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From the Archives
Presbyterian Church efforts didn't end after attack in 1847
(Statesman Journal 19 Sept 2010)

By Keni Sturgeon

A "little vine is planted in this desert:" Oregon's Presbyterian Missionary Efforts and The Pleasant Grove Church.

While Rev. Jason Lee was working to keep the Willamette Station of the Methodist's Oregon Mission growing, Dr. Marcus Whitman was investigating the possibility of establishing a Presbyterian mission.

Early in 1835, he succeeded in getting an appointment from the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions to establish a mission in the Oregon Country.

In 1835 Whitman, along with Samuel Parker, made a preliminary trip to talk to the Indians. After returning from Green River in 1835, Whitman spent the winter of 1835-36 raising funds, buying supplies and recruiting a party. This party included Whitman, his bride Narcissa Prentiss Whitman, the Rev. Henry Spalding and his wife Eliza, as well as several hired hands and Indian boys. William Gray, a bachelor, served as scout and general manager for the expedition.

On Sept. 12, 1836, the party reached Fort Vancouver and from there scouted the region for an appropriate site for the mission. In the end they decided to establish two missions: Whitman near the Cayuse at Waiilatpu, and Spalding near the Nez Perce at Lapwai. The Presbyterian Mission to the Oregon Country was discontinued after the attack at Waiilatpu in 1847. The closing of the mission was not, however, the end of the Presbyterian Church in Oregon.

Among the earliest of Oregon's Presbyterian churches is the Pleasant Grove Church, also known as Condit Church, established in 1856. Originally located near Aumsville, the church was moved to the grounds of Mission Mill Museum in 1984. The building is the oldest surviving church in the Pacific Northwest associated with the Presbyterian Church. It is on the National Register of Historic Places and in 1984 was given to the Museum by the Presbytery of the Cascades.

The Rev. Phillip Condit was born in Mercer County, Pa., in 1801. In 1836, he graduated from Jefferson College and was licensed in 1839. He preached in Ohio until 1854 when he moved to Oregon. Sylvanus had lived in the Willamette Valley for three years prior to improve his health, and it was he who convinced his family to take the trip west. The family included Condit, his wife Nancy (1806-1861), their two other sons, Cyrenius (born 1827) and Alva (born 1831) and their wives, Rebecca and Mary, their minor children (Samuel, Mary Ann and William), their adopted daughter and three unmarried hired men. The group was well prepared for their journey West, with supplies and trade items. Still, they lost one of their party along the way, their adopted daughter Nancy who died of camp fever.

The first action upon the part of Condit and his two sons was to organize a church of nine charter members. The names on this first register are: Mrs. Nancy Condit, Cyrenius Condit and his wife Rebecca, Sylvanus Condit and his wife Sarah, Samuel Condit, Mrs. Pira Rudolph, Mrs. Alcy Neal and Mrs. Elizabeth Thomas.

The organization of the Pleasant Grove Presbyterian Church was completed on Sept. 26, 1856, at the house of Condit, assisted by the Rev. J.A. Hanna, and Condit is reported to have said "...thus another little vine is planted in this desert. We trust it is a vine of God's own planting. May His richest blessing rest upon it and it bring forth fruit that His name may be glorified." Sadly, Condit would not live to see his church built. He died Nov. 21, 1856 and is buried in Pleasant Grove Cemetery.

His sons Sylvanus and Cyrenius were responsible for securing the donations of labor, materials and cash needed to make its completion possible. Timber was provided by D. R. McMillan, milling by Alexander Neal. The doors, window sashes, pews and pulpit were hand made by volunteers. All totaled, pledges raised for the project totaled $1,378 (and 25 cents). Construction of the church was completed in April 1858.

Rev J.A. Hanna, who assisted with the organization of Pleasant Grove Church, was inspired by Dr. Whitman. Hanna was an 1849 graduate of Jefferson College, and in 1854 he led a "Presbyterian Colony for Oregon" as a Home Missionary of the Church (Old School). He went on to help to found seven churches and dedicate six houses of worship. Corvallis was his first church, and Pleasant Grove his second. He assisted Condit at the organizational meeting and contributed his first year's salary to the erection of the church.

Keni Sturgeon is the museum director at the Willamette Heritage Center

Pleasant Grove Church, 1956, Original Site
Pleasant Grove Church, 1956, Original Site
Courtesy - Salem (Oregon) Public Library Historic Photograph Collections.

Pleasant Grove Church, 1992, Moved to Mission Mill Museum
Pleasant Grove Church, 1992, Moved to Mission Mill Museum
Courtesy - Salem (Oregon) Public Library Historic Photograph Collections.

ILLUSTRATION (Source - uncited newspaper clipping)
Illustration - Pleasant Grove Cemetery
[Click to view larger version]

MONUMENT OF FAITH  (Capital Journal 4 Feb 1948, pg 3)
Old Presbyterian Church Again a Place of Worship
By Ben Maxwell

Pleasant Grove church, oldest edifice of the Presbyterian faith now standing in Oregon and second within the territory, has lately been restored by members and friends who hope that regular services may again be heard here regularly as they were over a period of 86 years.

Rev. Phillip Condit, with his sons Sylvanus and Cyrenus, arrived in Marion county in 1854 and built Pleasant Grove church in 1856. A site was chosen on the claim of Cyrenus, between what is now Aumsville and West Stayton, and endowed with 50 acres of land for its perpetual maintenance and care of the nearby cemetery. In those times Aumsville was called Hoggum because of the many pigs in the neighborhood and the name carried until July 10, 1863, when Cyrenus became first postmaster and the community was changed to Condit.

Oxen Hauled Lumber.

Lumber for the 92-year-old church, tradition relates, was obtained rough at Oregon City and hauled by oxen to the site of construction where it was hand planed to suit the builder’s needs. Pews for seating a congregation of 150 were likewise fashioned and today these rigid benches bear plane marks made by pioneer craftsmen. Rev. Phillip Condit, first minister, was assisted by Rev. J. A. Anna in launching the church movement.

Rev. Condit died very shortly after the church was completed, his headstone in Pleasant Grove cemetery giving the date as November 21, 1856. Charter members were Mrs. Nancy Condit, Cyrenus Condit and wife Rebecca; Sylvanus Condit and wife Sarah; Samuel Condit, Mrs. Pira Rudolph, Mrs. Alcy Neal and Mrs. Elizabeth Thomas.

Few Idle Years.

Pleasant Grove church was in constant use until services were discontinued at the outbreak of the recent war. Rev. J. Y. Stewart, who came to the church in 1923, was last in charge. While idle the building deteriorated through neglect and desecration by vandals. Lately descendants of the Condit family, members and friends have cooperated to restore the structure to a serviceable condition. A new roof has been laid, windows replaced and shutters hung to protect them. Now a heavy wire fence is being stretched around the church yard and cemetery. Henry R. Crawford, Salem businessman who assisted with restoration, hopes that a minister may again be placed in charge and services resumed to maintain a worship established 92 years ago.

Church Built by Pioneers is Oldest in Constant Use in West.

TURNER - The annual homecoming day of the Pleasant Grove church will be Sunday, July 17, with the usual basket dinner. Rev. T. Y. Stewart of Albany, pastor for the past few years, will speak at 11 o'clock and Rev. G. W. Payas, Sunday school missionary of Willamette presbytery, will give the afternoon address at about 2 o'clock. It is expected that a number of the old friends of the church will be present.

The church building is conceded to be the oldest church west of the Rocky mountains in constant use since its erection in pioneer days, under the inspiration of Rev. Philip Condit, who died before its completion. Rev. J. A. Hanna also helped lay plans for the church but died before its erection.

Original Room Intact

Rev. Condit's oldest sons, Cyrennus and Sylvanus, carried out the plans and with other help completed in 1858 the one-room building which accommodated about 75 persons and which remains practically the same, with the old stove, pews and pulpit with its first bible. Needed repairs have been made, and a new porch added. The same foundation holds with the frame hewed out of logs from timber on the ground, put together with wooden pins, and lumber hauled from Oregon City and put on with hand wrought nails. All are well preserved and stand a monument to the piety and sturdiness of purpose of the early pioneers.

A neat little cemetery joins the grounds, the resting place of a number of those who worshiped in the little church that was built with much sacrifice, and where the families yet lived in their first log homes.
Oregon Statesman 8 July 1938 4:5


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