History

The Sunday Oregonian, January 11, 1970

Leonard Bacon, Staff Writer

The church was built in 1899 by an early Oregonian homesteader, farmer, sea captain, river pilot and minister named John William Exon Jr. Exon’s occupations seem to have changed with the rapidity of the early-day boilers on the steamships he sailed.  Whenever one went “sky high” and he found himself alive, he returned to land, took up a homestead, began preaching and a church soon followed. He seldom stayed long enough to become a legend in any one place, or even to find his way into Portland’s early history. Just a short while as a farmer, then a minister, then back on the river at a ship’s helm.

Exon was born at a small landing on Government Island in the Columbia River known as Fisher’s Landing, in 1866. His father was a salty English “deep sea captain” of the old school who operated his own ship.   The father, John William Exon Sr., drowned in the wreckage of his boat, the “Carrie B. Lake” when it broke up while crossing the Columbia River Bar on Jan. 3, 1886. John Jr. followed in his father’s footsteps and became the youngest person to have a masters license on the river when he was 21.   

He married and moved to Portland where his only child, Jenny, was born. During this period of time, he made a regular run between Portland and Astoria. Jenny, now Mrs. George Kitzmiller, doesn’t remember why, but following a river mishap the family moved to an abandoned homestead near Dover when she was seven years old. Her father took up farming but soon was conducting Sunday morning services in an old log cabin. The cabin had been formerly a school but had been abandoned when a new frame building was built immediately north of it.

Of the early church services in the log cabin, Mrs. Kitzmiller has only on recollection- one that was etched by her mother’s hand. “All the neighborhood hogs chose to use the space between the floor and the dirt of the cabin as their favorite rooting place. On Sunday mornings when the congregation raised  their voices in the loud hymn singing, the hogs would join in.   Every time the hymn went high- the hogs would let loose.” The minister’s wife slapped her daughter for giggling at the pigs’ accompaniment.  

In 1899, her father led the congregation in building a new church beside the cabin.   

“The lumber for the building all was hauled by wagon from George” she recalls. Her future husband, George Kitzmiller, was in charge of the hauling and she can still remember him riding a horse at the head of the huge wagon of lumber as it made its way to the church site at the top of the hill.   

Nearly all the materials used in it’s construction, and all labor were donated, she recalls.   The first services in the church were sometime late in 1899.

John William Exon Jr. was ordained a minister in the Methodist Church in 1901. He became a circuit rider of the area and was responsible for at least two more churches in the area- one in Sandy to replace an older building and another in Boring. Both are now gone.

Once the Dover Church was finished, people came from miles around, according to Mrs. Kitzmiller. Most brought their dinner with them and after the service, the pews would be pulled back,  a table set up, and everyone would have dinner. During the afternoon gossip was swapped before the congregation started the long trip home in the hills.

Special Sundays in the church were when the district superintendent preached. On these Sundays people came from everywhere for a service that often lasted most of the day. Many came the night before due to the distance they had to travel and stayed with friends near the church.

Rev. Exon is known to have had ministries at Monitor, Dayton, Sheridon, Beaverton and Mt. Zion before settling in Jennings Lodge about 1917. He gave up the ministry and returned to the river for good.   Between his church work he had also worked boats on the Willamette.

Captain Exon made his last voyage on the Columbia River in 1930. A ship he owned, a fully loaded grain ship, was lost in some rapids during a storm. He never quite recovered from the mishap, and died in Portland Sept. 28, 1931.

Dover never quite made it into being a town, Mrs. Kitzmiller recalls. At one time it had about 75 residents, a supply store, and a post office. The area was prone to brush and forest fires. As the result of several fires, which destroyed many of the homes between 1900 and 1910, the population gradually declined. The post office was discontinued in 1911.    

A small, wooden, dilapidated structure behind the church containing old desks was once a pony shed, according to Mrs. Kitzmiller. “Many people rode saddle horses to church in those days. The shed was built to keep the leather saddles dry while the riders attended church,” she said.

After the demise of Dover the church continued to serve the area for many years, although not as a Methodist church. Several congregations have used the church- the last only six years ago.

But of Dover, 1900, only the church remains architecturally unchanged. Two other buildings, the school and the Kitzmiller home across the road are still there, but both have been altered, and bear little resemblance to the original structures.