By Anna D. S. Pratt

From Yesterday and Today In the First Methodist Church, 1850-1950 (5)


 Like the Puritan Pioneers of an earlier day, the first settlers of Lebanon brought their school teachers along with their Bibles when they crossed the plains in 1847. Schooling was a corollary of Bible study, “For,” said they “how can one learn from the Bible if he cannot read it.”

There was a strong strain of the New England blood among these people who stopped by the Santiam and stayed to make their homes in the billowing sea of waist-high grass. They were not speculators or adventurers but settlers. Religious sentiment was strong in this predominantly Methodist settlement. Education was a “must” with them. So they had churches and they had schools.

They built a little log schoolhouse among the tall firs on a site east of Main Street, directly across from the present high school building. It was in the center of a space made by cutting the timber out of it. There, in1849, the first Methodist Society held its meetings, and John McKinney, a local minister from Brownsville, preached to them. Other denominations also used this cabin, which was actually the beginning of Santiam Academy.   Here Hugh George, in the winter of 1851-52, taught the first school in Lebanon.

About that time we ceased being a foreign mission and became part of the Oregon-California Conference. “Father” John H. Wilbur had sailed around Cape Horn to Christianize Indians and had preached in a frowsy little settlement now called San Francisco. In 1850 he organized the First Church of Portland, and built their house of worship practically out of the raw, wild forest. In the same year this tireless man of God came to Lebanon, organized its First Methodist Church and literally hewed out with his powerful hands a log building for their church and their school. It stood on the northeast corner of the present high school campus. William Marks taught the first school in this building. The next teacher was Mrs. T. L. Woodward whose husband was a Methodist circuit rider who held services in the scattered settlements of Southern Oregon. They lost their only child, less than a year old, a few weeks after they came to Lebanon.  Its little body was one of the first to be buried in the old City Cemetery.


The community soon outgrew this building. Besides, what could be done for the secondary education of young people beyond the beginners’ school? Hundreds upon hundreds of savage miles over deserts, mountains and inhospitable plains, months of dangerous travel, lay between them and the secondary schools in the East. The journey was unthinkable. There was no paternal government to help. So they helped themselves.

Rev. T. L. Woodward, often here between preaching trips, started taking subscriptions for a school to be known as Santiam Academy. When the town was platted, Jeremiah Ralston and his wife Jemima, and Morgan Kees and his wife Mary, each gave five acres to form a ten-acre campus. Others gave wheat or money or labor or lumber. Thus the building of this pioneer school in 1856 was a labor of love. Later, in 1861, Owen Kees bequeathed $1800 as an endowment fund. The furnishings came around the Horn, including the old bell which was now in the old high school belfry which later was tolled for the assassination of Lincoln. This building was an excellent example of early American school architecture. In 1857 “Father”  Wilbur’s building was added to the west side of the Academy building as a residence for the professors of the school.

The Academy was not a definite legal organization until on January 18, 1854, by a special Act of the Oregon Territorial Legislature the school was organized by the Methodist Church. The members of the first Board of Trustees were: John McKinney, Aaron J. Hyde, the Rev. Thomas H. Pearne, William C. Gallagher, Andrew Kees, Alvan H. Wailer, Morgan Kees, Jeremiah Ralston, Luther  T. Woodward, Delazon Smith, Luther Elkins, John Settle and David W. Ballard. In 1857, William Helm, Thomas Angell and Ruben S. Coyle are also named as trustees.

There was some difficulty in securing teachers of suitable moral and educational attainments. So, although the school held its title in fee simple, the Methodist Conference ratified the selection of teachers, in the earlier years. The Methodists used the building for their church services until their first building was constructed in 1888. The principal of the school was usually the local Methodist minister.

Among the teachers we note Rev. and Mrs. Luther T. Woodward,  1854, John Dillon, Isaac Dillon, Dr. C. H. Hall, Rev. and Mrs. D. E. Blain and Miss Farrell, Gen. and Mrs. Wm. H. O’Dell, 1860,  Rev, and Mrs. W. D. Nichols, 1868-70, Rev, and Mrs. J. B. Calloway, 1871, Rev. J. M. Nickerson, 1872-3, Prof. Lewis and lady, 1875-6, Lucian Gilbert and daughter Hela Gilbert, 1877-87, David Torbet, 1887-1891, Prof. Wright, 1892, Samuel Arnold Randle, 1892-1903, his son George and his daughter Nellie, Edward Coad, 1904-1906.


The early records of the Academy were destroyed by fire in 1875. Its history had to be reconstructed from the records of the Methodist Conference and from reminiscences of living children of the pioneers.

Gen. Wm. H. O’Dell was appointed Surveyor General of Oregon by President Grant in 1871. His wife, Elizabeth McClench French Thurston O’Dell, was the widow of Samuel R. Thurston, Oregon Territory’s first Representative in Congress.

At the close of the Civil War the school had grown to the number of 105 pupils, and in 1873 over 150 were enrolled. Only the recording angel can set down the imponderable values injected into our culture from this pioneer center of religion and learning.

Prior to 1892 there was no organized course of study. Prof. Randle, a devoted Christian and thorough scholar, spent ten years of his life in organizing and building up a school of college preparatory grade. The first two graduates were Ida Elkins and Will Ross, the Class of 1895.

With the coming of public high schools, the need for an institution of the type of Santiam Academy was lessened, and in 1906 the Board of Trustees leased the building and grounds to the Lebanon School District for 99 years.


When the building ultimately was demolished, much of the lumber and timbers were re-used in the construction of the Scout Hut on the Queen Anne School grounds. The hand-hewn logs, a foot square and forty feet long did not have a knot in them. The joists, studding and rafters, shaped by ripsaws held in hands now long turned to dust, were still sound. Mrs. Anna Bond Reed, member of an able pioneer family who crossed the plains in 1853, was a teacher and physician when the Academy was an active institution. This remarkable woman was greatly interested in beautifying the present campus.

From 1850 to 1888 the history of the Methodist Church is inextricably entwined with that of the Santiam Academy. Most of the early instructors were ministers as well as teachers, and were sent by the Methodist Conference.

It was the day of the circuit rider, and Lebanon was a part of the Brownsville Circuit, the parsonage being at Brownsville. For many years the small membership of the Lebanon Class used the chapel of the Academy as a place of worship.

Some of the names of early day ministers were W. H. Roberts, “Father” Leslie, the notable Hines brothers, Harvey K., Joseph, and Gustavus, the brothers Philip M. and Noah Starr, W. H. Lewis and J. W. Miller.

In the year 1885 Rev. J. M. Sweeney was appointed pastor of the Brownsville Circuit. He was disappointed at the sparse membership and poor spiritual condition of the Lebanon Church. After a week of cottage prayer meetings he instituted a great six weeks’ revival resulting in more than one hundred conversions. In 1886 the strengthened church was set off as a separate station, with Philip M. Starr as pastor. He determined to build a house of worship, and in 1887 the foundation was laid and the frame erected. During the progress of this work, Walton Skipworth appointed to this charge, but he had no parsonage to live in. So the members, the Ladies Aid and Rev. Skipworth all worked together with a will, and by December 30, 1888, both the church and a modest parsonage were completed.

At the dedication Rev. S. P. Wilson decided, that, since the trustee’s report showed an indebtedness of $868.60 against the church, it would be impossible to proceed. A subscription was taken up and, nothwithstanding the prevailing hard times, in half an hour $910 was subscribed, and the church was dedicated to the services of Almighty God. The trustees were: G. H. Bland, Joseph Elkins, Frances M. Miller, Z. T. Bryant, Rev. J. C Trine, N. M. Follis, D. F. Hardman and R. S. Roberts.


In 1910, Rev. A. F. Lacy was appointed and under his leadership present church was erected. It is a monument to the fidelity and sacrifice of its people. Under Rev. Frank James the debt was reduced to $3000. In 1918, under Rev. Dr. Thomas D. Yarnes, the debt was entirely wiped out, and Hiram T. Snyder; for seventy-five years a Methodist, climaxed the celebration by burning the mortgage.

In 1939, during the pastorate of D. Lester Fields, with the generous help of Dr. Joel C. Booth, an organtron was purchased which served until the present memorial organ was secured in 1947.

On Oct. 6, 1940, the 90-Year Anniversary of the church was observed. These who on that date had been members of the Lebanon Church for 50 years or longer, were Mr. and Mrs. James Burtenshaw, Mrs. Olive Gilson, Mrs. Nettie Crandall, Mrs. Lucy A. Stoops, Mr. and Mrs. Bert Powell, and Mrs. Jennie M. Steen.

As we pore over the listed names in the old church records, the odor and bloom of those bygone years steal over us. The fervent shepherds of the flock, the grayhaired saints, the sweet singers, the true-hearted workers in the church, father, mother, the loves of our very hearts’ cores have slipped away beyond the crystal bars. We love them, we miss them, on this side of that wide, solemn sea.

Yes, from those quiet graves where in dreamless dust lie the mortal remains of our courageous dead, like a leaping blade comes the valiant voice, “Carry on! Carry on!”

SOURCES:   Mss. of George H. Randle, Thomas D. Yarnes, Nettie Crandall, Emma Bellinger; clippings from old Lebanon newspapers; records Methodist church; Historical Sketch of Lebanon by Mrs. Esther Wallace; Fred Lockley; Edward E. Coad’s “History of Santiam Academy.” 1931, H. T. Atkinson’s Records of 1st Methodist Church of Lebanon.


1850 John Mc Kinney and Jos. E. Parrott   1889 C. H. Calder
1851 L. T. Woodward and John McKinney   1890-91 Thomas P. Boyd
1852 L. T. Woodward   1892 Harold Oberg
1853 A. F. Wailer and   1893-94 D. T. Summerville
  Isaac Dillon   1895-96 C. G. Harmon
1854 Joseph W. Hines   1897-98 H. B. Elworthy
1855 Isaac Dillon and J. W. York   1899 Hiram Gould
1856 W. J. Franklin and   1900 G. R. Arnold
  P. M. Starr   1901 M. P. Dixon
1857-58 Joseph N. Hines      
1859 Gustavus Hines   1903 Alfred Thompson
1860 D. E. Blain   1904 Alfred Thompson
1861 W. S. Lewis   1905 Alfred Thompson and J. C. Gregory
1862 W. S. Lewis and D. E. Blain   1906 J. C. Gregory
1863 J. W. Miller   1907 J. L. Beatty
1864 P. M. Starr and C. H. Hoxie   1908-10 A. F. Lacy
1865 P. M. Starr   1911 L. F. Belknap
1866-67 J. B. Calloway    1912-14 Robert Sutcliffe
1868 N. A. Starr   1915 Walton Skipworth
1869 E. A. Judkins   1916-17 Frank James
1870 John Flinn   1918-19 T. D. Yarnes
1871 D. L. Spaulding   1920 W. E. Ingalls
1872 G. C. Roe   1921-22 A. C. Brackenbury
1873 J. S. McCain   1923-27 H. T. Atkinson
1874-79 Lebanon served from Albany & Brownsville, names not available.   1928 J. A. Linn
1880 M. Hickman   1929-31 E. B. Lockhart
1881 To be supplied   1932-34 Lynn A. Wood
1882 J. W. Miller   1935-36 F. L. Wemett
1883 C. Alderson   1937-38 R. A. Spence
1884 B. J. Sharp   1939-41 D. L. Fields
1885 J. M. Sweeney   1942-44 Ralph G. Kleen
1886 P. M. Starr   1945-47 Harry E. Rarey
1887-88 Walton Skipworth   1948- Carl B. Mason
We acknowledge our debt to Rev.Thomas. D. Yarnes, former pastor and chairman of the Oregon Conference Historical Society, for this very complete list.


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