First Presbyterian Church of Portland, Oregon, was organized January 1, 1854. It was 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.
The church relocated to Third and Morrison Streets where a place of worship was built in 1864. The sanctuary boasted a pipe organ built in New York and brought around the Horn in the 1840s to a church in San Francisco before coming to Portland. This organ still stands today in the Chapel of the current church and is still played on occasion.
As Portland expanded its boundaries, the church began to explore relocating. In 1888 the congregation moved into the first building of its new facility at the corner of Twelfth and Alder Streets. Senator Henry W. Corbett, a member of the congregation, spoke at the laying of the cornerstone. The sanctuary in which the congregation worships today was completed in 1890. The balcony was added in 1892 to accommodate the growing congregation as well as the first meeting of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church west of the Rocky Mountains.
First Presbyterian Church had a hand in the development of over 20 other Presbyterian congregations in the Portland area. Under the leadership of its first installed pastor, Dr. Aaron L. Lindsley, the congregation was involved in mission work with the Nez Perce Indians in Idaho and was instrumental in beginning Presbyterian mission work in Alaska.
In 1896 the congregation sponsored the Men’s Resort, a ministry to men in need of food, housing, and jobs. In 1940 the congregation assumed full responsibility for Friendly House, a settlement house program which continues today offering a wide variety of services to individuals and families in the northwest portion of the city. In the 1950s Friendly House became a community-wide supported work, but continues to enjoy strong support from the congregation.
First Presbyterian Church purchased the summer estate of former Oregon Governor Julius Meier in 1950. The site consisted of 75 acres including several structures on a bluff in the scenic Columbia River Gorge 30 miles from downtown Portland. Since then, First Church has acquired 25 additional acres, constructed new buildings and acquired adjacent properties that now encompass the Menucha Retreat and Conference Center. “Menucha” (Men-oo-ka), is a Hebrew word meaning “ever-changing stillness.” For nearly 60 years this has been a valuable ministry of First Presbyterian Church, serving not only our church groups but also other churches, civic, and nonprofit groups from across the Pacific Northwest.
Some members of First Church purchased the Danmoore Hotel, which was located adjacent to the church property. These members created the Twelfth Avenue Investment Corporation and in 1987 donated the stock in the corporation to the church. The Danmoore was offered to Central City Concern rent-free for use as housing for low-income and addicted persons. In the early 1990s a number of church members were instrumental in planning and building the Alder House on church property. The Alder House was designed to provide replacement housing for residents of the Danmoore when the hotel would be razed for further development by the church. In 2001 the Jubilee campaign was launched to raise funds for the construction of a three-level underground parking facility and a surface-level plaza. Ten percent of all moneys pledged for the campaign was earmarked for mission causes. Current residents of the Danmoore were relocated to a new facility developed by Central City Concern and Portland Development Commission. The new garage and the plaza were dedicated on March 19, 2006.
In 1988 the church opened the doors of the Julia West House (named in memory of Julia West Lindsley, wife of the first installed pastor).
The church is considering a proposal for the redevelopment of the Julia West House as affordable housing with supportive services on site. We look forward to the next chapter in the life and service to the city of Julia West House!