Saturday, August 25, 2012

This Week in Texas Methodist History    August 26

Rev. John W. Goodwin Leads Air Dome Meeting in Caldwell  August 26, 1911

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 Texas towns.  That was the Air Dome, sometimes called a Sky Dome.  It was more permanent that a tent but less substantial than a church. 

Many 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. 

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 Orange had them. (I have found evidence of their existence in Dallas, Alto, Palestine, Bastrop, Chillicothe, Breckenridge, Greenville, etc.)

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.  The 1911 Caldwell meeting lasted two weeks.

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 Atlanta during the 1950s.  Rev. Goodwin died Sept 9, 1968 and Mrs. Goodwin the following February.  They thus lived long enough to see their grandson, John Goodwin Tower, elected and re-elected to the U. S. Senate. 


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