The First Congregational Church was founded at the corner of Liberty and Center Streets with Obed Dickinson as minister. Charlotte and Obed Dickinson had been newlyweds in November of 1852 when they embarked on the long voyage around the Horn to Obed’s assignment as a Congregational minister in frontier Oregon. Landing in Portland the following April, they had personal baggage and simple furnishings for their home: a stove, table, chairs, and bedding. It took them eighteen days to transport their belongings and themselves by boat and cart to Salem, a village of 500 people, ten dry goods stores, four physicians, a flouring mill, various mechanics – and five other ministers, all Methodist. His church was an abandoned schoolhouse at Commercial and Marion Streets described as “dirty as a pig sty, its floor covered with mud.” Boarding was too expensive, so Obed purchased a half acre of land, deep in the brush between Front Street and the river, for a small 16 by 26 feet home.

His conflict with the membership, especially the founding Gilbert family, arose when he allowed African-Americans to attend services and one couple to marry there (see below). His wife Charlotte taught four of these women to read and write. Obed resigned his pulpit four years later, becoming a successful seed merchant. This church building was replaced in 1905. The third construction is at the corner of Marion and Cottage Streets, location of the boyhood home of A. C. Gilbert, demolished in 1941.