The Glenburn Community Church
By Gary VanDeWalker
Glory DaysMay 2016
Story by Gary VanDeWalker
Photos by Taryn Burkleo
The lush green grass of the Fall River Valley pressed around the feet of George M. Rock as he surveyed the farmland he tended with care. In 1885, just as today, the valley spread out with dots of barns and outbuildings along the horizon. The day before, he had made quiet arrangements with his brother in the logging town of Dana to provide wood to build the Burgettville Christian Church. The hamlets of Burgettville and Swazey lay on either side of the property which Rock deeded to the church, providing it with a place of worship on Sundays.
The drive east from Redding on Highway 299 winds up into the mountains, looking for its terminus at the Nevada state border. The traveler passes through Burney and onward to McArthur, where a left turn onto McArthur Road (A-19) presents the church standing faithfully over the tranquil valley. Its white spire reaches up to the lazy clouds, standing straight like a proper lady waiting on her family to join her.
The town of Burgettvile faded into obscurity. Swazey changed its name to Glenburn. The church was neglected. In 1912, William Hollenbeak made repairs to the building, purchasing it and rededicating the building as Glenburn Community Church The town of Glenburn also met its demise, leaving the parish alone, but vigilant.
Today, the active congregation of the Glenburn church keeps the building alive. The structure was renovated in 1985, and a two-year attempt to remove dry rot began in 2009. Her longevity makes her the oldest church in Shasta County. Countless tourists with cameras seek her out, keeping her architecture in the eyes of admirers. Inside, white benches face the chancel, where each Sunday the pastor continues the faithfulness seen here over 131 years.
Next door is her partner, the Glenburn schoolhouse, built in the 1930s. Offices were added in the 1980s, made to match the form and character of the original buildings. Each Sunday morning, music swirls from the Fall River Theater piano, which is the centerpiece of the annual “Old Ivory Keys” piano concert, sponsored each year by the Fort Crook Historical Society.
Time moves in an eddy around the white wood walls. Horses have given way to cars, and her dirt roads are now paved. But the elegance and simplicity of the Rock brothers’ gift to the valley remain, a testimony to faith, pioneering and the steadfastness of the heart of community.