Saturday, June 09, 2012

This Week in Texas Methodist History June 10

Church Cornerstone at Brenham Laid with Masonic Ceremonies  June 10, 1879

After the Civil War and Reconstruction Era, most sections of Texas experienced a modicum of prosperity.  A network of rails crisscrossed the state enabling farmers and stock raisers to sell their products in national and international markets.  From about 1880 to 1910 there was a transformation of the built environment.  One of the aspects was the construction of magnificent courthouses.  Many of those “palaces of justice” still exist and are a point of pride for local comities.  They are so important that the Texas Historical Commission has a special program to help counties preserve and modernize those structures.  That same period often saw street paving projects, utilities, street cars, and the replacement of wooden commercial structures with masonry ones.  Methodists also participated in the transformation of Texas towns and cities. Many of them replaced wooden churches with brick ones.

Brenham, the county seat of Washington County, was once such town transformed.  On June 10, 1879, while city residents were eagerly awaiting the arrival of the Gulf Coast and Santa Fe Rail Road tracks that would link their town to Galveston, the town turned out for the laying of a cornerstone for the new Methodist church.  It was the first brick church of any denomination in the city. 

The parade started at 3:00 p.m. at Giddings Bank.  The parade consisted of local militia, three different fire departments (in the era before municipal fire departments, many cities had mutual self-help fire companies.), members of the Masonic Lodge, musicians, and orators.  They marched to the lot just south of downtown and were seated on improvised seating on the foundation which was already complete.  The organ which was to be installed in the new church was already there and used for the ceremony.  

The main orator was Levin M. Lewis, a Confederate veteran, Methodist preacher, and professor of English as Texas A & M.  He was later to become President of Marvin College in Waxahachie.  The Presbyterian preacher, W. B. Riggs, delivered the benediction.

The shift from wooden to masonry churches meant that churches now had cornerstones.  Part of almost every cornerstone laying was depositing items in a box in that stone.    Items placed in the Brenham Methodist Church’s cornerstone included a Bible, Discipline, hymnal, copies of newspapers, sheet music for “Sweet Bye and Bye,” and Confederate bonds. 

Construction proceeded rapidly, and in January, 1882, the church was dedicated, a ceremony which occurs when the structure is debt-free.  That status was made possible mainly through the generosity of Mrs. Ann Giddings, who honored her late husband, Jabez Giddings (1814-1878).  The church was named in his honor, Giddings Memorial Methodist Episcopal Church, South. 

The magnificent church hosted the Texas Annual Conference in 1880, 1886, and 1895.  It served until 1938 when the congregation consolidated with the Methodist Episcopal Church.  They abandoned the old Giddings Memorial Church building and worshipped in the MEC building.


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