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.  


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