First United Methodist Church – serving Mineral Wells for more than 130 years
Compiled and written by Sue Overton
Under the guiding hand of Rev. R. A. Eddleman, 26 local Methodists first organized the church while meeting in the shade of a large tree. This church was known as one of the Millsap Valley Circuit, and its first pastor was Rev. Isaac N. Reeves, who served one year, 1881-1882. Services were initially held in various buildings or in the outdoors.
Having no building of their own, the congregation was happy to meet with other denominations in the one little church building that graced the valley on the southwest corner of the block now occupied by the former Crazy Hotel. Records indicate this small church was built by the Presbyterians. For the next four years, this building served as the meeting house for all the people. In addition to serving as a church, it was the school and the community gathering place.
During the Methodists' first year in the union church, 1882-1883, Rev. E.F. Bates pastored the little group. In 1883, the church was sold to Mr. H.S. Little, who then sold it in 1884 to the Missionary Baptist Church of Mineral Wells. However, the Baptists were unable to pay a pastor full time, so they shared the pulpit with the Methodists. One Sunday the congregation would hear Baptist doctrine; the next Sunday, Methodist doctrine. Sunday school was a joint effort of the two denominations.
The arrangement continued for two years, during which time G.W. Riley (1883-1884) and J.T. Bloodworth (1884-1886) served as pastors. By 1884, the population of Mineral Wells had grown enough for these two denominations to expand their facilities. Since the church building belonged to the Baptists, it was natural that the Methodists should be the ones to move.
The flock transferred themselves and their belongings from this building to a lodge hall belonging to Dr. D.F. Yeager. This hall was located in the 200 block of Northeast First Avenue, just west of the current church. There, they worshiped for five years, during which time they separated from the Millsap Valley Circuit and became a station with a full-time pastor.
Pastors who served the growing congregation during these years were William Price (1886-1887); R.M. Morris (1887-1888); and W. Levi Harris (1888-1891). In 1890, under the pastorate of Rev. Harris, the congregation resolved to build a church of their own. Loyal, courageous souls labored hard and long to realize their dream – the purchase of the present church site and the building of a one-room rock church. Services were conducted for the first time in this building on April 30, 1890. Also under Rev. Harris's pastorate, the first house owned by local Methodists was built.
Before long, the congregation outgrew the one-room building. They considered adding additional rooms but decided against it because of a foundation problem. For some unknown reason, the various strata of rock on which the foundation rested shifted back and forth, making the walls crack. Thus the congregation decided to construct a new frame church, rather than enlarge the one they had. They reckoned that lumber would be more resilient to the shifting, sliding rock.
In 1892, under the pastorate of Rev. J.R. Hixon, the rock church was torn down and a frame church was erected. It is interesting to note that the rocks from original church are still in service today. At the time the church was demolished, the rocks were sold to Dr. C.F. Yeager, who used them in the construction of the business building, which still stands today on Northeast First Avenue, the old Yeager Building, built in 1899.
In its day, the frame Methodist church was an imposing structure, possessing not one, but two, spires rising serene and bright. In the taller spire hung the traditional church bell – an important part of early day churches. During the week, it served as an important means of communication for the entire town. It tolled the passing of a friend; it sounded the alarm when fire struck; on New Year's Eve it “rang out the old and in the new" year. Citizens soon came to recognize from the tone and rhythm of the bell the events taking place in the community.
The bell came home to First United Methodist Church after many years of hanging from a honeysuckle entwined tower in the yard of Margaret and Mike Costello. The old bell is now located in a bell tower constructed to preserve it in front of the church.
By 1903, Mineral Wells was growing by leaps and bounds and so were the Methodists. The frame church was feeling the pressure of the rapid growth and needed remodeling. Under the pastorate of Rev. C.V. Oswalt, the church building was enlarged by adding a two-story annex to the back of the original frame structure. This provided the additional Sunday school rooms so greatly needed. At the same time, the entire structure was brick-veneered, taking another big step forward in the physical progress of the church.
At this time, Mineral Wells First Methodist Church had a membership of 450, with church and parsonage valued at $20,000. During the church year, 154 new members were added, increasing the membership to 538 persons. Another big step in the church's growth occurred in 1920, when a new parsonage was built on East Hubbard Street. The addition of this parsonage and the addition of the organ was done during the pastorate of Rev. J.A. Whitehurst.
In 1904, the Northwest Texas Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church South held its 39th Annual Session in Mineral Wells. The 1909 city directory listed the First Methodist Episcopal Church South at 202 N. Lambert. This is approximately where the church building stands today. The Methodist church seems to have had several different names throughout the years.
In 1918, the first organ was installed in the church, a Hill Green Lane pipe organ. A controversy over exchanging the pipe organ for an electric organ occurred during the years that followed.
Following the ministry of Rev. J.A. Whitehurst, First Methodist continued to move forward under the able leadership of such men as C.L. Cartwright, Alonzo Monk Jr., W.H. Coleman, and A.D. Porter. In 1930, Rev. P.E. Riley was appointed pastor and, after serving four years, was followed by F.P. Culver, E.R. Barcus, E.H. Lightfoot and T.H. Burton.
An interesting fact in the history of Methodism in Mineral Wells is that in 1936, a retired minister, I.E. Hightower, did not want to stop working for the Lord. He saw a need for a Methodist presence in the southwest part of Mineral Wells and founded the Fourth Avenue Methodist Church. Fourth Avenue Methodist was a mission church of First Methodist and operated under First Church leadership. In 1940, they held services in a one-room building. Some time between 1942 and 1944, the name of this satellite church was changed to Central Methodist of Mineral Wells.
The church structure served its congregation faithfully and well for many years. But time has a way of taking its toll with all things, and the church building was no exception. In 1945, under the pastorate of Dr. D.A. Chisholm, 1944-1945, plans were made for a new church building. An extensive survey was made, an architect employed and a brochure was printed and distributed to all interested persons, showing the proposed building and facilities. The church was started with the wrecking of the old church building and clearing the lot. In 1947, the foundation was laid for the edifice in which we worship today. In 1949, services were held in McMaster Hall and the USO building on North Oak Avenue pending the completion of the new sanctuary.
During the pastorate of Rev. Finis A. Crutchfield, 1949-1953, the sanctuary was completed and the first services were held on Dec. 14, 1952, with the consecration of the sanctuary. Bishop William C. Martin presided and a full day of religious services were held.
During the building of the current sanctuary, Mr. Nonnan Hines enlisted the help of Mrs. J.W. Akin Jr., organist of First Methodist Church, Wichita Falls. She spent several days in Mineral Wells and arranged with the Wicks Organ Company of Dallas for the complete reconstruction of the organ at a cost of $3,000, which was the cost of the best electronic organ then available. The carillon bells were added in 1955. (The preceding was adapted from history written by Ruth Stoker.)
Following Rev. Crutchfield, Rev. Charles H. Cole, pastored from 1953-1958. It was during his pastorate, in 1956, that the present parsonage was purchased. The home was refinished and furnished, and Rev. Cole and his family were the first occupants.
In 1958, Rev. Wallace J. Shelton was transferred to First Methodist Church in Mineral Wells and served until 1960. The church grew under his leadership, as an extensive program of visitation was put into effect. In 1960 Rev. Shelton was promoted to district superintendent, which created a vacancy in Mineral Wells.
Rev. J.W. Whitefield was appointed to fill the pulpit, serving from 1960 to 1965. It was under his able leadership that the final part of the building program was completed. In 1963, Camp Wolters became Fort Wolters, a "permanent" U.S. Army base. Mineral Wells grew by leaps and bounds due to incoming Army personnel, and so did the church. In 1966, during the Vietnam War, Fort Wolters was designated the Primary Helicopter Training Center for the Army, and Mineral Wells grew even more.
During Rev. Boulware's tenure, in 1968, First Methodist Church became First United Methodist Church with the uniting of the Methodist church and the Evangelical United Brethren Church.
Rev. Whitefield was followed by Rev. Urban A. Schulze, who served the church for a little more than three years. He was followed by Rev. Floyd A. Boulware, who served almost five years, until 1972. Rev. Len Layne was appointed to the church on Nov. 1, 1972, and served until his retirement in 1978. The Laynes continued to make Mineral Wells their home and remained an active part of the church. When Rev. Layne came to First United Methodist Church of Mineral Wells, the church was at the height of prosperity. He served through the closing of Fort Wolters in 1973, when the population of the town declined rapidly. However, the church thrived thanks to the leadership of Rev. Layne.
Upon Rev. Layne's retirement, Rev. B.C. Dugger Jr. was appointed to fill the vacancy. Rev. Dugger served faithfully for 13 years. During this period, an oil boom filled the empty houses, left vacant by the Army base closure, with oil company personnel and oilfield workers. Rev. Dugger added new programs, remodeled the church interior, stepped up the youth program, and became very active in the community.
When Rev. Dugger departed, many members left FUMC, some because he left, some because the oil field work was slow, and some because of the new minister, Rev. Mike Phillips. Over the next two years, church membership and attendance steadily declined.
In 1993, Rev. Gary Lindley was appointed to the church and, once again, the church and membership was on the rise. He served faithfully for three years. Following Rev. Lindley was Rev. John Shipman, who also served three years.
In 1999, Dr. Georgia Adamson was appointed and served until 2004. During her ministry, the FUMC Food Pantry was established and served Mineral Wells and surrounding communities until the church in the summer of 2015 decided to turn its program over to Mineral Wells Center of Life. Dr. Adamson was the first female to grace the pulpit of the local church. She left to become district superintendent of the Weatherford district.
Dr. Adamson was followed by Rev. Carol Woods, who served for six years. She also left to become district superintendent of the west district. After her departure, Rev. Joe Chamness was appointed to First United Methodist Church of Mineral Wells. During Rev. During Chamness' tenure, in the 2010-11 school year, the church began a ministry called Back Pack Buddies, a program that feeds school age children who might not have anything to eat over the weekend. In 2015, this ministry provided food for approximately 180 students per week and continues to serve today.
An ongoing disagreement with the choir director caused Rev. Chamness to resign, and he and all but six choir members left the church. Rev. Chamness was reassigned to FUMC in McGregor, Texas, and the McGregor pastor, Rev. Lianne Turner, was sent to Mineral Wells in January 2012.
Rev. Turner guided the church through this difficult period, working to repair and mend relationships while growing the church's reach and presence in the community in order to position it for future growth.
In the spring of 2016, the United Methodist Church conference announced new appointments. Rev. Turner was assigned to the UMC in Little River, Texas, where she will be close to her son and daughter-in-law. This congregation prays for Rev. Turner and thanks her deeply for the love and guidance she unsparingly gave.
The new pastor is Rev. Eric Douglas, who began July 1, 2016. He and his wife have two daughters, Kalea and Anastasia.
This is Rev. Douglas' third senior pastorship, having served as the pastor at Dido FUMC and FUMC in Bartlett. Rev. Douglas comes to Mineral Wells having served as associate pastor at FUMC in Waxahachie. We look forward to his teaching, leadership and guidance as FUMC Mineral Wells moves into a new era of growth and outreach, serving and ministering to our community through our good works, all in the name of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.