Tidbits of Shelby County History
History of Tennessee Community &Methodist Church
This week’s Tidbits is taken from an article written in the Timpson & Tenaha News, March 10, 1994 by Betty Crawford. This article and other information on Tenaha were given to the museum recently by Charles Pollard.
The early Tennessee Community pioneers who came to the community in 1836 brought their own organized religion with them they came to Shelby County. The community is located in north Shelby County, five miles west of Tenaha and seven miles east of Timpson on FM 947. It is said they rode into the sunset with a rifle in one hand and a Bible in the other with circuit riding preachers hard on their heels. Farming was the only enterprise, but there were very few farms implements. Plows were about the only tools except for the hoes and axes. The people planted gardens for their food supplies with potatoes, peanuts, corn, and cotton for a money crop. They canned dried fruit and stored potatoes and corn; ham was kept in a smokehouse. The corn was shucked and taken to the mill to be ground for the bread. Cows supplied the mild and butter. The main items to be purchased were sugar, coffee, soda, salt, and black pepper. About 20% of the land was in cultivation and the rest was of forest and short needle pine.
Camp meetings were immensely popular, serving as an excuse for a social gathering. In the communities, schools were opened which taught reading, writing and ciphering season with lessons from the Bible during the week. Nearly every community in the county had its one or two room schoolhouses. Shelby County School Census in 1854 lists the Tennessee Community with one of these schools. Since the community had it school, then it also had its own church.
The exact date the Tennessee Methodist Church was organized is not known. Records confirming the existence of the Cumberland Presbyterians and the Missionary Baptist Church in 1857 and land deeds of known Methodists pioneers and the fact the Methodist, Presbyterians and Baptist people shared the first two church buildings indicate there were also Methodist services held at this time.
In 1947, Jasper Neal Crawford gave his word picture of the first school and church building to Mrs. Ruby Lane, Tennessee Methodist Church Historian. “The first church building was called Mount Carmel and was a small one room log building measuring 12 X 16 feet. It had no windows and only one door. The seats were split logs with peg legs. The thick song books had only the words of the songs, no notes. The lights were small brass coal oil lamps with round wicks and no globes.” In researching the Methodist history, a small handbook of a Missionary Baptist circuit preacher, Rev. G.W. Butler, was found. The first date of his services was dated August 1857 and he referred to the church as Tennessee Community Church. On other dates, he also recorded services at Mt. Carmel Church.
About 1877, the first building was replaced by a large frame building with an upstairs. This building like the first one was used for school and church and was referred to as a “Union Church” since it was used by the Methodist, Presbyterian, and Baptist. In 1913, this Union building was put up for sale for $100. The Presbyterian people brought the Methodist and Baptist shares of this building for $60. The Methodist and Baptist bought land from C.H. Smith located across the road on the south side of the Tennessee cemetery. On this land, the first Methodist Episcopal Church South was built in 1913-1914. The first church building was a large white frame building. The deed is filed in volume 79, page 116, in Shelby County Court Records, Center, Texas. The trustees were Arthur Rider, J.R. Foster (of Tennessee Community), J.R. Bellarmey, H.G. Jordon, J.P. Davis, J.E. Cassidy, L.C. Thornton, T.B. Murphy and W.A. Hard of the other churches on the Gary Circuit.
The building committee members were Ozro Cranfill, chairman; Arthur Rider, secretary; J.R. Foster, treasurer; A.O. Rider, Samuel F. Crawford, Oba B. Johnson, Charlie Crawford, and Edwin Rider. Mrs. Evaline Clementine Murray Crawford, wife of Samuel C. Crawford, at the age of 88, laid the Holy Bible and church records in the right corner pillar, possibly in August of 1914. Mrs. Jenie Ramsey Rider wrote the records. Rev. W.W. Thomas was the pastor with 87 charter members.
Sunday, December 8, 1951, thirteen people met in this church and held services for the last time. The subject of the lesson was “Our Inescapable Choices”. Rev. T. Irvin King was the pastor. Demolition of the building began the next morning and replaced by a white brick building in 1952. The first services and Sunday School were held in the new unfinished white brick church building on March 23, 1953. The church members, with many community people donated their labor to the construction of the building. The pulpit, piano and pews were from the old church. Doyce and Mavoryne Morris donated seasoned wood and Belton Billingley built the new Communion Table. Will Crawford and Joe Pollard were the carpenters. In 1961, a wing was added on the east side of the building. Joe Pollard and Tubby Crawford were the carpenters. In 1970, a hand painted picture by Stephen Lane was added in the round windows. Work continued on the building when two restrooms were added in 1971. January 1974, the steeple was erected. Sammy and Billie Jo Jackson furnished the steel used to build the steeple. Carpet was added in the fellowship room that same year. Air conditioning was added in the Sanctuary in 1981.
A Chalice was given by Marjorie Harrison in memory of her husband, earnest Harrison, for communion services. Mrs. Harrison also loaned the church a refrigerator and coffee table to be used as long as the church needed them, then they were to be the property of Lolette Balkcom. In 1939, the old pews were replaced with new red pews in memory of Ruby Lane.
The Tennessee Methodist Church was recognized by the State Historical Commission in 1994 as being 137 years old. Betty Crawford researched for seven years the history of the church and petitioned the commission to buy a marker and present it to the church in memory of her father-in-law, Will Crawford and wife, Tubby Crawford. The marker will one day be placed at the church.