Saturday, May 29, 2010

This Week in Texas Methodist History May 30

Town and Country Commission Report Highlights Changing Demographics May 31, 1965

The main story of Texas population changes from 1940 to 1965 is one of rapid urbanization and suburbanization. War time industrialization created high paying jobs in almost every urban area of Texas. Texas was home to large military bases where inductees received basic training. After the war some of those soldiers from other states decided to make Texas their home. After World War II many of plants converted to the production of civilian goods so employment remained high.

All of the major Texas cities grew in population in the period from 1940-1965. The state was transformed.

Since the growth of the cities and suburbs was the main story, it would be easy to miss another demographic movement. This one was going the other way—from urban to rural.

The movement to the country was spurred by construction of reservoirs, and their construction would change the face of rural Texas as the construction of factories had done for urban Texas. Texas went on a dam building spree in the 1950s and 1960s. It was spurred by the drought of the 1950s, the demand of growing cities for municipal water supplies, and politicians who saw the potential of reservoirs for economic development in rural Texas where much of the young work force had departed for the cities.

Although the ostensible purpose of the reservoirs was for flood control and municipal water supply, recreational facilities grew up around almost all of the impoundments. There was a boom in the construction of residences, mainly weekend homes. Other private developments of the same period such as Ivanhoe Lakes (Tyler County), Hilltop Lakes (Leon County), and Elkins Lakes (Walker County) added to the possibilities for weekend homes.

Meanwhile the construction of interstate highways had made it possible for other city dwellers to purchase rural acreage and become weekend ranchers.

The Town and Country Commission of the Texas Annual Conference grappled with the difficulties of providing Christian ministry to these two groups of weekend residents of a fast-changing rural Texas, the “Lake People,” and the weekend ranchers.

The Commission recognized that neither group was likely to join fully in the life of a rural church near the lake house or ranch. “They are there for only a short time and thus spend all their time on their farming and recreation.” There were also cultural differences. The most notable of those was in the organization of municipal governments around the lake developments for the purpose of selling alcoholic beverages. Within a few years there were many cities such as Gun Barrel City (Henderson County) and alcoholic beverages were easily available in regions that had been traditionally dry, much to chagrin of many Methodists in rural Texas.

The legalization of alcoholic beverages, garish commercial development, increased weekend traffic, a recreational life style, and county budgets strained by new demands for law enforcement expenditures all help explain why some rural church members were not particularly welcoming to lake house owners who happened to show up at church on Sunday morning.

Some members of the Town and Country Commission proposed a summer chaplaincy program to offer ministries to recreational visitors at the lakes. (The Oklahoma Conference did have such a ministry on Lake Texoma.) Another idea was to use Lakeview, the Texas Conference encampment, as the focus for Methodist weekend home development. An honest appraisal of the efforts to minister to the weekend recreational population of rural Texas would have to conclude that little was accomplished.

As years passed, more of the lake houses became permanent residences rather than weekend retreats. As lake developments shifted from weekend to permanent residency, the rural churches near the lakes finally benefitted from the increased population. Elkins Lake, in particular, became a favorite residence of retired Texas Conference preachers.


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