In 1918, the original Garden Home Community Church was built facing onto Garden Home Road at the corner of Royal which is now SW 71st. The professional office building occupies this area now.
From 1914 through 1917 the church people first started meeting over the Jager store, sometimes called the White store, which was at the southeast corner of Oleson and Garden Home Road. The first trustees were Nelson Woodard, Edward Westwood, Nials Jensen and Dr. Reinert Hetlesater. Church documents show that Reinert and his wife Clara Hetlesater gave lot 2 in the Nichol’s Addition to the church for a building site. The Hetlesaters owned and lived on other property on SW Mayo Street where Dr. Hetlesater had his medical practice. The church members took out a loan for $300 and built the church by themselves. The sign on the front of the church read Garden Home Community Methodist Church.
Circuit Rider preachers served the early church along with with Mr. McLoughlin, referred to in one account as “Old Man McLouglin.” The home owned by George Babbitt at 7611 SW Alden is known as the Canfield House and was built in 1915 to serve the Circuit Rider Methodist preachers. See George and Mae Babbitt.
From 1917 to 1920 the financial accounts were under the Garden Home Methodist Church name. Then in 1917 and 1918 the church’s name and deed read Garden Home Methodist Episcopal Church. Church records note that it was a “Community Church to which members of every denomination may belong.” Willard Norman was the 18th minister to serve the church until it moved to the new church building on SW 81st which was dedicated on Jan. 1, 1960.
In 1924 the pastor’s salary was $240, the transportation budget $60 and the church budget $890. With a church membership of 62 persons and an average attendance of 40, the pastor’s salary of 1953 was increased to $2500 plus housing. A new parsonage was needed and planning began on a small home which was built just west of the church.
The Fraley house was located west of the church and the parsonage and was sold to the church for $9000 in 1954. This space was used for Sunday School, meetings and other activities. The diamond shaped windows distinguish this house when it was moved to the Unitarian property.
The church was an active presence in the community and many old-timers recall the youth group activities, the choir and the many ladies’ fellowship circles. Women used the local Community Cannery to raise funds by providing sandwiches and canned plum puddings. People looked forward to the fine needlework and special pastries at the annual Christmas Bazaars. Ethel Williams was the first woman pastor and she lived across from the church and next door to the cannery. Since she was a woman, she received no church pension so the G.H. Community Church contributed to her care after she retired. The Dean Hickmans donated a piano to the church. Church activities for children were often noted in the PTA Gazette newsletter.
The decision to sell the old church property was difficult for many of the members. Harold Eastman’s letter of February, 1961 speaks of the feelings. “I understand the purchaser’s offer of $800 is for the old church building and Fraley house…that isn’t much but…he will have considerable expense in moving the buildings. From a sentimental standpoint, the old church has many fond memories. It has served the community for over 40 years, and has grown with the community. Even I can remember the old heating stove in the corner in bygone years. All my children have been baptized there… Let each member vote for his or her own convictions but let us all work together regardless of the outcome.”
The sanctuary of the old Community Church and the Fraley house were sold to the West Hills Unitarian Fellowship in 1961 for $800 less the church bell, the kitchen sink, the illuminated cross and a picture in the sanctuary. They were moved up Oleson Road to the West Hills Unitarian forested site. The sanctuary continues in use today but the Fraley house was torn down in 1985. The cupola was removed from the sanctuary building and a new entry was designed.
The Community Church continued from its dedication at Christmas 1918 until the members began discussing building a new church. In 1955, a member and local attorney Donald Richardson reviewed the records and advised that both the names of the Methodist Church and the Community Church be included in the name for the church. The new Church on SW 81st was formally called The Garden Home Community Methodist Church, later changed to reflect the “United Methodist.”
The seven acre Skyhar property south of Garden Home Road at 81st was purchased in 1958 for $7000 and they had to build the road. The new Methodist Church was completed and dedicated on Jan. 1, 1960. However, the pastor Willard Norman did not vacate his parsonage until Sept. 1964 when the new parsonage across from the church was completed.
When the (new) GH Community Methodist church closed in 1994 the bell from the original 1918 church was offered to Colin Lamb on long-term loan from the Methodist Conference to be installed in the new clock tower of Lamb’s Thriftway. The plaque commemorating the bell and the tower that was dedicated to Lyle Tate are both hanging in the entry of the grocery store.
Thanks to Louise Cook Jones for research at Methodist Archives, to Mildred Stevens for early church memoirs and to Unitarian members for photos of the move. Other church documents in author’s archive.
By Elaine Shreve, July 2012.