Community Presbyterian Church

Cordova

(unsigned and undated history in files)

 Since the last train from Kennecott Mine to Cordova left November 11, 1938, it would seem this article was written shortly before that time. It would seem that the pastor serving the church and the outlying areas, possibly Rev. Peterson wrote it.

Cordova, the Copper City, is the gateway to the interior of Alaska, via the Copper River and Northwestern Railway. It is situated on Prince William Sound and is the first port of call north of Juneau. It is the center of a large fishing industry and its many canneries attract large numbers of people during the summer season. However, the chief reason for its existence is the railway to the Kennecott mines and the builders of the town were the men who came to this section to work under Mr. M.J. Heney, contractor and constructor of the "Iron Trail" to Kennecott Copper Mines in the year 1907.

Awake to the challenge that the new railroad town offered, Dr. S. Hall Young, Presbyterian General Missionary for Alaska, corresponded with the people and consulted with the Presbyterian Board of Home Missions. Hence the old church records tell us that in the fall of 1908, Dr. Young came to Cordova “from Fairbanks via Nome and Seattle.” Fancy that missionary journey -- by dogteam from Fairbanks to Nome (six weeks); boat to Seattle (three weeks); Seattle to Cordova (one week) -- ten weeks, and now the plane flies from Fairbanks to Cordova in three and one-half hours!

In a short time, services were held regularly on Sundays and Wednesdays in one improvised meeting place or another. In September 1909, the congregation elected a board of trustees of the Presbyterian Mission. A subscription paper was circulated in Cordova and among friends in other places and aid solicited from the Board of Church Erection. In October of the same year, work was begun on the new church and manse and on February 6, 1910, the first service was held in the new church. On February 20, the church was formally organized with twenty-two charter members, none of whom reside here now. M. S. Whittier, now of the Customs Department in Juneau and E.E. Brooks were elected as ruling elders. Dr. Young remained until the fall of 1910 when he was released by the Board for general missionary work and Dr. M.E. Koonce, Ph.D. was sent to carry on the work. There followed in succession the following pastorates:

Rev. S. Hall Young, DD 1908-1910

Rev. M. E. Koonce, Ph.D. 1910-1913

Rev. James L. McBride 1915-1916

Rev. A. G. Shriver 1916-1919

Rev. R. S. Nickerson 1921-1923

Rev. Fred G. Scherer 1923-1925

Rev. W. A. Couden 1926-1927

Rev. Bert J. Bingle 1928-1935

Rev. W. A. McAdoo 1935-1936

Rev. R. S. Peterson 1936-

Under the administration of the Rev. Mr. Nickerson it was decided to erect a new church nearer the business district of the town. At first only the present church auditorium was built but as funds permitted there were added a gymnasium, Sunday school rooms, and an apartment serving as a manse. Thus the building grew “like Topsy” under successive pastorates. The resulting church plant is by no means efficient and the people find it a tremendous burden to heat and to keep in repair without adequate compensation in the way of service to the congregation.

The church has never attained a large membership and yet its imprint upon the life of the community is of far greater consequence than its small membership would indicate. It has had to minister to an ever-changing population. 

Of that original company of pioneers who came to Cordova in 1907, only one remains in the church -- Mrs. V.G. Vance, a cousin of Dr. S. Hall Young. Throughout the years, Mrs. Vance has been deeply devoted to the church and today as an elder her influence is felt in the church life. Coming as a young bride to an Alaskan pioneer community made up almost entirely of men, she has remained true to the finest principles gained in that historic French Creek church in West Virginia in which she grew up.

Comparatively early in the history of Cordova we find recorded these significant words: 

All the people employed in this work (i.e. the building of the Copper River and Northwestern Railway) gradually withdrew from the community...the church was fortunate in adding to itself even under these circumstances by the blessing of God.

History repeats itself and again today the church is facing just such a period of transition with the impending closing of the Kennecott Copper Mines and the Railroad.

And yet with all these untoward situations, the work of the Presbyterian Church in Cordova is so strategic and unique that its continued maintenance is eminently worthwhile. From Juneau to Seward on the coast and from the Canadian border on the East to the Alaska Railroad on the West, there is no other Protestant clergyman. Even though a comparatively small number dwell within the shadow of Cordova church, it sends its pastor to the far bounds of this vast parish as often as time and transportation permit. Although on an average Sunday, only a comparatively small number listen to the voice of the minister, during the ensuing week, a summary of his sermons, as printed in the Cordova Daily Times, finds its way into lonely mining camps and trappers’ lonely cabins.

Perhaps a few details about itinerating trips will be of interest. Once in January the pastor tried to travel by railroad only to be blocked by repeated slides. A local aviator offered to take him by plane. This trip through the rugged Chugach Mountains on a winter afternoon with the sub-Arctic sun painting earth and sky and clouds in roseate sunset hues will never be forgotten. A trip that takes two days by train was made in less than three hours, and in that interim the thermometer dropped from 30 above on the coast to sixteen below at Kennecott.

Another trip took the pastor from the Kennecott mine station to the mines by tramway. He traveled in a bucket over 3,000 feet up the mountainside. Sometimes the bucket stopped over yawning canyons where one could look down and down and speculate on what might happen if the cable broke.

The last trip was complicated by the necessity of making two services and a wedding fit into the irregular train service. It would have been impossible to return from place to place making connections with all scheduled appointments had not Mr. R.J. Storey, superintendent of the Bridge and Building Department, made available both himself and his speeder. The speeder is just an old T. Model Ford placed on railroad wheels.

More interesting than the country with its glaciers or the railroad with its unique engineering problems or the mines with the wealth of ore are the people of the remote parts of our parish. Their welcome is so cordial that the journeys to the interior are like homecomings, and their eagerness to hear a gospel message warms the heart of the one who brings it.

On-going developments