Reflections From Steeple on the Hill
by Rev. Dr. Ed Coon (Pastor Emeritus)
First Presbyterian Church in reality was the very first church constructed in Everett. Its size was thirty-by-sixty feet, roughly the size of Westminster Hall without the kitchen. The building opened its doors for worship on Easter Sunday, April 21, 1892. The local newspaper noted that "The rain let up," and "the sun shed brilliance and heat upon all about." Located on the west side of Maple St., the church didn’t remain there long nor did the pastors who were called to serve the congregation. Dr. Thomas Mac Guire, raised and educated in Ontario, Canada, came north from Tacoma, serving as the church’s founding "father". He was soon followed by a Rev. Robert Liddell, from Kansas, then Rev. H. A. Mullen from who knows where.
Was it the challenge of a fledgling community, the weather of the northwest, or the shaky health of the clergy? Probably a combination of them all! By March 1895 Dr. Mac Guire had become the Pastor-At-Large for the area presbytery. He popped in periodically to check matters out, but by then a series of guest preachers were occupying the pulpit.
In December of that year – a pastor at last! A recent graduate of Union Seminary in far-off New York City was lured over the Cascades from a mission post in Wenatchee. The Rev. Thomas Coyle arrived to a city in transition, a place being transformed from "River City," the rough-and-tumble saloon town to a "more respectable community," with tracts of land over toward the sound being sold to families wanting to build homes and business by the bay. An invitation was then extended! The year: 1897. John T. McChesney of the Everett Land Company promised Presbyterians a piece of donated land at the corner of Rockefeller and Wall. True to their reputation, the Presbyterians jumped at the opportunity. A presence up on the hill! All the faithful folks needed to do was to haul their original building uptown, which by the spring of 1898 became a completed feat. Change your location, greet your new neighbors. Let the city see who and what you are! Growth occurred -- and by 1902, the "Old Church" still with no running water, with no stove for cooking, no outhouse, put on an addition. According to Elizabeth Campbell, the Ladies Aid Society got their water and used the oven at her grandparents’ home, Mr. and Mrs. William Howarth, across Wall St. on Rockefeller south of the church where the county office complex is currently situated.
Records for 1902 tell us that sixty-three new members came on board, and life seemed good. Even President Teddy Roosevelt came out for a visit in May of 1903 – well, for only an hour. Nevertheless, Everett was a place to be recognized. At the same time that citizens were welcoming the Chief Of State, Pastor Coyle announced that he was going to leave, heading off to a mission in Alaska.
(History tells us that he ended up retiring from churches on Long Island!)
Yes, another list of preachers followed until in September 1903 a man named Herbert Thomson decided to leave the sunshine and palm-lined streets of Pasadena, California, to venture up into the evergreen state. Five years later, in September 1908, because of "impaired health," he left.
Despite the rapid succession of pastors, church leaders held fast: If the Good Lord had anything to do with their being in Everett, so they maintained, the Lord would provide. Further expansion plans were blowing in the wind.
With their vision intact, those leaders invited a minister known for building churches to come their way.
Dr. W. E. McLeod, another Canadian, this one from the province of Quebec, but trained – at the Presbyterian Seminary in Chicago, was called in November, 1908. The membership had reached to about three hundred with over three hundred in the "Sabbath School."
Expansion was needed. Interesting enough, only 29 member felt confident enough to vote for the fellow, 7 for other candidates. "He came anyway – and did he get the old ark on the move."
Pastor Mc Cloud was installed on January 29, 1909. On February 13 his sermon title was: "What a live church should do in six weeks." By March church leaders were seeking estimates for a new building. By April they were visiting members they judged they could definitely count on for financial support. In May three different architectural firms were being considered. Moving the original church to property directly west owned by Mrs. Mabel Christy Holley was the subject of study in July. In August the congregation voted to build. Well, there were stipulations: The new church was not to exceed $18,000 "including seats, heating, plumbing," but not an organ – and it was to seat about 600 people. Svelte souls back then!
Ground was broken in October. However, the newspaper reported, "But rain and cold weather during the winter months delayed the progress of the building." It was to be built of brick, with 22 rooms in the building, space for a dining room and kitchens (Yes!), as well as a large assembly room. Those folks were so positive back then they even imagined a gallery needing to be added somewhere later in the process.
By March 1910 the congregation reviewed the possible costs:
$17300 contract price for the church/$1254 cost of excavation/$865 architect’s fees/$290 moving old church/$374.65 other agreements to date – total expenses about $21000.
There were a few stressful moments along the way: The local trades union complained that the contractor hired didn’t employ union laborers; the denominational board of church erection, agreed to a loan of $5000, but turned down the request for a grant of $2000 – "The board was not organized to aid the building of such expensive edifices" came the response.
Plans were set to lay the cornerstone on March 22, but (you’ve guessed it!) "inclement weather" required that services had to be held in the old structure, "concluding with a move to the new "noted the newspaper. "The stone was then lowered on its final resting place and the service ended."
Five months later the new church was duly dedicated. Let’s let The Everett Daily Herald describe the event:
"Yesterday was a day of rejoicing among members of the First Presbyterian church for they beheld their new house of worship which they have long planned and which they have seen rise, brick upon brick, during several months, publicly dedicated to its destined use. The new church edifice on the corner of Rockefeller and Wall streets, seats about 800 people and it was filled at all the services. The church, inviting in the beauty of its own architectural lines, was made festive by profuse floral decorations. Roses and sweet peas were massed about the altar and platform as well as in the vestibule and throughout the church. The mellowed sunlight streaming through the beautiful stained glass windows added to the general effect. Outside the day was perfect."
Oh, that the financial situation could have remained on the up-swing. Dr Mc Leod arrived on the scene, succeeded in his task, and by August of 1911, was on to his next challenge. Rev. Thomson, apparently recovered health-wise, returned to his old (new) church, but by 1914, with financial circumstances at a low ebb, and not being fully paid, Rev. Thomson left for Oakland, California.
Over the years, First Presbyterian Church has weathered many a storm, turmoil within and without, times of uncertainty and division, but also moments of soaring success. So we pause to celebrate the journey, but more than that, to give thanks to the Lord who has led us along the way, and leads us still.
"A city built on a hill cannot be hid, (and neither can a church)...
Let your light shine before others, so that they may see
your good works and give glory to your father in heaven…."