Saturday, November 16, 2013

Controversy Over Publishing House Embroils Texas Methodists, November, 1858

This Week in Texas Methodist History   November 17

Controversy Over Publishing House Embroils Texas Methodists, November, 1858

One of the persistent tensions in Methodism has been between “average layman in the pew” and preachers with grand ideas about the facilities the church should build and  maintain.  Whenever a preacher pushes for a new church building, parsonage, or other church facility, there will also be a faction of laity that protests the projected expense of the facility.  There is ample anecdotal evidence of members leaving churches because they thought their church was building an extravagant new building. Naturally there will always be a difference of opinion about what constitutes extravagance.   Part of our family lore comes from my grandfather’s pastorate in Hallsville.  When trustees considered installing a bathtub in the parsonage, one sister protested, “I’ve bathed all my life in a #3 washtub.  My preacher can too.”

In 1858 a major controversy arose over the proposal to construct a building to house the publishing interests of Texas Methodism in Galveston.  The controversy began when Texas Christian Advocate directors proposed building their own building on the Strand. 

The Strand!  Perhaps you know the Strand as a interesting tourist destination, but in 1858 The Strand was the most prestigious address in Texas.  Galveston was the most important banking, commercial, and distribution center west of New Orleans, and the Strand was the heart of its business district.  Only one year earlier in 1857, the Strand had been raised and paved with packed, crushed shell, making the street one of the very few in the entire state that did not become impassable in wet weather.  In dry weather, there was a regular water cart that sprinkled the street so businesses would not be troubled with dust. In 1858 there was a push to make sure that all the businesses fronting the Strand would have iron fronts—like picture frames around the brick and frame structures.  Galveston was experiencing a building boom in the late 1850’s, and real estate prices were rising rapidly.

As Galveston prospered, the managers of the Texas Christian Advocate proposed building a Publishing House on the Strand to serve the needs of the Advocate and also the German language Apologete, edited by Peter Moelling.  The Publishing House would not replace an existing building.  The Advocate and the Apologete were then being published under a contract with a Galveston newspaper.  

The proposal to build a Publishing House on the most expensive real estate caused a reaction.  In a letter signed “A Country Methodist” the objections to such an enterprise were especially cogent.
1.       The publication of two weekly newspapers, the Advocate and the Apologete did not justify the expense of a whole publishing enterprise.  In order to justify the business, the Publishing House would have to solicit secular customers—thereby competing with private business.
2.       The Publishing House was prohibited by General Conference action from publishing religious tracts and other denominational materials so it would not compete with the Publishing House in Nashville.  It would, however serve as a depository for publications from the Nashville Publishing House.
3.       Even if the church needed a Publishing House, it shouldn’t be built on the Strand.  They could build on a less expensive lot. 

The Country Methodist says, “But why should the members of our church, yet now and sorely afflicted with drouths, grasshoppers, and savages and all, be doomed to buy you an establishment worth twenty thousand dollars when twenty five hundred or three thousand dollars or any convenient rented building would do as well. . .And again, how is the Kingdom of our Heavenly Father on earth be benefitted by a cheaper printing of auction bills, catalogues, anniversary orations, or secular books?”
Those were strong arguments. (you may read the whole letter at, but the Advocate got its fancy Publishing House on the Strand.  

Just as Country Methodist predicted, the Publishing House did have to depend upon secular printing jobs.  The 1860 Texas Conference Journal displays a full page ad for the Publishing House, and just as “Country Methodist” predicted, the advertisement is a solicitation to the general public.  It also contains several advertisements from businesses on the Strand.

The Publishing House, in addition to his printing the Advocate and Journals, acted as a denominational headquarters and convenient meeting place for decades.  For example, it hosted the commissioners charged with creating a central university (Southwestern).  Eventually Dallas surpassed Galveston as the commercial capital of Texas.  The Advocate moved there.


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