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News / Life / Clark County Life

Clark County history: Salmon Creek United Methodist Church

By Martin Middlewood, Columbian freelance contributor
Published: January 20, 2024, 6:05am

In 1940, the construction of Highway 99 nearly demolished one of the oldest church buildings in Clark County. The Salmon Creek United Methodist Church had to be moved to its current location on the east side of the road. Today, those driving northbound along Northeast Highway 99 by the creek can’t miss the small white church.

The Methodists who founded what would become the Salmon Creek United Methodist Church crossed the Oregon Trail together in 1852. Their seven-month journey brought them to Fort Vancouver, where they stayed until they could file claims under the Homestead Act. Their church symbolizes the Methodist incursion into Clark County, the first since Jason Lee arrived at Fort Vancouver in 1834. Lee stayed only shortly before turning his attention south of the Columbia River to create a mission near Salem, Ore.

The Methodists’ leader, Joseph Goddard, was steeped in religion by a family of Methodist preachers, including his grandfather, father, and later his son. One in three religious believers were Methodists by 1850, giving the sect a serious influence on the thinking of the day. Goddard and his wife, Hester, trudged six miles north of the fort through a heavily wooded area with no roads, to strike a claim near what today is Northeast Hazel Dell Avenue and Bassel Road. There, they built a home, which from 1853-1855 held the first regular Methodist meetings since Jason Lee’s services 20 years earlier. During the week, Hester schooled her children there.

By 1855, Goddard built a rough log cabin to serve as a church and schoolhouse. In the West, it was common to use the same building to mix religion and education, with Sundays reserved for church gatherings and weekdays for schooling. The congregation outgrew the cabin and replaced it with a larger one in 1860.

Circuit riders were the first preachers at Salmon Creek. During territorial days, no community could afford to pay a parson, and itinerant preachers rode circuits to bring religion to the wilderness. The Rev. James Gerrish was the first circuit missionary to preach at Salmon Creek. Others followed, but Gerrish is seen as the organizer of the Methodist congregation in Vancouver. In his diary, Goddard wrote, “Father Gerrish’s circuit includes Astoria, Vancouver, Salmon Creek and The Dalles,” noting the preacher stayed overnight. Around this time, people referred to the church as the Pioneer Chapel.

As the 1890s blended into the 1900s, leaving behind one of the worst economic depressions, the Salmon Creek Methodists turned to constructing a new church on the north side of the creek, on land donated by Goddard’s descendants. They incorporated it as the Salmon Creek Methodist Episcopal Church in 1897. Upon its completion, the Rev. James McQueen started a half-century career as a minister there.

The old road to Salmon Creek was paved, narrow and full of curves. To make way for Highway 99, the church would have to be moved. Arthur Northcutt and Will Galbraith negotiated and received $4,000 to move the church to its present location. In the move, they added a basement and a septic system.

Martin Middlewood is editor of the Clark County Historical Society Annual. Reach him at ClarkCoHist@gmail.com.

Columbian freelance contributor