Tucked into the rolling hills of the Palouse off a gravel road northeast of Genesee stands Cordelia Lutheran Church. Once home to a congregation of Swedish Lutherans who lived in the area, the small white chapel now provides quiet respite for the community and, for the past decade, a summer concert series.
Elwood, Sally Burkhart, Paul Anders and others. The series was started as a way to use the church and to connect the community with the historic site, said Larry Lass, who helps manage the site through Friends of Cordelia, the nonprofit organization that oversees its care and use.
One Sunday in June, July, August and September, people gather, the windows and doors are opened and music spills out of the wooden building and into the shady lawn surrounding it. The church seats 50 in wooden pews; all but two are original to the church. For those picnicking on the outdoor tables or seated out on the grass, the sound
carries well and a breeze cools a warm summer day.
Built in 1883, the church was attended by Swedish immigrants who farmed the surrounding land. Few spoke English; it simply wasn’t necessary. Little interaction took place outside the small community and hand gestures generally sufficed for the times it did. The church would meet one Sunday a month, in part because its pastors would serve more than one church. The gathering could last all day and some of its members would travel for two days to attend.
The church stopped holding services in 1918. World War I had given people reason to learn English: they didn’t want to be associated with Germany or seen as un-American. At the same time, motorized vehicles became common and roads were built, making an eight-mile trip to town more feasible.
After the congregation moved on, the building suffered from neglect. It was used as a hunting cabin for a time and was nearly torn down. It was purchased by First Lutheran Church in Moscow in 1938 and in 1948,
Frances Olson Graham, the wealthy daughter of Andrew Olson, who had donated the land for the church, funded a restoration of the church building.
Since then, several groups and individuals have been responsible for the preservation of the site, including area Lutheran congregations. In the early 1990s, Michael Houser, a student at the University of Idaho, drew attention to the historic building through his senior project and Friends of Cordelia was formed to manage and maintain the site. In 1993, Beverly Walker Innocenti, of Moscow, provided funds to help with its preservation. The church was added to the National Registry of Historic Places in 1995.
Though the site is owned by Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Moscow, it’s offered as a historic community space that is open to all.
“If you need church, go to Emmanuel Lutheran. If you need a quiet place to meditate, walk around, then go to Cordelia,” Lass said.
Inside the building sits a pump organ, built in 1883, available for use. Pull out a few stoppers, get the pedals going, press the keys and rich tones begin to fill the room. A couple aged hymn books — one in English and two in Swedish — are available for use. Brochures about the church also sit inside.
What it doesn’t have, however, is plumbing and electricity. The church was built before electricity was available in the area. As for the plumbing, you’ll find a “two-holer” behind the church and a hand pump for water to the west side of the building.
Besides quiet visits, people come to Cordelia for picnics. The church is also available for weddings and family gatherings at no charge, which are coordinated through Friends of Cordelia.
“A lot of people come out for the peacefulness of it,” Lass said. “It’s amazing how many visitors we get even during the week.”
The guest book confirms that statement. During the summer, around 10 people came through the church’s doors each week. That its doors are never locked increases those numbers and has helped to minimize vandalism.
“It’s in use, it’s not an abandoned building,” Lass said.
With original colors of paint and wallpaper embellishments, the clean, simple and period-accurate restoration, the site offers a glimpse into a past era. More information about the church or Friends of Cordelia are available at www.cordeliachurch.org or the Cordelia Lutheran Church page on Facebook.
IF YOU GO:
WHAT: 10th anniversary concert of the Cordelia Summer Music Series
WHEN: 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday
WHERE: Cordelia Lutheran Church, 1501 Danielson Road in Genesee