A Brief History of the First Congregational Church of Dayton
This information is provided courtesy of Dallas Dickinson of the First Congregational Church of Dayton.
The First Congregational church was established in 1877 and has been preserved through a booklet compiled by the late Mrs. H. H. Wolfe and published by the church in 1903, the year of the dedication of the present building at 214 South, Third Street. The original church bell, donated by the American Home Missionary Society, hangs in the belfry.
Among the first workers for the Congregational church of Dayton were Revered Cushing Eels, D. D., Revered G. H. Atkinson, Revered Elvira Cobleigh and others. Revered Atkinson was the first laborer from the American Home Missionary society, beginning his long career of service to the Congregational churches of this state and Oregon in 1848. He assisted in the founding of the Tualatin academy and its higher development, Pacific University, in 1853, at Forest Grove, Oregon. He did much to disseminate intelligent information concerning the varied and wonderful resources of Oregon and Washington by writing for the newspapers and magazines of this time. He strongly urged the few Congregationalists of Dayton, who worshipped with the Cumberland Presbyterians, to establish a church of their own. This was done in 1877 by Revered E. W. Allen, Laura H. Allen, William Matzger, Mrs. C. E. Lowell, Mrs. Charles Clark, C. S. Kenniff, Mrs. C. S. Kenniff.
In 1885 'Father' Allen was succeeded by Revered E. R. Loomis, who, aided by his talented wife, soon built up a flourishing Sabbath school. He resigned in 1887, and the church had nothing to promote its vitality during the next three years except an occasional service led by some visiting clergyman. The first building occupied by the Congregational church stood on Third and Commercial, which was a most desirable site until the coming of the railroads. It was white like the churches of New England in which the founders had worshipped, and had small spires on each side of the belfry which housed a bell given to many of the young churches of Eastern Washington. When the new building was erected the bell was reverently preserved, and it has ever since been giving faithful service in the present church.
In 1889 four young men who had attended Yale decided to go in a band to some field in need of workers, and after much discussion and prayer for guidance they chose Washington, which that year became a state. In that group was Stephen Beasley Linnard Penrose, a man youthful and enthusiastic who had asked for a difficult field.
He was assigned to Dayton, where he lived in the Davis home. Mrs. Davis, a woman of the utmost refinement and culture who had seen great adversity throughout her life, and had found but few friends from her sphere in this new country, termed this period of the church "four golden years."
Dr. Penrose believed that a true Congregational church was an educated one - that those in the pews as well as in the pulpit should be intelligent. So he formed two chautauqua circles, and he took an active interest in building up the public library. The Halpine society was organized in 1892 and held its first sale that year, at which a fine collection of Chinese pottery purchased in Portland by Dr. Penrose sold rapidly and raised a substantial sum of money for the organization. In 1894, Dr. Penrose resigned his duties here, and after a brief period as a supply pastor in Honolulu he became associated with Whitman College, and to this now great institution he gave the best years of his life.
Plans for the new church began in about 1900. The late C. J. Broughton, Andrew Nilsson, George B. Baker, and C. B. Woodworth were the first to subscribe generous amounts for the building, and in 1903 the $10,000 structure was dedicated free of debt. Memorial windows of stained glass were given by former ministers, the family of the late George Eckler and the Christian Endeavor society. The latter group also provided pulpit and communion table, the Halpine society made a substantial gift, and it is recalled that the communion service used had come to the church through the grandmother of Dr. Penrose.
The Revered Steve Edwards is the present minister of the First Congregational Church and has, along with his wife Roslyn, led the church since 1993. Retired pastor Bill Graham (currently mayor of Dayton) continues to attend the church and sing in the choir. Edwards continues in the Congregationalist tradition by serving on the city council and directing community musical productions at the local theater.