Smith County, Texas

This page is sponsored by the East Texas Genealogical Society



by Vicki Betts

Before there was a town of Tyler, before there was a Smith County, the sparse settlers of central East Texas were served not by circuit-riding preachers, but by dedicated Methodist preachers such as Jefferson Shook, who often walked between his appointments. Daniel Barecroft remembered the first time he saw Shook:

One day they saw a young man walking up to their rude cabin and asked if Daniel Barecroft lived there. Being told that he did, the youth informed them that he was a Methodist preacher, and had been sent by the Conference to preach to the people there. Said Bro. Barecroft, "I thought he was the poorest looking chance for a preacher I had ever seen, a beardless boy, pale and weary-worn, a circuit rider on foot. He was hungry and tired. My wife fixed him some dried venison and bread, the best we had on hand, and he partook, after which he had prayers with us. I thought it was the best prayer I had ever heard--so devout--so full of faith. The young preacher left an appointment to preach; I gave it circulation, got him a congregation; and brethren, I thought it was the best preaching I had ever heard; I was hungry for preaching. 1

Lizzie Slagle also remembered Shook. She had walked five miles to hear one of his sermons in a log cabin in East Texas. He also organized a Sunday School with a class of five members. Three families took part, two of the children coming five miles to attend. Because money was scarce, Shook was paid partially in handknit socks, suspenders, and homespun pants. 2

Tyler became seat of the new Smith County in 1846. Within a year, Methodists began meeting in the new frontier town. They joined other Protestant Christians in union church services held in one of the earliest courthouses, a log building twenty by twenty-six feet located on present-day West Ferguson Street across from the square. This building contained five rude benches, seating a maximum of twenty persons. Local and circuit-riding Methodist preachers, including Sam C. Box and William Craig, took turns preaching along with pastors of other denominations. This union church moved the following year to the new log courthouse in the center of the square, and the religious life of Tyler expanded to include an interdenominational Sunday School. 3

In 1848 Sam Box, William Craig, and Jeff Shook held a Methodist protracted meeting in the new courthouse. A protracted meeting was a revival--often with morning, afternoon, and evening preaching--which might last a week or more, depending on the crowd's response to the message. Many were converted at this 1848 protracted meeting, and the Methodists decided to be the first denomination to withdraw from the union services and to worship on their own. Temporary quarters were found in the blacksmith shop of James and George Adams located on the south side of the square halfway between Broadway and Spring Avenue. At this point, Tyler was considered part of the Smith County Mission, with a county-wide membership of 122. 4

In 1849, the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, at Tyler became the first organized congregation of any denomination in Smith County. Sam Box and William Craig, along with Alexander Douglas, a lay preacher, helped set up the new church. According to William S. Herndon, there were only three original members, one of whom was a slave. Others list the charter members as including the Alexander Douglas family, the Dick Tutt family, John C. Bulger and his wife, Jeff Hays, Green B. Epperson, George L. Ellis, and Matti Seeton, for a total of about twenty-five persons. Local preachers, ordained but neither assigned nor paid, provided early church leadership. They included Douglas, Henry Starr, Joshu Starr, and Joshua Ginn. 5

The next step was to acquire a lot on which to construct a church building. William Henry Starr, George L. Ellis, Green B. Epperson, John M. Douglas, John N. McKinley, James M. Rush and Stephen M. Sanders, trustees of Methodist Episcopal Church, South, at Tyler, put in the highest bid on lot three, block eight at a public auction June 19, 1848. This lot is at the southeast corner of Bois d'Arc Avenue and Erwin Street, immediately across the street and to the east of the present sanctuary. It would take eight years for the promissory notes to be marked "paid in full." 6

By April 1849 the Methodist Church was placed on the new Tyler Circuit, Palestine District, East Texas Conference, and in 1850 Neil Brown was assigned to lead the circuit as the first regularly appointed pastor. Other pre-Civil War assignments on the circuit included Pleasant Hill, Liberty, Asbury Chapel, Rocky Mount, Jamestown, Starrville, Chapel Hill, and possibly Garden valley, although the latter soon became part of its own circuit. 7

Organizing a separate Sunday School was the next step in establishing a functional Methodist Church in Tyler. On July 4, 1852, Rev. Wells organized the first Methodist Sunday School in his home on North Broadway across from the current Chamber of Commerce building, with approximately twenty-five teachers students. 8

Neil Brown was followed by H. B. Hamilton in 1851 and J. W. Tullis in 1853. Tyler and Smith County were growing rapidly due to heavy immigration from the other Southern states, John W. Fields, Palestine district's new presiding elder in 1854, remembered that in 1850:

It was not uncommon in traveling through these counties (Anderson, Cherokee, and Smith) to find families in camps, while they were cutting logs to build cabins, clearing lands, etc. There were no vacant houses to be obtained, or lands to be rented--all had been taken in the fall. The population in several counties had been doubled in that single year. 9

It was time for Tyler Methodists to leave the blacksmith shop and teacher's home and build a church on their new lot just west of downtown.

John W. Fields was sent to Tyler specifically to accomplish this goal by November of 1854 because the East Texas Conference would be meeting there at the end of the year. He looked over the subscription list, or pledges, for the year, totalling a few hundred dollars, and estimated that only half could actually be collected. "I think we had, all told, about a half dozen male members, and they were plucky, but unfortunately poor." Upon hearing that the St. John's Masonic Lodge No. 53 was considering replacing their current, unsafe lodge, Fields, although not a Mason, approached the fraternity and proposed combining resources to accomplish both goals. The Masons accepted, and a joint planning committee was established. Fields solicited funds all over Tyler and Smith County and then traveled to the more heavily populated Marshall area to gather a few hundred dollars, enough to start construction. The cornerstone was laid on August 11, 1855, with a Masonic ceremony. 10

The new building was a two-story, frame, "barn-like" structure, with the Masons occupying the upper floor and the Methodists the lower one. According to the 1885 Sanborn insurance maps of Tyler, the building was approximately 40 feet by 65 feet, with the longer dimension running east and west, and the gables on the east and west ends. The building sat about 45 feet back from present-day West Erwin, and 10 feet from South Bois d'Arc. At the northeast corner stood a six-feet-square tower that children were told was used in mysterious Masonic rituals, possibly involving a goat. Stairs on the south side of the building, running up to the southwest corner, were shown on the Sanborn maps, although other sources place the stairs on the north side. Seating capacity was said to total about 600. The construction contract was let to Alexander and Templeton. Meanwhile, Fields' wife "turned agent during the session of the Supreme Court [then meeting one of its sessions in Tyler] and solicited money to purchase a bell and seat the house." Fields was still sweeping out the rubbish and arranging the furniture when the Bishop arrived to open the annual conference in the new building. The local church was still $500 in debt from the purchase of the land and the construction, but on the day that Bishop Early was set to dedicate the building "responsible parties" pledged enough to cover the full amount. "Never was this preacher relieved of a more heavy load then when this debt was assumed." 11

The middle nineteenth-century Methodist church varied from the twentieth-century church in a number of ways worth examining. Most churches were on a circuit of about twenty-six appointments with two preachers, one senior and one junior. Each preacher made a round, meeting with each church once a month, preaching each day of the week except Monday. Therefore, there was preaching at each church twice a month. Local preachers or lay leaders might fill in to complete other church duties. This load lessenened as the century progressed and more and more churches became stations, each with its own preacher. 12

Camp meetings were considered a powerful tool to convert the unbeliever and strengthen the member. Camp grounds were established in at least five locations in Smith County, including ones near Pleasant Retreat, Center, and Starrville. Families would drive their wagons many miles to meetings, which were usually held in late August or early September during a lull in farming. They would camp in tents or crude cabins near water and shade. Several area pastors rotated preaching morning, afternoon, and night, for up to two weeks at a time. An early Texas Methodist historian wrote:

Preachers and people were engaged in singing, praying, exhorting, and close religious conversations, until the whole atmosphere became pervaded with a devotional spirit. Scenes witnessed on such occasions produced impressions never to be forgotten . . . . . Convictions were pungent and powerful, conversions sudden and numerous, and Christians were wonderfully blessed.

Many were struck to the ground or became "shouting happy." W. N. Bonner, a long-time Tyler preacher, recalled his conversion camp-meeting:

Right then and there the burden rolled away and I found peace, and felt the way of salvation was so simple and plain that I could explain it to all that desired to be saved. I rose to tell it. There was a period of time in which I do not know what I did or said. When came to myself I was near the center of a large arbor and had the attention of a large audience. There was an infidel doctor of my acquaintance looking me in the face apparently amazed. He was somewhat impressed, for ever afterwards he treated me with great respect. 13

Each church would have one or more class-leaders

whose duty it was to see each member of his class once a week; to inquire how their souls prospered; to advise, reprove, comfort or exhort as occasion required. It is expected of all those that desire to be saved from their sins that they should manifest that desire by doing no harm and by doing good to the souls and bodies of men, reading the scriptures, fasting and prayer. Therefore in order to [do] these things the leader propounded the above questions to each member of his class.

Class meetings might be held in conjunction with preaching services, and in some areas attendance was considered mandatory for church membership.14

Love feasts, usually closed to non-members of the church, were occasionally held, often as a part of a conference meeting or as a prelude to a sermon and communion service. After an "introductory service," members would rise and give testimony to their conversion or to other experiences in their religious life.15

Before the Civil War, most frontier Methodist churches did not own pianos or organs, and, in fact, the use of instrumental music was considered controversial in some congregations. Organized choirs were also suspect to some who looked back on the "good old days" when there were none, but congregational singing was always a strong pillar in the Methodist church service. 16

Social issues have always been of interest to the East Texas Methodist, but the social issues of the mid-nineteenth century differed greatly from those of today. Before the Civil War, many considered slavery to be ordained by God, although the slave owner was told that the slaves should be treated kindly and that attention should be paid to their spiritual welfare.
Methodists were among the strongest allies of the temperance movement, as in Tyler, and for years the church battled the local liquor interests. Education was considered the proper sphere of the church, not the state, and public schools, particularly colleges, were not supported during the early years. In 1858 the East Texas Conference passed a resolution opposing the attendance by church members at "theatres, circuses, balls, and dances of every description," even those used as charity events, as "diversions as cannot be used in the name of the Lord Jesus," and members were also admonished that "the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit is far preferable to extravagance of dress and jewelry. "17

The years between the construction of the Tyler church in 1854 and the Civil War were years of growth. While John W. Fields served as presiding elder, Francis M. Stovall and Abner Brown served as circuit preachers. Samuel Lynch and Isaac Alexander took over after the 1855 annual conference. Lynch stayed on in 1856, with a pastor for the Tyler African mission to be supplied, followed by Neil Brown again. John W. Fields returned to Tyler Circuit in 1858 and 1859, the latter year being the first that Tyler Station reported a separate membership of 58 white members, 35 white probationary members, 26 black members, and two local preachers. During 1859 Fields reported a net increase of 50 white members and some black members, and the organization of a juvenile Missionary Society. In 1860 the Tyler women provided the church with a chandelier, new carpeting, and curtains. Sunday School had 50 in attendance and a library of 400 to 500 volumes.18

William Witcher took over the Tyler Circuit in November 1860. The Sunday School at the Tyler Station reportedly had over one hundred members. Levi R. Dennis and James M. Seeton followed in 1861 as the Civil War began, and more and more of the men were pulled away to serve in the Confederate Army. John W. Fields came back to Tyler in 1862 and 1863 but found that "owing to the great drain by the war of the best portion of our male membership, I could do but little." Occasionally church attendance would swell as troops passing through town on Sundays stopped to attend services at the Methodist Church, seated as a company down front. At least once, when General Henry McCulloch assembled four regiments around Tyler during the summer of 1862, the Methodist Church was one of the buildings used as a hospital. Church services resumed in September after the troops departed for Arkansas. The Sunday School, though greatly reduced, continued on through the war. Church membership dropped from 90 white members in 1860 to 49 in 1868. The 42 black members had started establishing congregations of their own in Tyler, but the loss of white members might be due to the deaths of the local soldiers or possibly to the general disillusionment that came with the end of the war. 19

The post war years were quiet. The following ministers served the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, at Tyler from 1867 until 1870: 1867--William Witcher, 1868--John W. Fields, 1869--E. P. Rogers, and 1870--I. Alexander. Bettie Dorough's father was appointed presiding elder of the Palestine District, and she later recalled moving to Tyler on Christmas Day, 1869. Dorough found "a small, but zealous, Sabbath school" led by John Neal which included the Neal family, W. S. Herndon (teacher of the Bible Class), John B. Douglas, W. L. Dawson and children, Rev. James Gill (a local preacher), Mrs. Sarah Williams and family, Rev. S. W. Turner and brother, the children of Mr. Niblack, M. R. Johnson and children, the daughter of Judge S. Gibbs, Miss Katie Walker, Rev. and Mrs. J. M. Seeton, and a few others. Within one year the Sunday School had grown into a "very large body." By the end of 1871 the Tyler congregation was starting back up with 67 members. 20

The Tyler church achieved a little more stability with its ministers during the next fifteen years. J. F. Riggs stayed for only 1872, but he was followed by Robert S. Finley, 1873-1875; S. W. Turner, 1876; Robert S. Finley again, 1877-1878; U. B. Phillips, 1879-1882; W. A. Sampey, 1883-1884; and Joel T. Daves, 1885-1886. Protracted meetings continued annually, often with wonderful results. Robert Finley reported one such meeting in 1873 which lasted over eighteen days, "and still our large church is filled with attentive hearers every evening, and the altar with anxious penitents . . . . . That form of 'Christianity in earnest,' known as Methodism, is no longer an experiment in our little city." By the end of the meeting fifty persons had joined the church. Finley wrote:

It is impossible to estimate the real value of this work, except from a Tyler standpoint--the town and people must be known--the extent to which the views of Universalism had infected the people, the previous indifference of many clever people to the claims of Christianity, the preaching of the gospel, and the services of the sanctuary ... Methodism is not only "Christianity in earnest," but Christianity on fire--flaming in zeal and love for the reclamation and salvation of a lost world. A gospel without power is a defective gospel, and a Methodist Church without zeal is a misnomer. 21

Sunday School continued to be an important part of Methodist Tyler's religious life. Sabbath School began each Sunday at 9 a.m. and lasted until the preaching service at 11 a.m. By 1878 Thomas R. Bonner had become superintendent, a position he held until his Death in 1891. Under Bonner, the school and its teachers became recognized as "excellent and well-trained," "very successful," "lively," and "a vine rich with foliage and laden with lucious fruit." By the end of 1884, the Sunday School had 19 teachers, 171 students, and 350 volumes in the library. Teaching resembled that of the public schools of the time, where the teachers and students were questioned by the congregation at the end of the term--"Self pride inspires a desire to answer promptly and correctly, which cannot be done without study and investigation." 22

Prayer meeting was conducted each Wednesday evening at 7 p.m., with attendance over one hundred in 1881. A typical prayer meeting might consist of thirty minutes in prayer and song and thirty minutes in "a general discussion of some Biblical topic, previously announced, in which several persons have participated," or else Bible readings. From time to time other prayer meetings were organized, such as the non-denominational Christian Association, or a young men's prayer meeting.

The Methodist Episcopal Church, South, at Tyler, had organized a choir by 1872, which practiced on Sunday afternoons at 3:00 and on Wednesday evenings. Mrs. M. B. Adams remembered that Mrs. W. G. Cain organized the first church choir. Miss Jessie James was Sunday School organist in 1878, and Mr. T. James was leader of the chorus. After Miss James, Mrs. M. T. Cherry was Sunday School organist followed by Will McBride. 24

Other church groups were also formed during these years. Mrs. M. B. Adams organized the Woman's Foreign Missionary Society in 1882 and served as its first president along with Mrs. John Burke, vice-president, and Mrs. Shuford Cousins, recording secretary. Affiliated with the W.F.M.S was a large juvenile society which had 40 members by 1886. Mrs. A. Woldert organized the Star Circle for young ladies and young married women of the church. Although not a Methodist group, the Woman's Christian Temperance Union gained considerable Methodist support in Tyler, along with its juvenile society, the Band of Hope. 25

During the spring of 1873 the Tyler congregation constructed a new parsonage valued at approximately $1000 during the term of Robert S. Finley, and it underwent major repairs during the winter of 1884-1885. By February 18, 1886, the pastor was receiving an allowance of $20 per month "in lieu of the parsonage," but a $2000 parsonage continued to be reported in conference records. A search of the deed records has not uncovered the location of this early parsonage. 26

Over the years, the Tyler congregation changed from "plucky but poor" to "one of the most intelligent we have ever addressed" filled with "statesmen, jurists, bankers, and merchants."

The churches are thronged with well dressed, attentive congregations, in which there is the element of a true, intelligent devotion; from which there arises an aroma of spiritual fervor which is a sweet savor to the pulpit, warming into flame the zeal of the preacher. 27

Joel Daves, the Methodist minister, 1885-1886, saw it in a different way:

It is needful to say that for many years all the churches in Tyler have been cold, formal and unspiritual. It was not an uncommon thing for members of the different churches to be in the theatre, or at a dance, or social card-party instead of the prayer-meeting. Many had seriously backslidden and many had fallen into open sin. Many leading members attended church only on Sunday mornings--never at night service, and never in the social meetings. Such a thing as a deep, wide-reaching, all-pervading revival religion, according to the testimony of some, has not been for more than twenty-five years. 28

Daves was determined to change this. Within his first month in Tyler, he made over 200 visits to his parishioners and held nearly 100 services of family prayer. He added two cottage prayer meetings to the regular Wednesday night service. By the end of the year he had made 1500 visits, held ten public prayer meetings and two cottage prayer meetings each week, "and the best preaching the pastor could do--all, all seemed to go for naught." In early spring of 1886 he sent out an "earnest, pleading circular letter. It was blessed of God." The congregation began to respond, and Daves scheduled a protracted meeting to begin on Sunday, April 18. Local ministers began the preaching, followed by Dick Burnett, a Texas evangelist who arrived on April 30, and Abe Mulkey, who assisted beginning on May 5. "The congregations increased day by day until with two hundred added seats there was not even standing room. The windows, the aisles, the vestibule, and at times the yard, were full of people." By the end of the meeting on May 23, 175 new members had joined the Methodist Church, with more anticipated. The Baptists had added nearly one hundred from the same service. 29

The power and influence of the meeting goes on. The conversions in private homes, the family altars established, the increased congregations, the enlarged Sunday-schools, the interesting prayer-meetings, all bear testimony to its living power and deepening influence. I think that for fifty years to come ours will be spoke [sic) of as "Tyler's meeting." 30

It was at this time that serious discussions began concerning the need to build a new church. The old building had remained virtually unaltered since it was constructed in 1854. A new bell had been added in 1880, purchased from the St. Louis foundry of L. M. Rumsey Company. New walnut pews had been installed in 1881. However, the old frame structure, valued at $4000, was "rather shaky, the foundations weak, and in a high wind [it) would creak and shake in an alarming fashion." Some members refused to stay in it during storms, fearing that it would fall down around them. Besides, the Presbyterians had constructed a new sanctuary on the corner of Ferguson and North Bois d'Arc in 1883, and the Baptists had also built a new church on North Bois d'Arc in 1886. 31

In early 1886, the official board resolved to "erect a good church building," and they designed a plan to raise the early funding by a system of early contributions. In December of 1887 the church and the Masonic divided the lot that the building with the church owning the and the lodge the west half. The deed also stated that the sheriff was to sell the building at the courthouse door and the buyer was to remove it within sixty days. Until it was sold and removed, both groups could continue to use the building. 32

Meanwhile, H. M. DuBOSE replaced Daves in December 1886, and during his pastorate a new Tyler mission was inaugurated in northeast Tyler. This became Cedar Street Methodist Episcopal Church, South, the second Methodist church in Tyler. The new congregation was intended to minister to the working classes, primarily railroad people, who had moved into the newer sections of town. 33

D. F. C. Timmons followed H. M. DuBose in December 1888, and the first Tyler congregation continued to meet in the old "barn." W. S. Herndon, T. R. Bonner, and B. W. Rowland, the building committee, met and planned the new sanctuary. In July 1888 the church purchased the one-hundred-foot square lot directly across South Bois d'Arc to the west of the old building from Robert T. and Mary E. Dorough for $500. In March 1890 the church, through trustees W. S. Herndon, E. C. Williams, R. T. Dorough, Thomas R. Bonner, and Charles T. Bonner, added another one-hundred-foot square just west of the previous purchase, to make a substantial lot for the new church building. 34

The "farewell services" were held in the old frame church on the night of September 1, 1889. The women had decorated it one last time, and the history of the structure was related, how the membership had started as a handful of people in a building at the edge of the forest. D. F. C. Timmons, John B. Douglas, John Adams, and T. R. Bonner spoke "of the great and good men that have spoken from the pulpit; of the hundreds that have been converted within its walls." "The large audience alternately laughed and cried," and then the choir and congregation joined in singing "How Firm a Foundation." The old church was soon torn down and the lot sold. Tyler station's congregation moved to City Hall of the corner of North College and West Locust and held services there for two years, "the most inconvenient and unpropitious place I (D. F. C. Timmons) ever saw." The church bell was lent to the city and moved to a tower on top of the Smith County courthouse to be used as a fire alarm bell. 35

Timmons announced in January 1890 that the Rev. Sam Jones of Georgia was scheduled to lead a protracted meeting in Tyler, and soon there was "a perfect buzz in all the country adjacent and many from a distance write that they are coming." Sam Jones was the best known evangelist in the country at that time, and Timmons had taken a controversial step in inviting him to Tyler. Some saw evangelists as temporary aids which should not overshadow the hard, day-to-day work of the regular preachars. Others, however, saw the value of using evangelists to stop the "worldliness of large city congregations," "a people hurrying to hell." Jones may have been criticized for his "vulgarisms" and his use of humor in the pulpit, but no other preacher of his time could move a congregation as he could. 36

Tyler station built a large tabernacle on the block sided by West Ferguson, North Bois d'Arc, and West Erwin, across from the new lot. It consisted of four sheds 27 feet wide and 112 feet long, running east and west. A platform was built on the west end, 28 feet by 30 feet, which held a speaker's stand, an organ, and a piano. Four large stoves heated the structure fairly adequately. The building was designed to hold 4500 people. 37

Jones arrived in Tyler and preached for ten days, at least twice a day, beginning on Friday morning, February 28, 1890. The railroads offered lowered rates and every hotel in town filled with visitors. At least one hundred preachers came to Tyler to hear the great man speak. Tyler school trustees declared a school holiday for the duration of the meeting, and the children were marched to the tabernacle and given a choice to go in or to go home. This move did not please all of the parents, some of whom protested to the state school superintendent. 38

Although Jones was a Methodist preacher, pastors from the local Baptist, Presbyterian, and Cumberland Presbyterian churches shared the platform with the Methodists, and when people came forward, they joined any of these congregations. On Jones's last Sunday in Tyler, 7000 attended the services, despite, or perhaps because, Jones had dared to speak out against the liquor interests and against "sin in high places as well as low," including the local Teneha Club, a "fashionable social affair," where boys could play billiards on Sunday mornings and where one could order drinks in from the saloon next door. It was reported that at least 1000 were converted at this meeting, but no definite count was taken. During that year alone, however, the Tyler station did list a 22% increase in membership. The church also raised pledges for $85,000 toward the new sanctuary, and prospects looked extremely bright. 39

Ground breaking for the new church probably took place in August 1890, with Mrs. Thomas R. Bonner turning the first shovel, assisted by Mrs. M. B. Adams. The foundations were laid in early September, and the cornerstone ceremony took place on September 18. D. F. C. Timmons presided, along with W. N. Bonner, John Adams, Robert Finley, and O. C. Fontaine--all Methodist ministers--C. C. Williams of First Presbyterian Church, A. J. Fawcett of First Baptist Church, and others. The marble cornerstone was donated by R. L. Roseborough and Sons of St. Louis, through their Tyler agent W. L. Watkins, and it was engraved by Tyler postmaster G. W. Dawson. The inscription read: "'Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a corner stone--tried stone, a precious corner stone.'--Isiah [sic] 28:16. 'And upon this rock I will build my church.'--Matthew 16:18." This ceremony included music by the choir, scripture readings, a history of the Methodist Church in Tyler prepared by W. S. Herndon, a history of the Sunday School presented by T. R. Bonner, and a short sermon. William Tell Lodge No. 27, Independent Order of Odd Fellows (I.O.O.F.), observed the proceedings in full regalia. A wide variety of items were considered for inclusion in the cornerstone, including a photograph of the old church, Tyler newspapers, a Bible from the previous cornerstone, a hymn book, and a church roll, but no definitive list has been located. 40

The church board hired M. P. Baker as building contractor, and Charlie Moore made the brick in his kiln at the current Texas College location. Construction proceeded slowly. Original estimates in January 1890 stated that the church would cost $30,000. By December the estimate had risen to over $40,000. By April 1891 it rose again to $50,000, and in January 1892 the final cost was set at $60,000, twice the original budget. This far outstripped the value of any other church building in the East Texas Conference, the closest being Beaumont which had a facility worth $13,000. 41

For a while, church activities continued normally as members watched the pillars move into place and the bricks rise on the walls. Timmons took pride in the fact that "Men of wealth, of political influence, of social standing and of intellectual culture and power, not to be surpassed by any community in the State, belong to the Methodist Church in Tyler," but he was concerned that

in the whirl of a gay and fashionable life and in the maddening rush for money-getting they may be tempted to fall . . . Great prosperity has attended many of our members here during the past two years, but with this prosperity has come the opportunity to show their love for God and humanity. 42

The women of the church continued their assistance to the poor and to the pastor. The parsonage on West Erwin, constructed after the lot was purchased in 1886, received a new room, front, stove, and coat of paint. They also gave D. F. C. Timmons a new horse, and the board voted him the largest salary in the East Texas Conference. 43

During what must have been one of the highest points in early church history, the congregation changed its name from simply the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, of Tyler, to Marvin Methodist Episcopal Church, South, on March 19, 1891, according to deed records. Bishop Enoch Mather Marvin (1823-1877), a Missourian by birth, served as a Confederate chaplain in the Civil War and was later elected Bishop while serving as a pastor at Marshall, Texas. 44

As the summer of 1891 passed, it became evident that the building funds pledged by the congregation would not be received as promised and the structure could not be completed as planned. The church had initially raised nearly $30,000, only half of the full amount needed. The trustees then borrowed the remaining amount from Bonner & Bonner Bank, co-owned by T. R. Bonner, Marvin trustee and Sunday School superintendent. Bonner died on August 30, and his funeral the next day became the first service in the only part of the church then completed--the basement. Bonner & Bonner Bank failed in one of the early manifestations of the great Panic of 1893 that affected the entire country. On September 7, 1891, the quarterly conference issued $25,000 worth of bonds at 8% interest, payable to City National Bank owned by E. C. Williams. 45 Collateral included:

all the corporate property of the maker now owned or hereafter acquired during the existence of this debt, consisting of the franchise, chartered rights, the church building, furniture, pipe organ, all fixtures and appurtenances to the same belonging or incident thereto, together with the two lots upon which the church is situated; and the church parsonage, building, furniture, fixtures, and appurtenances, with the lot upon which same is situated; [and] upon the policies of fire insurance. 46

Attached to the deed of trust was a list of forty-two Marvin note-holders, each of whom agreed to pay between $25.00 and $300.00 annually for the next ten years, due each December 1. A month later, the church building committee entered a contract with the Texas School Supply Company for pews in the amount of $1406.50. 47

The church continued on. Thomas H. Leitch, an evangelist from South Carolina, brought his tent to Tyler for a two-week meeting in September 1891, and more than one hundred persons joined the various churches in the city. Although Timmons acknowledged the deaths of some of Marvin's leading supporters and the financial problems, he asserted that "There is no backward movement in the enterprises of the church this year." Indeed, the parsonage was paid off and $700 in additional improvements were made by the Ladies' Aid Society. In March 1893 the ladies added a "very handsome Brussels carpet" and a roll-top desk for the pastor's study, among other things. The same month the church contracted with Lancashire-Marshall Organ Company to purchase on credit a new organ for $1850. 48

H. M. Hayes followed D. F. C. Timmons at the beginning of 1893 and organized the Epworth League for young people. Marvin managed to keep up to date on all current expenses and assessments, but the building debt remained a heavy burden. Another lay leader in the church, John B. Douglas, died, to whom the congregation had turned after the death of T. R. Bonner. 49

J. B. Culpepper of Macon, Georgia, led the next great tent meeting in Tyler from May 27 through June 18, 1894. "The whole town, white and black, were reached. The spell is still on the town. Everyone is talking religion." Almost 300 persons joined the various Tyler churches, with 97 joining Marvin. 50

Optimism rebounded and Hayes reported a renewed effort to retire the huge debt, possibly within the next twelve months. However, less than one year later the church trustees were forced to sell the parsonage for $2500 to partially satisfy the bank claims. With the parsonage money and other funds raised, the debt was reduced to $15,000. 51

Hayes stayed at Marvin only a year and a half, and then H. M. DuBose returned to serve from 1894-1896. The trustee of the bonds, City National Bank, failed, and on May 9, 1896, R. E. Gaston was elected trustee of the mortgage. Through his efforts, the debt was again reduced to $13,000. The church then turned to Mrs. Kettie L. Douglas Sample, the remarried widow of John Douglas, for a loan of $8000 at 10% interest per year, secured by a mortgage on the church. 52

B. H. Greathouse arrived to serve at Marvin in January 1897 under the most discouraging of circumstances.

What a history this Church has had. It has been a struggle with debts ever since its erection. How much longer the struggle will continue no one can tell. At this time the great pipe-organ is not paid for, the pews are not paid for, the great cathedral windows that were wrecked in a storm [September 1896] are unrepaired, and besides all these things a debt amounting to at least $13,000 hangs over the Church, and more than one party could force a sale if the indebtedness they hold against the Church is not settled upon their demand. Within the last few months two banks and perhaps twenty other business houses have failed. 53

Moreover, membership had dropped 32% between 1895 and 1897. The crisis came to a head on June 1, 1897, when Greathouse acknowledged that the church building would have to be sold. The church could not pay the interest on the $8,000 loan, and it had also defaulted on the payments for the organ and the pews. 54 He appointed Mrs. T. J. Wiley, Mrs. M. B. Adams, Mrs. L. L. Jester, B. W. Rowland, R. E. Gaston, and J. R. Patterson to find an alternative place for Marvin Methodist Church to worship. The committee refused and Mrs. M. B. Adams, wife of a former presiding elder, called for volunteers to fast and pray for guidance. Beginning at 8 o'clock in the morning and for two days thereafter, Mrs. James Williams, Mrs. George Eason, Mrs. Melvin Finley, Mrs. N. E. Christian, Mrs. L. Pauley, Mrs. M. B. Adams, Mrs. Charles Watkins, and Mrs. R. T. Dorough kept their vigil in the basement of the church. According to Mrs. Adams:

We prayed and fasted two days and nights, and late the second afternoon we felt our prayers were answered, and somehow the church would be saved, so we went to the pastor's study and told him the church would be saved. He said he did not see how. But before the week was out some of our able men and women had devised plans and made arrangements to save the church. 55

The church property was advertised for sale during the fall of 1897. The National Bank of Mantiwoc, Wisconsin, holder of the note for the pews, and the Lancashire-Marshall Organ Company both sued Marvin Methodist Church in Smith County District Court for nonpayment of debts. Each won its case and the church was ordered to pay the full amount owed, with interest and court costs. During the annual session of the East Texas Conference in December, D. F. C. Timmons, V. A. Godbey, and O. P. Thomas were appointed to "look into the financial conditions of Marvin church, city of Tyler, with a view to properly present the case to the entire church in Texas and make an appeal for help if necessary." At that point $40,000 of the $60,000 debt had been paid and the church still owed $21,435.94, including interest. 56

On January 4, 1898, the finest Methodist sanctuary in Texas was sold at the courthouse door to satisfy the mortgage, becoming the property of Mrs. Kettie L. Sample, the highest bidder at $9500.00. She offered to sell it back for what it cost her, but the church had still other debts to pay amounting to $12,416.49. The congregation then decided to rent the building from her in the meantime. The other creditors decided to take ten cents on the dollar, and so Marvin was able to retire the major part of their debts by the summer of 1898, even managing to place a $2292 down payment on the church property now owned by Mrs. Sample. The mortgage was then released with only five promissory notes left to pay. 57

In September, the committee appointed by the East Texas Conference published an appeal in the Texas Christian Advocate for funds from Methodists across the state. The Methodist Church Extension Board donated $1,000 and lent Marvin $3,000, and on December 8, 1899, Kettie Douglas (formerly Sample) released and cancelled the lien she held on the church. This left only the Church Extension Board debt which was paid by October 31, 1901. 58

On December 7, 1901, Bishop A. W. Wilson dedicated the debt-free Marvin Methodist Episcopal Church, South, during annual conference held in Tyler. The eleven-year struggle was over, and V. A. Godbey and his congregation were ready to start out the new century with a clean slate and hearts full of faith and gratitude. 59


1. Texas Christian Advocate (herein-after referred to as TCA), July 3, 1872, p. 6, c. 3.

2. TCA, December 6, 1884, p. 2, c. 3.

3. Morris S. Burton, "Marvin Methodist Church, 120 Years of Service for God in Tyler." Chronicles of Smith County, Texas 7 (Spring 1968), p. 19; Mrs. M. B. Adams, "Some Church History of Methodism in Tyler," Tyler Daily Courier-Times, June 2, 1911, p. 1-2.

4. Ibid.; Bettie Dorough, "A Brief History of Marvin Church, Tyler, Texas," photocopy of typescript in possession of Vicki Betts; Adams; Burton, p. 19; Minutes of the Annual Conference, East Texas Conference, Methodist Episcopal Church, South (hereinafter referred to as Minutes), 1848.

5. Adams; Burton, p. 19-20; Dorough; Fragment of newspaper article describing the cornerstone ceremony at Marvin Methodist Episcopal Church, South, 1890. In possessions of Marvin Church.

6. Smith County Deed Records, book H, p. 348.

7. Adams; Dorough; Texas Wesleyan Banner, September 13, 1851; Oct. 25, 1851, p. 2, C. 4; TCA, October 1, 1857, p. 3, c. 3; October 15, 1857, p. 1, c. 1; October 22, 1857, p. 3, c. 1; Decem-ber 10, 1857, p. 2, C. 5.

8. Burton, p. 20; Adams; Dorough.

9. Minutes, 1851, 1852, 1853; TCA, November 9, 1878, p. 2, c. 5.

10. TCA, August 23, 1879, p. 3, C. 3; Record of the St. John's Lodge, no. 53,
A. F. & A. M., Chartered January 19,1849, V. 1, p. 97.

11. Carrie Glenn, "Methodism in Tyler,1848-1914," photocopy of typescript in possession of Vicki Betts; Burton, p. 20; Horace Chilton, "Notebooks and Diaries," University of Texas at Austin Archives; Sanborn Maps, 1885, in pos
session of Smith County Historical Society Archives; Dorough; TCA, August 23, 1879; October 17, 1885, p 2, c. 3; September 19,1885, p. 2, c. 5.

12. TCA, May 12, 1892, p. 2, c. 3.

13. Walter N. Vernon, et al. , The Methodist Excitement in Texas: A History, Dallas: Texas United Methodist Historical Society, 1984, p. 88; TCA, December 6, 1894, p. 2, c. 5.

14. TCA, May 12,1892, p. 2, c. 3.

15. TCA, July 3, 1872, p.6, c. 3.

16. TCA, August 16, 1900, p. 16, c. 3-4.

17. TCA, January 19, 1858, p. 2, c. 3; July 11, 1861, p. 1, c. 4.

18. Minutes, 1854, 1855, 1856, 1858, 1859; TCA, December 10, 1857, p. 2, c. 5; Dec. 1, 1859, p. 2, c. 6; May 31, 1860, p. 1, c. 5.

19. Minutes, 1860, 1861; Dorough; Macum Phelan, A History of Methodism In Texas, 1817-1866, Nashville: Cokesbury, 1924, p. 480; Galveston Tri-weekly News, November 3, 1863, p. 2, c. 3; Tyler Reporter, n.d., quoted in the Houston Tri-Weekly Telegraph, April 16, 1862; Tyler Reporter, August 28, 1862, p.2, c. 1; Vicki Betts, Smith County, Texas, In The Civil War. Tyler, Texas: Jack T. Greer Memorial Fund of the Smith County Historical Society, 1978, p. 37.

20. Minutes, 1866-1869; Dorough.

21. Minutes, 1871-1885; TCA, November 5, 1873, p. 5, C. 3, December 24, 1873, p. 5, c. 2.

22. Tyler Reporter, April 6, 1872; TCA, September 7, 1878, p. 4, C. 4; April 23, 1881, p. 2, c. 1; April 14, 1882, p. 8, c. 4; June 17, 1882, p. 8, c. 1; Minutes, 1884.

23. Tyler Reporter, April 6, 1872, p. 3, c. 1; TCA, April 23, 1881, p. 2, c. 1; April 1, 1886, p. 3, c. 5.

24. Tyler Reporter, April 6, 1872, p. 3, c. 1; Adams.

25. Adams; TCA, April 1, 1886, p. 3, c. 5.

26. TCA, April 23, 1873; January 17, 1885; February 18, 1886; Minutes, 1879,

27. TCA, September 7, 1878, p. 4, c. 4; November 5, 1873, p. 5, c. 3; January 18, 1879, p. 4, c. 3.

28. TCA, May 27, 1886, p. 4, c. 6.

29. TCA, January 17, 1885, p. 5, c. 2; February 7, 1885, p. 5, c. 1; May 27, 1886, p. 4, c. 6; July 1, 1886, p. 5, C. 2; September 2, 1886, p. 3, c. 4.

30. TCA, June 17, 1886, p. 2, c. 1-2.

31. Carl Wallace, "Ancient Bell Back at Tyler Church," Tyler Courier-Times, undated clipping; TCA, July 30, 1881, p. 4, c. 6; Minutes, 1887; Donald W. Whisenhunt, A Chronological History of Smith County, Texas, Tyler, Texas: Jack T. Greer Memorial Fund of the Smith County Historical Society, 1983, pp. 35, 37.

32. TCA, February 18, 1886, p. 5, c. 3; Smith County Deed Records, Book 40, p. 76-80.

33. TCA, December 23, 1886, p. 5, c. 2; September 6, 1888, p. 5, c. 2.

34. TCA, December 6, 1888, p. 4, c. 5; Glenn; Dorough; Smith County Deed Records, Book 45, p. 243-244.

35. TCA, September 12, 1889, p. 1, c. 3-4; December 11, 1890, p. 1, c. 3; Wallace.

36. TCA, January 23, 1890, p. 8, c. 3; February 13, 1890, p. 1, c. 5; March 13, 1890, p. 5, c. 1; Burton, p. 23.

37. TCA, February 13, 1890, p. 1, C. 5; March 13, 1890, p. 5, 0. 1; February 13, 1890, p. 4, c. 6; Otto J. Albertson, "History of Marvin Church," March 16, 1948, typescript in possession of Dorothy Albertson.

38. TCA, February 13, 1890, p. 1, c. 5; March 13, 1890, p. 5, 0. 1; March 13, 1890, p. 8, c. 1-2; March 20, 1890, p. 4, c. 4.

39. TCA, March 20, 1890, p. 5, c. 2; March 27, 1890, p. 4, c. 4; Minutes, 1889, 1890; Burton; Adams.

40. Adams; TCA, September 24, 1890, p. 1, C. 2; Fragment of the Tyler Democrat And Reporter, September 19, 1890, original in possession of Marvin United Methodist Church. Carrie Glenn states that the first spade of dirt was dug by Mrs. T. T. Cotnam, the next by Herndon Bonner, and finally one by Mrs. Charles Bonner (formerly Mrs. Thomas R. Bonner)

41. Albertson; TCA, January 23, 1890, p. 8, C. 3; December 11, 1890, p. 1, c. 3; April 2, 1891, p. 1, c. 4; January 7, 1892, p. 5, c. 2; Minutes, 1900.

42. TCA, December 11, 1890, p. 1, c. 3.

43. Smith County Deed Records, Book 45, p. 246, Book 54, p. 456, 458; TCA, December 11, 1890, p. 1, c. 3.

44. Smith County Deed Records, Book 47, p. 124; Vernon, p. 120.

45. Dorough; TCA, December 11, 1890, p. 1, c. 3; Smith County Deed of Trust Records, Book K, p. 453-463.

46. Ibid.

47. Smith County Deed of Trust Records, Book K, p. 453-463; National Bank of Mantiwoc, Wisconsin V. Marvin Methodist Episcopal Church, South of Tyler, Texas, Case 4493, District Court, Smith County, Texas.

48. TCA, September 17, 1891, p. 8, c. 3; October 1, 1891, p. 1, c. 4; October 8, 1891, p. 1, c. 5; January 14, 1892, p. 1, c. 1; January 19, 1893, p. 1, c. 4; March 30, 1893, p. 8, c. 1; Lanca-shire-Marshall Organ Co. V. Marvin Methodist Episcopal Church, South, of Tyler, Texas, Case 4544, District Court, Smith County, Texas.

49. Glenn; TCA, June 15, 1893, p. 1, c. 3.

50. TCA, June 21, 1894, p. 5, c. 1; June 28, 1894, p. 5, c. 1.

51. TCA, June 28, 1894, p. 5, c. 1; Smith County Deed Records, V. 54, pp. 456-458; Dorough.

52. Dorough; Minutes, 1894, 1895; Smith County Deed of Trust Records, vol. L, p. 598.

53. James M. Mathis, "Journal of James M. Mathis, 1892-1899," original in possession of Dorothy Albertson; TCA, February 11, 1897, p. 5, c. 3-4.

54. Minutes, 1895, 1897.

55. Dorough; Adams; National Bank of Mantiwoc, Wisconsin v. Marvin Methodist Episcopal Church, South of Tyler, Texas; Lancashire-Marshall Organ Co. v. Marvin Methodist Episcopal Church, South, of Tyler, Texas.

56. Dorough; Minutes, 1897; TCA, September 22, 1898, p. 16, c. 1; National Bank of Mantiwoc, Wisconsin v. Marvin Methodist Episcopal Church, South, of Tyler, Texas; Lancashire-Marshall Organ Co. v. Marvin Methodist Episcopal Church, South, of Tyler, Texas.

57. TCA, September 22, 1898, p. 16, c. 1; Adams; Dorough; Smith County Deed Records, v. 62, p. 269; Smith County Deed Records, v. 64, p. 65.

58. TCA, September 22, 1898, p. 16, c. 1; Dorough; Smith County Deed Records, v. 65, p. 519.

59. Dorough.

Spring 1968--"Marvin Methodist Church, 120 Years of Service for God in Tyler", by Morris S, Burton

Winter 1982--"The Friendly Class of Marvin United Methodist Church, by Paxton Hart.

Click here for larger version of picture

Drawing of Marvin United Methodist Church and related scenes commissioned for the celebration of the 100th Anniversary of the sanctuary and drawn by Tom Gibson. Reprinted with permission of Marvin United Methodist Church.

1. Chancel choir members

2. Sanctuary south window

3. Mission project, 1988

4. Atrium connection gold & new building

5. Dr. and Mrs. C. H. Ahn - members (1964-1986), and medical missionaries to Korea.

6. Exercise equipment, Family Ministry Center

7. Pre-school choir group

8. Sanctuary needlepoint kneeling cushion

9. Symbol of United Methodist Church

10. Texas Historical Marker

11. Cornerstone set in 1890

12. Bishop Enoch M. Marvin (1823-1877)

13. The Church structure

14. Auditorium - Family Ministry Center

15. Elijah - east stained glass sanctuary window

16. R. W. Fair (1886-1965), Methodist philantropist, contributor to world missions.

17. Marvin preschool playground

18. Historic church bell

19. Mrs. M. B. Adams (1860-1945) led prayer vigil when church building was saved from foreclosure (1896)

Chronicles of Smith County, Texas, Winter 1992, Volume 31, Number 2. Digitalized with permission from the author, Vicki Betts, and Andy Leath, Chairman of the Publications Committee, Smith County Historical Society. Marvin United Methodist Church, 1846-1900, is copyrighted by Smith County Historical Society. This page may be freely linked to but not copied in any way except with the written consent of Vicki Betts and the Smith County Historical Society.

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