A HISTORY OF WESTWOOD COMMUNITY CHURCH
The roots of the church reach back to 1849 when a Mr. George Bethers, who lived on a Donation Land claim about one and one-half miles from the present city of Corvallis, wrote a letter to the official periodical of the United Brethren Church asking for a preacher for the Mary’s River settlement in Benton County.
In 1853, a company of 15 families, led by missionaries Thomas Jefferson Conner and Jeremiah Kenoyer, along with four ministers arrived in Benton County to begin the work of establishing the United Brethren Church in the Oregon Territory, stretching from the California to the Canadian border. It was divided into two districts by a line running east and west for a point near the mouth of the Santiam. J. Kenoyer was in charge of the north district called Yamhill. T.J. Conner was in charge of the south district called Willamette, and settled in the Philomath area.
The years from 1859 to 1890 were boom years for Oregon, and for the United Brethren Church in western Oregon. Through camp meetings, revival meetings, and itinerant preaching in school houses, congregations and preaching points were established along the Coast and the Willamette Valley, with Philomath as the center of those in the Central Valley. Unfortunately, there are few records of those early years, but it is clear that by 1865 the farmers and people of the rural villages of this region were predominantly United Brethren. It was during this time that the church at Westwood was built by local farmers who did not have the time to make the trip into town, and longed to have their own place of worship.
The effort was headed up by the Henkle family, who supplied the lumber from their mill that formerly stood near the old Henkle homestead. The mill also supplied the lumber for the Philomath College, which would supply student pastors for the area churches, including Westwood. The church was built in this beautiful setting next to the creek. Greasy Creek Road, which runs in front of the church, was originally the wagon trail that ran from Alsea to Philomath. It is said that wagons traveling would stop to rest at the church yard and water their horses.
The Civil War and the severe economic depression that followed in 1870 had adverse effects on the State of Oregon as well as the work of the churches. Even though Oregon was not directly involved in the war, the churches had to deal with the issues and side-effects of such a conflict. Although the United Brethren Church, as a denomination, had always taken definite stands on moral issues: “slavery” and “strong drink”, for example, were condemned early in the history of the church, other issues began to arise which were more morally ambiguous.
One of the issues that began to cause dissention within the church was the prohibition of membership in secret societies. A growing number of members disagreed with the prohibition until in 1881 the church was divided almost equally for and against it. By 1885, the problem became so serious that a special Commission was established to revise the Constitution. This revision included the removal of the prohibition of secret societies and other controversial issues such as the ordination of women ministers, and how the members were represented at the General Conference added still more fuel to the fire.
So the General Conference of 1889 became a session of controversy. Many of the delegates simply refused to vote on the new Constitution. But when the vote concerning secret society was 111 to 21 in favor of removing the prohibition, Bishop Milton Wright, the father of Wilbur and Orville Wright, and Bishop of the Oregon and Walla Walla Conferences, along with eleven other delegates immediately withdrew, paving the way for a denominational split. Altogether, about 20,000 members left and formed a new denomination, becoming “The United Brethren in Christ, Old Constitution”, or “radicals”, while those who favored the new Constitution were called “liberals.”
Bishop Wright was held in such high esteem by the ministers and members of the Oregon Conference. Therefore, his adamant position caused most of the pioneer churches, apparently including the congregation at Westwood, to cast their vote with the “radicals.” Although the courts gave possession of all the properties to the “liberals”, the denomination did not take possession of it, so where the “radicals” were a strong majority in a local congregation, they were allowed to carry on services without legal interference.
One of the victims of the split was the Philomath College. Although over two-thirds of the governing board were “radicals’, the courts gave the college to the “liberals.” The “radicals” filed an injunction that closed the college for nearly three years. This, along with other problems including finances, declining enrollment, and stricter state requirements caused the school to close its doors in 1929. This, in turn, affected Westwood church because for the last couple of years of the college’s existence it was unable to provide a pastor for the church.
Therefore, sometime in the mid-1920’s, regular services were suspended at Westwood, although a Sunday School program was still in place under the direction of Superintendent D. P. Trenholm. In 1927, tired of the sectarian bickering, and receiving little or no support from the United Brethren Church, the congregation decided to separate from the church and joined with the Pleasant Valley congregation to form the Union Sunday School. They met at the Pleasant Valley school house until the church was purchased in 1928 for $100.00, and formed Westwood Community Church. Payment for the church was made in two installments, with most of the money raised from members’ donations. The first installment of $50.00 was made March 27th, and the remaining $50.00 was paid August 30th. The last of the monies for the church came from the Union Sunday School treasury ($5.00), and the balance from the “defunct Progressive Club Nursery ($4.00).
On Sunday, July 1, 1928, a special service was held to re-dedicate the building and themselves to the service to God. About seventy-five people were in attendance for the morning worship with Rev. J. R. Parker preaching. Following the service, a dinner was held in Porter Grove, just across the creek. And the afternoon “Reminiscent Service” once again packed the church. The local paper reported, “Altogether the services of the day came near developing into a revival, no criticism of any nature was expressed but the feeling of community fellowship was intense.”
During the 1940’s, because of needed extra room, two classrooms were added to the front of the church, and the kitchen was added to the back. And through the years, there has been various improvements. Electric lights replaced the Coleman lanterns that had to be “pumped-up” several times during the service. The old double hung windows were replaced, and Ed Clapper painted them to give them the stained-glass look. Ed, along with George Best and others, also refinished the pews and pulpit furniture. And in the 1970’s the trailer was added for a fellowship hall, Sunday School classes, and a rest room.
The building is the representation of generations of men and women whose love for God inspired them to build and maintain a place of worship for the community. It is an ongoing work, being carried out today inspired by that same love.
Information for this history is from:
Lest We Forget by Theodore R. Buzzard, 1988
A History of the Oregon Conference of the United Brethren Church by Theron Maxson, 1940
Local Church Records
Commentary from George Best and Ed Clapper