Williamson County
Historical Commission

 

  The First Baptist Church-
Historical Marker
 Taylor
, TX

300 N. Robinson
 
  Mark Text
First Baptist church
in 1883, young black evangelist dr. I. Benjamin Toliver held a tent revival in a grassy field at this site. In 1886, dr. Toliver officially organized Mt. Aria Baptist church. Work on a permanent sanctuary began that year and was completed in 1904. The first two seated pastors, the rev. A. L. Boone and dr. L. K. Williams, were later secretary and president, respectively, of the national Baptist convention, USA, inc. Notable deacons include legendary rodeo bulldogger Bill Pickett, and Samuel Houston “papa” Hennington, sr., who served for 64 years. In 1940, rev. L. E. Brown led remodeling of the sanctuary and a name change to first Baptist church. The church has experienced untold blessings from god and spiritually served many of his faithful disciples.

(2012) marker is property of the state of Texas



 

Historical Reflections of
The First Baptist Church- Taylor, TX

 

 I.  CONTEXT

In 1876, Central Texas would have a new means of transportation in the form of the International and Great Northern Railroad (I&GN). Along this time a new town called Taylorsville emerged. Taylorsville was named after Edward Moses Taylor, an official and part owner of the I&GN. [1] The settlement began to grow rapidly to include homes and businesses from general mercantile stores through lumber yard, drug stores and hotels. By 1878, the population had increased to 1,000. The Christian, Baptist, and Presbyterian churches were being constructed, and the Catholics had bought their site. [2] On March 17, 1884, the city fathers changed the charter and the township of Taylorsville became officially known as the City of Taylor. [3] Taylor was considered an agriculture town with a large manufacturing base. The 1890 census showed Taylor having a population of 2,584. By the turn of the century, Taylor was well established as a trade and transportation center. [4]

 

 II. OVERVIEW

Time has been both a wearisome and honorable companion of the First Baptist Church located on 300 North Robinson Street in Taylor, Texas. During its amazing one hundred twenty-eight year history, the church has experienced untold blessings from God and spiritually served many of his faithful disciples. In fact, it is the first black Baptist church of Taylor, and was the catalyst for the creation of other black churches, which include Zion Chapel Baptist Church and Mount Calvary Baptist Church. [5] It is the oldest Baptist church in the city of Taylor. [6] Its original structure exists within the confines of the current building located at 300 N. Robinson Street. [7] Although a wealth of historical information has been lost over the years, the basic account of the church's saga has lived on through oral testament, personal memories, and a few rare documents. In the late 1970s, parishioners prudently begin reconstructing and documenting as much factual and verifiable information as possible. Investigations included searches of public, private and church records as well as personal interviews of church and community elders. One such elder was Deacon Samuel Houston "Papa" Hermington, Sr. (November 21, 1903 — November 21, 1994) who was in his mid nineties when he was interviewed. He served as a deacon at First Baptist church from 1930 until his death in 1994. Through his memories, he provided invaluable information to the historical documentation process such as his memories of the early church.

 

In 1883, the church we know today as The First Baptist Church made its humble beginning. A dedicated young black Baptist evangelist, by the name of Dr. I. Benjamin Toliver, pitched a tent in a grassy field south of Taylorsville across the street from the church building today located at 300 N. Robinson Street, respectfully, Lots 3 and 4, Block 78, in hopes of sharing the word of God with a multitude of migrant workers and townsfolk. [8] Times were tough in 1884, especially for blacks in the south, but through the grace of God and with a sacred vision for the future, a temporary building was erected across the street from the grassy field where the first revival meeting took place. [9] William "Bill" Pickett (ca. December, 1870 - March 25, 1932), the legendary black rodeo bulldogger, was one of the first deacons of First Baptist Church. [10] Furthermore, Bill was the first African-American to be inducted into the National Cowboy Hall of Fame. [11] At one time, for lack of a building, Sunday School and church services were held in an upstairs room of the Pickett home located at 811 East Second Street in Taylor. [12] However, it is believed that due to the insufficient structure of the temporary building during the cold months, the congregation would meet at the Pickett home. We were officially deeded the land in 1886.13 We acquired Lot 4, Block 78 in the city of Taylor, Williamson County, Texas. [14] The property was conveyed to the trustees of the Baptist church of Taylor, TX consisting of Henry Dillard, Thomas Pickett and Henry Matthew for a purchase price of $1.00. [15] In 1886, Dr. Toliver, the church's itinerant pastor, along with a handful of Christ's followers, officially organized and formed Mt. Aria Baptist Church. [16] (See photos of the cornerstone). On September 17, 1886, construction began on a permanent home for the faithful congregation. This was an ongoing project and was not completed and dedicated until 1904. (See photos of the cornerstone). In 1903, Lot 3, Block 78 was officially deeded by trustees consisting of Tom Pickett, R.A. Adams and C.H. Pickett for a purchase price of $50.00. [17] The cornerstone is incorporated in the present church today as a reminder of the deep-rooted determination and resilient resolve of the founding members comprised of a Deacon and Trustee board consisting of R.A. Adams, John Vann and C.H. Pickett. (See photos of the cornerstone). At this time, the church was under the leadership of its first seated pastor, the Reverend A.L. Boone, who became secretary of the National Baptist Convention, U.S.A., Inc. 

 

Succeeding Rev. Boone was the second pastor, Dr. L.K. Williams. He became president of the National Baptist Convention, U.S.A., Inc. Many illustrious ministers served as pastors in the intervening years including, Rev. S.C. Smith, Rev. Benford, Rev. L.W. Mackey, Rev. Simmons, Rev. Moss, Rev. A. L. Weaver, Rev. B. Sweeney and Rev. Waters. Next, was Reverend Ruffin who affiliated the church with the LaGrange District Association in which he was the Moderator at the time. The LaGrange District Association is still in existence today and to date First Baptist Church still remains a member. Other later pastors included Rev. Hennington, Rev. P.H. Jackson, Rev. McPhearson, Rev. Green, Rev. Bradley and Rev. Leonard. 

The small wood structure managed to withstand the harsh cruelties of Texas weather for a number of years, but nature and all its harshness was no match for the hope and enthusiasm of the spiritually faithful who continued to maintain the physical structure of the church for as long as they could. By 1939, the building was in desperate need of repair. During this time, Taylor was going through the "Great Depression." However, the community did not suffer so acutely as metropolitan areas did, especially in the East and Midwest. Rev. Sandle was the pastor at this time. He started a building fund, but before he could get the work underway, he met an untimely death with a fatal car-train accident in 1939. 

 

Because of a peculiar stipulation in the land deed, the congregation found themselves facing an unusual dilemma. The deed states for Lot 4, Block 78 that the lot has to be used as site for a church building. Upon a failure to comply with this condition, the ownership of the land would revert to the previous owner or his legal heirs who were John S. Barnes and Jacob S. Wetmore. [18] Even this apparently insurmountable barrier was no match for the strong-minded congregation. The resourceful and ingenious brethren met the challenge with unparalleled creativity. 

 

In 1940, Rev. L.E. Brown was called to pastor First Baptist Church in Taylor. He and his family had previously resided in San Antonio, Texas where he was the pastor of Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church. According to the cornerstone, the Deacon and Trustee board consisted of C.C. Harris, E.R. Ratliff, 0. Thomas, M. Jackson, G. Cato, R. Thompson, L. Guy, A. Thomas, John Berrie, E.W. Parnell and Wellie Scott. (See photos of the cornerstone.) During his tenure at First Baptist, Rev. Brown completely remodeled the church. Rev. Brown began remodeling in "1940" and by "1942" he had succeeded in extending the church to include a garage and educational annex on the back of the church. [19] Also, at this time, the name of the church was changed from Mt. Aria to First Baptist Church. [20] This was truly the "Beginning of a New Era." Rev. and Mrs. Brown remained at First Baptist unti11952. Rev. Brown was called and accepted pastorage of the First Mt. Carmel Baptist Church in Houston, Texas. He remained there until his demise in 1983. 

 

The roof over First Baptist today was a part of the renovations that began in 1941. The original roof from 1886 still stands within the construction of the 1941 roof, although some of the original wood was removed because of weight. [21] The four sturdy pillars that support the original roof of 1886 still stand in the sanctuary. [22]  Therefore, because of this, the congregation calls it a "church within a church". The church still retains a bell that used to hang in the steeple of the original 1886 church.

 

Rev. Bailey became the pastor of First Baptist Church in 1952 and remained until 1957 when he moved to San Antonio, TX. The membership increased and the church progressed during his tenure. Rev. Sam Mitchell succeeded Rev. Bailey as pastor and in 1958 he moved on.

 

In 1958, Rev. N.W. Bacon came to pastor First Baptist. He and his young family were an inspiration to the youth and young parents of the church. Senior members as well admired and respected his leadership. He remained until 1961 when he was called to pastor in Austin, TX. In 1961, the Rev. C.M. Majors came from Waco, Texas to become the pastor of First Baptist Church. He was a Sunday school advocate who was instrumental in reorganizing the program. He adopted a new order of service and instituted class promotions. Students were motivated by use of many visual presentations including board demonstrations, over-head projector displays and student productions performed or encouraged by the Superintendent Jerry L. Givens. The Sunday school represented in the District and State Congress. In 1965, Pastor Majors returned to his hometown. 

 

After two months of vacancy, Rev. T. L. Rivers became the new pastor of First Baptist Church in 1965. Rev. Rivers initiated an extensive remodeling, improvement and modernization project. In 1983, the church celebrated its 100th anniversary (as it also did again in 1986). As a part of the centennial program, the church's exterior was covered in vinyl siding, new seats were installed in the choir lofts, and the ceiling was replaced. [23] The choirs obtained new red and black robes. The centennial slogan chosen by Rev. Rivers was "We hear echos from a tent across the street", which tied the church's history with the present. [24] Not only was Rev. Rivers a renowned evangelistic pastor, but he was also a talented artist. In the church sanctuary, the baptismal pool font has a beautiful outdoor scene on the backdrop in which Rev. Rivers painted himself. [25] During Rev. Rivers' tenure were memorable members who have passed on such as Evelyn Hodges, who served as church clerk and Jim Brockington who was a Deacon and also served as the Administrator of Business and Finance. Others deacons included the late Harvey Randle and Raymond White, to name a few. The choir was under the direction of the late W. L. Tanksley. In September of 1989, Rev. Rivers became seriously ill and died. Rev. Rivers was the pastor for twenty-four years, therefore to date making him the pastor with the longest tenure at First Baptist.

 

Rev. T.L. Garner, a former deacon of the church, was called to pastor First Baptist Church in 1990. He inherited the remaining indebtedness courageously and a variety of programs were introduced which served as both spiritual revival for members and financial stability for the church. The roof sprang leaks and was replaced adding still new obligation to the indebtedness. A donation to the church paid off the remaining balance of the roofing project. Perhaps, the biggest highlight of Rev. Garner's pastorship was that in July 1997, he presided [26] over the burning of the mortgage on the church building. Soon after this joyful occasion, he became increasingly ill and died November 21, 1997. Once again the church was left void of a pastor. 

Numerous preachers were invited to preach at First Baptist Church until a pastor was finally selected. After a period of searching for a new pastor, the deacons met with Anthony Watson, Sr. on April 30, 1998 and, he agreed to start actively pastoring and preached his first sermon on May 10, 1998. He became the church's twenty-sixth pastor. The church has experienced much progress with this dynamic spiritual leader. In 1998, the land across the street from the church, Lots 10, 11 and 12, Block 59, was purchased for church use such as parking and recreation. The church has been re-roofed and raised from the Blackland soil where it was sinking and leveled. The church hired contractor Troy Alexander of Alexander Roofing & Restoration to fix the roof and it was completed in June of 2002 at a cost of approximately $70,000.00. The original wood flooring from the 1886 church was also refinished. In April of 2003, the church filed a Certificate of Ownership for Unincorporated Business to incorporate the assumed name of "The" First Baptist Church. [27] First Baptist Church started a praise dancers group. Praise Dancers are a group of young people who pantomime while a song is being sung or played. The membership has also increased. Since Pastor Watson's leadership, new members have joined First Baptist Church. Today, the congregation is comprised of over 150 active members. 

 

The church is heavily involved within the spiritual community of Taylor. Every year on Thanksgiving Day, the church family comes together and prepares and delivers Thanksgiving dinners for families in need within the community. The church actively participates in fellowshipping with other churches in the community. Pastor Watson was actively involved in combining vacation Bible School to include all of the churches in Taylor. Since 2006, First Baptist along with the city of Taylor has sponsored an annual Martin Luther King, Jr. March and tribute program. The mission department is active and continuing to progress. The mission has been divided into several mission groups to include Young Ladies for Christ, Women of Zion, and Crusaders for Jesus ministries. Under Pastor Watson's leadership, the church was blessed with the ordination of Deacons Louis Zachary, William Johnson, Willie Kinlow, Donald Pullings, Robin Hargers, Alton Davis, Sr., Randolph Griffin, Sr., Donald Williams, Travis Taylor and Quiontus Scott. New ministers ordained in the ministry include Pastor Louis Zachary, Pastor Christopher Hackett, Rev. Gregory Webster, Rev. Larry Johnson, Rev. William Johnson, Rev. Bryan Coleman, Sr., Rev. Leo Williams, Jr., Rev. Joshua Barnes, Sr., and Rev. Fidencio Jackson. Shortly before his death in June of 2006, Pastor Dillard Deary came back to pastor under Pastor Watson. Pastor Watson is in his thirteenth year as pastor of First Baptist. Recently, in the summer of 2009, the church purchased a new van. Today, the church is still affiliated with the LaGrange District Association, the Baptist Mission and Education Convention of Texas, and the National Baptist Convention USA, Inc. As the church family moves ahead, they look forward to more physical and spiritual growth. 

 

III. SIGNIFICANCE

The First Baptist Church is the oldest Baptist Church in Taylor, Texas in which it retains its original structure such as the original roof and four pillars within the sanctuary. It has had other landmark black churches in Taylor split from it. The First Baptist Church begin in 1883 as Mt. Aria within a tent. The construction on the current house of worship began in 1886 and finished in 1904 in which remodeling and repairs were made over the years. The church has joined with other churches and the community of Taylor to form vacation Bible School for the youth in the summer and to form an annual Martin Luther King March and tribute program. A yearly community event for the church is to prepare and deliver Thanksgiving Day meals to families in need. Therefore, for the reasons mentioned above, The First Baptist Church of Taylor, Texas, located at 300 North Robinson Street, more than deserves to receive an official Texas Historical Marker.

 

IV. DOCUMENTATION

1 Ruth Mantor, Our Town: Taylor (n.p.: n.p., 1983), 1.
2  Ibid., 2.

3 "History of Taylor, Texas," Taylor Chamber of Commerce, accessed October 14, 2011, http://www.taylorchamber.org/index.php?opinion=com_content&view=article&id=56&Itemid=1 20

4 Ibid., 2.

5 "First Baptist Church Celebrates its 121st Anniversary." Taylor Tribune, August 21, 2003.

6 Williamson County Deed Records, Book 110, pp. 96-97.

7 Ibid.

8 Williamson County Deed Records Book 81 pp. 627.

9 Ibid.

10 Bailey C. Hanes, Bill Pickett, Bulldogger (n.p.: University of Oklahoma Press, 1977), 33.

11 Elizabeth Ann Lawless, Western Legends: Yesterday and Today...African Americans 1798­2009 (Forney: Grapevine Star Entertainment Inc, 2009), 37.

12 Hanes, Bill Pickett, Bulldogger, 33.

13 Williamson County Deed Records, p. 196.

14 Ibid.

15 Ibid.

16 Ibid.

17 Wiiamson County Deed Records, Book 81, p.627

18 Wiiamson County Deed Records, p. 196.

19 Church Corner Stone IMG_5447.JPG

20 Ibid.

21 Heather Allee, "A Church Within a Church," Taylor Daily Press, August 11, 2003.

22 Taylor Daily Press, 2003, p. 3.

23 "Celebrating 100 Years," Taylor Daily Press, January 11,1983.

24  Ibid.

25 Darlene Clayton, personal conversation to author, October 15, 2011.

26 Ibid.

27 Williamson County Official Public Records # 2003037235

 


 

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