Providence Church

"On a gently sloping hillside overlooking the Santiam Valley stands today the historic Providence church between two groves of stately fir trees. Back of the church is a well-kept pioneer cemetery. The church is located about half way between Scio and Lebanon on a side road to the east.

"The early history of the Providence Church is inseparable from that of its first preacher, the colorful Joab Powell. He and his wife and 10 children --  two had died previously and two sons had preceded the family West --  arrived in Oregon in 1850 from Missouri. They took up a 640 acre donation land claim on the forks of the Santiam River.

"From the moment of Joab’s conversion in 1824 in Tennessee, his consuming desire was to save sinners from eternal damnation. No small wonder that upon arrival in Oregon his thoughts turned to organizing a church. On April 9, 1853 Rev. Powell and 19 others signed as charter members.

"In discussing a fitting name for this the 14th Baptist congregation to be organized in Oregon, Joab suggested, “Since Providence has led us to this place and prospered us in the forming of a church, why not call it Providence Baptist Church.” And so it has remained through the years.

"The first building was constructed of logs cut and hauled from some distance. It had a shake roof and puncheon floor. Home-made tallow candles placed in holders along the sides furnished light. A raised platform with a rude desk and chairs and a mourner’s bench were at the front end. The pews were straight and hard. The log church was replaced by the present church on the same site.

"Joab Powell was a big man, weighing 300 pounds with a voice of incredible volume. He was described as a rugged character, preaching a rugged gospel in rugged times. He was known to convert as many as 50 in a day. The mourners’ bench was usually crowded. Immersion was in nearby Jordan Creek with Powell immune to the chilly waters in which he stood hip deep. The church numbered 400 members, the largest of any Baptist church in the Oregon territory. It is estimated that Joab baptized 3,000 persons in his ministry....

"A fitting tribute to the Powells and other pioneer members of Providence was held July 2, 1922. A thousand people gathered including a number of distinguished citizens who had grown up in the area.  Those present decided to erect a monument to the original charter members.  Funds were solicited and two years later on Sunday, June 15, 1924, the monument was dedicated.  Speakers at the event included historian John B. Horner, professor at Oregon State University (then OAC), its president William Jasper Kerr, Oregon Journal editor B. F. Irvine, and Oregonian editor E. B. Piper.  Only one of the 20 names whose names appear on the monument was present, the lone survivor was Powell’s daughter Ann Carmical.

"The church stands today as a reminder of the faith of the pioneers and especially of Joab Powell who was deep-rooted as an oak, stern yet full of saving grace."

Text excerpt from A Guide to Early Oregon Churches, Olga Samuelson Freeman (10). 

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"The Reverend Joab Powell was of Quaker descent, born on July 16, 1799, in Claiborne County, Tennessee. He went to Missouri in 1832, crossed the plains by covered wagon train with his large family in 1852, and took up an Oregon Donation Land Claim south of Scio, Oregon. The next Spring he had his farm underway, so that he, several members of his family, and neighbors built a log church in a beautiful fir grove on a hilltop on his farm. They named it Providence Baptist Church, and on that site a larger Providence Community Church still stands today. He became its pastor, with Reverend J. C. Berkley as assistant. The Reverend Powell preferred to hold evangelistic meetings through the territory, while Brother Berkley stayed at home taking care of Providence Church.

"Joab’s wife, Ann Reeler Powell, was a small, quiet woman of German ancestry. She and the older sons ran the farm, while Joab rode far and near, holding church services in the widely scattered settlements. He would return each fall to the home on the Santiam river, ragged and dispirited. His home was a well of strength. Each night by the fireside, throughout the winter, his wife would read chapters of the Bible to him. Joab would listen and later repeat them word for word, by memory. She would refer with pride to his summer’s achievements. Slowly his confidence and courage would build up; and, in the Spring, he would be ready for new conquests.

"Elder Powell had friends in all walks of life. His adaptability, no doubt, was one of the underlying reasons for his famed evangelical success. He was a straight and honorable man, and his preaching far and near was followed by spiritual awakenings of great power. His work stood the test of time. He died in 1873 and lies buried in Providence Churchyard beside his wife. Ann died as she had lived—gently—in the early Spring of 1872. Joab never rode the circuit again. He died seven months after his wife was gone.

"Each third Sunday in June, an all-day service is held at the historic Providence Church to commemorate the achievement of Elder Powell and his faithful adherents, and the community’s tribute to a pioneer circuit rider.

"In tribute to the pioneer preacher, the late Professor J. B. Horner of Oregon State University wrote: 'During his ministry he baptized nearly 3,000 souls, a greater number than any other person baptized west of the Rocky Mountains. The Reverend Powell was illiterate from an academic standpoint, but he was so thoroughly versed in the Bible that he did not require it for reference in the pulpit, although his sermons abounded in Biblical quotations. He understood men and he communed with nature as with a friend.'”

Text Excerpt from Oregon Historic Landmarks -- Willamette Valley, published by the Oregon Society, Daughters of the American Revolution, 1963.   Article on Providence Church by Lenore Powell. (11)


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