Saturday, November 24, 2012

This Week in Texas Methodist History   November 25

Committee Meets in Fort Worth to Examine Site for College   November 25, 1890

One of the actions of the 1890 North West Texas Annual Conference was authorizing the construction of a college in Fort Worth.  The expansion of the rail system west of Fort Worth in the 1880’s was transforming that city into an important market and processing center for the livestock and grain produced in western Texas.  It was obvious that Fort Worth had bright prospects for the future. 

Civic boosters of the era realized that city development was enhanced by the presence of a university.  They often offered economic incentives in the form of acreage to encourage denominational colleges. 

Only a month after the 1890 Annual Conference closed, a committee consisting of Rev. J. T. L. Annis of Big Spring, Charles T. Jester of Corsicana, W. L. Vaughn of Dallas, Rev. J. H. Collard of Granbury, and C. D. Jordan of Vernon, met in Fort worth to consider a incentives. 

The main boosters were A. S. Hall, W. d. Hall, and George Tandy.  They offered the conference fifty acres for a campus and another two hundred fifty acres that would be developed into a community of Polytechnic Heights. Other businessmen funded an administration building, dormitory, and classroom.  In less than a year Polytechnic College opened with 105 students. 

Polytechnic College is the predecessor of Texas Wesleyan University.  

Saturday, November 17, 2012

This Week in Texas Methodist History November 18

 Bishop Candler Dedicates New Church in Beaumont  November 23, 1910

January 10, 1901 was the day the world changed.  On that day drillers near Beaumont struck the largest petroleum deposit anyone had ever seen.  Oil from the Spindletop discovery shot many feet into the air, ran down ditches, pooled in low spots, and amazed even the most optimistic financial backers of the drillers.  Within a matter of weeks Beaumont was transformed from a sleepy river port on the Neches River to a roaring boom town.  Its population soared.  Real estate prices followed the same path up and up and up. 

The First Methodist Episcopal Church South began receiving offers for the valuable property which its church occupied.  It was almost too good to be true.  Real estate investors offered the church trustees so much money that they could buy property a little further from the frenetic business district and have enough left over to build a larger, finer brand new church building. 

The trustees accepted one of the offers and signed the papers.  Unfortunately before the transaction could be completed, a defect in the title was discovered.  By the time the title issue had been resolved, the real estate boom had subsided.  Trustees went ahead with the sale and relocation, but proceeds from the sale were not enough to pay all the costs for the new building. 

Beaumont Methodists moved into their new building in 1907, but it had been necessary to borrow funds for the construction.  In Methodist practice when a new congregation moves into a new building, that building is consecrated.  When all debts have been paid, that church can be dedicated.  In 1910 the construction debt was paid so on November 23, 1910 Bishop Warren A. Candler (1857-1941, elected 1898) came from Georgia to dedicate the new church. 

What a magnificent church it was!   The architect, Harvey L. Page, designed an Akron Style building with an auditorium that could accommodate up to 2000 congregants.  The Akron Style was all the rage in the latter years of the 19th and early 20th centuries.  It was so named because it had first been used in the First MEC in Akron, Ohio in the early 1870s.  Its style accommodated the growing Sunday School movement.  Sunday Schools (and public schools too) were rapidly becoming graded.  That is, students were being divided into grades, and separate instruction provided at appropriate levels for each grade.  Religious publishers began providing graded Sunday School literature.  With the increase in number of Sunday School classes, it became necessary to have more Sunday School classrooms.  Those rooms needed to be discrete since student recitation, mostly of weekly memorized Bible verses, continued to be a mainstay of instruction. 

The architectural solution was not the construction of a separate educational building but to build a church containing a central rotunda with Sunday School rooms around the perimeter.  Sliding partitions could be opened or closed to provide privacy for each class or to expand the capacity of the central rotunda.  The architectural style was also appropriate for an increasingly urban America.  In contrast to the rural churches, Methodists now had to conform their buildings to the relatively confined spaces of city blocks.  The Akron Style church (as in the case of Beaumont) could have its main entrance in one of the corners of the city block.  The central rotunda could then achieve its maximum diameter without loss of precious square feet to entry halls or vestibules.  The style was thus a very efficient use of limited urban space.

Bishop Candler knew Beaumont well.  Two years earlier he had presided over the Texas Annual Conference which met in the new church.  Perhaps he read the cornerstone.  It contained a very appropriate verse of scripture, Proverbs 22:2,  The rich and poor meet together.  The Lord is the maker of them all.

The 1907 church building served First Methodist Beaumont for sixty years.  It was demolished to make way for a modern structure.  

Saturday, November 10, 2012

This Week in Texas Methodist History  November 11

Dr. U. H. Nixon, Medical Missionary from Killeen, Dies in Mexico, Nov. 11, 1903

For much of the late 19th and early 20th centuries Texas Methodists had a close relation with missions in the neighboring Republic of Mexico.  Proximity, common heritage, and missionary zeal all played their parts.  By 1900 the MECS had established a number of schools and two hospitals in Mexico or on the border. 

In the report for 1902 the two hospitals in San Luis Potosi and Monterey reported serving more than one thousand patients.  The medical missionary in charge of the hospital at Monterey was a Texan, Dr. Udolphus Hamilton Nixon.  Dr. Nixon had formerly practiced medicine in Killeen, but in 1901 moved to Monterrey as a medical missionary for the Board of Missions.  Unfortunately Dr. Nixon fell victim to a yellow fever epidemic in 1903.  The Texas Medical Association published the following obituary.

Dr. U. H. Nixon was born near Campbellton, Georgia, November 21, 1864, and came to Texas in 1886.  He attended the State Medical College in Galveston one year; and afterwards attended the Barnes Medical College, from which institution he graduated in 1893. He opened an office at Killeen, Texas, and soon succeeded in building up a good practice.  In 1901 he was appointed as a medical missionary by the General Board of Missions of the Methodist Church, South, and was sent to Monterey, Mexico.  IN that city he gave himself without stint to his work and soon succeeded in establishing a most promising hospital practice.  In 1903, during a terrible yellow fever scourge prevailing in Mexico, he stood calmly and faithfully at the post of duty. He would not forsake his people in their dire extremity, though he was solicited to take his family to a place of safety until the fever had subsided, he refused to do so.  His wife was first attacked by the fever, and before she recovered he was also attacked and died on November 11, 1903.  His wife and seven children survive him. 

His wife, Martha, was a widow at age 33.  
Her seven children ranged from ten years to infancy.  
She moved to Georgetown. 
 One daughter, Irene, followed her
 father's example into the Mexican mission field. 
After studying at Southwestern and teaching at 
Holding Institute, she became a missionary in the
 Methodist school in Chihuahua. 

Saturday, November 03, 2012

This Week in Texas Methodist History  November 4

Texas Conference Resolves to Make Houston “Regular” Site for Conference, November 5, 1938

Annual Conference is the great pivot around which Methodism revolves.  It is at annual conference that ministers are ordained, committee reports submitted, and appointments for the next year read.  Until 1938 the Texas Annual Conference met in many cities.  Question # 47, “Where will the next session of annual conference be held?” was eagerly anticipated.  Churches, especially those which had recently completed a new church building vied for the honor of hosting annual conference.  In the 1920s, for example, the Texas Annual Conference met at Beaumont, Mt. Pleasant, Cameron, Orange, Lufkin, Jacksonville, Marshall, and Port Arthur.  Preachers often traveled to conference by rail and stayed in private homes rather than hotels.  The hosts were not necessarily Methodist.  When the author’s grandfather joined the Texas Conference at Marvin in Tyler in 1919, he was housed with a Baptist family. 

The 1938 session of annual conference meeting in Longview changed all that.  Frank Dent, speaking for the Committee on Entertainment, submitted a resolution making Houston the “regular” site of annual conference.  One of the incentives for making Houston the permanent conference site was an offer from the Rice Hotel to offer rooms for $1.00 per night per person.  The offer was generous, and combined with the facts that the Rice Hotel was within walking distance of First Methodist Church and that Houston churches made up a larger percentage of the Texas Conference every year, it was too good to pass up. 

The “rest of the story” is that in 1938 the Rice Hotel was owned by Jesse H. Jones, the most prominent Houston builder and booster.  Ten years earlier he had personally guaranteed the funding if the Democratic National Convention of 1928 would be held in Houston.  Although he had spent much of the intervening decade in Washington, D. C., as Commerce Secretary and Chair of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, he still loved Houston.  His offer to attract the Texas Annual Conference to Houston each year was similar to his attracting the Democratic Convention in 1928.  Both combined good business and  generosity.  He was also a member of St. Paul’s, a trustee of the Methodist Hospital, and a friend of Bishop A. Frank Smith. 

Although there were concerns that some preachers and lay delegates would not be able to afford the $1.00 per day rate, the resolution passed and Annual Conference settled down in Houston

For young preachers, spouses, lay delegates, and preacher’s kids, First Methodist Church Houston and Annual Conference became synonymous.   Small town residents from all over East Texas came to look forward to their one week per year in the big city.  Downtown Houston was still the most important retail district.  Many Methodists used the trip to Annual Conference to go shopping at Foley’s (1110 Main), Sakowitz (across Main from Foley’s), Battlestein’s (812 Main), and other downtown retailers.  First Methodist is at 1320 Main

As years passed,  the memory of having Annual Conference in smaller towns such as Caldwell (1890), Calvert (1892), Navasota (1893), Marlin (1899), Crockett (1902), or Bay City (1914) was all but forgotten.