Saturday, April 05, 2008

This Week in Texas Methodist History April 6

John Wesley Carhart and Bishop Bowman dedicate new MEC church in Sherman
April 7, 1878

Regular readers of this column will know that the MEC left North Texas on the eve of the Civil War. Less than twenty years later the MEC returned. It did so mainly because Texas was being integrated into the national economy via railroads being built into the state. North Texas became the pivot around which that economic integration turned. Although Dallas eventually became the city which took greatest advantage of the rail connections, Sherman was the first beneficiary.

The population boom associated with rail construction was enough to build a magnificent new MEC (northern) church in 1878. The pastor, the Rev. L. H. Carhart, invited his brother John Wesley Carthart, P. E. from Oshkosh, Wisconsin, to help Bishop Thomas Bowman dedicate the building.

Carhart’s trip to Texas was an illustration of how much transportation had improved in the mid 19th century. He left Oshkosh on a Wednesday night for a Sunday preaching appointment. The dedicatory service for the $5000 church was a success, and J. W. Carhart then spent the next month touring Texas..

Both L. H. and J. W. Carhart were about to change their life situations and in doing so, impact Texas history.

L. H. did not stay in the comfortable church in Sherman. Instead he obtained financing and went west to establish a Methodist colony on the Plains. He named the town after his wife Clara. You know his settlement as Clarendon. By 1880 he was back preaching in Dallas and then went to Fort Worth. The Plains called again, this time not as pastor, but as land developer. He went to England and obtained financing for the Clarendon Land Development and Agency Company. The blizzards and drought of 1886-7 wiped him out, and he returned to the ministry.

His brother’s life story is even more amazing. Even while serving pastorates in New York, Vermont, and Massachusetts, he managed to find time to work as an inventor. One of his inventions, a valve for steam engines, brought him several thousand dollars. He transferred to Wisconsin, and in 1871 invented a steam powered buggy. It worked, but his neighbors in Racine made him dismantle it because it frightened horses. In 1903 the magazine Horseless Age named him “father of the automobile.” In 1905 the French government invited him as an honored guest to an international exposition and gave him a cash prize for his invention.

After returning from his 1878 excursion to Texas, the ran afoul of church politics. Charges were brought against him. Although he “beat the rap,” he was disgusted and decided to change professions. He became a physician and in 1885 moved to Texas where his son Ed had established a printing operation in Clarendon. He stayed there briefly and moved to Lampasas, where he practiced medicine and founded a newspaper. He then moved to LaGrange, Austin, and San Antonio where he became a distinguished physician specializing in diseases of the skin and nervous system. He published widely in medical journals.

He also found time to write two novels. The first, Norma Trist (1895) was one of the first American novels to include the theme of homosexuality. Carhart was arrested for violating the obscenity laws. His other novel, Under Palmetto and Pine (1899) dealt with problems of African Americans.

John Wesley Carhart, inventor, Methodist preacher, physician, journalist, and novelist, died in 1914. You may read more about him and his brother in the New Handbook of Texas. You may read his autobiography, 4 Years on Wheels (1880) written when he left the ministry and thought his interesting career was over at Google Books. That volume tells about his month in Texas in 1878.


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