It’s been 140 years since St. Paul’s Episcopal Chapel, The Dalles’ oldest church, was consecrated in 1879, and the doors will be open to the public Saturday, Nov. 23, for an open house celebration from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., followed by a public celebration of Eucharist at the chapel 8 a.m. Sunday morning.
The Fort Dalles Museum Surgeon’s Quarters will also be open Nov. 23, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The first recorded Episcopal service in Eastern Oregon was held at Fort Dalles in 1844, officiated by Rev. John McCarty, who canoed up the Columbia River to The Dalles.
Docents will be on hand to answer questions at both buildings, and visits are free. Refreshments will be served at Ramsey Hall, which is adjacent to the Chapel.
The church was built in 1875, the first service held there on Christmas morning. In 1879, the chapel, which cost $2,500 to build, was paid for and consecrated—140 years ago to the day of the celebration.
Over the years, the chapel has been added to and remodeled. It still features the original “board and batten” construction inside, a simple construction technique in which the inside and outside wall were the same, and a narrow “batten” was added where the boards overlapped. The original stained-glass windows also remain.
“We want to acknowledge the history of the church, along with the Fort Dalles Museum, and give the community the opportunity to get to know these buildings,” said Gretchen Kimsey, a member of the committee planning the open house. Her husband, Rustin, served as Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Eastern Oregon for many years, and established the office of the Diocese in Ramsey Hall, which is attached to the chapel.
“We moved here in 1971, and the chapel wasn’t used,” Kimsey explained. She spent many hours at the chapel when the facility served as the Diocese office. “The chapel has been precious in my life. It’s a beautiful space to be in, intimate and comforting,” she said.
The chapel is the oldest church structure in The Dalles, she said. In the 1890s, several fires raced through the city, destroying large swaths of town. In 1891 “It came right up to Union Street, but didn’t cross, so the church was saved,” she explained.
The church was located on high ground and escaped the historic floods as well.
Pat Fowler, also a member of the planning committee, said she was married in the chapel 60 years ago, and her brothers were baptized in the church as well. In 1961, the St. Paul’s congregation moved to a new church located at 1805 Minnesota St.
Rev. Georgia Giacobbe is the historian for the Episcopal Diocese of Eastern Oregon, which includes all of Eastern Oregon and Klickitat County as well. She is responsible for researching the Diocese, and keeping the records. She said a number of chapels were built at the same time east of the mountains. Information on the chapels history, and that of the Diocese, will be displayed in Ramsey Hall, which was added to the chapel in the 1900s.
Long-time church member Dewanda Clark said she became an Episcopalian “here in this little church” about 1953. “This was the first place I worshiped as an Episcopalian.” Her two daughters were baptized and confirmed in the chapel. “It’s been a very important in my life,” she said of the small chapel. “History is very important to me,” she added. “There is so much history here in The Dalles. It’s important we remember and keep track of what happened here. I cherish those kind of memories.”
The celebration of Eucharist at the chapel scheduled for 8 a.m. Sunday, Nov. 24, will be led by Rt. Rev. Patrick Bell, the diocese’s current and eighth bishop. A historical liturgy will be used. At 10 a.m. a modern liturgy from the book of common prayer will be used for a celebration of Eucharist that follows at 10 a.m. at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 1805 Minnesota St., The Dalles, with Bishop Bell presiding. A festive coffee hour will follow.
Julie Reynolds, who prepared the souvenir program for the 140th celebration event, said she was baptized in the chapel when she was six months old. Her family attended services every Sunday, driving to The Dalles from the family home in Grass Valley.
She sang in the junior choir, and she continues to attend the Eucharist services held in the chapel at noon every Wednesday.
In addition to the Wednesday service, the chapel is still used for bi-monthly Quaker meetings and houses the archives of the Diocese. Several other groups use Remington Hall and the offices. The chapel and grounds are maintained by a volunteer work group.