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By Jan Siegel

Editor’s note: This is the first part in a three-part series.

Most of the founding families in San Juan Capistrano are associated with the Mission.  The names of Forster, Avila, Belardas, Rios, Hun, Oyharzabal and Egan are familiar names in town.  But there is another group of leading citizens who are not connected with the Mission.  They were the members of the Community Presbyterian Church, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this December.

In 1911, the old abandoned Baptist church was moved from its original location behind the Mission to Camino Capistrano, where it was renamed Woodman Hall because the Order of Woodmen used it as their meeting place. It became a gathering place for the community as a dance hall on Saturday nights and a place to watch movies. 

While most citizens in town were Catholic and belonged to the Mission, there was no Protestant church for those who were not Catholic.  In 1916, three women began the first Protestant Sunday School in San Juan Capistrano in the Woodman Hall.  Blanche Dolph, Lucilla McGaughey and Margaret Day had all recently moved to the Capistrano area and saw the need for establishing a Protestant Sunday School. 

They recruited Paul Stevens, a Sunday School missionary living in Santa Ana, to survey the Protestant families in the community of San Juan Capistrano with the idea of starting a Sunday School.  On September 10, 1916, the Sunday School was organized and met at Woodman Hall.  Before classes could start, the women had to sweep and clean up the debris from the dances held the night before. 

Whenever possible, the minister from the newly formed Laguna Beach Church drove to San Juan after services at his church to preach in Woodman Hall.  As attendance grew, the need for a Protestant Church became more and more apparent.  Paul Stevens was again recruited to canvass the community and received the signatures of those who desired to become members of a church.  On Sunday, December 7, 1919, 48 members of the community met in Woodman Hall to organize a Presbyterian church.  Rev. Stevens conducted the meeting and read the following petition:

“We, the undersigned, feeling the need of a closer cooperation in developing the spiritual and social life of the community, so agree to become members of an organization to be known as the San Juan Capistrano Community Presbyterian Church.”

The 48 charter members: Mrs. H. S. Barnes, Marian Barnes, Ruth Barnes, Mrs. M.E. Beckwith, Mr. and Mrs. Earl Coleman, Mr. and Mrs. C.R. Cook (Margaret Day), Mr. and Mrs. C.C. Crookshank, Mr. Charles E. and Mrs. Viola B.Crumrine, Miss Blache Dolph, Viola Gockley, Marjorie James, Mr. and Mrs. Frank N. Leavitt, Mr. O.F. Leierman, Mrs. Addie F. McCarty, Mr. J.H. McCarty, Floyd McDaniel, Miss Lucilla McGaughey, Edward and Elva McHenry, Mrs. Mary McHenry, Miss Helen L. Meriam, Mrs. Nora E. Merriam, Mrs. and Mrs. Charles R. Phifer, Melvin Rosenbaum, Mr. Robert and Mrs. Margaret Scott, Mrs. H. A. Stewart, Arnold Stroshcein, Carl L.Stroschein, Mrs. Frederica Stroschein, Pauline Stroschein, Miss Mary J. Thomas, Mrs. Isabella B. Thomson, Miss Mollie E. Vaughn, Mr. and Mrs Guy Williams and  Margaret Woodward.

The Articles of Incorporation were adopted on December 28, 1919.  Rev. Paul Stevens and Dr. Guy Wadsworth served as supply ministers to the new church until 1921.  Dr. A.H. Burkholder served the Laguna Beach church and the San Juan Capistrano church until August 1923.  It was under Dr. Burkholder that Richard Egan sold a lot at 31642 El Camino Real to the church for $500. Mr. and Mrs. Guy Williams donated the adjoining lot to the original church site.  

As the Church grew, so did the membership and in October, 1966, the church and grounds were purchased by the Community Christian Church. In 1965, C. Russell Cook had donated three acres for a new church home to the Community Presbyterian congregation, and the church moved to 32202 Del Obispo, where it remains today. The early supporters of the Community Presbyterian Church were also very influential in the development of San Juan Capistrano, as our community grew from a Mission town into an incorporated city.

Joel Congdon came to California in 1868 and was the first American-born citizen to settle in San Juan Capistrano. He purchased 160 acres and planted the first walnut trees in Orange County.  He built one of the oldest remaining homes in San Juan Capistrano. His house, now part of The Ecology Center, is on the National Registry of Historic Places. His farm, also part of The Ecology Center, was part of the Open Space Bond passed by the city citizens in 1990. 

Jan Siegel was a 33-year resident of San Juan Capistrano and now resides in the neighboring town of Rancho Mission Viejo. She served on the city’s Cultural Heritage Commission for 13 years, has been a volunteer guide for the San Juan Capistrano Friends of the Library’s architectural walking tour for 26 years and is currently the museum curator for the San Juan Capistrano Historical Society. She was named Woman of the Year by the Chamber of Commerce in 2005, Volunteer of the Year in 2011 and was inducted into the city’s Wall of Recognition in 2007.

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