Williamson County
Historical Commission

 

  First Baptist Church Florence
Historical Marker, Florence, Texas

102 E. Main Street
 
  First Baptist Church of Florence - Historical Marker text
Settlers in the farming and ranching community of Florence gathered in April 1856 to hear the Rev. Robert Hay Taliaferro (1824-1875) preach and help them formally organize a church. Originally known as the Baptist Church of Christ, the congregation changed its name to First Baptist Church during the first decade of the 20th century. Several noted Baptist ministers have been associated with this congregation, including Taliaferro, the organizing pastor, who came to Texas from Kentucky in 1847 and established a number of Baptist congregations in the new state. Brother E. McDaniel served as first permanent pastor, from 1856 until 1869, soon followed by the Rev. George Washington Baines, from 1870 until 1877. Baines, great-grandfather of U.S. President Lyndon Baines Johnson, came to Texas in 1850 and served as president of Baylor University at Independence, in addition to pastoring a number of Baptist churches in Texas. In 1869, the congregation built its first sanctuary, which also served as a community schoolhouse and as a meeting place for other religious and fraternal organizations in Florence. New facilities were built as needed to accommodate First Baptist Church's growing membership. The congregation's programs of outreach and community assistance have played a significant role in the social and religious heritage of this part of Williamson County. (2001)





First Baptist Church Florence, Williamson County, Texas
Organized April 1856
Historical Narrative by:
Jeannie Montgomery - Sandra K. Montgomery - Shirley B. Brook
 
Genesis of a Church
 
Florence, Texas settled in the early 1850's, was once a small farming and ranching community west of the Chisholm Trail. It is located on Texas Highway 195 in the northwest corner of Williamson County. "Baptists living in and around Florence, Texas in 1856 had a deep desire and need for a church home." (History of the First Baptist Church, Florence, Texas, Beckham, 1989, page 1). A well-known ordained Baptist minister from Kentucky, Bro. R.H. Taliaferro, came April 11-13, 1856 to assist the settlers in organizing a gospel church.
(Baptist General Convention of Texas, 1958; History of the First Baptist Church, Florence, Texas, Beckham, 1989, page 1).

Robert Hay Taliaferro (1824-1875) was born in Winchester, Kentucky on October 19, 1824, son of Washington Anderson and Mary Ann Glasscock Taliaferro. He was ordained in the Lubuguard Baptist Church in Lubuguard, Kentucky in 1846 and came to Texas in 1847 where he organized and/or preached at various churches throughout the state. He authored a book called Evidences of Christianity, and was corresponding editor for the "Texas Baptist" from 1855 to 1861, and for the "Texas Baptist Herald" from 1865-1875. He also served two years as a missionary to the Choctaw Indians in Arkansas, and as a chaplain of the Texas Senate from 1870-1875. On January 18, 1855 he married Chloe Ann Anderson. On November 19, 1875, he died at his home in Austin. (New Handbook of Texas, Vol. 6, p. 196).

First known as the Baptist Church of Christ, the congregation was affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention and the Union Baptist Association. Bro. E. McDaniel, the first pastor, (1856-1869) was often prevented from ministering because of Indian raids and inclement weather. In 1858 a slave named Amanda was the first among many others who were accepted for baptism and membership in the newly formed church. During the civil war two church members gave their lives in defense of the Confederacy; IT Love (1863) and W. M. Chapman (1862). (History of the First Baptist Church, Florence, Texas, Beckham, 1989, pg. 4).
 
There was no regular meeting place until 1869 when a two story rock building was constructed. This regular building, shared by the Baptists, Methodists, Odd Fellows, and Masons, also served as a school house. (One Hundred Years in Florence, Texas 1851 to 1963, 2nd Ed. Heritage Printing, Georgetown, Texas1963). The Baptist and Methodist children met together during the 1870's in a Union Sabbath School.
 
Bro. George W. Baines, the maternal great grandfather of Lyndon Baines Johnson, served as pastor from 1870-1877. During the first revival Baines led, 40 people were converted. (History of The First Baptist Church Florence, Texas, page 6; Baptist General Convention of Texas, 1958).
 
Third in a line of four generations of Baptist ministers, George Washington Baines, Sr., eldest son of Thomas and Mary McCoy Baines, was born near Raleigh, North Carolina on December 29, 1809. Though ill health necessitated his withdrawal from the University of Alabama in his senior year, Baines was licensed to preach in 1834 by the Philadelphia Baptist Church of Tuscaloosa County and ordained on August 7, 1836 by the Grant's Creek Baptist Church. After his move to Arkansas in 1837, he organized three churches and served as a representative from Carroll County to the Fourth Legislature of Arkansas. Baines married Melissa Ann Butler on October 20, 1840. Rebecca Baines Johnson, mother of the 36th President of the United States, was the daughter of Joseph Wilson Baines, one of ten children born to this union.
 
In 1844, George Washington Baines moved to Louisiana, where he assisted in organizing one church, was pastor of several churches and served as superintendent of schools in Bienville Parish. After moving to Texas in 1850, Baines served as president of Baylor University (1861-1862) and was pastor of churches in Huntsville, Independence, Anderson, Fairfield, Springfield, Butler, Florence and Salado. He died December 28, 1882 and is buried in Salado. (The New Handbook of Texas, Vol. 1, page 340). During the first revival Baines led, 40 people were converted. (History of The First Baptist Church Florence, Texas, page 6; Baptist General Convention of Texas, 1958).
 
The congregation enjoyed attending "camp meetings". These annual gatherings provided an opportunity for the settlers gather to worship, eat covered dish meals, and meet potential spouses.In 1884 the Baptist congregation temporarily met in the old "Grange Hall" after selling their interest in the rock building to the Methodists. On two lots purchased from J.W. Atkinson Sr., the Baptists built a simple wooden church later to be known as the "lower house". This location is now the site of the Scott & White Medical Clinic in Florence. The congregation reached out to the community of Cisco, Texas by sending a collection to the cyclone victims in May of 1893. Internal ministries advanced in 1898 when the Baptist Young People's Union was developed. (History of the First Baptist Church, Florence, Texas,
page 9-11).
 
An argument over missions methods split the congregation. In May of 1902 The Second Missionary Baptist Church was formed and met in homes until 1903. The Methodists shared the old rock church with them for a short time. Later that same year Second Baptist, converted a house into a suitable meeting place that was located on land east of the elementary and junior high school. This structure became known as the "upper house". During that same point in time the original congregation changed their name to First Baptist Church. The division lasted 10 years. (History of the First Baptist Church, Florence, TX, Beckham, 1989 page 14-22; Baptist General Convention of Texas, 1958)
 
Finally, in August of 1910 the two groups constituted themselves into one body in Christ, and retained the name of First Baptist Church. They met in the "upper house" during the winter months because it was easier to heat. April through September the "lower house" was used because it would accommodate the larger summer crowds. In that same year the Ladies Missionary and Aid Society were begun. That decade, Dr. Lee Scarborough, a future president of Baylor University and Southwestern Theological Seminary, led a 15 day revival in which 69 persons accepted Christ and followed Him in baptism.
 
One year later, young men from the congregation left their families to defend the United States in WWI. It was during this same time period that the church became affiliated with the Williamson Baptist Association. Because the "upper house" had been sold and the "lower house" was in disrepair, the congregation was forced to share the Woodmen Hall, which was located on the second floor above the present Florence Insurance office. Having little money in 1922, First Baptist Church broke ground at the present location on College street with a deep conviction and a faith that God would allow them to construct a modern church. On June 24, 1923 the congregation had a beautiful brand new building equipped with electric lights and a baptistry. Later that decade the church would struggle, but survive the economic difficulties of the Great Depression. When there was no money, the members gave corn, clothing and staple groceries to support the work of the denomination at the state level.
 
Following these hard times, the church held its first Vacation Bible School (1939), built a parsonage (1940) and has supported a full time pastor ever since. First Baptist church supported WWII by assisting with the construction of Fort Hood, Killeen, Texas, and serving in the armed forces; some giving their lives. During the war, a men's bible class began that set the stage for the Brotherhood organization that started in 1948. Increases in membership led to a new sanctuary that was dedicated in 1956.
 
The second century of the church began with a joint effort to take a community census. Members from First Baptist Church, the Methodist and the Church of Christ divided Florence geographically and surveyed the religious preference of individuals. Once completed, prospects were contacted and invited to attend services. Increases in attendance led to the need for additional educational space. A new building was completed and dedicated in 1963. Bro. Ed Jennings, called as pastor in 1968, served until his retirement in 1990. (First Baptist Church Minutes, April-May 1990). During the 70's and 80's First Baptist Church extended the Lord's Supper to the Florence nursing home residents, began a homebound ministry, and supported Wisconsin Pioneer Missions. Still growing, First Baptist needed a larger sanctuary. The present sanctuary was completed and dedicated on Easter Sunday in 1983.
 
Recently, members of First Baptist reached out to the victims of the Jarrell tornado through volunteer efforts. In 1998 another joint community outreach survey was conducted. First Baptist Church coordinated the survey efforts of five local churches in distributing the Jesus Video to residents. Additionally, the church has continued its participation in a variety of community assistance programs which includes for example Thanksgiving baskets, Christmas gifts, school supplies and project graduation. At the present time First Baptist Church is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, the Baptist General Convention of Texas, and Williamson Baptist Association.
 
Over the years First Baptist Church has survived Indian attacks, inclement weather, wars, and the Great Depression. During its history the church has built five auditoriums, and come through a devastating split that was eventually resolved with the church body made one again. "What a rich heritage the church has because in each generation there were faithful, God-fearing men and women who served Christ to the best of their ability, and supported the work with whatever means they had." (History of First Baptist Church, Florence, Texas, Beckham p 96). A multitude of individuals has gone forth from these portals as servants, called by God to minister to surrounding communities, in the state of Texas, and the world.
 
"As the divine power of God moved upon First Baptist Church, it has been led to the glorious victory to which it have now come. As long as His word is preached, the plan of salvation taught, and its people put Christ first, there will be a First Baptist Church of Florence until He comes again. Just what is in store for this church in the future as it continues to let Him lead, is yet to be revealed." (Sunday Sept 1923 minutes of First Baptist Church as quoted in History of First Baptist Church, Florence, Texas, Beckham p.33, 96).
 
Bibliography
Baptist General Convention of Texas (1958). Encyclopedia of Southern Baptists Vol. II. Broadman Press, Nashville, TN.
Beckham, Dorothy. (1989). History of the First Baptist Church, Florence, Texas: April 1856 to April 1989. First Baptist Church, Florence, TX.
Caskey, E. A. (1963). One Hundred Years in Florence, Texas: 1851 to 1963 2nd Ed. Heritage Printing, Georgetown, TX.
Encyclopedia of Southern Baptists: I, Ab-Ken. Broadman Press, Nashville, Tennessee
First Baptist Church, Florence, Texas (1986). 130th Anniversary: 1856-1986. Church Program. First Baptist Church, Minutes April-May 1990, Florence, Texas
Riley, BF (1907) History of the Baptists of Texas, Dallas, Texas.
Texas Baptist Annual, 1947, Amarillo, Texas, pg 334
The New Handbook of Texas: in six volumes, Volumes 1, 2 and 6, Austin, The Texas State Historical Association, 1996
Williamson Baptist Association of Texas, 1996 Book of Minutes, Georgetown, Texas
 
 

 

 

 

 

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Historical Markers in Williamson County