methodist church

1. Methodist Church, 1885

Color Plate 1: Methodist Church Photographed by Otto Greule ©2009 (See Otto’s Notes Below)

Snow covers the stack of lumber on the Avenue C site of the new church following the late December storm, delaying the start of construction. Farther down Avenue C, just cross 2nd Street, the sidewalk was “monopolized by a jolly crowd of coasters, young and old,” according to The Eye, December 20, 1884.

By the end of April 1885, however, a little over a year after White’s arrival in Snohomish, the Methodist Church was fully enclosed, reports The Eye, along with the editorial comment: “When completed it will be a handsome edifice, and an ornament to the town.”

Describing the second church to be built in Snohomish as an “ornament” may be a small example of why the contemporaneous historian William Whitfield writes: “The influence of the early press of Snohomish was always somewhat antagonistic to the orthodox churches.”

The Eye, according to Whitfield, inclined towards the occult. Certainly, the use of the dramatic “Eye of Providence” symbol in its masthead supports this notion to today’s readers. Under the brilliant editorship of George MacDonald, continues Whitfield, The Eye was “frankly atheistic.” Earlier, Eldridge Morse, who edited and printed The Northern Star, beginning in 1876, was interested in the Free Religious Association, championed by the well-known poet and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson, who was one of its first members when founded in 1867.

js white story imageMethodist and Catholic Churches, c.1905.
One of only two images of the Methodist Church that have surfaced, this one captured by Lee Pickett around 1905 shortly before it was moved up 3rd Street (on the left) to Avenue B, opposite St Michael Catholic Church in the background.

On July 4, two weeks before the official dedication, The Eye
devotes several column inches to the interior of the new Methodist Church:

“It is of the Gothic style of architecture and occupies a sightly location at the corner of Avenue C and 3rd Street, and is one of the first and most attractive objects that meets the eye when approaching the city from the south or west. The dimensions of the building are 28×50 feet with 16 foot posts. The vestibule is approached from Avenue C by a short flight of steps. Upon entering the building, a person is surprised by the novel, yet beautiful finish of the interior – especially the ceiling, which reaches to the rafters, and in which the finest quality of cedar lumber was used – being laid in diagonal sections. Unique and artistic trestle work on the ceiling lends additional strength to the roof. The walls are wainscoated and hard-finished, and all the woodwork of the interior is oiled and varnished except the doors, which are French walnut, grained. The building has a seating capacity of 250 persons and is lighted by ten arge gothic windows and two circular ones; the latter ornamenting the gables. The summit of the spire is 66 feet from the ground. Mr. J. S. White, the architect and builder, informs us that the cost of building and lot will hardly exceed $1,500.”

On August 1, The Eye reprinted the following account of the dedication by Reverend Mr. Dennison of Seattle and originally published in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

“Snohomish county, river and city, lay just north of King county, and is one of the best agricultural and timber regions of Western Washington. The city is a thriving place of nearly a thousand inhabitants full of energy and pluck. Having been probably more neglected by the different church organizations than any other community on Puget Sound, it was a matter of great interest that the Methodists, who began operations there two years ago, were now ready to dedicate their new church and that Sunday, July 26, 1885, was the time appointed.

The house dedicated is perfect gem of architectural beauty, in size 28×50 feet with a gothic or truss roof and a beautiful belfry. In fact, I have never seen a prettier or better church of its size anywhere. The plan is what is known as No. 1 B, remodeled by Mr. J. S. White of Snohomish City, with an exact copy of the Battery street church of this city.

At the hour of dedication the new church was filled with a fine and cultured audience, and the writer having been detailed by the presiding elder for the work, preached and presented the accounts of the trustees to the audience stating that $600 would be necessary to finish the payment of the cost of the church. In a few moments the people had subscribed $415. In the afternoon, after a sermon by Rev. A. Atwood, the remaining $185 were quickly given,
and the edifice was dedicated free from all local obligation, according to the ritual of the M. E. church.

To make such a church possible, great liberality and much self-sacrifice was necessary on the part of the people of Snohomish, and also considerable cash from the Church Extension Society of the M. E. Church, which started the enterprise by a gift of $250, and the loan of an equal amount on long time and easy payment. The entire cost was $1576, of which $1375 was for the house alone, and the balance for the lot, carpet, chairs and other fixtures. Starting with nothing two years ago, the Methodists now have a society of 20, while the Presbyterians are a flourishing as at any former time. the people of Snohomish have honored God and themselves by their liberality.”

js white story imageSnohomish City by Gilbert Horton, c.1885
Looking east, down-river, with the town of Snohomish nestled on the north bank.

Let’s have a little sense. How are we going to get rid of the Chinese? We’ve no legal right to kill ‘em. I’d like to kill one; wouldn’t you, Ferg?” Comment at a public meeting in Snohomish, reported in The Eye, October 24, 1885

The community’s “liberality” would be tested that fall. The Eye described under the headline “The Chinese Curse” of a public meeting, held Monday evening, October 19th, to discuss the Chinese question. E. C. Ferguson, the mayor, was elected chairman and no other officers would accept nomination. The first group of speakers was in favor of forcing the Chinese out, and offered various, peaceable plans to follow through on their recommendations, all receiving enthusiastic response. But there was “tumultuous applause from a portion of the audience” supporting a proposal to send ‘em all back to China and pay their expenses from a “fiery pioneer who had been indulging in ‘whiskey-row’ jim-jam syrup, and did not wait for an invitation to express his sentiments.”

Only “Ferg,” as the mayor and the town’s “founding father,” as he was often called, spoke of the benefit provided to the county and the town by the Chinese. He reminded the gathering that the Chinese were all ready here, and there was work that would not get done without the immigrants. There was no mention in the report that Ferguson was known to hire Chinese workers. And only a hand few of them remained in town since the anti-chinese movement in Seattle ignited with torch light processions, calling Chinese coolie labor disgraceful, dangerous, and degrading to the American working class. The Seattle Methodist Church provided sanctuary for the Chinese workers while its gun-wielding pastor held off the mob.

At a second meeting at the Masonic Hall on 2nd Street, an equally large crowd turned out and the confusion of the night before continued, but somehow it was voted unanimously that the Chinese must go. However, the new chairman, A. H. Eddy, failed to form a committee of three willing to inform “the few celestials remaining here.” This meeting, like the first, “adjourned without taking any definite action.”

js white story image

Otto Greule photographing White’s Methodist Church.
The church in the background is the former St Michael Catholic Church, the third church built in Snohomish in 1888. Enlarged to its current size in the 1920s, and enovated in 1994-2000 by the author and his partner Karen Guzak.

The Methodists’ Move

By the first decade of the 20th century, with membership at nearly 200, the congregation needed to add a Sunday school building. In 1910, the Methodists moved White’s structure uphill to three lots they had purchased two years earlier on the southeast corner of Avenue B and 3rd Street. The building was set above a full concrete basement that eventually included a kitchen. A larger vestibule, assumed to have been designed and built by White, was added to accommodate stairs leading down to the basement and up to the nave.

In 1974, the Snohomish Historic District was established, then listed on the National Register of Historic Places kept by the National Park Service. White’s Methodist Church was included as a primary building in the Snohomish Historical Society’s application. Consequently, church leaders’ plans to expand the historic structure were stymied, and the church purchased five acres northwest of Blackman Lake, north of downtown Snohomish. In 1983, the congregation marked its 100th year in Snohomish with architectural plans for a new church – its current home.

Snohomish’s second church, and the oldest one still standing today, is a chapel for hire at this writing. Since the turn of the millennium, the historic town of Snohomish has found itself surrounded by wedding venues, many of which have joined hands as the Snohomish Wedding Guild to promote Snohomish as the “Premier Wedding Destination in the Puget Sound region,” according to its website White’s historic structure is quite popular, and if only a few of the guests look up to appreciate the original ceiling as described in The Eye 132 years ago, this writer’s modest prayers will be answered.


Edited by Susan Geib

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Early morning light, softened by a lifting fog, graces the north and east sides of the Original Methodist Church. I chose this viewpoint to best express the rhythm created by the shapes of the gables as they ascend from the entryway to the spire, and to clearly show the shape of the quatrefoil roundel window. The church’s pleasing geometry is juxtaposed with the playful line of the treetops.

Camera: Canon 5D Mark II, Lens: TS-24mm ƒ1:3.5,
Exposure: 1/30 second @ ƒ14, iso 100.

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