A STEEPLE AMONG THE OAKS
A CENTENNIAL HISTORY OF THE
FIRST METHODIST CHURCH
ALBERT E. NORMAN
THE AUTHOR OF THIS BOOK does not want you to consider this as a complete history of the First Methodist Church of Oakland, the principal subject of this effort; or of the City of Oakland.
Many years ago, I began the collection of photographs, depicting Oakland in its early days, which of course, included many of the First Methodist Church. Over the years, I, have collected in excess of four thousand photographs and many books and articles that have been written about this fair city and of Alameda County, of which this city is a part. It is hoped that you will enjoy the few photographs shown within these pages.
While I served as Secretary of the Sunday School of the First Methodist Church from 1912 to 1947 much information about the church and its Sunday School was collected.
The work is not free from error and claims no literary merit; the details of such an undertaking as this are many and difficult, but much painstaking labor and the time has been given to guard as far as possible against inaccuracy and to make it not only interesting but reliable.
I give thanks to the many individuals who chronicled our city’s history and to many who have come and gone through the portals of the First Methodist Church.
I dedicated this book to my mother Mabel Hammond Norman, who came to Oakland in 1872, who taught me the habit of attending Sunday School and church; also to my wife Lena Virginia Norman, who sacrificed many years of her time to assist me in bringing to you this history.
ALBERT E. NORMAN
How happy I am to be able to congratulate you on 100 years of continuous and meritorious service in Oakland. Many changes have come about in this century and which First Church, like all down-town churches, has had its share of vicissitudes, riding the crest of the wave and back again in the trough, but through it all maintaining a fine loyalty and devotion to the cause of Christ. You have had some of the best ministers in our conference and, for that matter, in America, as your leaders and nowhere have we had more outstanding laymen than in Oakland First.
It is my hope that as you move out on your second century that you will be more effective during days ahead even than you have been in the best days that are gone. My prayers and best wishes will continue with you.
DONALD HARVEY TIPPETT
Bishop The Methodist Church
San Francisco Area
What a glorious heritage you commemorate in this moment of time! I have known of your church for twenty years of your hundred. During this span I have been personally blessed by both ministers and lay persons who have served in your fellowship. How grateful I am to you.
As you renew acquaintance in memory with those who have gone before may you find vision and strength for the years stretching out ahead. I have every confidence that under your present leadership the decades just before you shall be just as brightly studded with landmarks of service to Him who is our Strength and Life.
May the next hundred be the best years of your life.
ARTHUR V. THURMAN
As Oakland’s First Methodist Church faces its second one hundred years, it is confronted with what some call problems, and others speak of as possibilities. Actually they are the one and the same situations, viewed in one case with pessimism, in the other with faith.
To name just a few: We are a downtown church, a fact that to many people spells “impossibility” to begin with. Then, we are uniquely “one church-two locations,” Wesley Center and Broadway Center. The Wesley Center portion of our parish is a redevelopment area with an integrated population. Oakland is growing and changing.
My first year as your Pastor has shown me clearly that the basic needs and possibilities of people and church here are those of people and church everywhere. Together we’ve started to work in this light. And we are doing it in the recognition that while with men many things are impossible, with God all things are possible. Problems become possibilities when seen in the light of this faith. May it be ours in this second one hundred years!
CHARLES EDWIN LORD
The year 1962 finds the First Methodist Church with a wide and varied program. Operating as “one church - two locations,” we recognize that worship, fellowship, study and service are vital aspects of a Christian church.
The day begins on Sunday with a service of worship at 9:30 a.m. at Wesley Center and with church schools at both locations. Worship is held at Broadway Center at 11 a.m.
The Wesley Center Church School provides classes from nursery through the 8th grade, while that at Broadway Center has classes from nursery through senior citizens. An extended session of the church school for nursery through 4th grade is held at Broadway Center during the 11 o’clock service except on the first Sunday of the month, which is “Family Sunday in Church.”
During the last year a coffee fellowship immediately following the 11 o’clock service has provided a real time of meeting and getting acquainted, particularly with newcomers to the church and community. A coffee fellowship is also held at Wesley Center following the service on the second Sunday of each month.
A full program for the youth and adults is carried on each Sunday evening, beginning with Youth Choir at 5:30 o’clock. Youth groups for junior high and senior high school students and college age youth adults follow. On most of the fall and winter Sunday evenings special programs and studies are being held for adults.
Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 9 to 12 noon finds the Broadway Nursery School in session: This nursery school provides a recreational and educational program for children between the ages 3 and 5, a part of the Christian Nurture program of the First Methodist Church. It is designed to lay a foundation for religious growth through the child’s everyday relationships with parents, contact with Christian teachers, children his age, and with his whole new world.
Glenn Daun became our Minister of Music May 1, 1962. The Chancel Choir has sung all summer at good strength, and Mr. Daun has worked with junior high and high school young people in the music portion of a Tuesday evening youth might at Wesley Center. This program has also included recreation, study and fellowship. Projected in the fall music program is a youth choir, a children’s choir, and some bell choirs.
Starting this fall several prayer study groups will be meeting, one in the early morning, one mid-morning and one in the evening. It is our hope that more such groups can be started.
Our Woman’s Society of Christian Service is a most active organization of 261 members divided into thirteen circles. There are also four Wesleyan Service Guilds for women gainfully employed outside the home. The society and guilds and each of the circles hold a monthly meeting.
Both the Emanuel Class, which is in its 49th year, and the Auditorium Bible Class (ABC Class) hold monthly socials. The Fireside Forum and Christian Research groups meet monthly for study and fellowship activities, as do the Merriweds, a group of married young adults. Several more fellowship groups are projected for this fall including one for newly married young adults.
The church is operating on the philosophy that each person who unites with the church should have the opportunity to enjoy a smaller fellowship group on an age or interest basis, as well as entering the larger fellowship of the total church.
Beloved counsellor (sic) and friend to First Church, the Reverend William P. Rankin has served as honorary pastor here since July 27, 1960, when he celebrated his 60th anniversary as a Methodist preacher. He began his career at Fall River Mills, about 75 miles northeast of Redding, California, in the spring of 1900. The youthful Mr. Rankin agreed to take a church and also prepare for the ministry while preaching. With this small beginning he later served at Gardnerville, Nevada, at Big Pine, Bishop, Kennett, Redding, Sebastopol, Watsonville, Napa, Lodi, Modesto and Fresno. He also served as Superintendent of the Redwood Shasta District, and as Conference Treasurer, retiring in 1949.
Charles Edwin Lord, D.D., senior pastor, and staff members;
(Left to right) Florence Sutcliffe, church secretary; Donald Smith, associate pastor;
Glenn Daun,, minister of music; Eva Maxwell, minister of education; Claris Miller, receptionist-secretary.
24th and Broadway, Oakland.
Dedicated more than 48 years ago,
Oakland’s First Methodist Church is still admired as an outstanding example of Italian Renaissance architecture.
Bishop Edwin H. Hughes conducted the dedicatory rites Sunday, January 18, 1914.
Rev. George W. White was pastor at the time.
FIRST METHODIST CHURCH
THE RISE OF the First Methodist Church in Oakland is a story of struggle and endeavor winning over complacency and indifference so inherent in men seeking gold rather than God. For it was gold most men were seeking in the race to California back in those hectic days of ‘49 and on through the conflicting ‘50’s into the war-torn and expanding 1860s.
It is also a story of trail blazing, gale-swept seas, and seemingly endless marching across deserts, of high beaver hats, big cigars, sideburns and flashy dressers, as well as a story of gingham and homeliness.
In 1847, when William Roberts arrived in San Francisco to establish Methodism in California, Oakland was but a forest of oak trees dotted with meadows of wild grain where cattle grazed. Redwood trees towered sentinel-like atop the hills and in the canyons of this sprawling Contra Costa land.
Five years were to elapse before the town of Oakland was established, and another 10 years would roll by before the First Methodist Church would bow here in 1862.
The Rev. Roberts was a New Jersey minister of more than ordinary education and ability. Beside him, abroad the little bark Whitton when she sailed into San Francisco Bay on April 24, 1847, stood James H. Wilbur, a pioneer preacher destined to make Methodist history in Oregon and Washington, although there had been missionaries in the Oregon Territory since 1834.
The tiny settlement in the cove leeward of where the Whitton anchored on arrival has been known as Yerba Buena up until six weeks prior. It was only on March 10, 1847, that the town’s name was changed to San Francisco.
First night ashore for Roberts and Wilbur was of the spring variety. They strolled about the village endeavoring to shake off their sea legs, and halted now and then to listen to news and gossip from Fort Sutter up in the Sacramento Valley. Talk was about men who had struggled all winter to reach and rescue the snowbound Donner Party. The task was completed just three weeks ago, they learned. Needless to say they were saddened to hear that nearly half of the 90 members in the Donner Party had perished in the Sierra Nevada blizzards.
Rev. Roberts was the first legally authorized disciple of John Wesley to organize Methodism in California, but he was by no means the first Methodist to visit here. Jedidiah (sic) Smith, a Bible-totin’ Methodist fur trapper, was at Mission San Jose as early as 1827. In October of 1846, while the Donner Party was stalled in the Sierra Nevada by early snow, an emigrant party of 15 wagons and 57 persons arrived in the Sacramento Valley. Adna A. Hecox and family were in that 1846 group. Hecox and his wife were Methodists, and he had a license to exhort. Arriving as he did in October of 1846 put him in California six months ahead of Rev. Roberts.
These were the men and women who were the first California disciples of Methodism, established by John Wesley in 1739. That year Wesley had gathered a small group together into a society he chose to call Methodism.
Now the march of Methodism was moving westward across America.
Methodist meetings had been held in America as early as 1760. In 1774 Frances Asbury arrived from England to spread Wesley’s teachings in the colonies along the Atlantic seaboard. That was a year of war preparation. The Revolutionary War was just in the offing. History tells us it was not until the American Colonies won independence 10 years later that Thomas Coke arrived in America for a conference with Asbury. They met on Christmas Day in 1784. That date marks the birth of the American Methodist Church.
Asa White reached San Francisco on May 10, 1849. He pitched a tent on the very ground afterward used for the Powell Street Methodist Church. White’s “blue tent” became a Bethel. There Rev. White preached the gospel.
First regular preachers among these pioneers to be sent to California by authority of the Methodist Church on the Atlantic Coast were the Rev. William Taylor and the Rev. Isaac Owen.
William Taylor arrived in San Francisco September 21, 1849. Like Rev. Roberts before him, he came by sea. His family was with him aboard the Baltimore clipper Andalusia when it anchored off San Francisco’s north beach. By early October he was in the Contra Costa hills cutting redwood to build a home for his family in San Francisco.
This sawmill in San Antonio Redwoods was at junction of Palo Seco and Sausal Creeks (about where Warren Freeway passes under Park Boulevard today.)
Built in 1846 it operated until 1856. One owner was Volney D. Moody, Oakland banker.
Rev. William Taylor knew the mill; preached to woodsmen at a similar mill near Redwood Peak.
Mrs. Henry C. Smith, whose husband had been called “father of Alameda County,” presented him with a daughter,
Julia, in a tiny cabin to the right of Moody’s mill.
Julia Smith was the first Anglo-American child born in what is now Oakland on April 9, 1848.
The following are the words from Taylor’s own pen:
“Brother Asa White and his sons-in-law, John Barto and Alfred Love, and his two youngest sons, had a shanty in the redwoods where they spent much time getting out lumber and hauling it to the embarcadero at San Antonio, a big name, but no town. It was arranged that I go to the woods and get out lumber on my own account, and ‘ranch’ with Brother White. Brother A. Hatler kindly proposed to go with me and assist.
“On October 10, 1849, we crossed the bay in a whaleboat to San Antonio carrying our blankets, provisions and working tools. We walked up the mountain five miles to Brother White’s shanty. Brother Hatler and I put our provisions into the mess and were admitted as guests, with the privilege of wrapping ourselves in our blankets and sleeping on the ground under the common shelter.
“After supper we were entertained with Brother White’s historic reminiscences, til (sic) bedtime, then after a hallelujah season of family worship we retired.
“We wrought til Friday afternoon, October 12, but spent our strength for naught in trying to split unsplitable (sic) timber, and returned that afternoon to San Antonio landing. We there lay on the ground to sleep, but spent most of the night in looking at the stars, listening to the wierd (sic) howlings of the coyotes and babble of thousands of wild geese.
“Sabbath, October 14, was my fourth Sabbath in San Francisco and second in our new Chapel, which was crowded with attention hearers.
“I returned to the redwoods on Monday, the 15th, but Brother Hatler could not leave his business to return with me; so I had to depend on my own unaided mind and muscle, led by the good Providence of Him who had called me to meet such emergencies. I provided for my pulpit the Sabbath following, so as to give me two unbroken weeks in the redwoods, and on the Sabbath I preached under the shade of a large redwood tree to 25 woodsmen.”
Rev. William Taylor’s sermon in the redwoods was the first Protestant preaching on the Contra Costa side of San Francisco Bay, according to best available evidence.
Rev. Taylor has more to tell:
“During this trip to the woods, covering a period of nearly two weeks, I procured the lumber needed for my house. Hauling my stuff from the redwoods to San Antonio landing cost $25 per thousand feet. The regular price for transport thence to San Francisco was $40 per thousand feet, but by hiring a boat and working with my own hands I got the work done for less than half that price.
“I bought a lot, for $1,250, kindly lent me without interest by Brother Hatler, which I paid back in due time. Brother Hatler, being a carpenter, gave me instructions in the business of house building. In digging the foundation for it I turned up the stakes of Rev. White’s ‘blue tent’ and found that I occupied the site of the tabernacle in which the first Methodist class meeting of the spring of 1849 had been held. The cost of my house was $1,491.25.”
In six weeks time, after leaving the ship Andalusia, the Taylor family was in their own home.
Redwood trees had been cut in the Oakland hills as early as 1797, the first timbers being used for building Mission San Jose. When John Sutter built his fort in the Sacramento Valley at the forks of the American and Sacramento Rivers he, too, turned to these Contra Costa redwoods for timber.
There were scores of others to profit from the redwoods. The trees stood on land that was public domain, surrounded by the vast ranchos of the Peralta brothers, Antonio, Vicente, Jose Domingo and Ygnacio, and the holdings of Joaquin Moraga, the Pachecos, Juan Jose Castro, Guillermo Castro, Joaquin Estudillo, Ygnacio Martinez, and Francisco Soto.
This was the country that the Methodist circuit riders would invade in 1856. But there were other imigrants (sic) to precede them. Moses Chase pitched his tent on Peralta land in the winter of 1849-50 that was to be known as Clinton. Next to come were the Patton brothers: Edward, William and Robert F. They found Chase ill in his tent and nursed him back to health. These were the first Anglo-Americans. More were to follow: Colonel Fitch, Colonel Whitney, Edson Adams, Andrew J. Moon, and Horace W. Carpentier. A settlement was forming, and by November 1851 a post office was established and called Contra Costa. Six months later, May 1852, the town of Oakland was incorporated.
Meanwhile, elsewhere in California other men of Methodist leaning joined with the Rev. Taylor. A Mission Conference had been held here as early as 1848, and now there were small classes gathering in many places: San Jose, Santa Cruz, San Francisco, Alameda, Stockton, and all through the Mother Lode and Northern Mines district.
A second session of the Mission Conference was held in 1850, and from then on annual Conference were held. By 1856 Oakland was being visited by Methodist preachers of the Alameda Circuit. This was the year (1856) that the Rev. W. S. Urmy conducted Methodist services in a schoolhouse on East 14th Street near 10th Avenue in Clinton, later called Brooklyn, now East Oakland.
This building stood on the west side of Broadway between Fourth and Fifth Streets and was the pride of Oakland in 1857.
The County Courthouse later occupied the site. Methodist Circuit Riders Alfred Higbie and C. V. Anthony preached at the pavilion.
About this same time Rev. Carter, a Methodist, opened a Sunday School in a room at the rear of a drug store at Third and Broadway in Oakland. Henry Maloon, who as a boy lived at Second and Broadway, recalled attending Rev. Carter’s classes. Maloon was in his declining years (1928) when he recounted his experiences to this writer.
There were many demands on preachers in those early days, and the Alameda Circuit necessarily became a somewhat irregular undertaking. Preachers came and went. Among the pioneer circuit riders to visit Oakland to conduct services were the Rev. Alfred Higbie, Rev. William Grove Deal, Rev. James E. Wickes, and Rev. Charles V. Anthony. Only Rev. Anthony returned to serve Oakland after it became a separate charge.
They were a hardy lot, those early day circuit riders. Here in Oakland they held services in any kind of shelter they could find. First it was in tents, then at the Alameda County Agricultural Pavilion (the old Courthouse site on the west side of Broadway at Fourth Street) and in the town’s first public schoolhouse.
Among these early circuit riders who first came to Oakland was the Rev. Alfred Higbie. It is the Rev. Higbie who is credited with preaching the first Methodist sermon west of Lake Merritt in what became downtown Oakland.
Higbie organized a class of 14 members here and rented a lot on Washington Street. But he found it next to impossible to hold the real estate. His membership didn’t grow fast enough, and funds were insufficient. Unfortunately, too, Higbie’s health failed before the close of the year (1858) and he was obliged to give up preaching.
The Rev. W. Grove Deal was Higbie’s successor. On his visits to Oakland he found interest extremely dull. Soon he made no further effort to keep up the Oakland station. The class scattered and the land released. That was in the year 1859.
It must have been discouraging to the Methodist leaders directing the Alameda Circuit. Now they were looking forward to the arrival in California of the Rev. E. W. Kirkham, a transfer from the Ohio Conference. He would be just the man for the job in Oakland, they concluded. But they waited in vain. Kirkham never did arrive in California.
In haste they named the Rev. H. B. Sheldon to do the Oakland preaching. Sheldon lost his voice and was unable to continue.
The next man expected to supply Oakland was a Rev. J. A. Brooks. Whether he shied at the bleak outlook due to the experiences of the Rev. Higbie and the Rev. Deal we don’t know. There is no record of his service in Oakland.
By the time the 1861 Conference was held not a vestige remained of anything like organization in Oakland, and Methodism was represented here only by a few individuals who held membership in San Francisco.
Nevertheless, in the fall of 1861 the Rev. Charles V. Anthony and Rev. James E. Wickes were appointed to the Alameda Circuit, which still embraced Oakland. Under their labor preaching was revived in Oakland and services were held every Sabbath for some months in the Alameda County Agricultural Pavilion on Broadway between Fourth and Fifth Streets.
In the spring of 1862 the Rev. Mr. Walsworth, pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Oakland, tendered the society the use of his edifice. The offer was accepted, but the change did not prove advantageous: especially later when the hour of service was changed to evenings by request.
The hotel was on the southwest corner of Broadway and First Street.
A. W. Burrell built it in 1851 for A. D. Eames.
B. It was Pullen’s Temperance Hotel when the Rev. Charles E. Rich used the lobby for a Sunday School in 1862.
At that time the Methodist class numbered 15 members. While the faithful were less than a dozen and a half, the struggle for attention continued. Oakland was a growing community. The Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Baptists and Episcopalians, who were here ahead of the Methodists, were faring better.
When the town was first incorporated in 1852 Horace W. Carpentier, A. W. Burrell, Andrew J. Moon, Edson Adams, Sr., Amadee Marier and Francis K. Shattuck were named trustees. The following year, 1853, Alameda County was established from part of Contra Costa County and a small portion of Santa Clara County. One year later, March 1854, Oakland was incorporated into a city and Horace W. Carpentier named mayor.
It must be noted that A. W. Burrell built Oakland’s first hotel for A. D. Eames in 1851 at what is now First Street and Broadway. By 1862 this was Pullen’s Temperance Hotel, and the Rev. C. E. Rich, the man who established Oakland’s First Methodist Church, conducted a Sunday School in the hotel.
The church was erected at Sixth and Harrison Streets in 1853.
Dr. Samuel B. Bell’s manse is on the right. Rev. Charles E. Rich used the church for Methodist service on several occasions at the invitation of the Presbyterians.
The Rev. Rich was assigned to Oakland by the Methodist Conference in 1862 and first preached in the one-room public schoolhouse built for Oakland by Horace W. Carpentier. The school at that time stood at Fourth and Clay Streets.
By December of 1862 the Rev. Rich had acquired the southwest corner of Sixth and Washington Streets. Meanwhile two new public schools had been built and Rich bought the old Carpentier school, moving it to the Sixth and Washington Street lot. There he transformed it into a permanent church.
By this time Oakland had already admired a parade of six mayors and now George M. Blake was the city’s chief executive. Among the six mayors had been Andrew Williams, stepfather of Bret Harte, a youth who was to take up the pen and become world famous as a teller of western tales.
The Williams’ home where Bret Harte lived was but a few blocks from where Rev. Rich established the First Methodist Church. Harte didn’t stay in Oakland long. He arrived in 1854 and by 1856 he left to make his own way. He departed Oakland the same year Dr. Carter began teaching Sunday School in the rear room of his drug store on Broadway at Third Street.
In 1862 when the Rev. Rich established the First Methodist Church at Sixth and Washington Streets, Oakland’s population was a mere 1,450 residents. But the growing community boasted that it was No. 31 on the list of California’s biggest towns. Communities that were larger than Oakland that year included Downieville, Dutch Flat, Placerville, Nevada City and Mokelumne Hill.
Oakland traded Horace W. Carpentier its waterfront for this one-room schoolhouse.
It stood at the northeast corner of Fourth and Clay Streets when the Methodists bought it in 1862 and moved it to Sixth and Washington Streets, where it became their First Church.
Compare it today with the massive edifice on Broadway at 24th and Webster Streets.
Town talk centered on the coming of railroads and street cars. The San Francisco & Oakland Railroad Company had been granted a right of way along Railroad Avenue (Seventh Street) from the eastern boundary to the western boundary in November, 1861. The choice of a lot for his church just a block from the proposed railroad gives some idea of the Rev. Rich’s business acumen.
The Rev. Rich was 29 when he came to Oakland. He was born in Boston on October 1, 1833, and had been in California in 1854 when he was but 21 years old, but returned to Boston to study at Harvard under Louis Agassiz. He was also a pupil and protégé of the Rev. Edward Everett Hale. Before coming to California the second time Rev. Rich was a licensed preacher. He joined the California Conference in 1858.
After paying $225 for the Oakland lot on which to build the church Rev. Rich next negotiated the purchase of the old Carpentier schoolhouse and had it removed to his new possession. The cost of fitting up the new church was a reported $525. It was incorporated October 21, 1862, and was dedicated December 14, 1862, by the Rev. M. C. Briggs and the Rev. J. D. Blain.
Transcribed by: Jeanne Sturgis Taylor.
Source: Norman, Albert E., “A Steeple Among The Oaks, A Centennial History of the First Methodist Church, Oakland, CA, 1862-1962. Oakland, California. 1962.
© 2010 Jeanne Sturgis Taylor.
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