7 Historic Churches

Visiting Portland’s historic churches will give you a look at the life of the city’s pioneers. Most of the old churches stand in stark contrast to modern buildings downtown, making them photo beauty shots for social media, a Blurb or Apple Book, or a canvas reprint from CanvasPop.com.

Follow this route:

  1. First Presbyterian Church – 1200 SW Alder Street
  2. First Unitarian Church of Portland – 1211 SW Main Street
  3. Grace Bible Church – 1431 SW 12th Avenue
  4. The Old Church (TOC) – 1422 SW 11th Avenue
  5. Portland Korean Church – 933 SW Clay Street
  6. St. James Lutheran Church – 1315 SW Park Avenue
  7. First Congregational Church – 1126 SW Park

Portland Korean Church

Portland Korean ChurchPortland Korean ChurchBuilt-in 1905 as the First German Evangelical Church, the building was for sale in 2018. Here are some details from the Journal of Commerce:

“A small church in downtown Portland will be emptied and for sale soon.

The Portland Korean Church has been home to the religious organization since 1994. The church is moving to new facilities in Beaverton, where most of its congregation lives. The asking price for the downtown building is $849,000. Several decades ago, when another Korean Church bought the building, the owners did not want to leave the original stained glass, which was imported from Germany. When the Portland Korean Church bought the building, the family of the original owners returned the glass to the church, which was reinstalled.

First Presbyterian Church

First Presbyterian Church

The church was organized January 1, 1854, the third Presbyterian Church to be organized in the Oregon Territory. Its first semi-permanent quarters was in the Canton House. The church was served by the Reverend John L. Yantis until the middle part of 1855. The church worshiped without regular pastoral leadership until the fall of 1859 when the Board of Domestic Missions of the Old School Presbyterian Church responded to their request and sent the Reverend P. S. Caffrey to Portland in 1850.

Learn more.

First Congregational Church

“Our church was founded by Congregationalists and established on June 15, 1851, eight years before Oregon was designated as a state. The church’s dedication sermon was preached by George Atkinson, who later became our third pastor. We moved to our current building in 1895. In 1960 our church voted to affirm a merger of the Congregational Christian Churches and the Evangelical and Reformed Church, thereby becoming a member congregation in the United Church of Christ.” – From the church website. Learn more.

First Congregational Church
First Congregational Church
Public Art Abe Lincoln Statue South Park Blocks
Abe Lincoln stands in front of First Congregational Church.

First Unitarian Church of Portland

First Unitarian ChurchPortland in the mid-1800s was a frontier town with between 5,000 and 10,000 inhabitants. There were only five churches by 1865: Methodist, Presbyterian, Congregational, Episcopal, and Catholic. A small number of liberal Christians (primarily Unitarians and Universalists who had emigrated from New England and other places “back East”) were obliged to attend these churches. However, the existing selection of Portland churches often proved to be too conservative for these liberal Christians, and in 1860, a group of them gathered for worship services in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Frazar, where they continued to meet intermittently.

In 1862, the Rev. Thomas Starr King, a Universalist minister serving the First Unitarian Church in San Francisco, came to Portland and preached at the Methodist Church. He was a fiery preacher, who had become well-known for his denouncements of slavery and support for the Union in the Civil War. Some of those present were eager to start a Unitarian church, but it was decided that there weren’t yet enough liberal Christians in Portland.

Learn more.

Grace Bible Church

Grace Baptist Church windows

“Grace Bible Church of Portland, Oregon, (formerly First Evangelical & Reformed Church, “First Church”) was born on September 26, 1874, under the leadership of the Rev. John Gantenbein of Philadelphia, PA.  Rev. Gantenbein was commissioned by the Tri-Synodic Board of Home Missions to establish a Christian ministry for the many German-speaking immigrants from Germany and Switzerland who had settled in Oregon.  With 25 charter members, the church was formally organized into a congregation on September 26, 1874.  Services were held for four months in a rented hall at 5th Avenue and Taylor Street in West Portland.  In January 1875, the congregation moved to another rented hall located on Washington Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenues. They continued to meet at this location while their new frame church building was constructed on property that the congregation had purchased on Southwest 10th Avenue and Stark Street. The church was completed in 1877.  A parsonage was built adjacent to the church in 1881 at the cost of $3,000.” – from the church website.

Learn more.

St. James Lutheran Church

St. James Lutheran Church

St. James Lutheran ChurchThe congregation was founded in 1889 by missionaries as Portland’s first English-speaking Lutheran church. The first pastor was Rev. M. L. Zweizig. The cornerstone for the present building was laid in May 1907. Many of the original fixtures are still in use in the building, including the marble baptismal font and oak pews. The church grew and thrived through the first half of the 20th century, and in 1956 added an educational annex, with space for classrooms and offices.[2] The church was forced to remove the tower of the main building in 1951 due to structural deterioration. The tower was replaced in 1974 using historic photographs to match the original style and design as far as possible.[3″

The St. James building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.

The Old Church (TOC)

Old Church Built in 1882The Old Church, originally known as Calvary Presbyterian Church, is a Carpenter Gothic church. Bought, sold and used by different churches over the decades, the church is a cultural entertainment venue.

“TOC CONCERT HALL IS A NONPROFIT, ALL-AGES VENUE in Portland, Oregon. Built in 1882, it is on the National Register of Historic Places. Our dual mission is to preserve and celebrate the building’s historic architecture and create music and arts programs that enhance the cultural life of the community. Through our programming and operations, we are committed to being a cultural living room open to all, regardless of race, ethnicity, national origin, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, class, disability status, geography, age and other forms of bias. Diversity, equity and inclusion are central values as we strive to foster an inspired and creative community.” – from the church website.

Bonus Walk

These Northwest churches are about .75 miles from downtown (#15, #77 buses will get you close).

  • Trinity Episcopal – 147 NW 19th Avenue
  • St. Patrick’s Catholic Church – 1623 NW 19th Avenue
  • Congregation Beth Israel – 1972 NW Flanders Avenue