Saturday, September 24, 2011

This Week in Texas Methodist History September 25

Grace United Methodist Dedicates Historic Site Medallion September 25, 2011

On Sunday, September 25, 2011, Grace United Methodist Church, 1245 Heights Blvd., in Houston, will dedicate its United Methodist Historic Site Medallion. This recognition was granted by the General Commission on Archives and History after approval by the Texas Annual Conference.

Try to imagine Houston before it became the petroleum center, before the dredging of the Ship Channel, before public health measures controlled mosquito-borne diseases, before air conditioning. The city on the banks of Buffalo Bayou boasted of being “where 17 railroads meet the sea.” Those railroads funneled lumber and cotton to Galveston, still undamaged by the hurricane of 1900, where those raw materials entered world commerce.

Houston was growing, mainly along the Washington Avenue corridor and around the railroad shops northeast of downtown. As the city grew, it created new opportunities for developers. Since its founding by the Allen Brothers in 1836 Houston had been friendly to developers, but in 1892 a new transportation technology made possible a new era in development. That new technology was the electric street car. The Omaha and South Texas Land Company bought 1,175 acres of land on the north side of Buffalo Bayou, constructed a street car line to downtown, surveyed streets and lots, and began selling those lots.

The development became known as the Houston Heights and proved to be a great success. It had advantages of a city including a school, a post office, hotel, opera house, and after 1896 its own municipal government. It also had both Buffalo Bayou and White Oak Bayou available for recreation and what we would call today a Green Belt. The streetcar line made it possible for Heights residents to live in this pleasant setting and still find employment downtown.

In 1905 the Woman’s Home Missionary Society of the MECS organized a society with the intention of starting a church. They worshiped in homes, a school, a skating rink, and City Hall before erecting their first building at 13th and Yale. The first preacher was S. S. McKinney. Among his most illustrious successors was W. C. Martin, who was later elected bishop.
Since 1971 the congregation has been worshipping in a sanctuary that faces Heights Blvd.

What about the Heights? The Heights gave up its own municipal government and became part of the city of Houston in 1918. As part of the annexation agreement, the Heights retained its prohibition of alcoholic beverages. In the middle decades of the 20th century it appeared that the Heights was destined to go the way of many inner city neighborhoods. The streetcar was replaced by the automobile, and suburbs stretched farther and farther in all directions.

A group of visionaries refused to allow their neighborhood to succumb to urban blight. In 1973 they organized the Houston Heights Association and eventually made the Heights a shining example of historic preservation. Today the Houston Heights is one of the most desirable neighborhoods in Houston. Grace UMC has been and continues to be part of that success.


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