A wealth of information comes from the Big Sky Disciples by Merrill G. Burlingame and Harvey C. Hartling, written in 1984. It is both well-researched and well-written with ample footnotes and excellent bibliography. The 318 page book is published by the Christian Church in Montana.
Some of our photos have come from the vintage postcard trade. We have daily contact with dealers and purchase pictures of early church buildings. Some photos on our pages have been taken from vintage dinner plates.
Our last major source of facts comes from the speech presented in 1902 by Walter Marion Jordan when he was President of the Montana Christian Association. The document has been provided to us by Ronald H. McConkey.
The Montana Difference. While the primitive gospel rode into Oregon in the ox-carts and hearts of farmer-preachers, the men evangelizing Montana were more often college-trained and partially supported by Christians outside of Montana. The population of Oregon was quite stable compared to the men working the mines of Montana. This constant moving, in turn, led to a large turnover among the churches. One would flourish for a few months, or even several years, then decline -- and even close.
The buildings were different. In Oregon and Washington, the earliest buildings were simple frame structures, often one large room. They were usually paid for by the time they were dedicated to the service of God. If any debt was owing on Dedication Day, the celebrating visitors took up an offering and paid off the remaining balance.
A few simple buildings were constructed in Montana such as Anaconda, Highwood and Cascade. But many were ornate and elaborate for the times. Perhaps the weather was a factor, perhaps the educational background of the preachers or a sense of being competitive with the denominations in facilities. At any rate, excessive building debt was an early discouragement for the developing congregation. Most congregations survived, but the debt may have dampened early development.
Walter Jordan, in his speech of 1902 said:
We made an awful mistake in the beginning and we are suffering today on account of that blunder. Our first evangelists labored under the delusion that the first great need of a mission church is a fine house of worship, so they built great big expensive houses of worship for which they could not possibly pay and left our poor mission churches burdened with debts under which they have been groaning in some cases for several long years.Now we begin with the cities, starting with the earliest.
Because T. F. Campbell was the first to immerse a candidate in water in Montana (James T. Thorpe), the church must have consisted of disciples who moved in from Tennessee, Kentucky and Missouri. Campbell practiced law and operated a boys home at one time.
In 1868 T. F. Campbell was appointed Territorial Superintendent of Schools but the very next year he was offered the Presidency of the new Christian College at Monmouth, Oregon and left Montana.
There is a profile of T. F. Campbell.Like many pioneer era churches, there were several startup dates for the Helena Church. A group would form, then fail, then form again. This makes pinpointing a precise date a judgment call. For this reason, our dates are sometimes earlier than the date selected by the local congregation because they pick the date of the last startup and we focus on the earliest event.
The minister beginning in 1892 was the music-loving Francis L. Cook. Part of his time was spent with John F. Ghormley holding gospel meetings, but when he was home, he conducted singing groups several nights each week.
By 1894 the Sunday morning choir alone numbered 110 -- and that in Montana where total attendance was usually less than 100. Because of the pack-out audiences, Cook and B. F. Norris began promoting a plan for another congregation at Hamilton, a few miles away.
James A. Seaton began his work at Corvallis in January of 1889. He and his wife Mary were hard working people who seldom vacationed.
By 1903, John D. Stephens of Ontario, Canada was the minister. Born in 1861 and immersed into Christ in 1878, he had studied at Bethany College in West Virginia. He was married to Mary S. Hyatt.
Early records shows that Mr. Stephens divided his time between the Corvallis and Florence churches.
In 1905 John Stevens moved to Whitehall, Montana where he preached for the Christian Church.
The church building was located at the southwest corner of the intersection of 2nd and College (Eastside Highway).
That same year, the first service held in the town was held by Galen Wood in the month of February. The house of worship, costing $2,000, was dedicated and a church of seven members was organized in July of the same year.
By 1889 the number of disciples enrolled had risen to 23. Preachers prior to 1889 included E. O. Sharpe from Illinois and J. L. Phoenix from Pennsylvania.
G. O. Black came as minister in 1893 and a gospel meeting was planned with John Fletcher Ghormley. The seating was enlarged to handle 400 and 47 were added during the meeting. The building was then sold and another built to replace it.
In 1891, the building was located at the intersection of E. Park and Cherry. (Actually one lot east of the intersection on the south side of E. Park.)
Later the building was at E. 6th and Cedar.
This writer's personal friend Clarence Boulton preached in Anaconda about the time this writer was born.
William D. Lear arrived in 1884 to launch a congregation after the model of the church in the book of Acts. John L. Phoenix was briefly associated with the emerging church and then Eli Fisher arrived in 1887 to build the congregation.
The earliest meetings were held in an old carpenter shop. Work on a meeting house started in 1888 and was nearly completed by the Fall of 1889.
An eye witness described the building:
The audience room is 31˝ x 57˝ feet, with dressing rooms and parlors in the rear, one and one-half stories high; basement under whole building unfinished. The tower at southeast corner is 9 x 12 feet, first story, and 9˝ feet square the remainder. The whole is frame with brick veneering, finished with Missoula pine and Oregon fir, in hard oil. Its acoustic properties are excellent . . .The added building to the rear in the drawing is the parsonage that was constructed by Eli Fisher. It eventually was owned by the church and was converted to classrooms and offices.
Walter Jordan reported:
Eli Fisher closed his work in Missoula in the fall of '91. G. E. Ireland was his successor and began his work in the spring of '92, and continued until the close of '95. He was a thoroughly good man and a most excellent and energetic pastor. . . .
Canadian-born Benjamin F. Norris was then employed as a school teacher in that valley and preached for the little church for more than two years. Mr. Norris had attended Oskaloosa College in Iowa. It was during his stay that the building was constructed and 11 were baptized into Christ.
M. L. Streator described the building as 30 feet by 18 feet with a 11˝ foot height. He said that it was a a log building, but "is the neatest log house I have ever seen." The interior was carpeted.
The population declined and eventually the church closed.
In 1914 the building was located on the corner of Central Avenue and 2nd West. It is best described as the southwest corner of the intersection.
The founding minister was Benjamin F. Norris. Here, as at Highland, he was teaching school and shepherding the believers. He wrote in 1889:
Last year we began the erection of a church house, and now we have the only church edifice as well as the only church organization in Cascade or vicinity. . . .Walter Jordan, in his speech of 1902 said:
At this time there were about twenty-five members at Cascade who helped build the church, but there were two of them who were of such decided help to Brother Norris that we wish to mention their names. One was Mrs. Minnie Gorham, whose kind hospitality and hopefulness was always an inspiration to her pastor, and she helped in soliciting funds for the building. Mrs. Gorham has long ago been called to her reward, but her daughter Mrs. Lela Koberts continues (to be?) a living benediction to the Cascade church and community. The other name deserving mention is that of F. S. Read, who gave more money than any other person.Walter Jordan preached his first sermons here and remained about one year. After leaving nine months to attend Cotner University in Nebraska, he returned having married Ella Dungan, daughter of D. R. Dungan, the Chancellor. The year was 1892.
Fish Creek was about 10 miles SE of Whitehall, Montana. While it was a farming area, the possibility of mining held out hope for a better economy.
The congregation was organized by J. L. Phoenix in 1885. Harrison Jordan was named an elder.
In our day of emphasis on church growth in numbers, this story is informative. It is about the Fish Creek church and was taken from the 1902 speech of Walter Jordan, son of elder Harrison Jordan:
The Brethren who heard Brother Hoffman preach, were inspired by his eloquence and holy zeal. I was a lad of about fifteen years of age when he held his short meeting at Fish Creek, but I remember that he made such an impression on my mind that I resolved to myself that whenever I did become a Christian I would join the Christian Church.A powerful voice for the Lord may never have become a leader in Montana if Mr. Hoffman had not held a meeting in this little place. Mr. Hoffman was good at reclaiming the strayed and establishing congregation, but he said, "So far as I recollect I only baptized four persons while in Montana. I think I rode three thousand miles horse back, and two thousand miles in the stagecoach to these different appointments."
In addition to Walter Jordan, Owen J. Gist, a young preacher among the Baptist churches came to understand the way of the Lord more completely. The most significant gains are not recorded by head counter.
Butte Yahoo map
Butte began as a cluster of mining camps during the early1870's. By the end of the decade, a large, bustling city had emerged. In 1879 the business district burned and the city council required that new buildings be of masonry.
Gustavus Hoffman preached here twice in 1879 and located 16 Disciples. By the time Galen Wood began visiting regularly in 1887, he was aware of 40 Disciples.
His work was commended in the speech by Walter Jordan:
To establish the cause in Butte was a tremendous task. It was difficult to find a place of meeting. They met for a while in the Presbyterian church, then again at the Baptist church, later on at the Congregational church and finally at Fidelity Hall (58 West Broadway) where they had to pay large rent. A man of less endurance and patience than Galen Wood would certainly have failed in Butte, but he also had other qualities, he was a good scholarly preacher and very spiritual.The church completed its building in 1893 and some called it "the prettiest church in Butte, and probably in all Montana as well." By 1909, the bell tower had been built far above the roof line.
Bozeman Yahoo map
Abut 24 years later, the Lord brought his own trail blazer to this frontier town. Martin Lyman Streator was preaching at the Helena Christian Church at the time and was asked to assist in forming a new congregation. A group of disciples, largely from Missouri and Kentucky, formed a church with a charter membership of 34.
They layed plans to construct a frame building, but a generous gift from the Payne family enabled the planners to use brick. We believe this photograph is of the original building, although it was taken about 1920.
The building was located at the southeast corner of West Babcock and Grand Avenue South.
The congregation has remodeled the building since it was first built, but the original structure can still be seen in the present one.
The first resident minister was Wiley Mountjoy, beginning in 1889. He is pictured in the Introduction at the top of the page.
Mr. Mountjoy stayed about one year, but before the church was two years old, it had 101 members.
The minister in 1892 and 1893 was the highly effective John Fletcher Ghormley. Mr. Ghormley later moved to Walla Walla, Washington and Portland, Oregon.
Walter Jordan reported in 1902:
They had Wiley Mountjoy for a little over a year, B. E. Dunlap a year, J. A. Seaton about two years, J. F. Ghormley less than a year, E. T. C. Bennett one year, and just a few weeks before the annual convention of '95 they had employed O. F. McHargue whose ministry after seven years still continues.
Hamilton was named after James Hamilton, the man who planned it. Hamilton is unique in that it didn’t evolve, but began as a planned town with wide streets and an economic center for the area farms and ranches. That was about 1894.
That next year, F. L. Cook, preacher at the nearby Corvallis Christian Church joined forces with B. F. Norris. They began a gospel meeting and established a church with 34 charter members.
The development company gave a plot providing that a building be put up immediately and this was accomplished with largely volunteer labor. The building was dedicated to the Lord in 1896.
It was located at 601 South 2nd, the southwest corner of Desmet and S. 2nd.
In addition to Norris, B. C. Black and R. M. Dungan led the work in its early days.
The church was reorganized in 1909 by Lawrence Wright and V. E Ridenour and there were about 33 members at this time.
The church built a handsome stone church in 1911. It was located at 623 West Boulevard Street. This was the east corner of W. Boulevard and 7th Avenue N.
However, there was something flawed about the foundation and the building was eventually declared unusable. After many years, other property was secured and the church continued.
The beginnings of the Kalispell Church were three miles northwest at Spring Creek. A small group of Disciples assembled in the home of C. B. Bondurant as early as 1898. By the next year had built a small frame church building and reported 17 members.
Meanwhile, the town of Kalispell began to emerge. One historical source says:
That summer of 1891 was the establishment of 23 saloons, half a dozen gambling joints, a like number of honky-tonks, two Chinese restaurants, two Chinese laundries, and four general stores.Christians in Kalispell first built at 2nd Ave. E and 7th Street East. The building was crowded onto the lot on the southeast corner of the intersection. The building shows on a 1903 map. The group was 40 in number.
Rapid growth soon demanded another building, so one was constructed at 2nd Avenue East and 3rd East. This time the building was on the northwest corner of the intersection. In 1909, the only other structure on the block was a bandstand immediately to the north.
Leaders involved in the earliest days of both congregations included Eli Fisher, J. F. Adair, Lawrence Wright and A. C. Downing.
In 1909 John L. Brandt conducted evangelistic services for the congregation. At that time Harold H. Griffis was the minister.