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A word about The Primivitive Baptist Church 

Early Oregon History

American Captain Robert Gray, master of the ship Columbia, of Boston, discovered the Columbia River from the Pacific, on May 11, 1792. Lewis and Clark entered Oregon territory from the east by 1805. The Pacific Fur Company founded a trading post in the territory in about 1811. A few white settlers may have arrived in the Willamette Valley as early as 1834, but the Oregon Trail was actually opened by "Doc" Newell, a mountain man, in 1841.

The following figures indicate the numbers of emigrants who reached the Wilamette Valley by the Oregon Trail prior to 1849, when the trail was altered radically by the California gold rush: 1841 - 32; 1842 - 197; 1843 - 875; 1844 - 1,750; 1845 - 3,000; 1846 - 1,500; 1847 - 4,500; 1848 - 1,000. Total - 12,854.

Oregon became the 33rd State in the Union in February 1859.

Early Movements of the Primitive Baptists in Oregon

William H. Vaughan, an early member of the Molalla Church, came to Oregon in 1843 with the "first train that came all the way through." Christopher Columbus Cooley and James Officer, and their families, early members of the Molalla Church, were in the "The Lost Train" of 1845; in fact, James Officer was the captain of the train. Miraculously, they were found and managed to reach The Dalles by October 1845, after becoming lost in the Oregon desert late in the year. Several other Primitive Baptist families settled in the Willamette Valley in 1846. One was Elder William Simpson, a native of North Carolina who had lived in Tennessee and Missouri before coming to the Pacific Coast. He settled first at North Yamhill in Yamhill County, but then moved to a donation land claim in the Waldo Hills, east of Salem. Another family, led by Elder Joseph Turnidge, a native of Missouri, settled near the North Yamhill River, but in 1848 acquired land between the forks of the Santiam River near Scio. A third family, that of Nicholas Shrum, formerly of Tennessee and Missouri, also acquired a donation land claim in the Waldo Hills.

Elder Isom Cranfill, a native of North Carolina who had also lived in Tennessee and Illinois, arrived at Oregon City in September 1847. The same year Elder Abraham Miller, Jr., a native of Tennessee who had also resided in Illinois, settled near Millersburg in Linn County. In 1848 Elder John Stipp and Brother John T. Crooks, both natives of Virginia and former residents of Illinois, arrived in Oregon. Many other Primitive Baptist families also made the long, dangerous journey over the Oregon trail.

The First Primitive Baptist Churches Established in Oregon

The first Primitive Baptist Church in Oregon territory was called Hillsborough (the name was changed to Siloam in 1855). It was organized on February 27, 1847, by Elders William Simpson and Joseph Turnidge, with ten charter members.

The second church, Molalla, was constituted near Clackamas City, on October 10, 1848, by Elders Cranfill and Turnidge, with six charter members.

The third church, Little Bethel, was organized on November 12, 1848, with six charter members.

The Santiam Church was organized sometime previous to the formation of the Siloam Association, but the exact date is presently unknown. Elder Joseph Turnidge was probably a charter member of this church, and possibly its only pastor.

Primitive Baptist Contributions to Early Political Life in Oregon

Brother John T. Crooks (1807-1896), the first clerk of the Siloam Association, and a charter member of the Little Bethel Church in November 1848, and also Nicholas Shrum, an early member of the Siloam Church, were both participants in Oregon's constitutional convention in 1857. Crooks later served in the territorial and state legislatures. Benjamin Simpson, son of Elder William Simpson, also served in the territorial legislature. E. T. T. Fisher (son of Ezra Fisher, a Baptist missionary who came to Oregon in 1845, when his son was only ten years old) married a daughter of Elder Ezra Stout and joined the Primitive Baptists; he served in the state legislature in the early 1860's.

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History of church in Salem, Oregon:

On the evening of December 29, 1859, eight pioneers meeting in the Methodist meeting house pledged to establish a new Baptist congregation in Salem, Oregon, a place where Oregonians could hear about and experience Godís wonderful kindness and love.

English-born New Yorker, Rev. C. L. Fisher and his large family journeyed six months over the Oregon Trail to become the first pastor. The first building was completed, on two lots donated by Dr. Willson at the corner of Marion and Liberty Streets, in 1864.

Membership in 1871 was reported to be around 100, with 123 Sunday School attendees. During this year an imposing belfry, which amplified the bell calling people to services, weddings, and funerals, was added to the structure. A fence protected the property from cows that roamed Salemís streets.

From 1877 to 1881 the pastorís wife coordinated an evening school for the Chinese community of Salem, with 40 pupils learning about God and how to read and write English for a monthly tuition of one dollar.

By 1945 membership had swelled to 1,300. By 1950, Sunday School classes were meeting in every place available, including the belfry, a restroom, and portions of the hall.

At that time the core of the present building was constructed, with the original pioneer church razed for parking.

As Salem expanded, groups from the First Baptist congregation started Baptist churches in all directions of the population growth.

In 1951 the Union Gospel Mission was formed to aid the homeless and poor who congregated in the downtown neighborhood.

An extensive remodeling and the addition of an educational wing took place at First Baptist Church in 1974.

The plight of Southeast Asian refugees fleeing Communism in the 1970s and 80s brought small groups of Cambodians to Salem, and they conducted their church services at First Baptist.

Sunshine School opened as a Christian preschool in the early 1980s. Today this Christian School in downtown Salem educates approximately 220 students in preschool through sixth grade. An accompanying day care program further assists working parents.

For two years in the 1990s, a Russian congregation worshiped in the chapel.

This congregation of around 500 now meets in Keizer. A ministry to give free lunches to the homeless in Marion Park was also held in the 90s.

In 1997, First Baptist purchased the Commercial Street side of the property. Currently housing a gymnasium and office complex, the remaining portion of this space will be used to expand and enhance various ministries of the church.

Today Salem First Baptist remains on the corner of Liberty and Marion Streets in downtown Salem, and continues to proclaim the same gospel message as was begun in 1859.

Compiled by Shari Nelson, First Baptist Church Historian and Archivist.