Methodist Episcopal Church
c1900 - View looking north down Harlow Avenue. Church is on the right. The Sandy River in background.
c1905 - Troutdale Grade School students pictured with teacher Janet McKay at the church.
In 1891, a church community was formed offering Sunday School and church services; the idea to build a church was set in motion for the town of Troutdale. The newly platted fledgling town, consisting of more acreage than people, had two lots halfway up the hill. They purchased the lots from Celestia Harlow for $125, then borrowed $250 to build the church. The building of the church complete with steeple and bell tower was on its way. This endeavor had its challenges – building was slow due to the distance the church community traveled and their busy lives to coordinate the construction. It is unknown how long it took, yet in 1895 they opened the doors of the Troutdale Methodist Episcopal Church, complete with a beautiful sounding bell, crafted in Portland by the John Poole Co.
The church was built in the Gothic Revival tradition to stand out from more humble construction at the time. The main footprint of the church is 30’ x 40’ with a simple gable-roof running east to west, and the main windows facing north and south. The sanctuary is well-lit by eight tall bays of single-hung windows and crowned with pointed-arch windows which are the chief identifying characteristics of the Gothic Revival style. There is also a circular vent in the peak of the west gable. A hip-roofed apse centered on the east end served as the main pulpit area where sermons were served, lives celebrated, couples married, babies christened, and people were soothed and inspired.
Many may call it a miracle that the church survived two fires that swept through town. One was in 1907, and the other in 1925. These fires burned many structures on the Main Street. The church stands today as the oldest public building in Troutdale (second in age only to a small farmhouse at 2nd and Dora, built in 1893). Until 1961, it was Troutdale’s only church.
In the beginning, the preponderance of early ministers of the church were ‘circuit riders’ meaning they prepared one sermon and delivered it at different churches the same day, week, or sometimes only once a month. A variety of them came and went. There aren’t actual records of ministers at the church until 1908, at which time they were all Methodist.
The church was the only building remaining from the 19th century that was in regular use by the general population. It was not only in use for church activities, but as a public meeting place.
In 1922, the church which had always struggled, was up for discussion to share ministers with the Presbyterians. In response, a resurgence of Methodist dedication followed, and the Church was remodeled. Originally constructed as a single-story building, a basement was added for use as a Sunday School and community meeting hall.
During the Great Depression, the sanctuary was closed due to poor attendance from 1929-36. The Ladies Aid Society managed to keep the downstairs open for Sunday School, as well as for a meeting area.
Since the sanctuary was not in use, the Howell brothers - Edward "Smokey" and his brother Donald "Chim" - were given permission to build a bi-plan in the church.
Belfry removed and church bell placed in storage.
In 1936, as the church began to grow again, the community pitched in to remodel the entire building. The church was given a new roof, floors, stairs, and basement foundation. The belfry was removed and replaced with just the single-story entrance that remains today. It was then renamed The Troutdale Community Presbytery Church. It shared a minister with the Presbyterian Church of Fairview, which thrived, however the church in Troutdale did not. Eventually the minister left Troutdale to be in Fairview full time. The Troutdale congregation had to seek another minister. From 1948-53, ministers passing through were actually students training at Lewis & Clark College to be pastors.
Finally in 1953, 60 years after opening, the church secured Reverend John Hood as their first full-time resident minister.
On September 29, 1955, Nancy Thomas, the steadfast caretaker and organizer of the church’s Ladies Aid Society who kept the church records for over 40 years, died. The last of her family, she left her home to the church. This generous act would forever alter the course of the old church.
Not long after, it occurred to church members performing maintenance that they could afford a new church. By 1961, the congregation and community moved into their new building in Troutdale. The old church sat vacant for 3 years.
In 1964, the Reverend John Parks bought the old church and pastored the renamed Troutdale Full Gospel Church with a congregation of 50- 60 people.
Troutdale Full Gospel Church, Reverend Parks, 1976
A woman named Esther Martin, a devoted member of the congregation, became a caretaker for Reverend Parks and his wife. In 1980, after the Reverend and his wife died, in addition to serving as the guardian of the Parks’ son who was deemed unable to care for himself, she also became the pastor. In 1981, in hopes of generating enough money to provide ongoing care for the son, she determined the best course was to sell the building.
Approaching its 100th birthday, in 1984, the church was designated as one of Troutdale’s Historic Resources.
By 1990, it had gone into default for failure to pay property taxes, with a backlog of $6,600. Mostly vacant and uncared for, it faced the very real potential of demolition. Stories are varied and many but included the very real threat of burning down when some homeless people started warming fires inside. That year, Sharon Nesbit testified in front of the Troutdale City Council to the significance of the building in Troutdale’s history, its feared demise, and urged them to purchase it from the County for the minimal amount of back taxes, then re-sell it for a profit at a later date to someone committed to restoring it. The Council decided against it.
In 1991, it was purchased from Multnomah County and re-sold 7 days later to an apartment manager and part-time volunteer pastor from the Smith Presbytery Church (Fairview), with whom the church shares much history.
With the help of Sharon Nesbit and the Troutdale Historical Society, Andy Collmer, the new owner, applied to have the building placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1993; this included a 15-year freeze on the property taxes. Collmer became a teacher at Reynolds High School, and scraped money together for a new roof, made it weather tight again, and invested in the foundation. The zoning at the time was designated A-2, meaning the city intended to have the properties on 3rd Street between Buxton and Sandy Avenue as duplexes. In order to have the church become a four-plex, he “borrowed” the two spots from the additional lot behind the church and went to work creating four living spaces. By the late 1990s, he began renting the units. He planted a semi-dwarf red apple tree at the end of the property and an unusual plum tree outside the main entrance. People exclaim that these are the best plums they have ever had.
In 1999, Collmer decided to sell the church to buy another property. Out of a shared love of historic buildings, Jean Ice, a local realtor, showed the old church to Erin Janssens. It still needed a lot of work, but Janssens could see it had a story to share. She had the historic interest and energy to take it on. While Collmer had three of the four units officially rented, there was still a lot of work left to do. The street sides of the building looked good, but the east side and back had not yet been restored.
Janssens moved forward with purchasing the old church, but soon learned the bank would not finance it in its current state. She started scraping and painting the two sides of the building to qualify for financing. The bank appraiser gave the approval within days of the inflexible closing date.
She then began the next phase of repairs – 6 yards of topsoil were added to level the front yard to serve as a bio-swale, and had a concrete walkway replace the muddy path between units. Three of the four units needed serious attention. One unit was still a shell and needed a full renovation. The two ground floor apartments received new cabinets, paint, flooring, and fixtures.
The church exterior remains in its original state with its clapboard siding and single-pane windows. Several windows of plexiglass were replaced with glass, but there are still a few original windows distinguished by their wavy glass panes. Nearly 30 years later, the church needed another new roof. Navigating its very steep pitched roof, workers removed all the old roofing material before adding the new shingles in 2021.
The two apartments that occupy the former sanctuary still have their original vaulted 2” x 6” wood plank ceilings, windows, and salvaged wood floors within a comfortable 900 sq ft space. Janssens added free-standing gas stoves for heat and ambiance in both units. They each have stairs that lead to a loft style bedroom above. The Belfry unit now has a vintage looking hexagon tile floor and subway tile in the bathroom, reflecting the charm of the period. Prior to the 2020 pandemic, it was available as a Vacation Rental By Owner (VRBO). The sanctuary unit still has much of the original lath and plaster within the tall arched apse area used for the pulpit, making it a dramatic backdrop. It is easy to imagine the stories it could tell of the sermons, the weddings, christenings, and inspiring hope and peace to countless people.
People who live here are attracted to both its history and character. If a person likes everything shiny and new, the old church isn’t for them, but people who like the charm of the past love it.
Not a day goes by that someone does not stop to share their admiration of the historical building perched prominently on the hill. This little old church holds a large portion of Troutdale’s history within its walls.
Its location makes it a simple two-block walk down Hungry Hill (so named by the workers walking home for lunch) to restaurants/cafes, shops, galleries, and events.
“All in all, being the caretaker for me has been a labor of love, and it’s been an honor to hold this part of our history for this period in time.” -Erin Janssens.
2022 - Historic Church Four-plex, owner Erin Janssens