The History of Tualatin Plains Presbyterian Church

Photo of the sign in front of the Old Scotch Church

The organization of the Tualatin Plains Presbyterian Church is recorded on the first page of the minutes of the Session, in the time-faded hand of its first pastor, the Rev. George Ross. The words of this venerable sage were set down in the following manner:

"Columbia Academy, Washington County, Oregon, 16th November, 1873. After a sermon this day by the Rev. A.L. Lindsley, D.D., Portland, Oregon, he along with two of his elders, Messrs. Holman and Wadhams, organized the Tualatin Plains Presbyterian Church, consisting of twelve members. The sacrament of the Lord's Supper was dispensed. The congregation then proceeded to elect two elders, when Messrs. William Chalmers and James Smith were chosen to fill that office. It was found that Mr. Chalmers was an ordained elder, he having been chosen and set apart to that office a long time previous to his departure from Scotland. He was received and Mr. Smith ordained to the eldership of the Tualatin Plains Church. Closed with prayer."

Thus the Tualatin Plains Presbyterian Church was organized on that fall day of November and the first service was held at the four-room Columbia Academy school house, four miles northwest of the present site. This service and the ones immediately following it were held at the Academy until a permanent site for construction of a house of worship could be located by the little congregation.

The charter members came mostly from the same area in Aberdeenshire, west of Aberdeen, Scotland. They were previously members of the "Free Church of Scotland." Upon coming to Oregon, all settled in the same area on the Tualatin Plains. From their Scottish origin, this church acquired the name it is more often identified with today, "The Old Scotch Church." These twelve Scottish pioneers were: Mr. and Mrs. William Chalmers and their daughter Catherine, Mr. and Mrs. James Smith, Rev. and Mrs. George Ross, Mr. and Mrs. George Alexander, their daughter Eliza, Miss Alexander and John Milne. Most of them remained in the area and in the church all their lives. Eight of these twelve and many of their descendents are presently at rest in the cemetery surrounding the church.

Though the records of the original twelve are scattered, the death of William Chalmers in 1891 and that of his wife in 1899 are recorded in the minutes of the Session. Mrs. Chalmers was eulogized soon after her death as a person of unselfishness, devoutness, hospitality, benevolence and loyalty to Christ. James Smith was remembered at his death in 1889 as a man of sterling worth and an elder and trustee for 16 years. It is evident from these remembrances that several of the church's early members contributed many long, loyal years to this struggling new church.

Upon organization, the congregation began examining the countryside for a site on which to build a new church and establish a cemetery. Regarding this quest, the following passage is found in the session minutes:

"At a congregational meeting held at the home of William Chalmers, Rev. George Ross, acting as chairman, it was unanimously agreed to buy two acres of land from Jacob Hoover as a site for a church and burying ground. Mr. Hoover, being present, very generously said, 'I will donate one acre to you and sell you the other for $25.00.' The offer was accepted and the thanks of the meeting given to Mr. Hoover for his liberality."

The site they chose was beautifully set among firs near the bank of McKay Creek, about four miles north of Hillsboro.

Now that a site had been chosen and the land acquired, plans went ahead for construction. At a congregational meeting on March 11, 1878, the board of trustees was requested to acquire plans and specifications for a church building and the probable cost and report at the next meeting. At the following congregational meeting, a simple gothic design proposed by Mr. Balantyne with a probable cost of $2120 was accepted. The trustees were then instructed to employ a responsible contractor and have the church building finished with as little delay as possible. The plan called for a tall eight-sided steeple, buttresses on the outer walls, steep roof and stained glass windows. This style was probably selected because of its similarity to their home church in Scotland.

Construction began immediately with much of the labor donated by church members and men and women of the community. The lumber for the building came from nearby forests, processed by mills in the vicinity. With these donations of labor and materials, the building was rapidly completed and dedicated in 1878. The original sanctuary furnishings were donated by members and friends of the congregation including: the pulpit, large pulpit Bible, sterling communion service and the communion table. All of these items are still in use today. The church bell, which still heralds Sunday morning services, was not installed in the steeple until September, 1926, when it was donated to the Old Scotch Church by the Linton Methodist Church. The pews came from the Methodist Church in old Glencoe (now North Plains).

In 1986 a beautiful handcrafted Celtic cross was hung in the chancel. It was made from a dogwood tree that had grown for many years in the cemetery.

This structure is one of the oldest and most beautiful continuously used churches in the state. The historic majesty and beauty of the building draws large numbers of artists who each summer capture its charm on canvas and film. The church is listed in many of the tour books of the area and has been featured in other periodicals. On June 26, 1971, the church was marked by a plaque in a ceremony conducted by the Tualatin Heritage Group. This was the 13th historical site in Washington County to be honored. (The plaque has since disappeared.) Again, On November 5, 1974, the church was honored by being listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Along with construction of the church building, work also progressed on the cemetery plot. The land was cleared and readied for burial purposes. The first person laid to rest in this peaceful cemetery was Margaret Smith Chalmers, the daughter of William and Catherine Chalmers, who died May 28, 1876, at the age of 6 years, 9 months. Inscribed on the gravestone were the child's last words, "The lamb has come for me, He's come."

Many old and famous pioneers of the Oregon Country lie in this picturesque old cemetery. One of the most famous is the grave of the mountain man, Joe Meek, who was also the first U.S. Marshall of the Oregon Territory. He died June 20, 1875, and was buried at that time on his home place near the historic marker in his memory on the Sunset Highway. When this property was sold, his remains were moved to their present resting place located east of the church.

There have been 26 ministers who faithfully served this pioneer church with years of service ranging from several months to twenty-eight years.

The first pastor, the Rev. George Ross, led this tiny band of Presbyterians for 21 years, the period from 1873 to 1894. He was still in the service of the congregation when he passed away in 1894.

During the pastorate of the Rev. Albert Robinson, 1899 to 1907, the church had Sunday worship only three times a month"conducted by the pastor on the first, third and fifth Sabbath of the month." This factwas also reported in the minutes of the Session in these words: "Bro. Davis reported attending Presbytery at this church 18th of the last month and the action of Presbytery in dividing the field, cutting of Forest Dale and Buxton and giving us the much desired every Sunday service."

In 1909, Dr. Andrew Carrick began the longest pastorate in this church's history, which lasted 28 years until his retirement on April 4, 1937. He commuted from Portland by horseback and later by bicycle. He was a pulpit supply pastor who was requested to stay each year by vote of the congregation. Dr. Carrick was much beloved by his congregation and his death in December, 1948, was greatly lamented.

In the summer of 1947 the Rev. W.J. Smith, a retired missionary who had served in the Philippines, came by the church and noticed the grounds in need of a good mowing. He rolled up his sleeves and went to work. Pleased with his attitude, the congregation petitioned Presbytery to grant their request that he serve as their pastor. Permission was granted and the Rev. Smith became this church's 11th pastor for the next three years.

The Rev. Kent Lawrence (1956-1962) was the first pastor installed by the Presbytery. His organizational ability brought the church more fully into the Presbyterian form of government.

In 1970 when the Rev. Gene Upton began his ministry, church membership was 174. In 1985, when he retired, it had grown to 280. The church bestowed on him the honorary title of Pastor Emeritus.

The Rev. Darrell Hall was installed as pastor in 1987. The following January, Pat Berger was selected as the first paid part-time Christian Education Administrator.

During the years, the church and cemetery grounds have been expanded from the original two acres to the present 10 plus acres.

Improvements and additional construction have been added to the church through the years. In the spring of 1905, an annex was added to the back of the church to provide more Sunday School classrooms. This annex was enlarged and a half basement and heating plant were added in 1940. A tract of land across McKay Creek was donated to the church and a manse was built there in 1949. A second addition was built on the back of the church in 1955 which included an indoor toilet for the first time. During 1959 and 1960 the church was raised to add a full basement. Included were classrooms, Fellowship Hall, kitchen, rest rooms and the Pastor's office. While the church was being raised, the congregation met in the Old North Plains school. In 1983 and 1984 four classrooms were added to the basement and ground floor. This enlarged the church to the maximum floor plan permissible on this site, within the confines of the cemetery. Even with all the construction and changes, great care has been taken to keep the interior and exterior style of the building the same as the original "pioneer appearance."

The Old Scotch Church has paused to look back at many years of growth and struggle and to honor the members and pastors who made this growth possible. Such times are commemorated periodically by anniversaries, as on the sixtieth in 1933. At this time nineteen direct descendants of original members were present. These descendants honored the charter members by laying wreaths upon the graves of these Oregon pioneers. The most notable anniversary celebration was the 100th in 1973. A year-long affair, it began in January with an Old Time Service of Worship. Members and friends came dressed in costumes of the 1800's. In February a ceremony was held dedicating the woods behind the church as "Founders' Grove." A Scotch Pine and twelve fir trees were planted in honor of the twelve charter members. April was an art show in which both office supply stores in Hillsboro displayed paintings and pictures of the church and the people who founded it. May was Homecoming when former members were invited back to share in a special service honoring their past. An Old Fashioned Ice Cream Social was held on the front lawn of the church in July, and in September a barbecue in Founders' Grove served 380 members and special guests. November was the Festival of Rededication to a second century of Christian service. The last event, closing out the Centennial Year, was the "Centennial Memories" Tasting Tea. (A scrap book of all these activities and participants may be seen in the church library.)

But the Old Scotch Church does not reflect often -- rather it pushes ahead to increase its influence in the community and remain a vital congregatiant heritage.

To Top