Kirkland Congregational Church

A Progressive Christian Voice in the Heart of Kirkland

Kirkland Congregational Church's History

Condensed by Alan Stein

Presented August 6, 2000

The Kirkland Congregational Church was founded in 1880, but let's start this tale back around 1870. The hillsides we see around us were dense with timber, and sparsely dotted with a few pioneer homesteads. Other than chance encounters with Native Americans camping nearby, life for the pioneers was very isolated and lonely.

One of these early homesteaders was Mrs. Nancy MacGregor. She and her two grown sons had a cabin down along Yarrow Bay, then called Pleasant Bay. In 1872, the French family, made up of Samuel, his wife Caroline, and their 23&-year-old son Harry, arrived nearby and set up a homestead near present-day Houghton Beach Park. Mrs. MacGregor, a devout woman, sorely missed going to church, wished there was one on the Eastside, and confided as much to Mrs. French. Later, Mrs. MacGregor took ill, and moved to California where she passed away.

Now let's jump ahead a few years to 1879. By this time, much of the land along the waterfront has been cleared, and cabins are peppered throughout the hills. The French property, now larger because Harry French bought 80 acres immediately north of his father's land, was the most prominent site along the shoreline, being unobstructed and more developed than most. Well, one Sunday in June, a rowboat landed on French's beach. In it were Samuel Greene and Rev. Harrison from Seattle. They spoke with Mrs. French about starting a Sunday school for the settlers. She invited them to return in a month, during which time she would ask around to see if anyone else would enjoy this.

Mrs. French easily found 40 people who expressed an interest. The first sermon was held in the French home that July, but later meetings were held in Harry's cabin, after he moved into a two-story home that he built for himself. For the rest of the year, Mr. Greene visited every other Sunday, and each time he came, the gathering grew larger and larger.

Soon the church was organized. Mrs. MacGregor had not lived to see it, but her prayers were answered on March 7, 1880. On that day, the First Church of Christ of Pleasant Bay was founded, and that is what we have gathered here to celebrate today. This is how the church began, but the true joy of the story is how the congregation grew, and how this affected the development of the community.

Construction soon began on the church building, on land given by Harry French. Mr. Greene, who had since been ordained and was now Rev. Greene, was a skilled carpenter and did much of the work. One day, Rev. Greene's wife, Sarah, received a wonderful letter from a friend in Boston, who wished to donate the funds for a proper church bell. The bell arrived from New York the following year, and the settlement named themselves after their kind benefactor, Mrs. Houghton. Through the church, the community now had a name.

In the 1890s, Peter Kirk arrived from England with the hopes of building a vast steel empire on the shores of Lake Washington. The town of Kirkland was platted, with the town center being very close to where we stand today. A separate congregation, established by members of the Houghton church, formed in the new town.

In 1893, economic disaster swept the country, and Kirk's dreams fell apart. Many who had moved to Kirkland now moved away, and the need for two congregations was no longer viable. They consolidated in 1894, becoming the Kirkland Congregational Church

One outcome of the consolidation was of great benefit to Harry French, longtime supporter of the Houghton Congregation: He met Rosa Jones, of the Kirkland Congregation, fell in love, and married her. By this time he was 45 years old, and had been instrumental in the creation of the Kirkland Cemetery, which is still in operation and is now administered by the city of Kirkland--another civic benefit brought about by Congregational fellowship.

A few months after consolidation, the congregation moved to its present site. Peter Kirk's development company gave them the land, and most of Kirk's family had joined the congregation. Peter Kirk, Jr. was later elected clerk of the church, and Kirk's daughter Mary lived with her family in the house next door.

In 1905, the town of Kirkland incorporated. Many members of the church were integral in the creation of this "new" city. One of these people was R. H. Collins. At the time he was clerk of the church, and was elected as Kirkland's first mayor. He also served on the school board. Quite a fellow, and another example of how Congregational Church members molded the development of our community.

Probably the most influential Congregation member in Kirkland history would have to be Rev. Charles E. Newberry. Rev. Newberry, and his wife Amelia, arrived in Kirkland in 1908. For the next 30 years, along with being the minister, he taught in the local high school, became a city clerk, a councilman, and Mayor of Kirkland. Universally loved, he was often referred to as the "Father of Kirkland."

Other Congregation members were integral in many aspects of Kirkland's heritage. Schools, scouting groups, our library, hospitals, businesses, and just about every civic organization in the city have had outstanding members whose roots are deep within the Kirkland Congregational Church.

Today, we celebrate these individuals and we celebrate their fellowship. In doing so, we celebrate your fellowship. After 120 years, the Kirkland Congregational Church still provides spiritual enrichment, service to others, and a social environment unmatched in duration here on the Eastside.

In closing, best wishes for your next 120 years as pillars of the community in Christian fellowship. May future generations know well of your deeds as we do of those who precede you.