501 3rd Street
By Mickey Crenshaw
In 1902 a mile-square tract of land, located in southwest Matagorda County, Texas, on Tres Palacios Bay was surveyed into lots for the town of Trespalacios. “Tres” was later dropped and the town became Palacios. The first lots were sold in December, 1902.
The early settlers of Palacios held church services in homes, stores and the school house. The first organized church in Palacios, the Methodist Church, was organized in 1903 by the Reverend H. W. Nelson. The new Methodist congregation soon built a one-room building, Pioneer Hall, so they could have their own house of worship.
The Presbyterians in Palacios continued to worship with congregations of the Methodist and other denominations until June 30, 1907, the date their church was organized. This historic meeting took place in the Methodist Pioneer Hall and was recorded in Book #1, 1907-1938, Minutes of Session and Congregational Meetings, as follows (quoted as written):
On June 30, 1907, at the Methodist Church in Palacios, Rev. W. S. Red, Evangelist of the Presbytery of Brazos proceeded to organize The Presbyterian Church according to the order set forth in the form of Government of the Presbyterian Church in the U. S.
The following named persons presented
letters of dismissal from other churches:
After entering into the covenant of Church Fellowship Mr. W. H. Clement was elected to the office of Ruling Elder. He was ordained and installed by the Evangelist Ruling Elder Robt. Clement of the Port Lavaca church taking part in the exercises.
A committee consisting of J. C. Mapes and G. Morton was appointed to thank the Methodist for the use of the church building and to secure a suitable place of worship.
In the organization of the Congregational meeting, Dr. W. S. Red was invited to act as Moderator and Mr. D. Ruthven was elected clerk, After invoking the blessing of the King and Head of the Church, the congregation adjourned.
The newly organized congregation got down to business immediately. During the Session Meeting on August 4, 1907, Ruling Elder W. H. Clement was elected Commissioner to the Fall Meeting of Presbytery in Bay City. He was instructed to make application for financial aid so that the church could have preaching at least once a month. He was also instructed to secure the services of a minister. A called Congregational meeting was held after evening services on that date for the purpose of taking up a collection to help pay expenses for Mr. Clement to attend the Presbytery ($1.80 was collected) and to elect three trustees., D. Ruthven, G. Morton and J. C. Mapes. The congregation was advised to meet with the Methodist people in prayer meeting.
Anxious to have their own house of worship, the congregation instructed the trustees to secure a suitable lot for the building of a sanctuary.
Mr. R. F. Clement purchased a corner lot, (Lot 1, Block 31) 50’x150’ at the corner of Third Street and Morton Avenue, for the sum of $250, and held it for the Presbyterian Church. This was announced to the congregation at a called meeting and Mr. P. F. Campbell was appointed to negotiate funds and a subscription list was started. A considerable sum was raised at once. Mr. Clement was reimbursed with cash on hand and given notes for the balance.
By September the lot was paid for in full with about $40 remaining. Mr. P. F. Campbell offered $400 toward a church building and D. Ruthven promised 10% of the cost of same. Mr. Campbell was instructed to solicit subscriptions for the building.
At a called Congregational Meeting the trustees of the church were instructed to take whatever steps necessary to secure the offered donation of $200 and a loan of $300 from the Committee of Home Mission of the Presbyterian Church of the U. S. at Atlanta, Georgia. The following building committee was appointed: P. F. Campbell, Chairman; W. H. Clement and Duncan Ruthven members. This committee was given “the power and authority to decide upon plans and specifications, letting contracts and all other matters pertaining to the building of a Presbyterian Church in Palacios on the lot owned by the church.”
With the new church building near completion a called Congregational Meeting was held for the purpose of organizing the Sunday School. The first Sunday School Superintendent was Charles Harriman. Teachers were: Mrs. Jordan, Miss Mapes, Alice Campbell, E. A. Clement, W. H. Clement, and D. L. Stump. A committee from the Ladies Aid was appointed to select song books.
October 30, 1910, just a little over three years after the organization of the First Presbyterian Church of Palacios, the new church building was completed. The Gothic-style building constructed of gray concrete building blocks, exhibited an air of bodily and spiritual strength. It was built at a cost of $5,393.02, including materials, labor, seating and lighting. (Lighting was by a coal fired plant.)
During the Session Meeting on November 24, 1912, the church building was declared out of debt and the date for dedication of the building was set for the 12th day of January 1913.
The dedication was conducted by Dr. T. C. Johnston, Evangelist of Brazos Presbytery. The Dedication Sermon, “Upon the rock will I build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against her.” A selection by the choir, “O, For a Shout of Joy” (Ashford), would seem appropriate for the debt-free church. And we note the Prelude and the Postlude was by “orchestra”. NOTE: Worship services have been held continuously at this location, Third Street and Morton Avenue, from 1910 to present (1998).
In the early years Dr. T. C. Johnston, Presbytery Stated Supply, performed official pastoral functions and numerous visiting preachers filled the pulpit during this time. Finally, on May 7, 1911, the Congregation, on unanimous vote, extended a call to Dr. J. P. Green promising him “$800.00 and a suitable house during his service as pastor.” Dr. Green accepted and installation for the first full-time pastor was set for the third Sunday in June.
The church was chartered by the State of Texas on November 11, 1911. The six trustees listed on the charter were: A. Cunningham, J. M. Nash, M. Lipscomb, D. Ruthven, P. F. Campbell and J. R. Wylie. There was no capital stock but assets listed as Lot 1, Block 31, with an approximate value of $400 and the cement block church thereon, seating, lighting, musical and other fixtures at an approximate value of $5,000.
There were numerous service organizations within the church, their dates of organizations unknown except for Sunday School. However, Congregational Minutes dated March 27, 1912, show reports were heard from the treasurers of Sunday School, Westminister League, and Ladies Aid & Missionary Society. “All showed good work. Liberal gifts and money on hand.” A report from the Young Ladies Auxiliary Society was added to the above reports for the Annual Congregational Meeting held March 29, 1914.
Perusal of the early day minutes, written in very elegant long hand, leaves one breathless and even a little exhausted just learning about the plans, accomplishments and activities carried out by the leadership of this young church. And especially when one takes into consideration that these same leaders were striving equally hard to put the young town of Palacios on the map. Many founding fathers of Palacios were among the charter members of the Church. Duncan Ruthven, a charter member of the church, was elected the first mayor of Palacios when the city was incorporated in 1909. By 1912 Palacios had 2,000 residents, a railroad, flourishing fish and oyster businesses and many blocks of cement sidewalks in the business and residential districts. And, cattle were now excluded from town.
The church established a Mexican Mission in 1912, primarily through the efforts of W. H. Clement. Several members of First Church helped the mission with Sunday School, played the piano for services and assisted financially. Members of this mission were actually members of First Church, pending the organization of a new church. Mr. W. H. Clement was an untiring supporter of the mission and helped guide the mission into organizing their new church, The Second Presbyterian Church of Palacios, on November 9, 1955. Today (1998) it is known as Casa de Dios (House of God).
The annual reports to Presbytery show a continued growth in membership through 1916 when there were 162 members, after which there was a gradual decline. From 1920 until 1927 the membership fluctuated between 136 and 147 and then dropped to an all time low of 70 in 1939. It then began to increase and by the late 1940s membership hit the 200 mark. In recent years membership has averaged approximately 150.
In a History of the Church by W. H. Clement in 1936, he reported that when young people finish their education they had to go elsewhere to find employment, and thus the Church lost their most valuable members. He also noted, “We have no wealthy members. Contributions are paid by those who earn their living.”
The annual reports to Presbytery also include a financial section, reporting Benevolences and Fund Contributions. These reports reflect clearly that the church has always been mission-minded, supporting home and foreign mission programs. Even during the lean years of the depression they shared their income with others.
The church is supportive of the Presbyterian Pan American School in Kingsville, Texas, Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary and many other Presbytery, Synod and General Assembly causes. Over the years the church has been supportive, financially and with manpower, of numerous local civic projects and organizations. Space does not permit describing all of the caring and sharing projects benefiting citizens and the community but a few are as follows.
In the late 1940s members of the Presbyterian Methodist and Baptist Churches participated equally in teaching an elective course in Bible in the Palacios Schools. The following excerpt is from the 1962-1963 Women of the Church History: “The greatest accomplishment of prayer in our town this year was the complete desegregation of our public schools. I am proud of our church. It was a leader in this project but it would have been impossible without the support and prayers of several other denominations.” The Session approved the request of the Women of the Church to assist in the 1968 Head Start Program in the school. Several members participated. The Palacios Literary School was sponsored by the Presbyterian, Methodist, Catholic and two Baptist Churches. The school met once a week from September to May, 1967-1968 and October to May 1968-1969. Most pupils were Negro and Mexican-Americans. Seven women and two men from the Presbyterian Church served as teachers. “Result: Communication and friendship, a few bridges built between Protestant and Catholic as well as between Negros, Mexican-Americans and Anglos.” Students were helped with reading, math, citizenship and drivers licenses study. Several members of the church served on the board of Rainbow Day Care Center. One member, Mrs. R. J. Baltar, taught two days a week in the center as a volunteer. The church also supported the center by giving nursery chairs, playground equipment, toys, sheets, dishes and money. Support of the center continues to the present .
The “Aid Fund” was established in 1951 when the church received a bequest of funds to be used for “. . . local and foreign mission.” The funds were invested and the proceeds over the years have been used primarily by the Aid Fund Committee. Each year thousands of dollars are expended for dental care for school children, hospital and medical aid, payment of utility bills, help with college expenses and occasionally overnight housing. The Food Pantry and Senior Citizen Center receive annual contributions.
In 1924 the Church acquired a house and lot (Lot 2, Block 31) joining the church building. The house here after referred to as the Annex. The Annex was a multipurpose facility used for Sunday School classes, young people activities, congregational activities and Soldiers’ Center during World War II. A portion of the building was made into living quarters for the Defense Service Secretary.
The nearby Texas National Guard Camp, Camp Hulen, was leased by the United States War Department in 1940 to be used as a full time military training center. Numerous soldiers attended services at the First Presbyterian Church. The Session felt it necessary to employ an assistant to the pastor who would be qualified as a song leader, Bible Class teacher and recreational director for service to the men in the army. A financial allocation from the Defense Service Council enabled the church to hire a Defense Service Secretary to be used by the church in its service program for the soldiers and soldier families. Miss Suella Starr of Goliad, Texas, the first Defense Service Secretary, accepted the position and assumed her office the day of the tragic attack on Pearl Harbor. Miss Starr resigned her position September 15, 1942, however the service to soldiers and their families continued until 1946.
In 1947 the congregation voted to proceed with the erection of an educational building to be built on church property north of the sanctuary. Completed in 1948, the new brick building included a two-room church office, a Chapel (currently  used as the church library), five Sunday School rooms and restrooms.
By the late 1940s the heavy timbers supporting the roof of the sanctuary had deteriorated to the point that something had to be done. Due to the cost of replacement of the timbers and other necessary repairs, it was determined that the building should be torn down and a new building erected.
Plans were approved for a Colonial-style building 43’x120’, including the Sanctuary with seating capacity for 200, Narthex, a balcony, choir room, Fellowship Hall with kitchen and restroom. An adjoining house and lot (Lot 3, Block 31) was purchased and the house and the Annex were moved from the property in order to have the necessary space for the new building. Always looking to the future, the structure was designed to support a second floor over the Fellowship Hall. Windows for the second floor were installed at the time the building was constructed.
Dismantling of the old building began in March 1951, and Ground Breaking Ceremonies for the new building were set for 9:00 a.m., April 23, 1951. Worship services were held in the chapel in the educational building while the new building was under construction.
The new church building was dedicated Sunday, November 25, 1951. Dr. David Stitt of Austin delivered the dedication sermon. The Women of the Church, in charge of the reception following the dedication, served over 400 people, many from out of town.
In 1983 the second floor above the Fellowship Hall was added. The addition included four classrooms, an activity room and restroom.
The church has been very generous with its building facilities. When the Palacios schools experienced a critical shortage of space and overcrowding, the Session gave permission for the educational building to be used by the school for the duration of the school’s emergency. When Hurricane “Betsy” threatened the Palacios area, church buildings were offered as a refuge center. Water, food and portable toilets to be provided and paid for by the church. When Hurricane “Carla” damaged or destroyed most structures in and around Palacios, the Sanctuary was used as a refuge center. Clement Hall (formally known as Fellowship Hall) may be used free of charge by non-profit organizations.
In 1952 the Presbyterian Day School program (nondenominational) opened; two days per week for three-year olds and three days per week for four-year olds. Housed in two rooms of the educational building, the school continues to be in operation and under the same terms as the public school in so far as length of term, holidays, etc., and is state approved.
Joining other Palacios churches in worship and activities is a long standing tradition. Session Minutes of early years reveal that on more than one occasion the time for Sunday morning worship was changed in order for the congregation to attend services at the Baptist Encampment when outstanding ministers were preaching there. The Presbyterian and Methodist Churches hold joint services on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. Ministers of most Palacios churches plan and conduct Easter Sunrise Services at the “Inspiration Point” amphitheater, over looking Tres Palacios Bay, at the Baptist Encampment. Presbyterian and Methodist women plan and carry out World Day of Prayer services, open to the public, involving members of other churches as participants. The Presbyterian and Methodist women join together for an annual Mission Study, taking turns providing the program and lunch. The Presbyterian, Methodist and Episcopal Churches hold joint Vacation Bible School.
In 1975 the Session approved sponsoring a Vietnamese family. The beloved Ngo family, parents and four children under four years of age, arrived August 5, 1975. The family later moved to El Campo and then to Houston but they continue to visit and correspond with church members.
At the 1962 General Assembly Meeting approval was given for women to serve as Elders. In 1966 Mrs. Louise Crawford was elected Elder, the first woman to serve in that capacity in the Palacios Presbyterian Church.
In 1979 the Session gave approval for women to serve as ushers for worship services.
In accordance with action taken during a called meeting of the congregation on Sunday, October 7, 1979, the church moved to a unicameral system of government effective January 1980. (The Board of Deacons abolished and their duties consolidated with those of the Session.)
The First Presbyterian Church of Palacios and the First Presbyterian Church of Collegeport (a rural community approximately 20 miles east of Palacios) have always enjoyed a close relationship and in 1996 the two churches became formally yoked.
The church celebrated its 90th birthday on June 29, 1997. Past ministers in attendance participated in the Sunday morning worship services. After lunch the Fellowship Hall was rededicated and renamed Clement Hall in honor of William Henry and Elma Eliza Clement.
Mrs. Clement (1868- ?) served the church in many ways but is best remembered for her years and years as Church Historian.
Mr. Clement (1865-1954) was a charter member of the church and served in many capacities. After serving 43 years as Clerk of the Session he asked to be relieved of the duties of that office. In view of his long and faithful service as clerk, the Session ruled that Mr. Clement remain in the Session as Honorary Clerk.
The Palacios Presbyterian Church is affiliated with Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the Synod of the Sun, and Mission Presbytery.
In addition to the buildings mentioned previously, the church purchased Lots 1 and 2, Block 34, for a new manse. The manse, one and one-half story, 2,536 sq. ft. living area plus garage, built of brick manufactured in Palacios, was completed and Open House held on September 27, 1964.
In 1970 Lot 8, Block 22, located across Third Street from the church, was purchased to be used for parking.
Just what this church is all about is very adequately described in a statement in the 1977 Church Profile as follows: “The mission of First Presbyterian Church, Palacios, TX, a small congregation in a diverse community, and a church family committed to God and to Jesus Christ his Son, is to worship God and to show God’s love through worship, fellowship, and service in the church, the community, and beyond.”
Ministers that have served the Palacios Church are as follows:
Dr. W. S. Red June 30, 1907 – October 6, 1907
J. W. Sexton June 19, 1908 – January, 1911
J. P. Green January 19, 1911 – November 12, 1912
W. L. Shepherd April 6, 1913 – December 16, 1917
J. F. Eddins 1918 – 1919
George F. Gillespie January 15, 1920 – February 22, 1939
J. G. M. Ramsey July 1939 – September 12, 1943
Dr. Robert M. McGehee March 5, 1944 – November 1, 1946
Daniel A. Baker June 22, 1947 – September 5, 1948
R. Earl Price May 28, 1850 – January 1, 1953
Logan V. Cockrun May 31, 1953 – August 31, 1956
John H. Brannon October 1, 1956 – November 15, 1958
Richard E. Stone May 30, 1959 – October 30, 1964
Leslie E. Webb, Jr. July 11, 1965 – July 1, 1978
Murdock H. McRae June 10, 1979 – May 15, 1983
W. S. “Doug” Blanton, Jr. February 5, 1984 – May 15, 1996
David Gallaher August 1, 1996 – January 31, 1998
Andy and Janell Blair March 8, 1998 - present
Copyright 2009 -
Present by Carol Sue Gibbs
Feb. 22, 2009
Feb. 22, 2009