The Wahkiakum County Eagle - Established as The Skamokawa Eagle in 1891

Pioneer Community Center plans grand reopening


To The Eagle:

Before Cathlamet, our community was known as Birnie’s Retreat. James Birnie, a Scotch fur trader working for the Hudson Bay Company, is credited with landing his canoes on our shore in 1846. He didn’t come alone. Accompanying him were his wife Charlotte and a boat load of kids. Many boat loads, as the Birnies already had 10 kids and added two more after settling in. In addition to the Birnie Bunch, James brought along Native American slaves to cut down timber, help build shelters, dry fish and plant gardens and orchards for everybody’s survival.

Birnie brought up his family in the Episcopal faith, died here in 1864 and is buried in the local Pioneer Cemetery alongside many members of his immediate family and other pioneers. In 1895, 30 years after his death, five people met in Birnie’s Hall, above Birnie’s Saloon and voted to start the Cathlamet Congregational Church. The completion and first service of the Church was held January 1, 1901 and a good share of the financial resources making this possible came from the saloon owners.

The Congregational Church operated continuously until 1959 when they constructed a new building and held their last service and communion in the old Church on August 7, 1960. The building was then sold to the First Baptist Church of Longview which held services for only a few years before moving on and the building stood vacant until the late 1970’s. Much has happened since then; some of it good, some of it bad and some of it just plain amazing.

The Pioneer Community Association is planning an evening celebrating the long- awaited reopening of the iconic symbol of our town, known by most as, The Old Pioneer Church. Find out what’s next for this historic building that got its start over a saloon built by a staunch Episcopalian that has been home to Congregationalists, Baptists, bingo players, kindergarten students, quilters, many musicians and is listed on the registry of National Historic Landmarks. The new doors will be open for a free concert and storytelling event to kick off Bald Eagle Days, Friday, July 14 at 7:30 p.m. Seating will be limited, admission is $5, additional donations are most welcome.

Suzanne Holmes

Pioneer Community Association member


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