A History of Murphys First Congregational Church
The history of this pioneering Protestant church can be traced back to 1853. However, it is hard to determine just when the first Protestant minister came into Murphys, or what denomination was represented. J. McHenry Caldwell, a Methodist minister who was appointed to Vallecito in 1853, and who also preached at Murphys and Douglas Flat, was probably the first Protestant minister. Whether he built the first Protestant Church here cannot be determined, but the first church was built in that year. I.H. Miller was the Methodist minister in 1854 at Murphys. James McGowan seems to be the Apostle of Methodism in Murphys and supplied the church here in 1855. In 1856 there was a Methodist Church and a parsonage, but their value was estimated at only $700. There were 60 communicants and 80 scholars in the Sunday School. After 1856 there is no record of any minister being supplied to the church until 1861 when Reverend McGowan was again sent to Murphys to revive the church and save the efforts of past years. He apparently was unable to revive the church, since no one was sent from the Methodist Conference to Murphys in the following years. This first little church which the Methodists built was probably the one taken over by the Congregational Church when it was organized in 1866. The church building, erected in 1853 on a site donated by Dr. Wm. Jones, belonged to the Protestant Union Society in 1866.
In 1863, Reverend James Pierpont, Presbyterian minister, was preaching in Murphys, apparently holding services in the Protestant Church, as there is no record of the Presbyterians ever being organized in Murphys.
EARLY CONGREGATIONALIST LEADERSHIP
After several years of going without a regularly assigned minister, the protestant people of Murphys wrote Reverend J. Warren of San Mateo, Superintendent of the Congregational Conference, and asked him to come to Murphys and organize a church. He came and preached at the church on September 14, 1866, and surveyed the possibility of organizing a church. An organizational meeting was held at the home of Mrs. James Sperry on September 23, 1866. Mr. C. Morgan was chosen clerk, and Mrs. Sperry, treasurer and chairman of the finance committee. Reverend Caleb Morgan was then ordained as the first minister. The charter members of the church were as follows: Mrs. L.J. Sperry, Mrs. S.W. Putney, Mrs. Mary Ann Scott, Mrs. Mary Williams, Mrs. M. Webb, Mrs. M. Lowman, Donald Kipper, U.L. Grover, Mrs H.Y. Traver and Mrs. E.M. Johnson.
THE CHURCH FACILITY
The first church building taken over by the Congregational Church was a brown, one room building with a small storage room behind. It was furnished with a low organ and plain, straight benches, with a seating capacity of about 50. This little wooden church served the congregation for 42 years. In the year 1895, under the leadership pf Reverend M.J. Luark, construction of a new church was begun. The total cost of the construction was $1,600, but much of the labor and materials were donated. A good portion of the cost was given by Mrs. Hoyt (Mrs. John Perry). The present building was dedicated Dec. 13, 1897.
The first parsonage was located where the Forrester home now stands at the corner of Scott and Jones streets, but the congregation later bought the Matteson home across the street from the church for $500 and made it into a parsonage.
The Ladies Aid, which seemed to be the most active branch of the church, did the work of repairing and remodeling the new parsonage. The Social Hall was added to the church in 1935 at a cost of $700.
Of the 38 ministers who have been assigned to the church since 1866, Rev Thomas Magill had the longest pastorate (1911-1927). Reverend M.J. Luark served the next longest period, but had two different pastorates. Reverend Magill was the last resident minister at Murphys. With the arrival of Reverend Frank Bissell, the Murphys Church was served by ministers from Angels Camp. However, on several occasions in recent years, the minister has lived in the parsonage at Murphys and served the two churches. The two churches are now separated and the Murphys Church has been supporting its own minister for several years (1975). In recent years the Murphys church purchased the Fred Fiske property directly behind the church, so that the kitchen could be enlarged, and to provide some additional parking space.
Of all the many members, friends, and loyal workers who have supported the church during its 108 years, Mrs. Eliza Hoyt should be mentioned first. She was a member of the church for many years, and in her will she left $10,000 to the church. This money was invested in mining stock and was a source of revenue for many years.
In August, 2007, the church entered a new era of hope and anticipation of exciting ministry when it called the Rev Alan Claassen to be its minister. Prior to Rev Claassen's arrival, the church had been ably served in recent years by ministers such as Rev Steve Shepard, Rev John Randlett, Rev Al Valentine, Rev Jo Siders and others. At the present time the church is as large, healthy and vibrant and as it has ever been in its 140+ year history, and looks forward to even greater growth as it approaches its sesquicentennial in 2016.
(Much of the foregoing is taken from "Murphys, Queen of the Sierra", by R. Coke Wood)