History of Trinity by W. L. Shattuck

Sherry Best, one of Trinity’s former Historians, recently brought in a box of historical goodies. In the box was a copy of “History of Trinity Methodist Episcopal Church” by W.L. Shattuck, written in 1926. The next few articles in this series will be excepts from his booklet (edited just a bit for easier reading of the run-on sentences).

That future generations connected with Trinity Methodist Episcopal Church may have a complete record of the history, not only of this particular church, but of the establishment of the Christian church in what is now the State of Idaho, it is necessary to swing back for a moment into history and review the establishment of the church in this territory.

Nathaniel J. Wyeth, who was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, January 29, 1802, read the glowing accounts of the Oregon country, of which the present State of Idaho was then a part, written by Hall J. Kelley of Boston, [and] began the organization of a company of fur traders in the winter of 1831 and 1832. He was full of ambition, but lacked experience and, at St. Louis on his way west, joined William L. Sublette, who traveled with him to the Teton Basin, where they arrived July 6, 1832.

On account of lack of experience, Wyeth mismanaged affairs so much that on July 17th his men deserted him. Wyeth found his way down the Snake river, down the Columbia to the Pacific Coast where he spent the winter, returning to Boston the next year, and in the spring of 1834 contracted with Sublette to bring supplies to him from St. Louis.

There were seventy men in this expedition, among them being two Methodist Missionaries, Jason and Daniel Lee. On July 11, 1834, they camped near the Teton Peaks in Teton Basin, from which place they moved on down the Snake river, and four days later, on July 15th, on the south side of the Port Neuf river near its junction with the Snake, they constructed Fort Hall.

On July 27, 1834, Rev. Jason Lee gathered his little flock of trappers and Indians together and repaired to a grove near the fort about 3:30 P.M. for public worship, using for his text 1st Corinthians 10th and 21st, this being the first Christian sermon to be delivered west of the Rocky Mountains. It was on August the 5th 1823 [1834?], according to Townsend’s journal that at sunrise the Star Spangled Banner was raised on the flag staff at the fort and a salute was fired. This was probably the first time Old Glory was unfurled to the Idaho breeze.

We have no further history of religious services in this vicinity for many years, but the writer [Shattuck] had the good fortune to know dear old brother Riggins, Van Orsdel and Iliff, those three saintly missionaries, who gave their lives in the great work of the Master in Montana and Idaho, and heard them tell of driving through this valley going from Utah to Montana, about the year 1866 and of stopping at the toll bridge here at Idaho Falls, then called Eagle Rock, where they held a religious service on Sunday, the exact date not being known to me. This was undoubtedly the first sermon preached here at Idaho Falls, however, this was not an official meeting, being arranged by themselves while camped here over Sunday.

These men were members of the Methodist Church, and in 1918 Brother Van, as Brother Van Orsdel was called, attended the conference here and Brother Iliff attended the dedication of our present church building.

The first official service we have record of held by a Methodist minister was by Rev. F.A. Riggins in 1882, at which time he was the superintendent of the Montana Mission of which this portion of Idaho Territory was a part at that time.

Rev. Monvell succeeded Rev. Campbell and remained until the spring of 1888 when the church was left without a pastor and so remained until the fall of 1892 when this territory was transferred from the Montana Conference to the Idaho Conference. It was in 1889 that the late Rev. R.E. Smith, then Presiding Elder of the Montana Conference, first visited Eagle Rock. During this time all the original members had either moved away or united with other churches, excepting one. At this time Rev. J.M. Wilder was appointed pastor at Blackfoot and Eagle Rock, living at Blackfoot and coming to Idaho Falls once a month for a few times and then discontinued his visits. During his visits here he reorganized the church with the following members: H.L. Cook, Peter Van Blaricom, Mrs. Mary McGee, and Mrs. Sarah E. Crow; these constituting the entire membership.

In August 1893 Rev. Bateman was appointed pastor, but owing to the difficulty of the field and his advanced age, he did no active work and remained a short time. In the same fall Rev. C.R. Kellerman was appointed Presiding Elder, and was reappointed in the fall of 1894 at which time Rev. R.W. Hardman was appointed pastor and returned again in 1895.

In the fall of 1894 the society of “Earnest Workers” was organized, later changing its name to the Ladies Aid Society.

The following persons were enrolled as charter members: Mrs. J.E. Smith, Mrs. A.A. Tuttle, Mrs. A.M. Hardman, Mrs. H. Young, Mrs. J. Marsh, Mrs. Mary H. Mitchell, Mrs. Maria Crystal and Louise Linder.

During Rev. Hardman’s pastorate the membership increased from 6 to 24. The Sunday school now numbered 30, this being organized during his pastorate as was the Epworth League, class meeting and prayer meeting. The Honorable Harry Holden was the first president of the Epworth League.

The corner stone of the first church was laid September 9, 1895, by Rev. C.R. Kellerman, Presiding Elder, Rev. R.M. Hardman, pastor assisted by Revs. Dawson, Episcopalian; McLelland, Presbyterian; Van Engle, Baptist; and Steele of the Swedish Mission. At the date of Rev. Hardman’s departure December 9, 1895, the church was enclosed, but on account of high altitude affecting his health he was transferred to Albion. He was succeeded by Rev. Baker who remained only three months.

The charge was without a pastor for six months when Rev. M.M. Miner was called August 24, 1896. Rev. Miner moved to Idaho Falls, a distance of 600 miles by team. During his pastorate the church was plastered and some rooms finished off in the basement in which the pastor resided. In 1895, August 20 a loan was secured in the amount of $600.00 from the Church Extension Society, this was released Jan. 8, 1904. Rev. Miner resigned Aug. 24, 1897, and Rev. W.H. Ganaway was appointed to succeed him. He remained until 1898 when Rev. O.A. White was appointed. Nov. 1897 an additional loan of $850.00 was secured from the Church Extension Society, the same released Jan. 8, 1904.

From the meager records available, it would seem that the financial sea was pretty choppy at times and the pastors that had remained for but short periods probably sought more lucrative positions from dire necessity. The Ladies Aid Society always came to the rescue, even though at times their earnings were small as is evidenced by … one incident in which they made some hats which they sold for 80 cents, from which they donated 20 cents to the pastor’s salary.

Rev. White remained as pastor until 1901 when Rev. N.M. Temple was appointed. It was during his pastorate that most of the debt on the church was paid, though not entirely until 1904 when Rev. G.W. Barnes was pastor...remaining until 1906 when Rev. W.W. Van Dusen, now of Boise, was appointed. At the time Rev. Van Dusen came here in 1906 the total membership of the church numbered 200. Of this number, not over 25 of the same individuals are here at this writing[1926] ...our membership numbering at this time 363 active members, 37 probationers and 71 non-resident  members. In August 1908 Dr. Van Dusen was succeeded by Rev. W.A. Winters...being succeeded by Rev. Jacob Finger… Rev. Finger served the church from Aug 1909 to 1913, when he exchanged pastorates with Rev. Frank L. Wemett of Buffalo, N.Y.

By this time, the great irrigated area surrounding Idaho Falls had become very productive. The Omnipotent hand had dealt gently with the faithful pioneers who had seen fit to cast their lots in the fertile valley, and the little flock of faithful Christian Soldiers numbering 24 in 1895 had increased to more than 300 by 1915. The little trading post of Idaho Falls had changed from a few straggling shacks scattered promiscuously among the sand doons [sic], sage brush and jack rabbits, into a dignified little city, with many beautiful modern homes, substantial brick and stone business blocks, beautifully electrically lighted and paved streets and good school buildings, the total population between five and six thousand and the output of farm products from Idaho Falls amounting to several thousand [railroad] cars valued at more than $3,000,000.00 annually. The little church built in 1895 by those faithful workers who sacrificed so much of time, energy and their little stores of hard-earned gold, which … had housed the church’s pastor and his family as well as the congregation, was, after 20 years, found inadequate for the needs of the church and it was decided best to have a much larger and imposing edifice.

The Building of our Current Sanctuary

After much discussion of ways and means, plans and specifications, on April 19, 1916, Rev. Wemett appointed the ... building committee … who entered into a contract with Mr. John Visser an architect of Twin Falls, Idaho to construct the present church building under his plan and specifications, for which the architect received the sum of $800.00. A finance committee was appointed to raise $25,000.00 within ten days.

Bids were advertised for and … the lowest bid was for $47,000.00 … by contractor D.J. Sweeney, which bid included furnishings. The fact that the architect had estimated the cost of the building at only $25,000.00, and that the building could not be erected for less than $47,000.00, at first rather discouraged the finance committee, but … the contract was let and the work of excavation began in May, 1916 …

The cornerstone was laid in August 1916, with Bishop Cook of Helena officiating. The stone for the construction of the building was taken from the foothills about 30 miles east of Idaho Falls, hauled to the building site and dressed on the site ... Mr. Sweeney took a great interest in the construction of the building and did not slight a detail, though it was a fact that he lost $3000.00 on the contract, which brings the total cost of the building to $50,000.00.

In addition to which the splendid organ constructed by Hillgren, Lane & Co. of Alliance, Ohio cost $3500.00. The finance committee made every effort to raise all the necessary funds with which to complete the payments on the contract, but were unable to do so. On September 11, 1916, a mortgage was given to the Deseret Savings Bank of Salt Lake City, Utah for $15,000.00 which was to runfor three years and draw 8% interest.

The church was dedicated October 7, 1917, Brother Iliff, that dear old silvery haired, saintly missionary of Montana, ... officiating. At this time subscriptions for $15,000.00 were secured with which to wipe out the debt against the property, and the congregation was comfortably housed in the finest church edifice in the state.

Thus it is seen that in the 22 years the church has outgrown its first edifice costing $2500.00 and now occupies a building costing complete with organ, $53,500.00, which is only evidence of the great love of the Heavenly Father who has directed our footsteps into this fertile valley.

     Trinity United Methodist Church; 237 N. Water Ave. Idaho Falls, ID 83402                   208-522-7921        TrinityUMCIdahoFalls@gmail.com