Illuminating the past

Cottage Grove Museum’s stained glass mysteries revealed this weekend

December 2 - Hidden within the soldered sections of colored glass in the windows of the Cottage Grove Museum, are historical mysteries that can only be revealed today, thanks to the internet and most importantly, the painstaking commitment of devoted preservationists of its stained glass windows over its 125-year history. And for the first time in two years, a tour will be held at the museum’s Stained Glass & Candlelight event Saturday, Dec. 3.

Much of the building's history can be found in several places, most of which was compiled in 1997 into a document for the City of Cottage Grove’s National Register of Historic Places. Here, the building's extraordinary features are heavily detailed. Octagonal in shape, domed ceiling, gothic design, and its stained glass windows were reported in the document as “perhaps originating from Italy or Spain.”

Curiously, some of the earliest details regarding this important building, not only in Cottage Grove but also in the entire Pacific Northwest, have either been obscured or overlooked.

In the church's written history, Catholic immigrants began arriving in Cottage Grove as early as 1879, attending services in front of railroad platforms where traveling ministers would hold short services for a few gathered people. Services grew and were eventually held in homes. Town pioneer Dave McFarland, a Protestant, allowed services to be held at his property on River Road, his home being one of the first documented locations to host small groups in Cottage Grove. Families would arrive on Saturday, enjoy an evening of fellowship at a residence and hold a service the following Sunday morning. The earliest members eventually became the main body of the church.

Their trades were mainly in timber and the mines, some coming from as far as Creswell and Saginaw to attend services with the growing congregation. But, the first official Catholic mass in Cottage Grove is said to have occurred in 1890 with Rev. F.S. Beck as minister, from Eugene, who took up residence in Cottage Grove around 1887. They continued at the McFarland residence and then a few others until 1895, when he donated a small portion of his families land-claim so that a church could be built; its foundation was nearly completed the week of Nov. 30, 1895, according to an early Cottage Grove Leader newspaper.

Under the supervision of Lee C. Hunsaker from Eugene, it was designed and built with a small crew of eager and faithful members who all chipped in its construction.

By May 1896, it was revealed that the building had siding up and a roof in place, “ready for paint.” Funds for the building for the church came from donations from approximately 40 citizens of Cottage Grove and the vicinity. The costs to construct it were estimated to run $1,500, with an equivalent purchasing power to about $53,857 today. Although incomplete, on Dec. 5, 1897, the edifice was finally dedicated by the Archbishop Gross, assisted by Rev. William Daley, who was also the pastor at the time. The beautiful stained glass windows were donated by eight members of the church and were an immediate focal point.

It was denominated The Church of the Immaculate Conception, with its octagonal architectural style reminiscent of the Dome of the Rock, known as Jerusalem's most recognizable landmark. Considered a fad in the 1850s, New York author Orson Squire Fowler believed that octagonal houses were cheaper to build, preserved heat more efficiently in the winter, and remained cooler in summer. Most of the surviving examples of these prized homes can be found in the Midwest, New York and Massachusetts, and very rarely in the West Coast.

The old octagonal church that now houses the Cottage Grove Museum remains one of the Pacific Northwest's most valuable architectural jewels. If we also consider Woolcott’s miraculous Titanic coat among the many items contained, it's easily understood how priceless the Museum is but, the building itself is on another level, individual to the entire West. Nothing else like it from that era exists today.

At one point in its history, the octagon-shaped church was considered being torn down but saved due to its glorious windows. Its unique structural quality, which largely remains intact, is incredibly important. But its precious stained glass windows, which were dubbed “the most valuable part of the entire structure” by Julia Bartels in one of the church's historical articles, rendered it a local treasure for its windows alone.

In recent, significant findings, a source from the Archdiocese in Portland revealed to the Sentinel that they hold receipts for the original stained glass windows, which were purchased by donors in 1897 for $20 a piece, approximately $720 today. Now that a receipt was found, the discrepancy in their historical lore isn’t placed on the price of the windows but on where they were made — not in Italy, as previously assumed, but in Portland, Ore.

Povey Brothers Studio, also known as Povey Bros. Glass Co., was an American producer of stained glass windows based in Portland. According to the Wikipedia page for the Studio, the company was active from 1888 to 1928 “as the largest and best known art glass company in Oregon; it produced windows for homes, churches, and commercial buildings throughout the West.”

The Povey Brothers had come to Oregon through St. Louis. Their industry began and immediately made an impression with their finely detailed ornamental glass works. Unequaled in quality and beauty, they became known as the “Tiffany of the Northwest,” contracting with dozens of churches and homeowners for a chance to display their glass art, much of which was unsigned before the early 1920s, when imitators began to capitalize on their style and influence.

Back in Cottage Grove, by 1899, The Church of the Immaculate Conception found two steady ministers in its first few years, with the first being Beck, Daley, and one other minister, left out of many of the churches early records. Coming through Oregon City then, through St. Mary's, the Church of Eugene, was Rev. Ladislaus Przyblyski (pronouced Sha-bill-ski), who came to Cottage Grove and began holding services once a month starting around April 1899.

Przyblyski (Sha-bill-ski) was also a preacher at the Eugene Catholic Church and spent his time in Lane County, recognized as an “untiring worker” by the Bohemia Nugget on March 30, 1900. The article noted the improved look of the church under Przyblyski’s leadership, while fundraising to complete the church, which had been under construction for over four years. Reportedly, there was also an effort by the reverend to build and open a school at the location.

In a Register-Guard article, after announcing a fundraiser for a hospital in Eugene and the completion of the Catholic Church in Cottage Grove, Przyblyski resigned and left for Le Grande, Ore., in August 1901. He was instrumental in helping the Cottage Grove mission become a parish.

Over the years, as the church evolved from mission to parish twice, it became commonly known as St. Mary’s, a mission out of Eugene. By 1914, the church advertised in The Cottage Grove Sentinel, announcing a high mass and sermon at 10:30 a.m. with evening devotions and benedictions at 7:30 p.m. The Catholic church and other denomination churches expanded into the Cottage Grove area, which grew steadily into the 1920s.

During the early years of that decade, churches during this period were on the receiving end of what the newspaper dubbed a “Window Smasher.”

“Window smashings” began to appear regularly in headlines. In an April 15, 1921, Sentinel article, editor Elbert Bede wrote, “Hoodlums respect not even a house of worship. Proof of which statement is found in the fact that windows in the Christian Church were destroyed 10 days ago by rocks being thrown through them. The damage was about $10.”

If not shattered windows, trampled flower gardens were also blamed on “lawless children.” Two years later, on May 4, 1923, it was clear that the window smashings were taking a toll on the community. “A bunch of hoodlums, presumably small boys of the neighborhood, have broken practically all of the stained glass windows in the Catholic Church by throwing rocks and sticks through them,” one article read.

In the following edition, Bede denounced and criticized the perpetrators in an editorial piece, “Educational Money That is Wasted.” The editor argued that “Youngsters who deliberately break windows in a church are not only desecrating what many believe to be holy ground but they are demonstrating that they haven't any common sense with which to balance book learning.”

Bede also delivered a strict, political message to the vandalism, “In the case of the destruction of church property, it is possible that the youngsters felt that they had a grudge against that particular church. In such a case, they would do well to spend a few days in the study of the Constitution of the United States, in which the right to worship God according to one's own conscience is guaranteed.”

When the Sentinel reached out to the Cottage Grove Museum and the Genealogical Society, they did not have any knowledge of the fractured windows in 1923. Meanwhile, the church began to decline in numbers through the 1930s. Challenged by strong theological tension in the community and the U.S. in general, the church reverted to a mission but, by 1942, it became a parish again with an average collection of $35 on a Sunday. In 1954, a school was built, where eventually mass was moved.

The old octagon church was now in danger of being torn down — but it was miraculously salvaged with the help of early church members Julia Bartles and volunteer Donna Allen, who both cherished the stained glass windows.

Deserted by 1960, in 1961, the Catholic Church outgrew its location and Our Lady of Perpetual Help was built to accommodate the parishioners. The city and later Cottage Grove Historical Society took over ownership of the church. On Columbus Day in 1962, during one of Cottage Grove’s worst storms, a stained glass window at the former Catholic Church was destroyed. It was reconstructed shortly thereafter.

In 2000, the Cottage Grove Museum initiated a professional cleaning and restoration of the stained glass windows by John Rose of Eugene. Today, the colorful panes still appear bright and vivid. Their bright surfaces have endured the test of time. The windows, all of which tell countless stories with their remarkable imagery, can be better seen, analyzed, and appreciated during an annual tour given by Joanne Skelton.

This Saturday, Dec. 3, between 6 and 7:30 p.m. as part of the Cottage Grove Christmas Kickoff, Skelton will reveal many fascinating details surrounding the stained glass windows, their history, and their interesting symbolism. Each illuminated window tells a different story, blending the immersive lecture with the vibrant mosaic of the colored glass. It's one of the many exciting highlights of this weekend’s holiday events.

The Cottage Grove Museum is located at 147 N H St. For more information, contact 541-942-4269 or visit