The Germans Left Churches

St Mark’s Baptist Church was a former German church
St Mark’s Baptist Church was a former German church

When I sent the moldings in my home off to the stripper, I noted the name on the back appeared to be German. I also suspected the owner worked for the railroad because the front door is a custom size, probably to accommodate a window in the shape of a Union Pacific shield, which dates from the 1880s, and my home was built in 1908. A recent Oregonian article, (“NE Portland church tells story…” 1/12/2013) confirmed these suspicions. Although the article warned of the potential tragic loss of churches founded by German immigrants, it noted that these settlers were from the Volga region of Russia.

The Portland residents first settled in Kansas and wisely (like my wife) left for a better life in Oregon. Volga Germans were close knit both in Russia and Portland, creating their own neighborhood centered along MLK and left behind churches strung along N. Rodney and 8th. Farmers in Russia, they kept livestock in their large lots and found work in the Albina sawmills and railyards. Civic life centered around their churches.

After two World Wars, Volga Germans began to distance themselves from their heritage and drifted away from “Little Russia” for suburbs and farms east of the cascades. Church going population declined. The churches and shops they left behind were occupied by residents of the black community driven from their homes by the City for construction of Memorial Coliseum, the Blanchard Block, and I-5. The last German congregation appears to have left the area in the 1970’s.

This is a very brief summary of Eliot’s German heritage. More can be found at volgagermans.net and from the Volga German studies program at Concordia University. Although these early Eliot residents left their churches as evidence of their presence, much of it has been buried by subsequent occupants and a rewrite of history that favors more recent Eliot residents. Worse, the histories of both populations are about to be lost as their unique institutions (such as the Cox and Cox funeral home – well parking lot anyway, and Morningstar church) fall to in-fill housing with no acknowledgement of what they replace.

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2 thoughts on “The Germans Left Churches

  1. Thank you for sharing this lovely story of your home’s history and your community’s history.
    Is there any effort to have Portland update it’s local landmark designation list to enable the inclusion of the treasures you mention?

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    1. What? Offend the developers who are only working for urban improvement.
      Why look! See the local heritage architectural elements they’ve added to the barns they’ve erected to the lot lines.

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