Lewis County churches may be more historically important than you ever imagined. Did you know we have the oldest church building still standing in the state of Washington? Or that we are the site of the first church building and first permanent mission in Western Washington?
Claquato Church – 125 Water Street, Chehalis WA 98532
Used as a Presbyterian church in 1857, Claquato Church is the oldest building that is still standing in the State of Washington. Meaning ‘high prairie’ in the Chehalis language, it was built by Lewis and Susan Davis. It features a bronze bell built in 1857 in Boston, and the top is a symbolic Crown of Thornes. The Claquato area was quite a busy and important stop for travelers, a small town with many buildings and businesses.
Methodists also used the church so it was eventually given to them in 1858 with the stipulation that it would be open to other denominations, and that it would be used as a school house during the week days. Local school children attended there until a new school was built in 1873.
The church membership slowly died out. Then the Lewis County government took over control of the property to maintain this modest monument to the area’s pioneers. Today the building no longer holds services but is open for special events and can be reserved for private parties.
St. Urban Catholic Church – Corner of Sargent and Military Roads, Winlock WA 98596
While not a “first” or a “biggest” or anything like that, St. Urban Catholic church was very important to that local community. Built by Swiss and German Settlers, and originally called the Church of Assumption, it was dedicated in 1891. As the typical changes occurred – the freeway going in, fewer families farming – and residents moved away, the building became in danger of being torn down. But the St. Urban Settlement Foundation was created to save the icon of history and the property is now owned and operated by Lewis County government. It can be rented for small occasions.
If you listen closely, Lewis County’s historic churches will tell you the story of the importance of the churches and their members in the settlement of the Pacific Northwest, the strong and faithful people who chose to put down their family roots and make this rugged, remote area their home.
Dryad Community Baptist Church – 112 Olive Street, Dryad WA 98539
This adorable little church looks like something out of an Old West movie set, with its old bell on top, and intricate stained glass windows. Pastor Buck Garner explains that the building was built in 1903, five years after the congregation started meeting. “This was back when Dryad was a community of about 1,200,” says Pastor Garner. Amazingly, the church has been active this whole time, and still is today. Pastor Garner reports that one woman has been a member for the past 77 years and still attends.
Grace United Methodist Church – 618 D Street, Vader WA 98593
This Methodist church was built in 1902 in the Gothic style, back when Vader was still known as Little Falls. The congregation had actually been meeting for 11 years before the church was built. It also played a huge part in the community, as the flyer for the church reports: “During some of those years, it was so filled with worshippers that some had to stand outside with the doors open.” Services are still held in the building.
St. Frances Xavier Mission – 139 Spencer Road, Toledo WA 98591
In 1838, two Catholic priests, Father Blanchet and Father Demers from Quebec, Canada, landed at Vancouver. They decided to travel up the Cowlitz River to go to the Hudson Bay Company headquarters. They ended up building a wooden church just outside the town of Toledo and were able to hold their first service in December of 1838. Sadly, as happens with many old, wooden buildings, the church burned down in 1916. A new brick one was built in 1917. Again, it burned, but only the inside, leaving the brick structure still standing. In 1932, the inside was rebuilt, and the building you can see today is what has stood since then.
Frank D. Ross, the maintenance manager and unofficial historian, created a history booklet for the 150th anniversary of the church in 1988. “It was really the beginning of the Catholic religion in the northwest,” he explains of the significance of St. Frances. “This was before the boundaries were settled.”
One particularly interesting artifact on the property is a re-creation of “The Catholic Ladder,” a wooden object with markings and pictures on it. It was used to teach the Indians about the Catholic faith.
Another fun fact according to Ross is that the land was seriously considered for the home of the University of Washington. “But someone decided the population wasn’t big enough to support it.”
Services are still held in the building. In 1988, a time capsule was buried, to be opened on the 200th anniversary in 2038.