The two most difficult to reach Capitols of my 51 Capitols and churches trip were finally complete. I arrived back in Seattle from Alaska and Hawaii with only three cities left. It was good to be back in the continental United States. In fact, united is what I found as I travelled south on I-5 to Olympia, Washington.
How did this area become the capital of Washington state? Learn all about the Squaxin tribe, Puget Sound Mosquito Fleet,and the treaty of Medicine creek to take a deep dive into Olympia’s roots.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olympia,_Washington
The Capitol grounds were easy to find, just a couple of turns off the interstate. A beautiful fountain greeted me as the majestic Capitol was ahead. Odd that it did not face Capitol Way S. ,the road to access the Capitol from downtown Olympia. In fact, it was facing the Washington State Supreme Court called the Temple of Justice with a beautiful Capitol Lake hidden behind it.
Olympia has always been the Capital of first the territory in 1853 and then the state in 1889. This building is the third after 132,000 acres were donated to move it from downtown after becoming a state. It was completed in 1928 and has survived a few earthquakes since then.
I parked near the fountain and strolled to the front steps. On the top step I met Trooper Burke, who was standing guard. I introduced myself, explained I was looking for the closest church and why. He directed me back past the fountains on the horizontal exit to the far NE corner and said I would find a church there.
Not one, but two named churches in one building appeared on the corner. The United Churches of Olympia. Presbyterian and Congregational. Ist Presbyterian 1854 (Oldest in State) and Congregational 1873 were federated together in 1916. This history, which I have copied from their inactive website, explains the timeline of faith in this space closest to the current Capitol :
Through more than 100 years of shared ministry, The United Churches of Olympia, composed of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the United Church of Christ, has been a model of what can happen when two distinctive traditions enrich each other in a ministry. Dedicated to a “life of faith in Jesus Christ and devotion to His ideals”, The United Churches has sought to strengthen its commitment to the faith, which we proclaim and serve.
The nine people who gathered 150 years ago in the cooperage shop at Fifth and Columbia streets were products of the pioneering spirit of independence that was pushing the American frontier into the Pacific Northwest. These people had left the security of society in the East to travel by prairie schooner to establish new homes.
Pastor George Whitworth and his family left Indiana in the spring of 1853, leading a wagon train to Oregon Territory. They spent their first winter in Portland before moving to Olympia. In July of 1854, the Whitworths established the first Presbyterian Church north of the Columbia River and west of the Rocky Mountains in what was Washington Territory. Today, we are the oldest Presbyterian congregation in the Synod of Alaska-Northwest—Alaska, Washington and Northern Idaho.
The First Congregational Church (now known as the United Church of Christ) was organized April 26, 1873, and became the fifth denomination to be represented in Olympia. There were 15 original members. An abandoned Catholic school was purchased and used by the new congregation. The Rev. E. R. Loomis came with his family and remained until the fall of 1907. In January 1910 the Rev. Robert H. Edmonds began his pastorate and remained with the church until the federation of the Congregational and Presbyterian Churches.
The Congregational Church outgrew the quarters, and in 1914 a committee was authorized to consider the purchase of a new property for building purposes. About that time the possibility of a united church for Olympia was suggested with the hope that a number of denominations would share in the vision. However, serious conversations resulted only between the Presbyterians and the Congregationalists. On May 11, 1915 the invitation by the Presbyterians was accepted by the Congregationalists, and the union was consummated December 6, 1916.
The church grew in numbers. With money from the sale of their property, the Congregational Church in 1923 purchased a garage across from the church and remodeled it to be used as a Sunday school. Still the church grew, but nothing was really done about the building, although several times it was discussed.
In 1937, the two churches were officially incorporated. The Community House was sold and the old church was remodeled. The Lemon family gave the church a building site at 11th and Washington in 1939. Soon after that, the Congregational Church bought adjoining property to the west giving the church almost a full block. Plans were completed for a building in 1941, but were set aside when World War II broke out. Following a devastating earthquake in 1949, building a new facility became a necessity and the way was cleared. The present building was begun in 1951 with dedication of the sanctuary in 1955. In 1979 the present chapel was added and extensive remodeling done throughout the building. In 1987 the sanctuary was remodeled and the organ rebuilt and expanded. In the early 1990’s purchase of the Capitol Way parking lot was accomplished, and the church became debt free.
Following traditional mainline protestant patterns, membership has fluctuated. But through thick and thin, the decision of the Federation to stay together has continued to make The United Churches of Olympia unique and inclusive. We are proud to be members of one of the oldest united congregations in the United States.
is a terrific resource showing how these two distinction traditions originated, merged, and shaped the growing community around them. It appears,as of my current update in 2020, this building is now the Community for Interfaith Celebration https://oly-wa.us/cic/History.php. Times, they keep on changing.
Just to be sure, I continued south on Capitol way and found St. John's Episcopal church https://www.stjohnsoly.org/about_us and Trinity Lutheran church a short drive away.
If I had driven north into downtown Olympia, I would have found the original Capitol building that was the county courthouse at the time of statehood. The closest worship center to this building, is also the only Jewish facility close to a Capitol building in our 50 states. https://www.bethhatfiloh.org/temple-history a mere 2 blocks from the old Capitol. A couple of blocks away is First Baptist Olympia, a Heritage church that was formed in 1871. https://fbcolympia.org/about-us
My time was running short with two more Capitols, 500 miles and two days left to finish my journey. I climbed back on I-5, found a hotel for the night, then proceeded to Salem, Oregon and Carson City, Nevada the next day. Satisfied that state and church has found its own unique way to survive in Olympia, Washington.
California. One of our biggest states that anchors the western coast of the continental United States. Along that western coast lie three of the largest and well known cities in the world. Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Diego. The fourth largest city in California, Sacramento, is also its only capital since statehood. How did this location at the meeting of two rivers in a central valley became the capital of one of our largest states?
The two rivers were named American and Sacramento. The Sacramento river was named by Spanish cavalry officer Gabriel Moraga for the Santisimo Sacramento (Blessed Sacrament), referring to the Catholic Eucharist. Efforts to settle in the area would often fail due to large floods or fire, which came to a tipping point in 1850, when 2 major fires and floods devastated the area. News of California's admittance to the union in October brought many new settlers and a cholera epidemic. The first fleck of the California Gold Rush centered Sacramento as a major distribution point and final destination for cross country journeys such as the Pony Express and the First Transcontinental railroad.
Sacramento was chosen as the permanent capital in 1854 and construction started on the current and only Capitol building the state has known in 1860, finishing in 1874. Methodist, Episcopalian, Catholic, and Jewish communities were founded in various parts of the growing city. Earnings from the Gold rush allowed a Irish immigrant Patrick Manogue, born in Ireland in 1831 to attend Saint Sulpice seminary in Paris, France where he was ordained a priest in 1861. He was then appointed as bishop of the growing Sacramento diocese in 1880 because of his experience in the west.
Bishop Manogue began his plans to build a cathedral by securing land close to the state Capitol. He wanted people to see “ Church and State, two important institutions,each pursuing the common good for society,but from different angles.” The cornerstone was laid on June 12, 1887 and the largest church west of the Mississippi stands as tall as the Capitol today, just 2 blocks north of the Capitol grounds. You can research this beautiful cathedral further at this web address. www.cathedralsacramento.org.
My visit in June 2013 started with a parking garage vista of the top of these two magnificent buildings. To my right was the California State Capitol dome, to my left, the steeples of the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament. Little did I know of the connection between this church and this state over a century and a half ago in Sacramento, California. These strolls through history always lead to surprising discoveries. Take some time to discover them yourself.
You can’t get there from here, if you drive from the continental United States.If you're a Russian Orthodox or Roman Catholic leader you haven’t directly communicated since the great schism of 1054, until this week. However, if you visit the capital of Alaska in Juneau, you will find a Russian Orthodox and Roman Catholic church sharing the same street as Alaska’s State Capitol.
Juneau is the only US Capitol inaccessible by road beyond it’s borders. It is surrounded by the Juneau Icefield on the mainland behind it and the Gastineau channel of the Pacific ocean in front of it. It was named after gold prospector Joe Juneau in 1881.
Father John Althoff was assigned pastor to this mining community in 1886 and built a small church for worship. In 1910, the building was replaced with the current structure and in 1951 became what they believe to be the smallest Cathedral in North America. Cathedral of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary http://juneaucathedral.org resides at the corner of 5th and Gold a block away from the back of the Alaska State Capitol.
Even closer to the Capitol on 5th street is St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox church http://stnicholasjuneau.org/. By 1892, Missionaries began arriving to convert the local Tlingit natives. The were encouraged by their church leaders and the US government to integrate English language instead of the native language. Many Tlingit objected and started to embrace Eastern Orthodox customs from the surrounding islands. During the same time period many Tlingit leaders had been experiencing vivid dreams of a short, white-bearded elderly man, encouraging them to become Christian. When Bishop Nikolai arrived from San Francisco and showed them the icon of St. Nicholas, they recognized him from their dreams. Word was sent to Moscow that a new Orthodox community had been established in Juneau. Local materials were paid for by Russia and the iconostasis consisting of 6 icons were shipped from Russia where they had been assembled.
In 1894, the USS Pinta sailed in to Juneau by order of the US War dept. Bishop Nikolai was on board for the purpose of consecrating the new church. The Onion dome was placed in 1895 and the bell and belfry in 1905. It has been in continuous use since, despite the harsh rain forest semi-arctic climate.
Juneau has been the capital since 1906 of the Alaska territory and then the state of Alaska in 1959. Funds for a Capitol Building were granted by the US Congress in 1911 but it was 20 years before the Art Deco style structure was built as the Federal and Territorial building. It has served as a courthouse and post office before becoming the State Capitol in 1959.
I was able to visit this beautiful, but remote capital city, on a very rainy day in June 2013, as part of my separation of church and state tour. The Capitol was under construction, but I received a very educational tour of the statehouse before strolling down 5th street to visit these churches. Going inside both houses of worship left me with a very peaceful feeling of connection despite the split of these two institutions over a millennium ago. During the tour of the Capitol, my guide gave us a little trivia test. Which state has the most Eastern, Western and Northern points in the US? Alaska. Right here on 5th street, behind the Alaska State Capitol are two churches that represent World Christianity for the East and West.
On February 12, 2016, on the island of Cuba, Pope Francis and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, will have a first in history meeting of the leaders of these two faiths, since they became estranged. I wonder if they are aware, that a simple stroll on 5th street in Juneau, Alaska, could have accomplished this for the last 100 years. This Capitols and churches reporter discovered this simple solution 7 years ago.
Hawai’i. The 50th and last state. You might wonder how a chain of islands so far away from the United States mainland can be connected with the beginning of United States history. Study the two churches closest to the Capitol in Honolulu and you will see striking similarities. The early settlers to colonial America were separating from the royalty and the Church of England. But Hawai’i Kings, in the 19th century, were actually connecting with the Church of England, bringing Anglican faith to the islands.
First, let me explain about the Hawaiian alphabet. It consists of 13 letters. Five vowels (long and short) and 8 consonants (Hh, Kk, Ll, Mm, Nn, Pp, Ww, ‘okina). A boy in his teens named Obookiah became a New England connection in 1819. He sailed to Cornwall, Connecticut to become a student at the Foreign Mission school. He provided information on the Hawaiian language to Protestant missionaries. They then started to translate and publish a Hawaiian bible. Eventually, they influenced King Kamehameha III to establish a constitution around 1840.
Kawaiaha’o Church was constructed between 1836 and 1842 with a New England style. 14,000 pounds of coral rock from an offshore reef created this impressive church known as Hawaii’s Westminster Abbey. Originally, the national church of the Hawaiian kingdom and chapel of the royal family. It is now a member of the United Church of Christ. It lies two blocks southeast of the current state Capitol.
King Kamehameha IV and Queen Emma were devout members of the Church of England, which was led by their close friend Queen Victoria. They requested a bishop be appointed in 1862 and commissioned the construction of a new Cathedral. The King died on the feast day of Saint Andrew in 1863 at the age of 29. His brother King Kamehameha V, completed the project and named the Cathedral of St Andrew. This majestic Episcopal cathedral lies 2 blocks to the northwest of the current Capitol.
In the separation between these two historic churches is the Hawai’i state Capitol. Opened in 1969, it replaced the former state house, the ‘Iolani Palace. It is unique among US Capitols for a number of features. It is surrounded by a reflective pool, symbolizing the Pacific Ocean. Two chambers are cone -shaped, like the volcanoes. The eight columns on either side resemble palm trees and represent the eight main islands. Open -air design allowing the sky to be Hawaii’s capitol rotunda.
It may be the last state admitted to the Union, but Hawai’i is clearly connected to the the first church going settlers to America. On your next vacation to this tropical paradise, plan a visit to downtown Honolulu and explore these fascinating historical buildings. You may feel not so far from home.
Three churches now dominate the surface of these three streets. First Presbyterian is the closest to The Capitol. So close, in fact, that when the church sold some land to the state to build the state library in 1958, the church had to be physically moved from one corner lot to the opposite corner of the block. The entire town was expecting the old multiple ton church to crumble but it survived the trip unscathed. Yes, the attempt to further separate for the new state building, actually kept the connection between three churches and the state Capitol intact.
The third church, St. Joseph’s Catholic church was founded in 1853 at the corner of Church and Chemeketa streets when Father Croke rented a 2 story building that was previously a Masonic temple.The building was purchased 10 years later, turned into a school, and eventually a new church building was built on the corner of Cottage and Chemeketa streets,one block closer to the Capitol building.
Three blocks, shifting slightly, but maintaining a close connection to the state for over 150 years.Shalom in Salem is the state of existence in Oregon today.
Carson City, Nevada: Silverdome and simple congregation from the land of Kit Carson
Tucked away south of Reno and east of Lake Tahoe is the state Capitol of Nevada. Carson City is named for the mountain man Kit Carson who led an expedition west to California through the area. Walk along Carson street to the Silver domed Capitol and you will see markers in the sidewalk of the Kit Carson trail with his picture and horseshoes guiding your way. Casinos and Saloons provide an easy distraction if you're in the mood for diversion.
Two blocks to the west, a lineup of three churches reside along Nevada street. They all predate the establishment of the Capitol building in 1869. First Presbyterian in 1864 is the oldest church building still holding services in Nevada, and has a connection to famed author Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain). His brother Orion Clemens was the Secretary of the Nevada territory from 1861-1864 and was a church member. Methodist church of Carson City, dedicated in 1867 from a community started in 1859, is known as the cradle of Nevada Methodism. The third church on Nevada street is St. Peter’s Episcopal church, constructed in 1868 as a graceful reminder of the churches of old New England. It’s a tall, narrow and white steeple, perfectly placed between two almost equally tall trees, against a bright blue sky.
Return to the Capitol grounds, which are covered with flowering trees. These hide the splendor of the Neoclassical Italianate style, built with sandstone from a local quarry. It is adorned with a Silver dome that glistens from all angles of the daily sunshine. On the south side plaza stands a larger than life statue of Kit Carson, riding his weary horse, with his hat in hand by the saddle.
Stunning architecture and simple symbolism greets you when you visit this hidden gem of our 51 Capitols. Most people associate Nevada with the lights and show business of Las Vegas and would be hard pressed to even identify the name and location of its capital in Carson City. Even though it would seem to be out of place next to Central California's east border, it is actually quite accessible to Reno, Interstate 80, and Lake Tahoe,all known for boating and skiing recreation. Plan a visit. Experience a quiet and simple Capitols and churches community nestled in Western Nevada.