Guardian of the Columbia

It distracted me from my ultimate mission — an afternoon with Maremma sheepdogs.

I was driving south on a rural road on the Colville Reservation and spied it out of the corner of my eye. Of course, my new friend Kaila warned me about it. She said “there’s a beautiful abandoned church near our homestead.”

Excited by the prospect, I thought I’d have to keep my eyes peeled, but there was no missing it, even though it hid behind several large trees.

It stood there, soaking up the morning August sun. So beautiful and, seemingly, so lonely.

A sentinel standing watch over the Columbia River.

catholic church


Some churches have been maintained in a manner similar to the Roger’s Bar church: the one so lovingly cared for in Retlaw, Alberta, and the now restored churches in Dorothy, Alberta.

This one’s history is honored in the foyer, with some details typed onto letter-sized paper, protected by Saran wrap and pinned to the wall.

catholic church history

Whomever wrote the story revealed this church was built in 1934, dedicated one year later by Bishop White. Charles Owen was the pastor. It replaced the St. Ignatius church built “somewhere around Roger’s Bar” in 1907.

The Colville Tribes website says this church was named the Sacred Heart.

Father Caldi and other priests of St. Francis Regis Mission visited here occasionally on their rounds of the Indian settlements (House Dairy 1906). Caldi estimated the population as about ‘twenty Columbia and Spokane Indians.’

abandoned church colville

Pastor Owens lived in log cabin 100 feet away from the church. Louie Pichette, at one time the oldest living man on the Colville reservation, also lived in a log cabin near the church. Neither building — if they were separate buildings — is no longer there.

The church was used semi-regularly until 1966. Bill Kima assisted on funerals. The last service, according to the history on the wall, was a wedding.

But no one can remember who got married.

Restoring the past

The paper on the wall tells the story of a summer that a group of high school students from Tacoma and kids from Gonzaga Prep joined some local students to clean out 20 years of bird and bat “droppings.”

They were led by Don Eugene, a painter who died in a motorcycle accident just one week after the project began.

It was 1988.

“Birds, bats and bees had been its only congregation” for quite some time.

Over two summers, the students and members of the community built a new porch, installed new windows, stained the outside and inside, and sanded the hardwood floor.

  • Dutch Monaghan stained the windows
  • Lynda Smith worked on the window in front of the steeple
  • Kay Hale restored the last remaining pew
  • Ilene Stansbury worked on the foyer
  • An old carpenter named Andy built four cathedral windows
  • Don Aimebury supplied the glass and installed most of it
  • Violet Trudell donated an old bell to replace the one that was stolen years ago

inchelium church abandoned

They changed the church’s appearance “dramatically” and the church was renamed “Christ of the Columbia.” The community held a dedication ceremony with potluck in October of the unknown year.

No signs of life

It’s a quiet, rural road.

The church is unblemished by graffiti and destruction in the way so many historic buildings on busy roadways fall victim.

It stands perfect, a testament to its original construction and the restoration that took place.

A 2007 blog post by Christy Woolum showed up in a Google search. She visited the church in 2007 and, at the time, learned it was still used twice a year and for special events.

She writes:

When you peak in the windows you can see Christ of the Columbia carved into the altar, but the statues and pews are covered with protective tarps. I loved the rich hue of the elderberries hanging from a branch at the entrance of the church. It is obvious parishioners take great pride in this building. It has been maintained beautifully. It was the location for our picnic lunch as we took a break during out road trip.

The doorknob turns in the hand and, when the door creaks open, there are no signs of life.

No signs of the love that embraced this church in 2007 or the undated restoration.

No signs of weddings or funerals or services where the community comes together.

Are they all lost forever?

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