Cordelia - A church is built.  

By Larry Lass. 

Some information contained in this article was researched by Michael Houser for his senior project and edited by Kas Dumroese to fit the Friends of Cordelia Newsletter published in October 1994.   Re-examination of historic documentation shed new light on the events and added missing pieces to the history of construction.  This is a fresh look into “Building the Church”. 

On May 15, 1883, it was reported at the congregational meeting that Andrew S. Olson had donated one acre of land from his homestead as a site for the new church, and would sell an additional acre for the cemetery for $25.00.   The congregation accepted his gift and offer to sell.

Members of Cordelia used four methods to establish the building and fund the operation of the church.  Operational funds were obtained by asking the community to subscribe to “The Swedish Evengelical Lutheran Congregation, Cordelia, Nez Perce County, Idaho Territory.”  Additional operational funds were from fund-raising efforts of established churches.   Building materials were either purchased with funds given to a building fund, or the materials and supplies were donated.  John Carlson, church treasurer, provided an accounting of the funds raised and expenses on January 8, 1884.  

Subscribers for the building of Cordelia Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Church  were:

$15.00 Level  C. J. Lunquist

$10.00 Level  Martin Anderson, Rev. Peter Carlson, John Rosell and John Ryd 

$7.00 Level  E.G. Peterson

$5.00 Level  C. P. Anderson,  Peter Bohman,  A. Bloomequist,  Andrew E. Carlson, Gustof Carlson,  John W. Carlson, C.J. Edwin, E. Erickson, C. A. Hagströn, Engual Halverson,  Gustaf Johnson, P. Johntson,  P. N. Lundström, Northrup and Moore,  Andrew Olson, P. Paulson, Emmanuel Paulson, Nils P. Pehrson, W. D. Robbins, Julius Schumacher, M.J. Shields, Anders Swenson, O. Westerdahl,

$3.25 Level  McConnell & Co

$3.00 Level  Denham and Kaufman, C. O. Flugstadt, Geo Meeks

$2.00 Level  Iver Christerson, A. Holm, T. J. Keane, B. A. Nymeyer, Peter Olson, John Peterson, O. S. Peterson, Jesse Randall

$1.75 Level  Loth Carlson

$1.00 Level  James Johnson, A.A. Lieuallan, Howard Olson, H. Randall


Total Contributed $211.50

Churches contributing were:

Bailytown, Indiana $7.50

Hemttgrew/Vasa, Minnesota $5.00

Scandian Grove & New Sweden, Minnesota $5.00

Collection at Cordelia $8.00

Sålt Spike $0.10


Total $23.60

Building Fund Supporter were:

Blomquist         $5.00

P. Johnson $5.00

John Ryd $5.00

Gustaf Carlson $5.00

Nils Pehrson $5.00

Sålt Spike $0.10

Gustaf Hullgren $5.00

Collection Baileytown $7.50

Scandianian Grove & New Sweden $8.69

Collection Cordelia $8.00

Kassabehållning (Cash on Hand) $4.41

Loth Carlson $1.75


Total $60.45

List of Building Materials

Date Item Price

Oct 18     Skeels Bros. $ 5.45

Oct 15 Stove and pipes $11.00

Oct 6 Paint etc. $16.00

Oct 24 Lumber from Northrup and Moore $31.26

Hinges (3 pair) $ 0.75

Nails $1.00

Broom $ 0.62

Sheet metal $ 0.75

Molding $ 2.00

Lumber for pews from Loth Carlson $ 1.75

Clear Lumber $ 0.75

Permit $ 1.50


Sum $72.83

The 1994 Friends of Cordelia newsletter reported a descendant of a founding member, Herman Schumacker, told that his aunt mentioned the lumber for Cordelia came from a sawmill at Lapwai.  Lumber from the mill was loaded onto a wagon to begin its slow, tortuous trip up the Coyote Grade, passing east of Genesee before traveling a few miles north to the church.  The author of the newsletter item suggested the mill may have been the one established by Reverend Spalding in 1840. 

Reverend Henry and Eliza Spalding began their mission work in 1838 near the mouth of Lapwai Creek.  The mission had a grist and sawmill powered by water from the same water source.  Spalding wrote, “the sawmill worked well, 6 feet wheel by 30 inches in diameter – 9 inch crank, 13 feet head,” when the sawmill started operation in 1840.   Erosion eventually caused the water wheel apparatus of the sawmill to become unstable.  Additional log bracing was added to hold the force of the falling water and reduce the impact of the erosion. The flood of 1842 caused additional damage to the sawmill.  The Spaldings abruptly left the mission station in December 1847.  The buildings, already in poor repair, plunged into ruin.  In 1860, agents of the Federal Government established the Nez Perce Agency and used one or two of the buildings for minor functions.  The sawmill was not functioning in 1883 when Cordelia was built.   

Schumacker’s oral history of the wagons is too good not to have some truth, so lets take a fresh look at the donor and building list.  The big ticket items on the building list are lumber from Northrup and Moore for $31.26, paint, etc. for $16.00, stove and pipe for $11.00 and Skeels Bros. for $5.45.  Missing from the list are wall paper, shingles, interior door, brick for the chimney and windows.   The donor list shows Northrup and Moore gave $5.00 as a  member.  Also of note are the dates next to the items, where paint was purchased in early October and the stove in mid-October.  The lumber may have been paid for after delivery.  

It is unclear where Northrup and Moore’s mill was in 1883, but there is a record it existed in Latah County.  Arthur A. Dobson wrote he came to Latah county in August 1881 to work as a logger for Northrup and Moore.  Mobile sawmills were popular when homesteaders were settling in the area.  Homesteaders would fell and drag logs into a central location and the steam driven mill would come and turn the raw logs into a useable or marketable product.  George A. Northrup’s homestead was located about a mile southeast of Moscow, Idaho in Sec. 20 of T 39 N and R 5 W on Paradise Ridge.  Northrup was listed as a pall bearer for Andrew S. Olson’s funeral in 1940.  George W. Moore’s homestead was 1.5 miles south of Cordelia and adjacent to Andrew Carlson (son of the first pastor at Cordelia).  Buying lumber from Lapwai, when a sawmill owner and donor to the church building fund lived that close, was probably not an option.  We must assume most of the lumber came from Northrup and Moore.  

Henry Skeels operated a sawmill in the area specializing in tongue and groove flooring and shingles.  His workers hauled  logs to the mill on oxen-drawn wagons made from sawed, round pieces of logs with metal bands surrounding them.   In 1883, the mill was located on John Chaney’s homestead at the top of the Kendrick grade going to Troy.  Henry also operated a small lumber yard in Moscow.  The amount paid suggests shingles and the tongue and groove flooring found at the front of the church may have been purchased from Skeels, but an itemized list was not found. 

Skeels Mill.   LCHS Photo.

Items like paint, stove and pipe, wallpaper, door, bricks, cement mortar, metal sheeting and window glass were not made on the Palouse in 1883, and could have been freighted up Coyote Grade.  The October purchase date suggested a group of homesteaders were going down to Lewiston to sell harvested grain and to purchase winter supplies.  Buying construction supplies in Lewiston likely did not happen given many donors for construction ran businesses in Moscow supplying construction materials or were purchasing the crops produced by the homesteaders.  

The construction of an elevated half chimney indicated bricks were scarce.  Typically the chimney would have been built from the ground up the side of the building. Bricks may not have been produced locally in 1883.   The Idaho Fire Brick and Clay Company in Troy, Idaho, famous for it’s brick works, did not start to manufacture bricks until 1900.   Buildings in Moscow constructed during the 1883 era were described as having rustic stone foundations and wood framed, indicating the absence of a local brick factory.  The stove and pipes were purchased on October 15.  Bricks, cement, stove and pipes were likely on the list of materials hauled from Lewiston and sold in Moscow.  

Plate glass used for windows was a precious item for most homesteaders.  Pure silica (sand without mineral contaminants), required to make clear class, is limited to a few locations in the United States.   The 1880 census reported 211 businesses in the United States were producing window glass.  Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York led the nation with 70% of the factories.  Other factories were either on the Mississippi River or east of it.  The census did not show glass being produced in Washington, Oregon or Idaho.  

In 1883, companies making the window sash and frames would also have made doors.  The interior door of Cordelia appears to be custom built, while the exterior door was nailed together by the members of the church when the porch was added in 1884.  It was a popular tradition for members to purchase windows and doors as a separate gift to a new church, but is not documented.  The tradition may have been part of Cordelia's history; therefore, windows and doors were not on the building list.  

Paint for the external walls was linseed oil based.  Early homesteaders brought flax seed with them to grow and press into linseed oil.  Western Oregon homesteaders started to produce this cash crop in 1845 for the purpose of producing paint oil from seed.  Oregon history records the first mills and presses were operating at Salem in 1866.  It was common for the homesteader to add turpentine as a thinner to reduce drying time.  A pigment (usually white lead) was added, but required the oil to be boiling hot to get the pigments into solution.  In 1883, homeowners could purchase ready mixed paints.  It is unclear if the paint listed in the materials was ready mixed or sold as linseed oil and pigments. 

The wallpaper was added after construction was complete.  The interior walls of the ship-lap planking are not finished with paint or varnish, indicating members planned for it during construction.  It probably was not installed in 1883, and could have been ordered as late as 1885.  The company producing replacement wallpaper in 2008 suggested the border may have been salvage rolls from a large hall since the border width was twice the size of typical borders.  

The  Hale and Cooper Contractors and Builders of Lewiston, Idaho was the likely source for paint, windows, and doors, as well as other materials.  Their large, two-column advertisement ran daily in the Lewiston Tribune in 1883.  They sold all kinds of construction material and other material from their store/lumber yard located near Fourth and Montgomery Street, including paint, wallpaper, doors, window sash, steel plows, horseshoes, cut nails, and lots of tools needed on farms.  The last line of the advertisement says it all: "Everything cheap, for cash, and give SHORT CREDIT." 

The excitement of going to town for supplies and groundbreaking for the new church on October 15 sparked new optimism in the homesteaders.  

The actual time it took to construct the building is not reported but we know the building was complete enough to hold services on December 13, 1883. Past experiences with blitz building suggest 7 to 10 homesteaders could have completed the exterior work in 5 to 7 days and the finish work on the interior in 7 to 10 days. 

The foundation was made of basalt rock ranging in weight from 15 to 150 lbs., and size from a large kitchen bowl to a small boulder. They were generally flat and had smooth well-worn corners. The source of the rocks is unknown. Early maps showed rock outcrops a few miles to the north (now known as Clay Rock Pit), and they also were found along the stream just north and east of the church. It is unlikely rocks were hauled long distances, so it is assumed the homesteaders used the rocks found along the stream. 

The homesteaders generally used the largest stones on the bottom and stacked progressively smaller stones to level the timbers of the building. The large stones were lying directly on the soil surface at each corner of the building. In 1992, modern concrete footings replaced the basalt stones to add stability during periods of freezing and thawing, which shifts the building as the soil swells and shrinks.

The building survived the test of time because the homesteader used 8 by 8 inch wood beams as a bed plate to support the joists and walls. The beams which were notched on the ends and set on the foundation stones, were leveled with rock and wood shims. A center beam consisting of a 2 by 8 was added to provide additional support to the floor. During the 1992 replacement of the basalt rock foundation, additional concrete pads were added to support the center beam. 

It is unclear if the homesteaders tried to square the beams to form true 90 degree angles, but currently the church is not at right angles, which is typical of buildings of this era.

The floor joists (cross beams) were placed on the beams on 24 inch centers (intervals). The joists are 2 by 8 inches and 18 feet long, and were set on, but not nailed to, the 8 by 8 beams. Normally a sill plate, a 2 by 8, would have been pinned to the end of the joist to provide stability, and an additional 2 by 8 would have been added as an exterior stud beam. The homesteaders opted to use the width of the 2 by 8 joist standing on edge as stability and later tied it into the beam using the 1 by 12 boxing panel when the siding was attached.

The first nails were used on the church to fasten the flooring to the joists. Buildings of this era and design commonly had a sub-floor placed at a 45 degree angle to the joist and a flooring placed at a 90 degree angle to the joist. The homesteaders used a single layer of flooring at a 90 degree angle to the joist. The flooring was 1 by 6 inches grooved on the side to lap with the adjacent piece of flooring, often referred to as ship-lap. The flooring was finished wood (planed and sanded by the saw mill). The nails were placed at the down groove so they were covered by the next piece of flooring.

The same type of wood was also used for the interior walls. The sawmills set aside their best for finished wood. The floor has a few knots, and one poorly cut groove which later provided an entry point for the rodents that caused much damage to the church. The rodent entry point was covered in 2006.

The 2 by 4 stud walls were constructed next. The homesteaders used continuous framing members to construct the walls that ran from the floor sill to eave line. This method of construction, called balloon framing, was used from 1833 to the mid-1950s. The long lumber was plentiful from steam powered sawmills, and the carpentry skills necessary for this type of construction allowed farmers to build their own buildings without dovetail joints, mortises and tenons. Walls could be constructed flat on the floor with a few laborers and set upright in a single day with the help of neighbors.

The walls have single sill and stud plate on the floor. The studs are on 24 inch centers with a few studs at 27 inches apart. Openings for the windows and door would have also been framed in during the wall construction. We must assume they used the floor to lay out and square the wall before nailing the studs together.

History does not record which they started to build first, but the longest walls seem logical. After nailing the studs to the stud plate for the floor, the interior tongue and grove sheathing was nailed to the wall while it was laying on the floor. The sheathing extended the full length of the wall. The opposite wall was assembled to match the angles and dimensions of  the first wall. The two shorter walls would have come to a peak to make the roof line, and assembled the same way as the longer walls. Bracing for the chimney on the north wall would have been added prior to nailing the sheathing. Each stud along the roof line of the short sides was notched and a 2 by 4 stud attached to tie them together.

Currently, none of the walls are square. The east wall leans toward the south 3 inches and the west wall leans 2 inches to the south. The effect of this lean is to cause the north and south walls to lean to the south because they are attached flush to the long walls.

Cordelia Lean

It is unclear if the alignment problem is due to age and sagging of the building or was part of the original construction. Clues come from the door, windows, building corners and construction. Sticking doors and windows are often early signs of structural failures. This article is focusing on the door because the windows were replaced during the 1948 restoration and the largest error is in the wall with the door. The door measures 31-11/16 inches wide at the top and 31-½ inches at the bottom. The door’s diagonal measures from top to hinge-side bottom at 86-½ and bottom to hinge-side top at 86-1/4 inches. The placement of a carpenter’s square shows the latch side of the door is 1/4 inch lower than the hinge side. If the door jam had shifted to the east due to age the upper edge of the door would have been planed, but the width of the door is 3/16 inch wider at the top than at the bottom. The kick rail (bottom board of the door) was 9-7/8 inches high on the hinge side and 10 inches high on the latch side. This would suggest the door bottom had never been planed to correct for shifting walls. Visual examination of the door suggests it was not planed enough to account for the wall skew.

Placement of the carpenter’s square on the top of the door jam on the hinge side shows the top of the jam is square, but the latch side of the top of the jam is ½ inch higher than expected. The west top edge of the door is flush with the jam. There is a 3/4 inch gap at the top of the east end of the door. The gap is consistent with the wall moving to the east with age. It also may have been introduced when the door jam was nailed into place.  The west door jam is leaning 2 inches to the east and the east jam is also 1-7/8 inch to the east. If the wall had shifted 4 inches to the east with age, the jams also should have moved the same. A shift of 4 inches would have caused major stress to the nails in the corners and at the jams, and this stress does not currently appear. The interior sheathing boards and exterior siding were double nailed at the ends and at each stud with square nails. The use of interlocking ship-lap sheathing for the interior walls and exterior siding added extra strength to prevent side-to-side shifting. Additional strength came from the square nails that prevented twisting. This would suggest most of the misalignment was introduced at construction.

The homesteaders set the walls upright and aligned them to the edge of the floor. They used a strip of metal near the top of the wall to tie the corners together. After the walls were set into place, the ship-lap siding was nailed to the exterior walls. The siding is also called ship-lap because of the grooved design like the flooring.

The roof construction used a 2 by 4 center-board for the ridge line that ran the length of the church. The rafters were 2 by 4s on 24 inch spacings to match the wall studs. A bevel cut was made to match the ridge angle and a bird’s mouth cut was made at the wall edge of the rafter. The bird’s mouth cut allowed the rafter to set flush on the wall. Typically, once the first rafter is cut, it is used as a pattern for the other rafter boards. The collar was attached 2 feet above the wall to make the ceiling taller and to give a unique design to the church. Gussets were placed on the rafters to give a curved ceiling effect on the west and east sides. The gussets also provided additional support for the roof. In 1999, additional gussets were added near the ridge line and cross bracing was added to further stabilize the roof.

Rafter design.

Once the rafters were in place the chimney bricks could be installed. The roof sheathing was nailed to the rafters and shingles nailed to the roof sheathing. With the roof completed, interior finish work could begin and exterior trim and soffits added. The interior finish work would include door, windows, and ceiling. It is unclear when the wainscot was installed on the lower part of the interior walls. It consists of interlocking wood strips to make a decorative panel. Wainscot was commonly used in buildings of this era to provide protection to the lower part of the wall and to add extra insulation. The wainscot was stained dark cherry and varnished after installation. It is assumed the wainscot was installed during the initial construction phase of 1883 since the pews were designed to attach directly to the wainscot.

The wallpaper was attached to the walls using a muslin liner. Wood walls shrink and swell with the weather and paper glued directly to the planks would tear and pull free. The muslin was tacked to the wall on the edges and shrunk tight with warm water. The border was likely salvage from a more elaborate border and larger construction project. It was common to cut out a pattern and use it for the border. Following installation of the wallpaper, the final trim around the windows and top of the wainscot was installed.

All but the two pews in the northeast corner were in the 1883 church. The wood was donated by Loth Carlson. The pews were of mission furniture design with simple end plate and supports. They were a mixed blessing to more than one homesteader because of their construction from Ponderosa pine. Florence Anderson, the organist for Cordelia, indicated a need to watch where you sat because several pews oozed tar (pine resin) and would ruin a good Sunday dress.

The front entryway was added in 1884. Reuben Norling wrote that the homesteaders were still completing the church in 1884 (1939 thesis: Peter Carlson, Pioneer Pastor of the Evangelical Augustana Synod of North America). Exterior painting and interior varnishing occurred in the spring of 1884 prior to the construction of the front entry. The raised altar may have been constructed in 1884.