A History of the
Chatfield Methodist Church
by Robert N. Jones, Jr.
Originally published in "The
Navarro County Scroll", Vol. XX, 1975
Reprinted with permission of the Navarro
County Historical Society
The early pioneers that
came to Texas brought their spiritual provisions with them as they
brought their material provisions. When the expression
"GTT, Gone to Texas", was prevalent, during the 1820's,
30's, and early '40's, there were no churches in this area.
The Spanish padres had never established any churches here as had
been the case in South Texas, at El Paso, and even in East Texas.
The pioneers established the first churches in this area upon
their arrival. With so many things against them, many times
hostile weather and hostile indians, they must have especially
felt the need of God's help.
Most of the communities of
Navarro County established a church of one denomination or another
as soon as enough settlers had arrived. The members of the
church would have to depend on a circuit preacher that would come
possibly once a month or more probably when he could ford the
creeks. Chatfield is privileged to have a very old and
historic Methodist church.
The first record of the
Methodist church there is found in 1846. The membership
rolls show that Mrs. Mary Crockett was received by the Rev. James
E. Ferguson into what was called the "Chatfield Society"
of the Texas Conference. We do not know the year in which
the Chatfield Methodist church was officially organized, but if
the year 1846 is accepted as the date of organization, the
Chatfield Methodist Church was officially organized, but if the
year 1846 is accepted as the date of organization, the Chatfield
Methodist Church is the oldest church in the county. It
actually predates the Methodist organization in Corsicana by about
five years and the Methodist organization in Dresden by about 2
years. In any event, Chatfield has one of the oldest
churches in the county.
Rev. Ferguson was a
circuit rider from the Richland circuit which probably included
all of Navarro County. A circuit was a group of churches
under the supervision of one pastor. At that time Corsicana
did not exist and settlements consisted of just a few families.
The name of the Richland Circuit probably denotes what we call
today Dresden because that town was first called Richland.
In 1857, Dr. Wiley S. Robinson, Jacob Hartzell, and others decided
on the name of Dresden for the little town.
We do not exactly know of
what the Chatfield Society consisted. Probably it had no
more than a half dozen families that lived in the northeastern
part of the county. By about 1850, we do know that camp
meetings were being held by Methodists of the area in an oak grove
near where a nature spring bubbled forth. My
great-great-grandfather, Capt. Robert Hodge, who had just brought
his family from Kentucky, allowed many camp meetings to be help in
the grove owing to the lack of a permanent building for worship
purposes. "Families came in covered wagons from old
Wadeville and miles around to camp out a week or longer," Mr.
and Mrs. J. M. Hodge, Mr. & Mrs. W. P. Thorp, Mr. & Mrs.
L. P. Hodge. The booklet continues, "They brought 'well
stocked larders' which were replenished with venison, wild turkeys
and prairie chickens." Of course a camp meeting was one
of the rare opportunities for families to get together and become
acquainted in the very early days. It was of both religious
and social importance.
After Capt. Hodge settled,
a town began to grow as more families settled on the gentle
rolling prairie around Chatfield. By 1852, a store,
blacksmith shop, and a doctor's office had grown up around the
Hodge Plantation. The people felt a school was needed and
during that year Capt. Hodge donated the land in the center of the
village. A two story structure was erected.
Local folks did all the labor and the pine boards were hauled from
East Texas by ox wagon and ferried across the Trinity River at
During this time the
Methodist Church had been growing, but a Baptist Church and a
Christian Church were also established. Each of the three
Churches gained permission to use the school building on alternate
Sundays. This building was the home of the Chatfield
Methodist Episcopal Church, South for 34 years.
It is fitting that along
with a new building the Chatfield Church received a new circuit,
being put on with Corsicana. During this period, Church
services were held with a considerable degree of regularity.
The first pastor, Rev. James H. Addison, wrote a letter soon after
he received his circuit explaining his circuit route:
Saturday, Apr. 10, Rush Creek Ranch
Sunday, Apr. 11, Richland Town
Tuesday, Apr. 13, Head of Richland
Wednesday, Apr. 14, Chambers Creek
Thursday, Apr. 15, Chambers Creek Singletons
Friday, Apr. 16, Head of Waxahachie, Hawkins
Saturday, Apr. 18, Town of Waxahachie
Friday, Apr. 23, Trinity City on Trinity River
Sunday, Apr. 25, Chatfield Point - 14 Miles from Corsicana
Wednesday, Apr. 28, Baggett, below Trinity River
Thursday, Apr. 29, In the forks of Trinity and Chambers Creek
Friday, Apr. 30, Twelve miles above on the Corsicana Rd.,
Saturday, May 1, still above on the Corsicana Road, Hilburns
Sunday, May 2, at Corsicana
The appointments will
stand this way but one round. Then the Quarterly meeting
knocks them all out.
The Centennial History
from which this information is derived, also continues with a
comment: "The above gives us some idea of the hard life of a
circuit rider, and it was made no easier by the fact that he
received his compensation in potatoes and beans for the most
The Chatfield Parish was
very well served until the Civil War. At that time most men
went into the army and life almost came to a standstill on the
home front. Even ministers entered the army and everything
was geared to help the war effort. But don't think the
people's faith was eroded during this time. On the contrary,
as the dark days of the War stretched into months and years, it
was only the people's faith in God that sustained them.
With the War's close,
Church services began to be held on a more regular basis.
Chatfield was put on the Waxahachie Circuit. The first
pastor after the war was Rev. Fountain Pitts Ray. In later
years he served as Secretary of the Texas Conference.
A story is told about him
by which it seems he was not an extremely jovial character,
perhaps the bitter lessons of a Civil War and a harsh
reconstruction had dulled his sense of fun. Many years after
he had left Chatfield, he served at Waxahachie. While there,
the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus arrived in town,
but not one of his family saw it and if he had had his way none of
his parishioners would have either. As the circus passed the
parsonage, he pulled all the shades and worried that his whole
congregation would be sent to fiery eternal hell with one look.
After about 11 years
Chatfield left the Waxahachie Circuit, and formed its own with
Rice. The minister officiated at the Rice Methodist Church
and the Chatfield Church on alternate Sundays. By 1885, the
congregation felt it was time they built their own building.
During the years after the Civil War, the number of Church members
had grown tremendously. The congregation now numbered over
150. Therefore, the next year, 1886, under the pastorate of
Rev. John S. Davis, the Church obtained a lot on which to erect a
building from Mr. Nail McMullan, a church official. The deed
We, Nail McMullan and
H. E. McMullan, of the County of Navarro and state aforesaid; in
consideration of the love we bear for the cause of Christ and
earnest desire to promote his heritage, do give and grant, and by
these present do convey 3/4 acres of land unto R. M. McMullan, J.
A. Sands, and J. C. Cummings, the Board of Trustees of the
Methodist Episcopal Church South at Chatfield.
Building quickly began and
soon a frame structure had been erected. Jim Sheets was the
builder and almost all members of the Church helped in some way.
The congregation had a right to be proud of their little Church
they had built themselves. Quoting from the Centennial
The church measured
about 58' x 36' and was painted white. There were several
windows on either side. In the front were double doors,
flanked on each side by a window. In the back were a window
and a door, on apposite sides. This building faced south
with the pulpit and Altar in the center of the north end. On
each side of the Altar were benches, one for the choir and other
for the "Amen Corner."
Corner" was composed of mostly old men and women who were
fond of sprinkling the service with "Amen" when they
were in agreement with something said.
The church also bought a
bell and organ. This large bell measuring 24 inches
across was installed in the belfry and was rung each Sunday
morning calling worshipers to the services. It has a clear,
resounding tone that could be heard for several miles around.
During times of celebration the citizens of Chatfield heard the
joyous pealing and at times of sadness all heard the doleful
tolling of the bell. The bell was always tolled for the
death of someone living at Chatfield. Mr. Walter C. McCants
rang the bell the longest whether in joy or sadness. This
was his job from about 1900 to about 1930, a few years before the
destruction of the old church In 1938, he died. Since the
bell has remained on a stand outside the door of the Church and is
rung only on special occasions. One of these occasions was
the celebration of the Centennial I was only five
years old at the time but I helped with painting the bell with
aluminum paint as it had grown in disrepair. I remember
helping to paint, but I don't remember the incident that has
been told to me many times about it. The story goes that I
was painting the inside of the bell when the minister's wife
complemented my work. She asked how old I was and I
stopped painting, turned around and helped up five fingers saying,
"I'm five, be six in March." Then I went back to
my job which I had taken very seriously. I try to make it a
point to ring the bell on the Forth of July now.
The organ that was bought
when the Church was built was a small pump organ about the size of
the organ that we have displayed at the Pioneer Village. For
35 years its sweet tones were heard in the Church. A number
of people played it, but Mrs. Gus (Mollie Mizell) Hodge played it
the longest time. She was the first to play that organ
and continued that job until 1909. For several years Miss
Judith Thorp, Mrs. W> P. (Josie McMullan) Thorp, Mrs. J. M.
(Frances Meredith) Hodge, and others took turns as organists.
After about 1915, Mrs. Hodge played until the organ was sold
in 1920 and replaced with a piano. Mrs. W. F.
Burkhalter and Mrs. Hodge took turns playing for Church and Sunday
School until 1962 when Mrs. Burkhalter retired due to ill health.
Mrs. J. M> Hodge retired in 1970 after a career spanning 65
years of playing for services. Ollie Harwell played for
sometime and now Miss Katheryn Kimble serves as pianist.
Soon after the erection of
the 1886 Church the other two churches, the Baptist and Christian
Churches began to falter. By the mid 1890's these Churches
had either ceased to exist or were not holding services
regularly. But the Methodist Church continued to
thrive and its membership grew to the largest that it has ever
been at one time. At the time of Rev. George S. Clark's
pastorate in 1896, it had 205 members -- meaning those persons
that have been both Baptized and confirmed into the Church.
Some of the members include the Jeffers, Thorps, Mizells, McCants,
McMullans, and Sands. Since it was the only Church in the
area many people that were not Methodists attended it and
supported it. It is still this way today. My
grandfather, J. M. Hodge, although an Episcopalian, attended the
Church regularly and still does because it is the Church of
Chatfield. His first Sunday School teacher was Mrs. Susie
Wright who lives in Corsicana today with her two daughters, Miss
Erma and Miss Mary Jewel Wright.
In 1896, the people of
Tupelo just a few miles from Chatfield formed their own church.
A number of people withdrew from the Chatfield Church joining the
one at Tupelo. The membership fell to about 160.
It caused a great hardship on Chatfield to lose so many members,
but the Congregation was equal to the challenge. In 1966,
when the Tupelo Church was dissolved and its members transferred
to Chatfield, two ladies that as young women had gone to Tupelo
from the Chatfield Church, returned their memberships. These
ladies were Mrs. Mattie McMullan Wheeler and Mrs. Eva Humphries
Mitchell. The minister during this time was Rev. J. P.
Mussatt. He had lost a leg, and in place of his natural
limb, he wore a wooden peg-leg. I have been told that the
"clomp-clomp" of his wooden leg on the bare plank
flooring of the Church, attracted the undivided attention of the
children and filled them somewhat with awe.
Rice, Chatfield, and
Tupelo began sharing a minister and formed their own circuit.
One of these minister, the Rev. J. C. Mimms, who served from 1900
to 1902, was known as a rather sophisticated man. He was the
first pastor of the 20th Century and he implemented modern 20th
Century ideas. He organized a conducted tour to Europe and
the Holy Land for the people in the county. He
apparently felt they should see the important places of the
civilized world and the historic sites of Christendom. I do
not know what they toured, but I am sure they saw Canterbury in
England and probably other sites there and the Vatican in Rome,
and of course, Bethlehem. The party left Navarro County in
the summer of 1901 or 1902 and remained abroad the rest of the
After several years,
Chatfield joined the Alma Circuit for one year in 1909. The
minister was Rev. J. W. Head. He was not liked very much by
the youth of the Church because he was such a stern
man. They called Rev. Head -- "Ole
In 1910, the Church
arranged for the purchase of a parsonage because Chatfield was
forming a circuit with Tupelo and Roane and the minister would be
living at Chatfield. The Official Board bought a 6 room
house about 300 yards east of the Church. It was sold to the
Church by Mrs. Fannie Meredith Smith. This house has
served as the home for Chatfield's pastors for 65 years.
While World War I raged in
Europe, a fat and jolly man was pastor. I have heard that
Rev. B. E. Kinbrow was an uncommonly good comedienne.
Instead of a cut and dried sermon, he would often tell a number of
jokes on Sunday morning. No doubt this pleased the young
people and numerous others of the congregation, but it also
angered some. There was no telling what he might do.
One day as he was riding in his buggy, he picked up a young boy.
Rev. Kinbrow told him, "Now, I have fits and if I begin
having one, you start running." Of course this
was just one of his practical jokes. Soon the minister
started rolling his eyes and convulsing about. The boy
yelled, "Let me off," and without waiting for the buggy
to stop, he took a flying leap onto the road.
In the years after World
War I, the Church noted for it beautiful Christmas services that
were always presented by the children and youth to the
accompaniment of the new piano. This piano had been bought
in Dallas at Brook-Mays Music Co. It was a Krakauer and cost
$400. The congregation put on a Halloween Carnival in 1920
to pay for the instrument. The services were held on
Christmas Eve, and afterwards each child received a present, and
fruit, nuts, and candy from Santa Clause. My mother has told
me that during the Depression, this was often the only Christmas
present that many children received. But whatever their
economic means, the children and even their parents felt the true
meaning of Christmas.
Although times were hard,
the Church continued its activity throughout the Depression era.
The Church was redecorated and renovated, the first time any major
work had occurred since it had been built in 1886. Shortly
after the work was completed a revival was held during the summer
of 1937. Fate seemed to be waiting in the wings to deal a
cruel blow to the Chatfield Church. On August 5, about an
hour before the revival was to commence, a tornado flattened the
Church and damaged much of the little town. Had the storm
struck later, many people would have undoubtedly been killed while
the revival was in session.
The congregation faced the
challenge of rebuilding with optimistic courage. Each member
living at Chatfield pledged a certain amount. Some
gave $5.00, others 10.00, a few even $100.00, but his amount was
not sufficient with which to build a church. The Board was
faced with the task of raising more money. Many members were
living away from Chatfield and it was decided to write each of
these inactive members explaining the situation and asking for a
donation. Those that had moved their memberships to other
Churches also remembered their old Church at Chatfield.
Money poured in from all over the United States.
People showed their devotion to the Church in which they had been
reared. After several months over four thousand
dollars had been collected. In the meantime services were
held at the school building as had been the case before a Church
had been built. A Building Committee was organized and the
important members of the congregation began the task of planning
the new Church. After many plans were reviewed, St. Mary's
Episcopal Church in Dallas was selected as a model for the new
Less than a year after the
storm, the new church had been completed. On June 25, 1938,
the church was dedicated at a service held by Bishop Ivan Lee
Holt. An article from the June 28 Dallas News explained the
significance of this event, "Work began in January and the
first service in the new edifice was held April 24, Under the law
of the Church, a house of worship may not be dedicated till it is
free of debt. This building and furnishings represent a cost
of $5,000 and the congregation consists of about 150."
In his address, Bishop Holt remarked how rare it was for a Church
to be debt free in the same year it constructs a new building, and
he continued by praising Chatfield for their perseverance.
This was something the congregation had reason to be very proud.
The Dedication Day
consisted of the actual dedication in the morning, a dinner
prepared by the ladies of the community, and an afternoon of
special music and some brief remarks by a few former pastors.
The climax of the Dedication services came as W. P. Thorp, a
leading Church official, made the formal presentation of the house
of worship and the Bishop added his blessings to the Church in the
closing prayer. After-wards the dinner was served in a cool
oak grove behind the Church. Many guests had returned to
Chatfield for this special event, and after the noon meal the
celebration continued with the music and pastor's remarks.
It remains a beautiful
Church today. It was built and furnished with painstaking
care and is maintained with love nowadays. The piano which
had been nearly destroyed was rebuilt and placed in the choir
stall to the right of the Alter. New pews fashioned from elm
were ordered and installed. The Gothic ceiling was
paneled in oak as were the walls up to the cathedral windows.
Two Sunday School rooms for the children were built and furnished,
one on each side of the Alter. A number of large ceiling
lights were installed and later four ceiling fans were placed in
the Church to honor Mrs. Will Sands. The two pulpit chairs
were given in memory of Mr. Robert M. McMullan, a longtime Church
official. A new Communion Service was later given in memory
of Mrs. Robert Hodge Witherspoon.
During World War II,
Chatfield received its first student minister, Rev. James A.
Willaimson, who was a student at Perkin's Seminary at SMU.
He was a young man originally from Mississippi and now serves a
Church there. Even today he is still interested in the
Chatfield Church, and corresponds regularly with members of the
congregation. He has always maintained that the experience
gained at Chatfield enabled him to become a successful minister.
In the 1950's, the
congregation began to feel a lack of space. There fore, a
Sunday School annex was built in 1957. It consisted of 4
classrooms and modern restroom facilities. It also serves an
excellent recreational facility and a nursery is now being
Always mindful of their
bright history, Chatfield celebrated two historical events during
the early 1960's. On May 1, 1960, about a dozen members were
recognized in a special service as having been members of the
Church for 50 or years or longer. Mrs. Robert Hodge
Witherspoon the oldest member recognized had also been a member
the longest time. She had been a member of the Chatfield
Church for 75 years joining in 1885.
In 1962, although in
existence much longer than a hundred years, the congregation
decided to hold a Centennial Celebration. Throughout the
summer, the entire community was involved in the Celebration.
The pastor and his wife, Rev. and Mrs. Don T. Johnson aided
greatly in organizing and executing the plans for the event.
The Church History to which I have referred many times was written
during this time. On October 7, the Centennial was climaxed
in a Service of Celebration at which the pastor; the District
Superintendent, Rev. John Wesley Ford; Bishop William C. Martin;
Rev. Don Goodwin, a former pastor; and Rev Leslie Seymour
officiated. Rev. Seymour is the only man the Chatfield
Church has furnished to the ministry. The Celebration was
then ended by a delicious meal prepared by the ladies of
Many Churches were faced
with decreasing donations during the 1960's, and subsequently
found it difficult to operate. This was especially true of
small churches. In 1966, Chatfield solved this problem by
instituting a cattle plan. Being a ranching community, this
was a very logical thing to do. Each member living at
Chatfield was asked to keep a cow for the Church and the money
from her calf when sold each year went to the Church. This
has proved a very satisfactory way to raise money and with
individual donations maintains the Church very nicely.
The Chatfield Methodist
Church continues to be a strong Church with an inspiring past,
vigorous present, and bright future. It has a very active
youth group that regularly does service work such as visiting
members in nursing homes and those confined to their homes.
At present it has 105 members. The oldest of these is
Mr. W. P. Thorp who is in his nineties and still is quite active
attending church every Sunday. The members of the Chatfield
Methodist Church are striving to see that it will be around for
another 129 years.