Saturday, August 25, 2012
This Week in Texas Methodist History August 26
Rev. John W. Goodwin Leads Air Dome Meeting in
August 26, 1911 Caldwell
Methodist meetings were held in a variety of locations. There were brush arbors, temporary structures of poles and branches cut from nearby trees. Some campgrounds had permanent tabernacles which were basically barns without sides. The tabernacle at Lakeview in the Texas Conference is a good example. Many protracted meetings and revivals were held in the church building. Travelling evangelists often used tents. They were so common that the word “tent meeting” has become part of our vocabulary.
From the 1890’s to about World War I there was another type of structure that hosted revivals in
towns. That was the Air Dome, sometimes called a Sky
Dome. It was more permanent that a tent
but less substantial than a church. Texas
towns had air
domes. An investor would rent a vacant
lot near down town; build a wooden stage covered by a roof. The audience would be seated on benches or
folding chairs in the open air in front of the stage. The whole lot was often surrounded by a board
fence. The audience thus sat under a dome of air. Texas
Air domes were built mainly for touring theatrical troupes and motion picture viewing. They also hosted travelling Chautauqua speakers and prohibition rallies. They enabled those activities to continue their seasons into the summer. Motion picture theaters were necessarily windowless to provide darkness and became unbearable in the summer. Air domes required little investment and soon many towns and cities from
El Paso to had them. (I have found evidence of
their existence in Orange Dallas, Alto, Palestine, Bastrop, Chillicothe, Breckenridge, , etc.) Greenville
In August 1911 the preacher at Caldwell, the Rev. John W. Goodwin (b. 1873), held the summer revival meeting in the air dome located in that city. He was assisted by Dr. W. D. White of
Navasota. The starting date was announced, but the
ending date was left open. Methodists of
the era often extended their revival meetings as long as the Holy Spirit
continued to bring sinners to salvation.
meeting lasted two weeks. Caldwell
Many readers of this column have attended tent meetings. Some have worshipped in a tabernacle, but air domes have passed from the scene. As the number of automobiles increased, traffic noise increased and created distractions for air dome meetings. Motion picture theater owners were among the first adopters of air conditioning. The air dome era passed quickly.
Rev. John W. Goodwin, the revival leader, and Mrs. Goodwin were both blessed with long lives and provided decades of faithful service to the Texas Annual Conference. The writer was a frequent visitor in their retirement residence in
during the 1950s. Rev. Goodwin died Sept
9, 1968 and Mrs. Goodwin the following February. They thus lived long enough to see their grandson,
elected and re-elected to the U. S. Senate. John Goodwin Tower
Saturday, August 18, 2012
This Week in Texas Methodist History August 19
Taylor, located in eastern , was treated to two “superstar”
evangelists in the summer of 1895.
Promoters erected a platform and tent on the town square in anticipation
of the arrival of the Rev. John B. Culpepper.
“Superstar” Evangelists Hold Tent Meeting at
Taylor. August 19, 1895
John B. Culpepper was born in 1849 in
Georgia. He as converted at an early age and received
his Methodist credentials in 1870. He
served pastorates in Georgia,
and in 1886 his life was changed when he was appointed agent for the Orphan’s
Home in Macon.
The freedom from a local church appointment meant that Culpepper spent his time travelling, preaching, and raising money for the orphanage. He had found his true calling! He attracted the attention of Sam Jones who offered him a spot in his evangelistic enterprises, but Culpepper preferred to work a solo act. As his reputation grew, so did attendance at his meetings.
As part of the arrangements for the meeting in
Taylor, he wired ahead that
he had suffered a street car accident and would need to preach from a swivel
chair. A local furniture merchant honored
The chair was actually a prop in the act Culpepper used to boost attendance at his meetings. Toward the end of the first night’s meeting, he would feign a seizure and fall out of the chair. His two sons who travelled as assistants would rush to carry him away. Such a performance almost guaranteed a full tent on the second night. Attendees wanted to see if Culpepper had died.
The extreme theatrics proved successful. Bishop Ainsworth praised him. “He has held more meetings, preached more sermons and lead more men to Christ than any other man now in the church." He authored about a dozen books (his sermon notes)in the first decade of the 20th century. Culpepper died in 1937 in
. Monroe, Louisiana
The song leader for the
meeting achieved even greater fame than did the preacher. Charles Tillman (1861-1943) was one of the
seminal figures in adapting African American gospel music for use in white
churches. The process began in 1889 when
he heard an African American musical group singing “Old Time Religion.” He copied as much of the hymn as he could,
reworked it, and published it in a 1891 song book. Taylor
Tillman “borrowed” from many sources. His “Life’s Railway to Heaven” (sometimes known by its first line,”Life is like a mountain railroad” came from a Mormon poet. It continues to a be a staple of southern gospel music, having been recorded by various artists including Willie Nelson, Patsy Cline, the Carter Family, Tennessee Ernie Ford, etc.
His publishing ventures prospered. He diversified into recording and radio. Tillman was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 1993.
As for the fainting act—It didn’t happen in
. A vandal sliced up the borrowed swivel chair
with a pocketknife making it unusable. Taylor
Saturday, August 11, 2012
This Week in
Methodist History August 12
In 1900 as today newspaper editors filled Sunday editions with feature stories. On Sunday, August 12, 1900, the
Daily Post did just that with a story based on the new church building at
McMahan’s Chapel that was dedicated two weeks earlier. The Post printed images of Littleton Fowler,
Littleton M. Fowler, and Ellis Smith (father, son, and grandson). The image of Littleton Fowler is familiar to
Texas Methodists since it is the only image any of us has ever seen of the
pioneer Texas Methodist preacher. The
caption for the picture reveals its source.
The image credit in the Post says that after Littleton Fowler’s death, someone in
Tennessee sent L. M. Fowler an image that
had appeared in a magazine. The image is
a side view, but thankfully contains much more detail than a silhouette. The story gets more interesting---the caption
reveals that the artist did not include Fowler’s ears in the original. A photographer was called in to superimpose
L. M. Fowler’s ears upon his father’s image!.
The picture caption reveals another detail this writer has not seen in other sources. It says, “The old gentleman was also hairless and the wig he has on in the picture is now in
Nacogdoches.” Is the “old gentleman” Littleton Fowler or
L. M. Fowler?” Littleton Morris Fowler
was born Oct. 15, 1844. Littleton Fowler
died in January 1846 when he was 43 years old.
Although 43 is not old by today’s standards, the “old gentleman” must be
referring to Littleton Fowler. L. M.
Fowler was still alive when the article was written, and would have no reason
to leave his wig in Nacogdoches.
The Sunday feature in the Post thus reveals that the one image we have of Littleton Fowler has been altered from the original.
The feature article also tells the exciting story of one of the McMahan Chapel members , William Scurlock, (misspelled in the article)and his escape from the Fannin Massacre during the Texas Revolution. See the images and read the exciting escape story at
Friday, August 03, 2012
This Week in Texas Methodist History August 5
Epworth-by-the Sea Meeting Begins, August 6, 1908
Although a Methodist encampment near
Corpus Christi called Epworth-by-the-Sea
lasted only a few years, it was one of the most important expressions of
cooperation between the annual conferences in Texas Methodist history. Each
summer a tent city was created with thousands of young people. A hospital, restaurant, barbershop, post
office, regular rail service and other amenities were created to serve the
The 1908 encampment represents the Epworth movement at full tide. Two bishops (Key and Hendrix) provided inspirational sermons. Three future bishops (Hay, Ainsworth and DuBose) were also on the program. A. J. Weeks and George Rankin, both of whom were to occupy the editorship of the Texas Christian Advocate and Frank Onderdonk were among the MECS luminaries who also took the pulpit.
In addition to the superstars of MECS pulpits, there were numerous workshops and much recreational time devoted to bathing in the surf and fishing. The event began on Thursday, August 6 and continued until Sunday, August 16.
I invite you to read how the Corpus Christi Caller covered the event. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth168724/m1/1/zoom/?q=methodist%20date:1902-1910