Williamson County
Historical Commission

 

 

First United Methodist Church 
Historical Marker
Florence, Texas

1978 to now
302 East Curry Street
Florence, Texas

 


 

 

Marker Text

In 1856, Florence was a small settlement of log cabins and a store or two. It also had a stone building (300 ft. Ese), used as a church and meeting place, on land donated in 1845 by john c. Caskey. Before that time, settlers worshiped in homes and other meeting places.

The Methodist congregation in Florence shared the stone building, just as it shared its pastor. Early Methodist ministers in Texas rode circuits, serving several communities. The Florence mission, part of the Waco district, was at the head of a circuit. In 1858, rev. John carpenter was officially appointed to the church as its first pastor.

The congregation bought additional interest in the building, with full ownership in 1910. Members remodeled it and used it until 1924, when they sold it for use as a primitive Baptist church. The Methodist congregation built a new church at this site in 1924 and used it until erecting a brick church in 1968.

Over the years, the Florence Methodist church has served the community through its organizations. The home mission society, established in 1890, later became the women's society of Christian service. The Methodist men, in 1957, created a live stock program to raise funds for a new parsonage. Youth groups have also been an important part of the church's mission, with the first junior league established in 1900. The congregation was voted church of the year in 1960 by the central Texas conference of the Methodist church. Its name changed in 1968 to the first united Methodist church of Florence, and it continues to be a vital part of its community.

 

 

 

 

 
 
before 1885


1924



 
 
  First United Methodist Church - Florence, Texas
Historical Narrative by Florence Caskey, Church Historian,

"In all the annals of history in either church or state, none has probably surpassed the planting of Methodism by pioneers in Texas... pioneers who threw wide their humble cabin doors to the coming of those early Heralds of the Cross, who dared to face the perils of the frontiers in order to challenge and inspirit those who dreamed of building to stand a mighty civilization here in Texas." [1]

There is much to remember about the Methodists who came to Texas where the Indians roamed and the territory was ruled by Mexico. Conditions were difficult, food sometimes scarce, and shelters crude. Churches faced opposition, as Texas was a part of the Spanish territory. The preachers were poorly paid and unable to support a family and maintain a home.

The Methodist's system functioned effectively mainly because of the self-sacrificing devotion of the circuit riders who, like Apostle Paul, counted not their lives dear unto themselves.

Robertson's Colony was a Central Texas area, one hundred miles wide and two hundred miles long, embracing all or part of 30 Texas counties of which Williamson County was a part. The land was first granted by the Mexican government in 1822 and became the property of Stephen F. Austin and Samuel M. Williams in 1835. Approximately 600 families had settled during this time.

William Stevenson, first Methodist and first representative of any Protestant group to preach in Texas, was a local preacher of the Missouri Conference. He was engaged in farming and spent much time traveling and preaching.

"William Stevenson asked Stephen F. Austin for permission to preach in his colony, but Mr. Austin replied that he must be loyal to the Mexican government and the law he had accepted when he brought his colony into the Texas regions. Therefore, he would be compelled to imprison anyone except Roman Catholics who went through the country preaching. Austin added that all must be baptized in the Roman Catholic Church and all marriages must be celebrated in that church, This is the law of the nation and all must obey it." [2]

In May 1836, news came of the Mexican defeat at San Jacinto during the General Conference session of the Methodist Episcopal Church, which was held in Cincinnati, Ohio. This opened the door of opportunity for the spread of Protestantism. The mission in Texas was officially established. Texas became an independent republic and Protestant preaching was legal.

"The early circuit preachers were obliged to take long and dangerous journeys to reach their several preaching stations over lonely trails and across vast untenanted prairies. The congregation was content to hear the Word of God from the lips of these men who were willing to endure hewed log benches for seats." [3]

Florence was first known as "Limp Rag" but no one knows why. In a letter dated January 25, 1854, the town was called Brooksville, but in a deed dated February 7, 1856, the name had changed to Florence.(4) The town was nothing more than a collection of log huts with a small store or two, a trading and barter center for the families who had come mainly from Tennessee and Alabama. It was necessary at times to chase the Indians in their raids on the stock and settlement.

The early settlers worshipped in homes and later in a log-meeting house. In the early years, there were no regular preachers and sermons were delivered by visiting ministers.

An Official Historical Medallion is located in Florence, Texas in Williamson County. The Recorded Texas Historic Landmark, dated 1970 follows:

EARLY CHURCH ON LAND GIVEN MARCH 8, 1845, BY JOHN C. CASKEY FOR CEMETERY AND MEETING HOUSE. ORIGINALLY 2-STORY, THE NATIVE STONE STRUCTURE IS BELIEVED TO HAVE BEEN BUILT BEFORE 1855, FINANCED BY J.W. ATKINSON AND DR. O. BENEDICT. IN THAT ERA IT HOUSED A SCHOOL, BAPTIST AND METHODIST WORSHIP SERVICES AND MASONIC AND ODD FELLOWS LODGES. IT WAS PURCHASED IN 1924 BY PRIMITIVE BAPTISTS AND REDUCED TO ONE STORY IN AN EXTENSIVE REMODELING IN 191950. [5]

The education and religious institutions were of utmost importance to the early settler. It is believed the building was built between 1845-1855. The building is of native stone. The lower floor was sold to the Methodist and Baptist congregations. The second floor was sold to the Masonic and Odd Fellow Lodges. Both the church groups and the lodges permitted the building to be used as a schoolhouse. Other local organizations such as the Temperance Council for men and the Band of Good Hope for children were permitted to use the building. The Methodist congregation worshipped in this building. The old stone building where so many years the Methodists had worshipped, seems indestructible and stands today as a monument, sacred and secure to religious bodies who have worshipped there throughout the years.

In 1856, the Christian Advocate reported John Carpenter (1810-1898) in a revival at Florence with 22 accessions. [6] John Carpenter was a native of Virginia and licensed to preach in 1841. He came to Texas in 1852. He was admitted to the Texas Conference in 1855. In 1858, at the Texas Conference held in Austin, November 24-30, he was appointed to the Florence Mission, Waco District. [7]

In 1859, Reverend John Andrew Brooks Whittenberg (1841-1892) was appointed to the Lampasas and Florence Mission in the Waco District. Conference reported 114 white, 37 white probation, 2 col'd and 4 local preachers. Reverend J.A.B. Whittenberg was a charter member of the Florence Methodist Church and is buried in the Florence Cemetery.

In 1860, John W. Ledbetter was appointed to the Lampasas and Florence Mission. Conference reported 130 white, 44 white probation, 10 col'd, 4 col'd probation and 2 local preachers.

In 1861, Joseph P. Sneed (1804-1881) was appointed as pastor in charge of Lampasas and Florence Mission. Conference reported 130 white, 44 white probation, 10 col'd, 4 col'd probation and 2 local preachers.

Florence was head of a circuit. Joseph P. Sneed was one of the earliest preachers in Texas. He preached in Texas prior to the official formation of the Texas Missions by the Board of Missions of the Methodist Church. He helped to organize the first church in Texas in 1834. [8]

During 1860-65, meetings were often postponed because of Indian uprisings and the Civil War.

On February 26, 1879, the sum of $380.00 was paid to John W. Atkinson and the sum of $89.00 was paid to J. W. Stanley for a 1/4 interest in the stone building and lot formerly owned by Ozias Benedict and seized and sold under and by virtue of an execution and order of sale by a District Clerk of the District Court of Williamson County. Conveyed and confirmed unto J.L. Whittenberg, A.G. Gannaway, John W. Casey, R.D. Shofner, and J.A.B. Whittenberg, trustees legally authorized to hold property for the use of the Methodist Episcopal Church South at Florence. [9]

The Methodists now had full control of the first or lower story one half the time while the Baptists controlled said story the other half On January 1, 1884, the deacons, Lewellen Moore, Sr., and John Rutledge, of the Missionary Baptist Church for the sum of $500.00 sold to M.B. Connaway, John W. Standlee, J.L. Whittenberg, T.J. Redding, D. Shofner, and M.J. Standlee, trustees of the Methodist Episcopal Church South, the entire interest being 1/4 of a certain lot and two story rock building. [10]

In 1906, The Masonic Lodge bought the 'A interest owned by the Florence Lodge 100F #182 for $125.00 giving them full control of the upper floor of the rock building [11]

In 1910, the Florence Lodge #338AF&AM sold their entire interest in lot and the upper story of the rock building for $500.00. W.S. Miller, E.O. Hood, and E. McMullen, the committee appointed by the Quarterly Conference of the Florence Charge of the Methodist Episcopal Church South, paid the sum. The deed was dated February 25, 1910. [12]

For the first time the Methodists had a sanctuary of their own. The Methodist congregation remodeled the stone building. The second floor was removed, an inclined floor was laid and a steeple and church bell were added in front of the church. The deep tones of the bell called people to worship for each service. The bell was always tolled when there was a death in the church.

The first organization of women in the Methodist Church began November 1, 1890, and was known as the "Home Mission Society" with Reverend G.W. Graves (1839-1893) as Pastor. The ladies were very active and devoted much time and effort to maintain the parsonage. There was always a Bible study and Mission study in progress. It was of great service to the church and community. The General Conference officially authorized the Epworth League movement in 1890. Sunday Schools played an important role.

Camp meetings and revival meetings, brush arbors, tabernacles, protracted meetings and dinner on the grounds were all a part of our heritage.

Church minutes dating back to 1888 have been most helpful in preparing this historical account, especially when names and families are mentioned. Notations also show that some members were expelled for infractions of Methodist Rules.

D.D. Thomson was mentioned as being a soul winner for both Baptists and the Methodists... heard shouting throughout the tabernacle when someone was converted. Edgar E. Thomson was licensed to preach and held many meetings throughout the Florence, Maxdale on the Lampasas River, and Copperas Cove area. Reverend Joseph Hamilton Hill assisted him in many of his meetings. Prosper, son of Reverend D.D. Thomson, led the choir. Miss Ora Richardson was organist for several years and served during the years when camp meetings were held under brush arbors just south of the church.

Among the families of the early church were: D.D. Thomson and family, W.L. Story and family, Joe Whittenberg and family, John Standlee and family, W.D. Shafner and family, J.M. Bowman and family, OA. Hood and family, Sam Richardson, Sr. and family, Miss Hattie Miller, W.D. Ledger and family, A.J. Perry and family, E.E. Thomson and family, J.R. Armstrong and family and the Cashen family.

The church took special interest in the young people. Mrs. Sam Richardson, Sr., gave much time in the organization of youth groups. Miss Doll Ledger assisted her as senior group leader and Margaret Thomson as younger group leader.

In 1900, Reverend Steele and his wife Anna organized the first Junior League for the young people.

Trustees J.R. Clark, H.S. Burson, and E.M. Thomas of the Florence Methodist Church sold the rock building and lot to the Primitive Baptists for $1000.00. The deed was dated August 13, 1910. [13]

In 1924, the Methodists built a new wooden church in the same location as the present one. The Reverend J.D. Kursell was pastor and Reverend W.A. Clarke, resident pastor from 1926-1931 dedicated the church. The marble cornerstone was fashioned, lettered and chiseled by Robert Preston Chambers while employed by the W.R. Lewis Monument Works of Georgetown, Texas. The cornerstone of white marble reads:

ERECTED 1924
J.D. Kursell P.C.
W.C. Love
H.K. Galloway
P.A. Bevill
J.J. Shaw
J.J. Lawler
H.B. Hamilton
L.T. Ledger
F. Foster

The parsonage, which was quite old, was renovated and redecorated and served the pastors until 1945.

In 1940, the "Home Mission Society" was changed to the "Women's Society of Christian Service".

In 1941, Florence became a full time charge during the pastorate of Reverend Robert Koch. The charges that had been on the circuit were discontinued when the membership became quite small and many of the members affiliated with First Methodist in Florence.

In 1946, the Annex was added to the church building as an Educational Wing providing more classroom space, a fellowship room, pastor's study and kitchen.

In 1956, gas furnaces and air conditioners were installed in the church. On March 5, 1956, the church members started a project to get the Florence Hospital bedrooms furnished. Other churches and organizations made pledges and all the bedrooms were furnished without cost to the hospital board.

In 1956, an organ was installed in the church and the Gleaners Class laid the carpet in the Sanctuary. The first youth director, Mrs. Sledge of Georgetown, was engaged as a music teacher once each week for children in the 9-13 age group.

In 1957, the Livestock program was established as a stewardship program under the guidance of the Methodist men. Cattle and sheep purchased by the church or donated by members were placed on ranches and farms of volunteers who cared for them. When the animals were ready for market, they were sold and the proceeds went into the building fund. This program was responsible for the parsonage, which was completed in 1960.

In 1959, Reverend Samuel E. Mohundro was assigned to the church. The first thing to start under his ministry was building a new parsonage. On August 26, 1959, the old parsonage was sold for $1800.00 and moved from the premises. Plans were submitted for a new parsonage and accepted. Bids were called for and four bids were submitted. The low bid, $10,773.25 submitted by John C. Gautier was accepted.

In 1960, the new parsonage was completed primarily from proceeds from the Livestock program. The new pastor's home included three bedrooms, two baths, central heat and an all-electric built-in kitchen. Modern furnishings were installed to complete the interior. The Women's Society of Christian Service held Open House in March. Approximately 70 people were in attendance even though heavy rains fell that day. The Couple's Class financed the landscaping.

In 1960, Florence Methodist Church was voted the Church of the Year by the Central Texas Conference for "Outstanding Achievement in Town and Country Work". The award was accepted at the Annual Conference meeting in Fort Worth, Texas, June 9,1960, by the pastor Reverend Samuel Mohundro and the Lay Delegate, Mr. Herb Evans. In this same year, the sanctuary was air-conditioned.

Bob Tindell was employed as a Youth Director in 1960. He was a student at Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas. Youth activity programs have been carried on locally and in the district. The church has helped support and sends delegates to Glen Lake in Glen Rose, Texas.

On October 15, 1961, the church celebrated the 107th anniversary as a place of worship for the citizens of Florence. Reverend R.B. Pinckney was pastor. Bishop William C. Martin of the Dallas-Fort Worth district was guest speaker at the 11 a.m. service. Dr. Durwood Fleming, President of Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas delivered the 7:30p.m. sermon.

The current educational building was built in 1965. The church held consecration services and open house for the building on Sunday, July 18th. Dr. J.W. Sprinkle, superintendent of the Georgetown District, presided at the Consecration Service, which was held at the 11a.m. worship service, assisted by Reverend John P. McClatchy, pastor.

In 1968, the name was changed to reflect the merger of churches, thus the Florence United Methodist Church.

In 1978, a new, one-story brick sanctuary was built. Reverend William Horick was pastor at this time. The church and furnishings cost about $50,000. Stained glass windows were added later.

In 1983, the Maas-Rowe Carillon was given and in 1986, the bell tower for the Carillon was erected.

Sunday, February 9, 1997, a church conference was held to approve or deny the parsonage enlargement and renovation project. The parsonage project was completed in August. Open House was held September 28, 1997.

The church activities include sponsorship of Scouting, Vacation Bible Schools, community singings, Fall Festivals, Last Supper Pageant, over 50's luncheons, Chrismon Tree Service, a live Nativity Scene, graduating seniors party, church dinners and picnics, "Chicken-Foot Gang group, children and youth parties, music and preaching revivals, Bible study groups and Prayer Wheel, recognition of birthdays and anniversaries, and the United Methodist Women's Chaber Circle.

From log cabins to stone and brick sanctuaries with stained glass windows, members of Florence United Methodist Church still gather to worship and serve the community. The Florence Methodist Church has always been of service to the surrounding communities. The Florence congregation shares the pastor with the Jarrell church and includes them in church events and meetings. As the memberships dwindled in the community churches, most of the members affiliated with the Florence Methodist Church.

The following churches have been on the Florence circuit: Corn Hill, Wesley Chapel, Gravis, Berry's Creek, Mount Horeb, Gabriel Mills, and Maxdale.

Remembering the great moments of yester-year, we turn our thoughts to the future... to the new era before us in which we may serve the Lord. It is our prayer that the leaders will hold foremost in their thinking the words from Psalms 24:1 "The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein". [14] Also, from Isaiah 54:10 "For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed, says the Lord, who has compassion on you". [15]

Endnotes PDF

List of Pastors PDF

Addendum PDF


 
 
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