Schools and Churches
by Margaret Gilbert

Two major factors in the growth and development of Forest Grove were schools and churches. The pioneer settlers in this region first claimed land for a home and a farm – 640 acres free to each married couple, or 320 acres to each adult, who would live on and farm the land for at least five years. As soon as they had land, they acted to provide schools for their children and churches for themselves.

In 1845 five families living in West Tualatin Plain persuaded Rev. Harvey Clark to move here to start a church. Rev. Clark settled on the land immediately north of A.T. Smith’s farm, land that is now the core of the southern part of Forest Grove. Clark’s small congregation met at each other’s houses until they had built a small log church. In 1848 Mrs. Tabitha Brown, the mother of Orus Brown, one of the early settlers, asked Rev. Clark to help her to start a school and home for the orphans left by the many deaths among the emigrants on their trip across the plains. Mrs. Brown and Rev. Clark started an “Orphans School” in Clark’s old log cabin, which stood where now the corner of 15th Ave and Elm Street stands in Forest Grove. The school opened on April 29, 1848.

The following fall, a group of ministers met to plan for a school for the children of all settlers. They agreed to locate the new school at Rev. Clark’s school. In 1849 the new territorial legislature granted a charter to Tualatin Academy, to be located in West Tualatin Plain. Rev. Clark gave 200 acres of his DLC land to be both a campus for the school, and a large tract of land to be mapped into streets, blocks and lots to be sold to raise money to support the school. This land became the central core of Forest Grove.

During the next thirty years, families moved to Forest Grove in growing numbers, so that their children could go to school at Tualatin Academy, a good stable school where most of the teachers were college graduates from eastern states. The evidence is clear, when one reads biographies of 19th century settlers in Forest Grove, that many of them moved here so their children could attend Tualatin Academy and Pacific University, added to the Academy in 1854.

In 1870 a local public school was started in Forest Grove, supported by a special school tax levied on property each year. The town is said to have bought a two-room building from the Academy, and to have moved this building to the block now occupied by Central School. Some years not enough money was raised to pay the teacher, so the town would let the teacher set up her own school in the town’s building. This small building, with several additions – a second floor, several wings - remained the town school until after 1900. When the population of the school children got too large for the building, the town would rent rooms in the Academy until they could add rooms to what was always called the Public School – not Central School.

Three churches, still in Forest Grove, started before 1860. In 1845, five families started a small church which later was named the First Congregational Church of Forest Grove. The present United Church of Christ is a direct descendant of that first church. In 1852 a group of settlers started a Baptist church at the home of William Porter, a Baptist minister. A Methodist congregation was served by various visiting circuit-riding ministers. The writer does not know yet when the other churches of Forest Grove were started. In 1859 each of the three first churches built a formal church house, as they called it, in Forest Grove. A.T. Smith, in his diary, records the day he attended the dedication of each church. The Methodist church is believed to have stood at the corner of present Elm Streetand 19th. Where the Baptist church stood is not known to the present writer. The Congregational church was built on the same block where the present United Church of Christ stands. The church was the only building on that block – Pacific to 21st Street, Main to College Way. This almost empty block was called “The Church Square” throughout the 19th century. As stores and business buildings were built, they were built across the street from The Church Square and campus, thus determining that the central business district of Forest Grove lies along Main and Pacific primarily.