The West Union Baptist Church
Located on N.W. West Union Road --West
of Cornelius Pass Road
Photos and written Historical Account.
"It is hardly necessary to say that Oregon in the
winter of 1843, was very sparsely settled. There were a few English
settlers around us, and a few settlers in connection with the Methodist Mission
at Salem. Portland was not yet begun. Father fell in love with the
fine prairie land (on the Tualatin Plains), and counted himself fortunate to be
able to exchange his three mules for the primitive dwelling in which we lived
for some time"
--Edward Henry Lenox--
"I stayed in Oregon for sixteen years, during which time I saw the incoming of many settlers, and saw the state form", wrote Edward Henry Lenox in his 1904 book, "Overland to Oregon." The time span to which Lenox refers is the raw, rugged and uncertain period culminating with Oregon statehood.
Edward Lenox, with his parents and seven
siblings, came to Oregon as part of the 1843 wagon train from Missouri.
Just 16 years of age, Edward admirably handled the adult job of driving one of
his family's two oxen-led wagons across the plains and over the Rocky
Mountains. Along the route that became known as the Oregon Trail, the lad
witnessed the stampede of 3000 buffalo, encounters with 300 starving Indians,
and the deaths of fellow travelers by disease, wagon accident and drowning.
Among the 127-wagon party were a devout group of Baptists, including Edward's family. His father, David Lenox, who was the appointed leader of the wagon train, imbued a sense of religiosity wherever possible, holding evening devotions beneath the stars insisting that the group refrain from traveling on Sundays. The first Sunday morning on the trail he was heard to say, "We are not going to travel today, this is the Lords day."
Upon their arrival in Oregon in November 1843, the Lenox's and other members of the emigrant party created in effect a Baptist colony in the northern reaches of present-day Hillsboro. David Lenox claimed land located a few miles northwest of today's Cornelius Pass Roadhouse, and there he built a small log cabin that simultaneously was used as a home for himself and his family, and a meeting place for the first Baptist society west of the Rocky Mountains. To help ensure a healthy future for the congregation, David donated a two-acre parcel from his land claim, on which a church was raised and a burial ground laid out in the mid 1850s (both the church and cemetery still stand today, on West Union Road just west of Cornelius Pass Road.)
For these pioneer Baptists, the church served as both a spiritual and social center, so it is not surprising that Edward Lenox met his future wife, Eleanor Porter, through the church, In fact, she was the minister's daughter. Eleanor and her family had moved from Ohio in 1847, and soon after arriving, her father, Reverend William Porter began preaching weekly sermons at the makeshift church at the Lenox home. She and Edward married in May 1850, when he was 23 and she 16.
The newlyweds moved to Edward's 640-acre claim. He likely had acquired this long, narrow piece of land bisected by Stony Creek (soon to be renamed Rock Creek) in 1845, after his 18th birthday. Edward and Eleanor built a log cabin on the east side of what is now Cornelius Pass Road, nearly opposite where the Road House stands today. There, through the 1850s they lived a serene, sedentary life farming and serving in the church. Reflecting on that period, Edward later wrote, "Our life in Oregon in the main, was very quiet and uneventful. We raised wheat, oats, potatoes, peas and all kinds of vegetables, without irrigation. The land responded readily to our efforts and only needed to be stirred to yield bountiful crops....."
In 1859, for reasons not recorded, Edward and Eleanor moved to Oakland, California. They sold their Rock Creek farm to a fellow member of the West Union Baptist Church named Robert Imbrie. Imbrie and his family initially lived in the cabin built by Edward and Eleanor Lenox. Then, in the mid-1860s, he built the impressive two-story Italian Renaissance-style house that is now called the Cornelius Pass Roadhouse.
Nowadays, the most tangible remnant of the Roadhouse's link to an early Baptist colonizing effort can be found at the little cemetery of the West Union Baptist Church, land donated by David Lenox. Here members of both the Imbrie and Lenox families rest in peace.
This account used with permission and copied for the most part from the McMenamins Pubs Newsletter. 2003-2004 edition.
A portion of following account from the notes of
December 25, 1853, the present building of the West Union Baptist church was dedicated. It is the oldest Protestant church building, still standing, west of the Rocky Mountains. 30 X 40 feet in size with rafters of cedar poles, the joists of fir poles and the sills of hand-hewn fir logs. Sunday morning church service is held on a regular basis as well as a Sunday School. The floor is made of wood planking with straight back wood pews. The end of the pews are equipped with doors. The church building is still today in the same condition as when it was built. There is a pump organ that is used for music. The church has a fresh coat of white paint. The windows are covered with shutters that are usually closed except when added lighting is needed.
Return to Church History 1853