One of the prime local examples of a true community revitalization effort can be found at the corner of Military and Sargent roads north of Winlock in a community known as St. Urban.
A beautiful Catholic church formerly known as Our Lady of the Assumption was listed on the Washington Trust For Historic Preservation’s 2004 “Most Endangered” listing, but has since been restored after local residents got together and donated money and time to keep an important piece of Lewis County history standing.
The church was established in the late 1800s by the Catholic Church as one of three in the Cowlitz Mission, being dedicated in 1891 to serve a primarily German immigrant community. The church was named Our Lady of the Assumption of St. Urban, and was served by the Cowlitz Mission which also included churches in Vader and Napavine.
The community of St. Urban itself was once home to a store, school, grange hall, cemetery and the church. The St. Urban Grange still exists today and is very active; in fact, if you’ve been to the Southwest Washington Fair in recent years, you’ve probably seen their display in the Grange exhibit hall.
Today the church is the other original structure that remains in the St. Urban community, but there is no signage denoting the significance of the community to travelers from the road. To see it for yourself, you have to stop and take a look at a small historical marker next to the church.
That marker, built in 2005, reads as follows:
The St. Urban Settlement was named after a town in Switzerland that was home to the Meier family. Known as the German Settlement, this German speaking Swiss settlement began as an agricultural community in the 1880s.
Construction began in 1884 and it was dedicated as a Catholic church on August 15, 1891. It was built on land donated by Gottlieb Waller, Sr.; Joseph Bremgartner, Sr.; John Meier; Anton Meier; Fred Meier; John Theisen; and August Weiss. In 1904, Joseph P. Waller donated one acre of land for the adjoining cemetery.
Priests traveled from the Cowlitz Mission to hold mass once a month at Assumption Church in St. Urban. For over 100 years, it has served as the heart and spirit of the St. Urban community.
The church still maintains many details inside from its early days. Framed documents, original statues and more exist on site, and a pump organ remains in the choir loft. A bell tower graces the church’s entrance.
But after many years with no major restorations, the church was added to the Washington Trust For Historic Preservation’s endangered list in 2004 as there was no active congregation at St. Urban and no funds for upkeep or repair for the church. The Nisqually earthquake of 2001 had heavily damaged the bell tower, rendering the building threatened.
A Flickr photo set from the trust shows the building prior to its restoration, dating back to 2004. The church that had meant so much to many people was clearly in need of repair.
A group of locals, some of whom were descendants of the original builders of the church, raised about $200,000 to repair and restore the church, providing it with a new concrete foundation, new plastered walls, windows and much more. Work done to the building was extensive and resulted in a beautiful restoration that honors the church’s past and preserves it for years to come.
In 2010, the restored building was re-dedicated with a ceremony. Today, the Lewis County Parks Department maintains the building. It, along with another pioneer church to the northwest, the Claquato Church, is available for rentals for weddings and other sacred events.
The dedication of the locals who treasure the history of Lewis County has ensured that many of our historic structures and landmarks are available for all to enjoy today and in the future. Come discover the storied history of our area!
To get there, take Exit 68 from Interstate 5 and head west on Avery Road to the flashing light. Take a left there and you’ll be on Military Road. Continue until you reach the intersection with Sargent Road; the church will be just past the intersection on your left. Click or tap here for a Google map.
For More Information
The Lewis County Historical Society and the Lewis County Historical Museum keep a lot of our region's treasured history within its walls. The museum, located at 599 NW Front St. in Chehalis, contains a vast repository of images and more that are worth seeing and learning about!