A historic symbol of bygone days in Echo, St. Peter’s Catholic Church has sat mostly empty for more than 20 years.
Constructed in 1913, the church was de-consecrated in 1996. Echo City Administrator Diane Berry said the Echo Alter Society didn’t want to see the building become privately owned, which resulted in the Diocese of Baker donating it to the Fort Henrietta Foundation.
The idea was that it would become a museum. Constructed in the Portuguese Colonial Revival style, it features a distinctive stucco facade. The interior houses ornate statues and a faux marble altar.
Shortly after being gifted to the foundation, an architectural study was conducted on the building. A Kinsman Foundation grant provided funding for a new roof and some basic stabilization, Berry said. It was subsequently added to the National Register of Historic Places on Aug. 28, 1997. However, that’s when most activity with the building came to a standstill.
According to Phyllis Shovelski, the Echo Kiwanis approached the Fort Henrietta Foundation last July, offering to raise money and work towards minimizing the building’s degradation. The group helped raise money through an Oktoberfest celebration in 2016 and has arranged work crews and received assistance through reduced rates and in-kind labor.
Michael Duffy, Echo Kiwanis president, said local help has generously come from Dick Snow of Muleshoe Ranches and Rock Pit, Dave Smith of O So Kleen, Larry Ables of BD Ables Construction, beekeeper James Simpson of Baker City, Hermiston Glass, Lloyd Piercy, Jake Broyles, the Echo Fire Department and a score of Kiwanis volunteer laborers.
The future plans for the building are up in the air, but the consensus is the Fort Henrietta Foundation and the Echo Kiwanis want to save the structure.
“People that see it, whether they are Catholic or not, they love this place,” Duffy said.
The Fort Henrietta Foundation and Echo Kiwanis are hosting an open house to hopefully increase interest in the building and maybe get some ideas on how to move forward. Organizers also are hoping to hear more about the building’s history.
The open house is Sunday from 2-4 p.m. at 33208 Marble St., Echo. Refreshments will be provided by H&P Café. In addition, tours will be available by Berry, secretary of the Fort Henrietta Foundation, with assistance from Kiwanis volunteers.
Also, a volunteer work party is Saturday at 8 a.m. Duffy invites the public to grab a pair of gloves and show up to help.
“Here we are 20 years later ... what will become of it?” Duffy pondered. “We intend to give a nudge for serious fundraising. We want to see this go forward.”
Berry said preservation and restoration should be important to everyone. For Echo, she said, the old St. Peter’s church is an icon and an important symbol in telling the story of Echo’s unique Azorean Portuguese, the early sheep industry and the significance men like Joseph Cunha and his contributions to the region’s history.
“We as a community feel that our history and our heritage represented by our historic buildings and sites is what makes us special and unique,” Berry said.
Now, for the old St. Peter’s church it comes down to focusing on the project and financing the work that needs to be done.
“It’s a treasure, you can’t replace it,” Duffy said.
For more information, contact Duffy at 541-303-5730, firstname.lastname@example.org or Joe Ramos at 509-366-3980.