From the Church Centennial Book, 1987
When the California gold rush was in full swing, Methodist pioneers were among those who flung themselves into the procession. In 1849 Methodist missionaries were sent to California preaching mainly in the Sacramento and San Francisco areas. On the footsteps of these first missionaries were the Methodist circuit rider ministers who traveled by horseback, horse-drawn cart or buggy.
Around 1877, about ten years prior to the beginning of the Methodist Society in Paso Robles, the settlers in the area east of Paso Robles got together and built an adobe church at a place named Estrella. Although there is no longer a trace of the town of Estrella, the old adobe building of the Methodist Episcopal Church on Airport Road has been restored and is opened annually on Memorial Day weekend
for a special service.
The circuit rider ministers preached at this adobe church when they came through on their travels from Cambria on the west to La Panza on the east. Some of the Methodists who started the church in Paso Robles had attended the Estrella church.
An article in Paso Robles' first newspaper, Paso Robles Leader, by the editor and proprietor, H.G. Wright, on March 24, 1888, states: "The formation of a Methodist Society in this place was first begun in the early part of the year 1887 by the election of a board of seven trustees: S.W. Fergusson, H.G Wright, R.M. Shackelford, Irving Gordanier, W.L. Hatch, J.W. Smith, Levi Exline."
FIRST METHODIST CHURCH DURING THE PASTORATE OF
REV. GEORGE CLIFF, 1990-1905
(Photo courtesy of the Pioneer Museum)
The Methodist Society became incorporated, but didn't have a minister until September 1887,
when Rev. George Merrifield was appointed to Paso Robles. The Paso Robles Leader editor stated, "This appointment, of course, included the bringing of his wife and child. On the 27th day of the month Rev. Merrifield arrived at the Central House, and on the following day started on a still hunt for someone who called himself a Methodist. He soon found some, but they could not give him a very encouraging outlook for a future living for himself and family. But, nothing daunted, he rented a house and settled his family, and said, ' . . .I am going to stay the year, and maybe some good will come of it.' He commenced preaching as opportunities afforded. About the first of October there was some talk of a church."
On January 6, 1888, a contract for $2,500 was granted to build a church from plans and specifications previously adopted by the board for a 32' x 50' building with a 12' x 12' extension in the rear for the choir. The audience room (30' x 38') and a classroom (10' x 20') were joined with folding doors which could be opened for special occasions providing a seating capacity of at least 60 more persons. It was expected that this building could be built for $2,500, but the addition of a little here and there brought it up to $3,000.
On March 18, 1888, ten weeks after the contract was set, a dedication service was held in the new building. Mr. Wright stated in the Paso Robles Leader "At an early hour on Sunday morning the church was opened and shortly after 10 o'clock, the people began to arrive and by 11 o'clock the church was filled with an intelligent and appreciative audience."
The first official members of the church
who joined during the pastorate of Rev.
George Merrifield were T.F. Abbey, Sr., Mrs.
E.C. Abbey, Mrs. Sarah Beckett, Levi Exline,
Mrs. Emma Exline, Mrs. Della Gruwell, W.L.
Hatch, E.G Sharon, H.G. Wright, Mrs. H.G
Wright and Miss Olive M. Wright.
With the coming of the railroad in 1886, Paso Robles began to grow rapidly. The growth seemed to be in a northerly direction away from the church at 8th and Oak streets. It was still the only church in town, but as the growth continued, some of the Methodists worried that they were being left on the edge of town. They wanted to be right in the middle where things were happening. During the pastorate of the fourth minister, Rev. Thomas C. Miller, the Methodists decided to move 6 blocks north and purchased a lot on the corner of 14th and Oak streets for $450. After considerable talking and planning, they hired Mr. W.E. Grant to move the church building for $200, which meant a mortgage on the building that took several years to pay off.
The work to move the building began on April 8, 1891. It was on the road for 15 days and it took a few more days to get it set on its new foundation. During the move, the Methodists worshiped at the Christian Church, one block to the north. By the end of 1891 (four years after being established) the Methodist church had a total membership of 112 people.
In March of 1905 the lot next door to the Methodist Church was purchased for $125 and a building erected to accommodate the expanding Sunday school classes. This building, now referred to as the Cottage, is the only one remaining of the original church complex.
In 1906 or early 1907, a parsonage was built near the church with construction costs of $2,500. It was a two-story, square-type building with inside plumbing. The church was again bogged down in debt, but by their 25th anniversary celebration in January of
1913, they were able to burn the note of indebtedness.
When Rev. L.O. Bostwick arrived in 1921, he began pushing for a new church building and told the congregation, "Because of the
rapid increase in population and the growth in membership, it is IMPERATIVE that we build. Should the entire present membership attend any one service, all could not get into the building, and one-third could not be seated." Plans were drawn up for a new edifice with a construction cost of $4500 and in 1923, a third lot was purchased (where the present parking lot is located).
When Rev. Bostwick was replaced by Rev. Paul J. Kluth as pastor in 1924, another building committee was formed consisting of Mr. and Mrs. Maurice B. Ayars, Clark S. Smith, John A. Peterson, Winifred Pifer, Mrs. Maurice B. Ayars and George Weaver. The committee recommended to the congregation the construction of the present church structure. The old church and parsonage had to be moved to prepare for the new building. The old church was turned around with the front facing the alley. Ground was broken for the new church on March 17, 1926, and eight months later the first service was held in the new sanctuary. The total construction cost was $27,000, plus an additional $5,500 to move the parsonage and old church.
In 1931 the old Wurlitzer pipe organ from the T & D Theatre was purchased and installed in the church replacing a reed organ. The story goes that if it hadn't been for the expertise of Herb
W. Otto in the installation and operation of this organ, pandemonium would have reigned in more than one church service. Evidently the pipes had been keyed for theatre use so that sound effects of the wild and brawling West could be reproduced. These sounds had to be reprogrammed for church use! There were times when the organ wouldn't work at all right before it was time for the services, but very calmly Mr. Otto would fix the problem and then serenely sing in
the choir. The congregation never knew that there had been a near calamity.
The pipe organ was replaced with an electric organ around 1953. The electric organ was then replaced in 1981 with a custom-built electronic organ.
A lot was purchased for a new parsonage and work began in 1954, at a cost of $17,000. The old parsonage was torn down and the lot was turned into a parking lot.
When additional construction took place in 1962, the original church building and tennis court had to be removed. Classrooms were built and a portion of the fellowship hall. About 16 years later more construction
work took place. The fellowship hall was named Pifer Hall in honor of Miss Winifred Pifer who during her lifetime was devoted to the Christian education of children and upon her death left a generous contribution to help in the construction of new classrooms.
For 115 years the oldest church in Paso Robles has continued to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ and to help those in need.
First United Methodist Church, 14th and Oak streets
(Photo courtesy of Esther Alley)
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