A Brief History of Friday Harbor Presbyterian Church
Blessing our Island since 1860.
The Presbyterian story on San Juan Island begins before the Civil War when the 50-year-old Abraham Lincoln was running for the office of President of the United States. He could not have known that across the continent that very year of 1860, on an isolated island which was disputed territory between the Americans and the British, a “colored” missionary from Victoria came to San Juan Island and began holding worship services in one of the buildings at the Bel Vue Sheep Farm of the Hudson Bay Company at what is today American Camp. When this missionary returned to Victoria he met with the pastor of a Presbyterian church in that city who also began periodically to cross Haro Strait to minister to the Christian families on the Island. Thus, the Rev. Thomas Summerville divided his time between Victoria, other mission stations on Vancouver Island and San Juan Island.
During the early 1860’s Scottish Presbyterian immigrant, Robert Firth and his family were among the earliest members of our congregation. In 1865, with pews made at American Camp by Mr. Firth, the congregation began to hold worship on Portland Fair Hill in the first school house on the Island.
As the Island population grew, so did the need for full-time pastoral care. With this in mind, in 1870 Rev. Summerville sent his young friend and associate pastor, Rev. T.J. Weekes, to the San Juan church as their regular pastor. Only two years later, just seven years after the death of Abraham Lincoln, the “Pig War” was peacefully resolved and T.J. and his flock found themselves in official United States territory 17 years before Washington became a state.
If you travel out of town via Spring Street and turn left on Douglas Road, you will pass the history of Presbyterians on our island. Just up the street from the ferry landing the new sanctuary stands. Dedicated on June 5, 1988, its bell was moved from the belfry of the old church just across the street. The old church was dedicated to the Lord a century ago on December 5, 1897. The structure still stands and continues to serve the community as an office building. Yet, if you continue out of town for a mile, turn left on Douglas, go another mile and look up cemetery hill, you will see a “beautiful little Gothic church, (now on the official Washington State Historical Register.) It was constructed almost wholly by volunteers of the congregation…” Begun in 1878, incurring no debt, and four years in the building, the Emmanuel Presbyterian Church nicknamed “The Valley Church” was dedicated to the Lord on July 8, 1882, by the Presbytery and the congregation led by Pastor T.J. Weekes.
Weekes continued to serve as pastor of the ValleyChurch until he moved from the island at the beginning of 1891. The Friday Harbor Presbyterian Church was constructed in 1897 at the corner of Spring and Blair streets. The current sanctuary was completed in 1988. Since then God has richly provided for the congregation in all the ups and downs of life. Our congregation has grown over the years through all its trials and triumphs. Today we continue to live by our statement of mission: “Blessing our Island Since 1860.”
Thus, for most of our nation’s history, Friday Harbor Presbyterians have added their own history as people of God, faithfully proclaiming the saving grace of Jesus Christ. That is our job, our mission. With God’s grace that history will be our future.
Adapted from Presbyterian Story on San Juan Island
Compiled by Frances M. Seels