A piece of Hood River County history stands a charred remnant after fire destroyed the 110-year-old Oak Grove church, and the home next door, early on July 23.
Neighbors on Country Club Road southwest of Hood River phoned 9-1-1 and firefighters arrived at 1:58 a.m. to find the church engulfed in flames, according to West Side Fire Lieut. Josh Beckner.
Fire had started in house at that point. The house was under renovation and the church structure long abandoned, and no one was inside, according to Beckner. Cascade Locks, Hood River, Wy’East and Mosier fire firefighters responded along with West Side. No one was injured.
A 1911 newspaper previewing the church dedication described “the neat little church” as “a credit to Oak Grove" that "should have the support of the community.”
“Extra chairs will be provided to seat the crowd next Sunday morning, and the grove and spring nearby offer an attractive lunching place for those from a distance,” the article stated.
Julian Garcia of Hood River purchased the home and church property three months ago from Bill and Patricia Huff, who own the adjacent Oak Grove Store. Garcia said he plans to rebuild on the property.
The fire sliced a power line running across Country Club, leaving char marks on the asphalt and causing a small fire in foliage east across the road, but firefighters kept flames away from the nearby home.
The Huffs saw the electric line “popping” on the road and an overhanging oak tree catch fire.
A 250-gallon propane tank behind both structures was a chief concern for firefighters.
“We kept a lot of water on that,” Beckner said.
Firefighter Tom Sieverkropp said, “It vented and woke everyone up.
“The (monitor nozzle) did what it was supposed to,” allowing the tank to vent without expelling flames, Sieverkropp said.
Firefighters kept an eye on the property throughout the day Thursday to prevent hot-spots from spreading.
Shawn Anderson of Oregon Fire Marshal’s office investigated and said the cause was undetermined.
The Huffs had lived in the house and added bedrooms, a bathroom, and laundry room. “The electric box was sketchy,” Bill said.
The church had sat empty for decades. Oak Grove native Maija Yasui said church construction was led in the early-20th century by the Methodist congregation, and heavily used by area Finns, who were largely Lutheran.
“The church was used by multiple faith groups early on, and was used a meeting place for agriculture and political meetings,” said Yasui, former Hood River News columnist, who lives near Odell and has done extensive historic research on Hood River County. Ladies aid, teacher and union groups, and denominations including Seventh Day Adventist used the church, which was alternately called Oak Grove hall.
The home and church were both built in 1910 and its dedication in 1911 featured speaker Rev. H.E. Greening, a Spokane Methodist pastor.
“A few years ago an attempt was made to erect a union (multi-denomination) church, but it was found that this was impractical, and that it would be necessary for some one denomination to assume the responsibility for the building if one were erected,” stated the 1911 article. "The Methodists, being the most numerous, undertook this, but have had the cooperation of others in the work. The present new edifice is the result.”
In May 1914, the West Side Improvement Club met at the hall and heard a speaker on strawberries — spraying, irrigation, and effects of rust.
“Some of the Willow Flat growers were in attendance and felt well repaid for their trip,” stated the article.