Catholic Sentinel photo by Mark Ylen
Jim Blair opens gate to St. Patrick Cemetery and church site above Allen Gulch in the 1990s.
Catholic Sentinel photo by Mark Ylen
Jim Blair opens gate to St. Patrick Cemetery and church site above Allen Gulch in the 1990s.
CAVE JUNCTION — On a flat above Allen Gulch in southwest Oregon, those who look closely might still find old square rusty nails or small pieces of window glass, the physical remains of a Catholic church built when Abraham Lincoln was president.

But not far away in Cave Junction, a Catholic community worships, spiritual heirs to the hearty Catholic miners who built that first St. Patrick Church long ago.

St. Patrick of the Forest Church celebrates its 150th anniversary on Monday, March 17, with a 6 p.m. Mass. Archbishop Alexander Sample will preside. A potluck dinner is planned for the night before.

In the spring of 1851, a trail opened starting at Trinidad, Calif. reaching Oregon Territory’s Illinois Valley. Miners and people looking for land began to trickle north. A band of sailors who jumped ship struck gold in the valley, and towns sprung up, among them Allen Gulch.  

In the 1850s, miners there contributed $400 in cash for the church being built at Jacksonville. Father James Croke, the missionary taking up the collection wrote back to Archbishop Francis Norbert Blanchet that it was "a sum far above my most sanguine expectations for a place where there are not more than 70 men in all.” The town later grew. Father Francis Xavier Blanchet — a nephew of the archbishop — had succeeded Father Croke as pastor of the church in Jacksonville and had been calling on the Gulch area occasionally. On March 17, 1864, he arrived to dedicate the Catholic cemetery, but found that a number of miners (Catholic and non-Catholic) had taken a collection and built an 18-by-30-foot church next to the cemetery grounds, the first Catholic church in Josephine County. Both church and cemetery were dedicated that day in the name of St. Patrick. The durable camphor wood cross which was originally located at the top front of the 18-by-30-foot church now stands just inside the front gate of the cemetery.  

In the east at that time, a pair of men’s leather boots cost $7 to $8 and an evening meal with dessert 50 cents. But the economic force of supply and demand were very evident in the Illinois Valley diggings area, where a pair of gum boots cost $38, a simple shovel $12 and a small can of sardines $4.

Allen Gulch became known for the large amount of extracted gold, but the mines began to play out and mining declined in the late 1890s. The town soon was abandoned for better digging elsewhere. The church was no longer used and heavy snows caved it in.

In 1944, Father Augustine Meyer became pastor in Grants Pass and began saying Mass in Cave Junction, close by Allen Gulch. He would use the Clover Leaf Motel for the services.

Father Dan Kelly came next and purchased land for a church in Cave Junction itself. A building that seated 120 worshipers and cost $4,700 was dedicated in 1952 by Portland Archbishop Edward Howard as St. Patrick of the Forest. Father Kelly painted many things in the church green at the last minute. In fact, the archbishop's robes adhered to the still-sticky paint on the kneelers and he was unable to stand up at one point in the service.

In 1980, parishioners built a new church. The 1952 building was sold and burnt down in the 1980s.

The cemetery at Allen Gulch remains. The last person buried there was William Frainey, longtime graveyard caretaker who died in 1984.

— Sources: Ed Zick, Kristen Hannum