a few congregations in the surrounding country which were comparatively short-lived and about which but little is known, since few records exist. Liberty Church, in the hills northwest of Sweet Home on the present Silas Barr farm, was formed October 3, 1853, by Joab Powell and others, but soon lapsed from neglect. Good Hope Baptist Church, near Albany, was organized in the fall of 1854 by Rev. R. C. Hill. It lapsed when members joined an Albany congregation. North Santiam Baptist Church was established by Revs. Berkley and Powell early in 1856 and disbanded in 1861 because of internal troubles. The Pleasant Valley Baptist Church, probably in the community still called Pleasant Valley across the river from Sweet Home and several miles northeast, was formed April 27, 1856, with J. D. South, the founder, Pastor. It was still in existence in 1860. Why or when it vanished is not on record. Avery Butte Baptist Church was born July 9, 1856, with Rev. William Sperry, Pastor. Nothing else is known about it. Washington Butte Baptist church, near Lebanon, was established by Joab Powell about 1863, then lapsed. Prairie Precinct Baptist Church, near Halsey, organized November 1, 1870, was one of three or four feeble churches kept alive by Rev. G. W. Warmouth in the southern part of Linn County. So was the Halsey Baptist Church, organized November 22, 1871, date of disappearance unknown (316).
The First Baptist Church of Albany was organized May 10, 1867, and in the beginning met at the Dixie School House, corner of Second and Montgomery streets. In 1872 a church was built on the present site, repaired and remodeled several times, then torn down in 1907, to make room for the present building. First settled clergyman was Rev. R. C. Hill (317). Scio Baptist Church, still functioning, was organized prior to 1872. Oak Creek Baptist Church, near Tangent, was formed December 13, 1875 and lapsed about 1920. The congregation met in private homes until June 23, 1878, when a church was dedicated. Lebanon Baptist Church was established in 1890 and is still in existence (318), while other Baptist churches were formed at intervals past the turn of the century.
First Baptist Church, Albany
Biography of Joab Powell
Biography of Joab Powell Jr.
American Baptist Historical Society
Liberty Baptist Church Cemetery
Church histories were abstracted from: " History of Linn County", Compiled by Workers of the Writer’s Program, Works Progress Administration, 1941. See bibliography for above-cited references. All photos from the collection of Lisa L. Jones, unless otherwise noted. Lisa L. Jones contributed and is solely responsible for the content of these pages. Copyright 2001.