The Hood River News, Hood River, OR., April 12, 1940, page 4


     In connection with the forthcoming Fiftieth Anniversary of Riverside Community church, Henry L. Howe has written a brief series of accounts of religious life in the Hood River area in the early days. The account follows:

"In the Beginning"

     In looking over my numerous clippings pertaining to early Hood River history I find very few relating to the early church activities. So I will have to depend upon memory. And it may not be in accord with what others may have on the same subject.
     My scrapbook tells me the first Sunday school in the valley was organized in 1871, and was held in Hood River's first school house, located near the Cottage Farm. About this time the Methodists formed a class here, the members of which held their membership in The Dalles.
     In 1880 an organization calling itself the Hood River Educational Association build a two-room building at Frankton, each member of the Association contributing to the expense of the building. The old school house was then abandoned and the Sunday school and church services were moved to the new building. For a time this was the Community Center, where gatherings of the Pioneers were held.
     In the late 1870s a second Sunday school was organized at the Barrett school house.
     In due course of time the Methodist church was organized and built their church at Belmont about three miles out of town on the Belmont road. If my memory serves me right the Rev. Frank Spalding was among its first ministers.
     Following closely on this the First Congregational church was organized in the building was built on land donated by Jacob Vanarselt, an old pioneer from Seattle. Fred Balch, writer of "The Bridge of the Gods" was its first pastor.
     Among the men who did much toward building up the religious life in Hood River might be mentioned Sherrieb, Haynes, Saunders, Dr. Barrett, Newton Clark, and others.
     In 1872 Haynes and Sanders came to Hood River and began one of the first commercial orchards at the foot of Ruthton Hill on what is now known as the Morton ranch. They immediately took an active part in church matters. Sanders, for a time, acted as superintendent of first Sunday school. With them going to Sunday school was an uphill business. Their only way out was a rough, narrow roadway, not much better than a trail, along the side of Ruthton Hill and known as "The Grade." Banks were high and precipitous on one side and on the other side it was a long way down to the jagged rocks below. There was no five per cent grade, just rough and steep, which meant a slow and tedious drive with cayuse and hack.
     Of course, all our church workers did not live at the foot of Ruthton Hill, but as there were no paved roads, going to church was not the easy matter that it is in the days of now.
     Our first church services were conducted by farmer preachers, who farmed during the week and preached on Sundays. Among the first of these, was a man by the name of Berry, who purchased forty acres from a Mr. Price near the Idlewilde cemetery. Another, by the name of Eldridgus, lived in the Barrett district on the east side, Shelley.
     As settlers came in they began to group themselves in organized bodies, and the Methodist church was built on the Belmont road and shortly after, our Congregational church was built just one mile south on the Barrett road.
     As I remember it, the pews and pulpit were made from yellow pine by Grandma Hodge, Mrs. Narrett's father, who in his younger days, was a cabinet maker.
     About 1890, as a number of members had moved away and others withdrawn to place their membership in the newly organized Congregational church in town, the Barrett church was disbanded and the property was sold to the Valley Christian Church.
     I have the signal be that was used in the Sunday school and I understand that a little Mason and Hamlin organ that did duty in the church services held in the old Barrett school house is still in use in the Barrett schools.

Henry L. Howe.

©  Jeffrey L. Elmer