Saturday, May 12, 2007

This Week in Texas Methodist History--May 13

John Woolam Gives Dedicatory Prayer for New Texas Capitol, May 17, 1888

It had taken years, but at last the new Texas Capitol in Austin was finished! As early as the Constitutional Convention of 1876 Texans started making provision for a new capitol by legalizing the tranfer of land in the Panhandle to a construction company willing to accept that land in payment. The land eventually became the famous XIT Ranch, the "X" standing for "10" which was the number of counties. The original plan called for local limestone, but that material also contained iron which produced ugly rust stains when exposed to the elements. A switch to Texas pink granite was the solution, but first a narrow guage railroad had to be constructed to the quarry in Burnet County. Conroversy swirled around the use of convict labor in the quarry. After all, how could such a grand monument to freedom be built by unfree men? Scottish masons were hired in violation of the Alien Contract Labor Act of 1885 for which the contractor eventually paid a fine. (That's right, our Capitol was built by illegal alien labor.)

The magnificent building was finally finished. The public got to go inside for the first time on San Jacinto Day, April 21, 1888. The dedication festivities lasted the week of May 14 to 18. On the 17th a dedicatory prayer was offered by the Rev. John C. Woolam, one of the few living men who could claim to have preached in the Republic of Texas. Woolam had come from Tennessee in 1838 and was licensed to preach by Moses Speer in March, 1840, even before the creation of the Texas Conference. That began a forty year career of appointments to Texas churches and the Confederate chaplaincy. In 1852 he married Missouri Lockwood Porter Fowler, Littleton Fowler's widow and thus became step-father to Fowler's children.

At the time of the Capitol dedication Woolam was in semi-retirement serving as chaplain at the state penitentiary in Rusk. The closing sentences of the prayer, now preserved in Bridwll Libary, Perkins School of Theology, SMU are as follows

But grant Oh, God, that never again in the history of Texas may it become necessary to dye her fair soil with human blood at the price of God-given liberty, but instead, permit us to dwell together in unity and forever remain at peace with all Thy world. For the sake and in the name of Him, Thy precious Son, we implore Thy mercies and blessings upon this assembly and the people of this state. Be with us in our trials through life, and when called from our temporal abode on earth, may we all be saved in heaven, we ask in Jesus, our blessed redeemer’s name. Amen.

Woolam lived another six years and died at the home of his step-son, Littleton Fowler, Jr., in January, 1894.


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