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The Salvation Army's place in history

Exhibit highlights impact of religious group on Rose City
by: Courtesy of Salvation Army The Salvation Army is celebrating 125 years of service to the people of the Pacific Northwest. In this historic 1960s photo, Salvation Army band members perform songs on the street in Portland.

'To make a difference, one human being at a time' has been The Salvation Army's goal throughout its 146-year existence. And, the national Christian organization with the distinctive red shield logo has quite the history in the City of Roses.

For 125 of those years, The Salvation Army has helped change Portland lives, one at a time, and a new exhibit at the Oregon History Museum pays homage to its local philanthropy and influence.

'Red Shield of the Rose City,' tells the history of The Salvation Army's work in our city, which spans way beyond collecting loose change in its signature red kettles during the holidays. The exhibit runs through Dec. 31 at the museum, 1200 S.W. Park Ave.

'Almost everyone knows about The Salvation Army - their red shield is iconic - but not many people understand the actual origins of the organization and how they've been involved in big moments in Portland's history,' says Morgen Young, a consultant historian hired by the Oregon Historical Society to research and write for the exhibit.

It was 1886 when Capt. Mary Stillwell, leader of The Salvation Army's Cascade Division, set up the Pacific Northwest's first headquarters. She led the first open-air worship service on the corner of Southwest Fifth Avenue and Burnside Street.

Evidently Portlanders back then were not fond of being preached at - what else is new, right? - and were hostile to the 'Salvationists,' eventually turning a fire hose on Capt. Stillwell and badly injuring her.

The Salvation Army's message of help, hope and salvation eventually gave way to tolerance, however, and the organization has worked closely with the area's most in-need ever since. In May 1948, for example, the city of Vanport, home to nearly 40,000 people between Portland and the Columbia River, was ruined when about 200 feet of a dike, collapsed flooding the town. The Salvation Army led relief efforts, feeding and clothing more than 2,000 victims.

'From Camp Trestle Glen becoming the first Salvation Army summer camp established west of the Mississippi, to the Army hosting at that time the city's largest Thanksgiving dinner at PSU in 1971, there are numerous instances the organization has contributed to the historic fabric of this city,' Young says.

Visitors of the exhibit can view artifacts and pictures from many of these instances. Black and white images of early 20th century Portland line the walls, displaying significant figures of the local Salvation Army's past, including Joe 'the Turk' - a colorful Turkish-born 'spiritual father' who spent some time in an East Portland jail. A green wool female soldier uniform - probably similar to the one Capt. Stillwell adorned - is displayed proudly.

You can even take home a replica of the donut recipe members of The Salvation Army used to feed servicemen with at Union Station during World War I.

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Tribune Photo: Christopher Onstott • To commemorate the 125th anniversary of "soup, soap and salvation" in the Pacific Northwest, The Salvation Army has collaborated with the Oregon History Museum to create the original exhibit, 'Red Shield of the Rose City: 125 Years of The Salvation Army in Portland,' on display through December.

Booth's rowdy followers

The exhibit also displays information concerning The Salvation Army's original formation overseas in 1865. William Booth, a young minister who unconventionally preached in the streets of poor neighborhoods rather than in churches, hoped to win over the 'lost multitudes of England.'

Many churches would not accept Booth's followers, which were made up of thieves, prostitutes and gamblers, so he challenged his converts to save others like themselves. In only two years, Booth had gained more than 1,000 followers and would lead them throughout the British Isles and eventually into the United States, spreading the gospel worldwide.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the exhibit, though, is how telling it is of the organization's continued importance within the community. According to Constance Grecco, community relations director of The Salvation Army's Cascade Division, the organization is influencing the lives of close to 20 percent of the city's population.

The facts given on the display panels of the exhibit back up her claim. During the past century, The Salvation Army has opened Portland-area service centers and buildings, including a maternity home for unwed mothers and an apartment building for low-income seniors.

Today, there are four Army buildings in Southeast Portland alone.

'It shows the progress of what The Salvation Army started 125 years ago,' Grecco says. 'Society's needs have changed, but we're still here for the people.'

The organization has created a new logo - the famed red shield has downtown Portland's skyline behind it - to celebrate its 125 years of service to the city.


The exhibit is open each day, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (opening at noon on Sundays), through the end of December. Admission is free for residents of Multnomah County.

For more information, go to the Oregon Historical Society website, www.ohs.org , or www.salvationarmyportland.org .