Below is a reprint of an article from the Grays River Builder published by H. Alta Meserve in 1923. The article was transcribed from clippings, and tells the story of the Grays River Church.
Founded Upon the Sweetest hope in the World, the Promise that Comes Down Through the Centuries as the Greatest Gift of all Time
The Little white church stand beside the highway, its mission plainly indicated by a square entrance topped with a belfry.
For half a century has that tapering, pointed spire reached its slender finger towards heaven symbolizing the aspirations and desires of the community for a contact with spiritual things. Through sunshine, storm, wind and rain it has steadfastly remained. It was built by steadfastness and the impulse for spiritual education and nourishment in those days gone by and it still symbolizes those deep rooted ideals.
Like many churches of pioneer days it has had to make its way in the community. When it was built it was not altogether welcome. There were a few who believed in the traditions of the church and were willing to sacrificed themselves gloriously that it should become a part and parcel of the community. There were others who looked upon it as a unit around which might foster and grow superstition, bigotry and oppression.
In that early day churches were not common among the Columbia river frontage and there was considerable resentment at the thought of the establishment of a religious edifice.
But bringing with them the recollections of their own childhood when church and Sunday school were a part of their daily routine of living and feeling unwilling that their children should grow up without the refining and uplifting forces of religion within their grasp, there were a few who attempted the organization of a little Sunday school and regular church services. At first these were held in the school house in the little building formerly owned by Johannes Granberg.
In Astoria lived an elderly man, who was a local elder, by the name of Theoron Stimson. He had been a local preacher and he began coming over occasionally for services. He was a very likable man and his services were much appreciated. Under his wise and kindly ministry the religious feeling of his hearers grew and deepened and eventually he came with his good wife to Grays River and located here as the leader of the little flock.
A church was duly organized under the conference of the Methodist Episcopal church and Dr. Spencer S. Sulliger came, as presiding elder, to lend assistance to the lusty young infant.
He, it was, who suggested that the church be named after its first pastor, so it came about that the suggestion was adopted and for many years the name, “Stimson M.E.Church” was painted over the door. For some reason it has since been removed, but it would indeed be seemly that it that old name should be revived and once more placed in its familiar setting.
The congregation found its quarters in the school house not quite to its liking. Some felt they had no place in the school house and there was a certain feeling of impermanence in having to adjust their meetings to the desires of others, some of whom were not interested; so it was finally decided that a church be build.
There still remains, in the records of the church, a list of the contributions of money subscribed for the building. There were also contributions of labor and ultimately the present building was erected. It is not known to us if that was the only subscriptions sheet in circulation but we believe it was. The total cash sum on this sheet amounted to $336 and of this amount there was probably fifty dollars not marked “paid” but, on liking the list over and having the personal knowledge that we have of practically all the signers, we believe it was nearly all paid as subscribed.
Let us stop for a moment and mention the names of some of those who were actively interested in the church of that early day and who testified to their interest by substantial subscriptions. The Jesse Bakers, Thad Barrs, Grandma and Emma Barr, John Blairs, G. R. Durrahs, John Brix, John W. Lawrence, Joachim Erp, Mrs. Sam Walker, D. R.MacIntosh, Will MackIntosh, Grandmother and Granfather Brix, Anders Granberg, Frank Barr, Tom Foss, A. Rohde, Miss Rhoda Hudson, E. Vaughn, Otto Olson, and Mrs. George Hopkins. Of that list many have passed to their reward by most of them lived to see the completed structure and for many years were the mainstay of the little church.
When the site was chosen for the building it was not possible to secure ground for it in the heart of the village, so it was built on a lot donated by Mr. and Mrs. J. H. Blair. The church was built near the riverbank just this side of the Luke Kimbel home. The money, collected in by popular subscription, was spent mainly for material and the farmers wielded their hammers and saws vigorously; donating most of their time and labor so that the church could be completed within the limits of their income.
Notations on the subscriptions sheet at one time said, “Collected another $243” and in another place, “Paid Out $245; Unpaid $47; Log $15.65; Total $62.75”; indicating that the church, when completed, was in debt $62.75. This was promptly paid however as, when the writer first came to the river, she remembers being told by Mrs. Jesse Baker that the church was all built and paid for the first year.
In fact it had made such a good showing that the conference cut off its missionary money which was a great blow to them as they had practically impoverished themselves to accomplish what they had. In this connection let us remark that missionary money is customarily donated by the conference to new or financially embarrassed organizations until they are able to become self supporting. Also that the subscription list previously mentioned was headed by a gift from the conference of $100 as a starter.
The sun sinks low in the west; twilight falls; the first burns low, only a mass of glowing embers with an occasional spurt of flame fills the room with the light and shadows; and through the dusk come trooping forms of long ago. As I sit in reverie, one by one, the processions pass.
Ministers who have led their flocks through good times and bad: elders who have lent their absorbed attention and unremitting energy to the spiritual and material needs of the church; mothers who came faithfully each week with their young broods that they might receive the needed instruction that would ground their faith with strength to carry them on throughout the years; young people, craving the social atmosphere; wriggling boys and dainty, little misses in their Sunday best; those who received the accolade of spiritual triumph; those who came for baptism’ and those who came, wearing the badge of sorrow, to lay their dead before the altar, and who later, with anguished spirit, took them away again to the ‘acre on the hill.’ Memories both sweet and painful, come crowding in.
Three generations have put their lives into this little church, and three generations have drunk of its strength and comfort.
Again my fancy takes me back to the days that are legendary, and also to those of which I have personal knowledge, for I am happy to say that I, too, have had my part in the keeping up of the little, white church. I, too, have given of my strength, and I, too, have found so many times, sanctuary there.
The procession moves on, three generations of Barrs, Bakers Blairs, Walkers, Brix’, Lawrence’s, Mcintosh’s, Granbergs, Durrahs, Hansens, Erps, Doslands, Nellie and Alice Emerson, Lena Hoeck, Mrs. W. F. Kessell, Majors, Richardsons, Minnie Rice, Houston Vaughns, Emma Barr, Rhoda Hudson—on and on they pass before me—Laughlins, Meserves, Chadwicks, Bashaws, Carruthers, Nellie and Swanhilde Ingermund. Lorine Olesons, Reeves, McGlump[two or three letters missing], Uncle Ed and Aunt Mary Sm[two or three letters missing, perhaps Smith], Kimbels, Brims, Hedges, D[one to three letters missing] Hall, Giffords, and Kellers.
Where are they? Some are still in the harness; come are still here but have grown indifferent; others have moved to far off places; and some of them are at rest on the hill top. But the warp and woof of their lives have been woven into the very fabric of the little church. The echo of their voices; the sound of their footsteps; their spiritual trials and triumphs; are preserved in the foundation, the roof, the walls, the floors, the pews, and the altar of the little church. Where else can one find the patens of memory so brightly burnished, so lustrous?
The years have come and gone. Tired hands have relinquished the torch to younger ones, and when these in turn must lay it down, there will be others to carry on.
Sunday school picnic, basket socials, chldren’s day programs, Christmas Trees, Easter services, cottage prayer meetings, the peal of the wedding march, cantatas, chicken-pie suppers, Ladies’ Aid dinners, and bazaars; all these the church has sponsored to fill the social, artistic, and spiritual needs of the community. I close my eyes and once again relive those days of yesterday.
Today the burden falls on the Barrs, Mathisens, Osterbergs, Forbergs, Johnsons, Munsons, Heidts, Kings, Scrimsher, Taylor, Kollenburn, Ordways, Minnie Anderson, Leonard Vaughn, Caroline Nelson, and others. That success may crown their efforts, that they may leave the best of themselves and find for themselves a blessing in the service of the little, white church, is the earnest wish of all.