The Snoqualmie United Methodist Church celebrates its 125th anniversary with a special service this weekend, and weekly dinners for all.
The church’s local roots go back to some fateful journeys by wandering preachers in the late 19th century.
First on the scene was a pioneer preacher, Andrew Jackson McNemee, known as Brother Mack, whose calling as a traveling circuit minister had taken him across Oregon, Washington territory and parts of British Columbia.
According to “The Centennial History of the Snoqualmie Community United Methodist Church,” edited by Gloria McNeely and published in 1989, Brother Mack had been appointed to the Squak circuit. In 1885, he stopped in Falls City, today’s Fall City, where the sole family had taken him in, allowing McNemee to sleep on hay in the barn. Later on, McNemee and a big crowd of locals built Fall City’s first church, a wooden building 22 by 35 feet.
In that era, the Upper Valley had been experiencing a pioneer boom, with a flourishing hop-growing industry and many acres of crops in cultivation. With all this activity came people and their spiritual needs, so a children’s Sunday School was founded in the summer on 1889. There was no building, so meetings were held in the out of doors, under a large maple tree.
Emily O’Dell, a founding member of the church, recorded the first service: “One Saturday afternoon in the fall, in the hop-picking time, Mr. Curtis, a Methodist circuit rider with red whiskers, wearing glasses with a long gold chain on them, dressed in a stovepipe hat and long coat, and seated on a horse with saddlebags, rode through the hop fields announcing services to be held on Sunday at 3 o’clock in the afternoon.” Her description is the fullest we have of A.E. Curtis, or Curtiss, who rode the circuit from Snoqualmie to Cherry Valley.
The original maple tree, site of the first Snoqualmie Methodist service in 1889. Photo courtesy Snoqualmie Valley Historical Museum.
The first service
Church members later fixed the probable date of that first Snoqualmie sermon as Sept. 24, 1889. Services continued out of doors that fall until bad weather set in, when the congregation moved into a tent owned by congregation member Edmund Kinsey. The organ was stored in Kinsey’s Mt. Si Hotel next door, when not it use.
Construction of the first church began in 1892. In 1898, Brother Mack returned to the Snoqualmie circuit,
That year, the bell, still heard ringing every Sunday, was purchased for $128 and dedicated to Kinsey, the local merchant who had done more than anyone to build the local Methodist Episcopal Church. Captain George Gove, one of the original owners of the huge Snoqualmie Hop Ranch, bought an organ and 72 hymnals, and started the choir.
The original SUMC church, now the Legion post, plus two Kinsey family homes and the Vaughn School, photographed around 1900. Photo from the Snoqualmie Valley Historical Museum collection.
The church continued to grow through the 1920s, when it was time for a new building. In 1922, the original building was sold and rolled across the street on log rollers to become today’s American Legion Post. Construction of the new church, which includes most of the sanctuary of today’s building, finished in 1926.
The Methodist church when it was newly rebuilt in 1939. Photo courtesy Snoqualmie Valley Historical Museum.
On May 10, 1939, a fire started in the church woodshed, spread quickly through dry grass and caught in the church structure. A neighbor spotted the fire, and the whole town turned out to help. Water pressure in the volunteer firefighters’ hoses wasn’t strong enough to break the windows, so people had to throw rocks. Some of the building was saved, but a lot of it burned, and rebuilding began. The rebuilt church was a little bit shorter—the end of the sanctuary was on the former site of the communion rail—but the congregation felt at home.
In the 1950s, the Sunday School classes were filling up the little building, and the adult class was held in the kitchen. It was time to grow again. Construction of the church’s education wing, and a lengthening of the sanctuary, came in 1958, after a lengthy fundraising process. The congregation saved thousands of dollars through hundreds of hours of volunteer labor.
In 1989, the church celebrated its 100th anniversary. The anniversary coincided with Snoqualmie’s own centennial, so church members sang in costume of the 1980s, at the community flag raising and birthday party. The congregation also gathered, in period costumes, for a centennial singalong at Riverview Park, a block upriver from the original maple tree, site of the first service 100 years before.
• Snoqualmie United Methodist Church is located at River and Maple streets in downtown Snoqualmie.
Today’s pastor, Paul Mitchell, inside the SUMC pastor’s chapel, upstairs, just part of a large, historic building.