Thompson Falls
Community Congregational Church

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Historic Church Continues Pride of Ownership to this Day
Sanders County Ledger - Thursday, July 29, 2004
by Sandra Gubel

It's fun and appropriate that a church would be awarded with one of Thompson Falls Beautification Committee's "Thumbs Up" awards.

That's exactly what happened to Community Congregational Church of Thompson Falls.  The members of the church were recently honored for "Continued Pride of Ownership" in the category of institutions.

The church, which will celebrate its centennial next year, has a lot of history to it.  It is one of the earliest structures in Thompson Falls, as well as being one of the first houses of worship.  From the beginning, the church has made changes that have reflected that continued care and upkeep.

The most recent remodeling project undergone by the church, according to chairman of the board of trustees, Dan Whittenburg, became a major "rebuild issue," when it was discovered that there was a problem with the floor joists.  The board, at that time, realized that the front

porch was not set up very well for handicapped accessibility, and that moving caskets in and out of the doors also posed a challenge.  So, the former door was closed up and made into a large glassed window area.  It is now an area to showcase a beautiful stained glass creation. 

The window presented to the church in 1997 by Jackie Basham Rossing of Acme, Washington, done in honor of the 50th wedding anniversary of her parents, Jack and Marylou Basham.

The entryway was rearranged and remodeled, with new carpet added.  The rearrangement makes it

much easier for people to in and out as well as sign a guest book and other functions, Whittenburg added.

"Putting in the window there brought in a whole lot more light," which makes the entry much more pleasant, he commented.

The door was relocated to the Preston Street side of the building, and with a large gently sloping ramp, the area can easily accommodate people coming in wheelchairs, as well as caskets, Whittenburg said.  The steps have been rebuilt and re-railed.

The project is not quite finished, noted Whittenburg.  The sign to the church will be relocated, discovered to be a little too much in the path of an underground sprinkler system that has been installed.

Soon, the sidewalks along the street will all be sloped, to enable much easier access throughout the area.  "We wanted to create an atmosphere that anybody can get in the church," Whittenburg concluded.  And while on one's way, people can also observe a special feature to the walkway, leading to the new entrance.  In a miniature step back in time, the concrete was specially stamped, lending the authentic appearance of cobblestones.

While members of the church, originally Methodist Episcopal, met beginning around 1889 under the guidance of Rev. D.L. Monroe --and it is not know how long he served-- the cornerstone of the church, located at the corner of what is now Preston and Jefferson streets, was dedicated October 24, 1905.

At the service for the laying of the cornerstone, Mr. D.V. Herriott led the choir, stationed in a wagon, with an organ.  Lots for the church were secured from Sen. Edward Donlan in September 1905.  John Willis donated two lots for a parsonage.  E. Courtney started the framework November 13 of that year for the 38 x 50 building that included a bell tower nine feet square.

Rev. C.L. Cone, the pastor in charge, came to perform the ceremony from Plains, and dedicated its foundation.  The newspaper account afterward noted that "before the stone was put in position a glass can was placed in the orifice which contained a copy of the New Testament, a copy of the Northwestern Christian Advocate, and a copy of the Epworth Herald, both publications of the Methodist church; a copy of the Sanders County Ledger; a brief written history of the church with the name of the donor of the lots, building committee and etc.

"In the can were also put the coins of the realm in the various denominations. A piece of the pottery ware from Florin's potter, was placed along side the can in the orifice.

Church records indicate that there was irregular worship of the church until 1909, when Rev. Samuel Taylor became the first sealed pastor.  The church's parsonage was built between 1913 and 1918.

The church received a bell for its bell tower in 1920.  In the May 20, 1920 Sanders County Ledger, it was written that a 1,000 pound, historic bell had arrived from Virginia City, for use at the Methodist church.  "The sound of this bell floated only a short time ago over the graves of the desperadoes that

infested Montana in the early sixties and were hung by the vigilantes, mainly through the effort of Col. Sanders, whose name our county bears.  So our bell is an historical bell, and perhaps its sound will bring back former memories to those who have forgotten their religion and their church going habit and again get them into the habit of reaching for the Bible and  hymn book."

Miss Nelly Phillips was pastor of the church from 1930 to 1933.  The 1938 Christmas program was canceled due to a measles epidemic.  The annex, new bell tower was built, and the old building was repainted then.  Until 1938, at which time the Rev. Emile F. Mignery, Jr. was pastor, there had been 19 different pastors to serve the church.

Following Rev. Mignery, who left to go into the military service as a chaplain, was Rev. J. Eldon Whitesitt who also later became an Army chaplain.  The Rev. B.D. Fridley became pastor in July 1944, and served until 1951.  During the time Fridley was pastor, the annex, named after him, was built.  Rev. Olah Moore took over the ministry with the departure of Pastor Fridley.  She remained one year.  In fall of 1952, the Rev. Clair Olney came from Iowa to take over the pastorate.  He stayed until 1957.

Rev. Olah Moore served again from 1957 to 1961.  Other pastors have included Rev. Gebhardt and Lobell Bennett.  From 1969 to 1974.  Rev. Bruce Kline served the congregation; from 1975 to 1977, Interim Chaplain Tim Hawkins pastored the church.  In the longest- enduring service to the church, Pastor Gaylund Olson has guided the church from 1977 to this day.

In other church history, it was noted that on Easter Sunday 1960, the church was packed with 525 worshipers.  This was during the period that the Thompson Falls Dam was built.

It was during this period, the second "term" that Rev. Olah Moore served, that the church became affiliated with the United Church of Christ (Congregational).

In 1962, the Pairs and Spares, young adult group of the church, worked to rebuild the church entranceway.  According to a Ledger article during the period, "A work party early in the summer found the sill under the present bell tower to be unsound.  The proposed addition will include a 12 x 12 foot entranceway connected to the sanctuary by a short, glassed hallway and will be large enough to provide ample space for a guest book and hanging of outer garments during cold weather.  Cost is estimated between $2,000 and $3,000 depending on amount of volunteer work done."

During the time that Gaylund Olson has been pastor, another big project to the church has been tackled.  A formal dedication ceremony was held to acknowledge a completely remodeled interior of the church.  The project including new wiring and lighting fixtures, windows, insulation and interior western cedar siding, new electric baseboard heating, a sound system, that provides sound through two recessed speakers to the sanctuary and other speakers in the annex, nursery and bell tower.  Glass in the nursery was installed at rear of sanctuary.  A new railing installed across in front of the balcony.  A high ceiling features covered, exposed beams. 

It was noted that numerous hours of volunteer labor from members of the church's congregation, and non-members, went into the work of tearing out the interior, installing the insulation, sheet rock and other work not hired done.  The entire project was estimated to cost around $35,000.

Below is a hand written note on the history of the church.

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