Pelham Community Transforms
School into Museum
5/16/2002
Navarro County, Texas


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Members of the Pelham community gather around the old school, which now serves as a museum documenting the history of the Navarro County black community founded in the 1800s. Daily Sun photo/BARBARA FORMAN

By BARBARA FORMAN/Daily Sun Staff

Pelham is a small community of about 50 people and spreads over approximately 5,000 acres in Navarro County. It is rich in history and residents have worked diligently to share with others how it originated and, even more intriguing, how it continues.

The Pelham History Museum will have artifacts to demonstrate its beginnings and give acclaim to the ancestors who at one time lived in the community. It will also share the lineage of families who remain in the community and those who return to keep the heritage alive.

The museum, originally built in 1890, served as the school. About 1922 or 1923 it was moved and became the community and lodge hall.

"We started the project last year in November and began remodeling (the old school) in January," said Alfred Martin, president of the museum. "We have invested approximately $40,000 in renovations and into keeping everything going."

The building has been beautifully restored and was dedicated as The Pelham Community History Museum. Residents hope people will come and share artifacts, photographs and other items from the past and continue to educate the future generations.

Martin said he was reared in a house with slaves.

"There was no radio or television, but the old folks talked and I learned," he said.

Learning was an ongoing process in Pelham. Wesley United Methodist Church was founded in 1878 and housed the very first school in the community.

Before being named Pelham, the area was called Forks of the Creek and was settled by black families after 1866. As more people came, other churches also began to develop.

In addition to the already established Methodist church, Brown's Chapel A.M.E. was also formed in 1905 and Union Baptist in 1916. Today the three churches are still active and services are alternated from one church to the other.

Additional first settlers in the community included the Caruthers family.

"Henry Caruthers founded our community," said Joan Younger Davis, secretary of the museum committee. "He was just about everybody's great, great, great, great-grandfather. John Caruthers son was the first school teacher in Pelham."

In 1975 Pelham was recognized by the state and was awarded a historical marker. It was the first black community to be awarded a historical marker in Navarro County. In addition to that marker, another marker was placed at Wesley United Methodist Church in 1995 in memory of Elmer O. Porter.

The community grew and a post office was granted in 1898. Eventually the town was renamed by postmaster Louis Richie's wife for her home in Pelham, Ala. By 1926 the population in the Navarro County community had peaked at about 350 residents.

In time, several businesses were started in the community and there were many firsts that took place. In some of the history recorded by Catherine Porter, the community was the starting place for a variety of opportunities.

One of the opportunities was a loan from Farmers Home Administration, given to Mr. and Mrs. Elmer Porter to build a new home.

Some of the businesses that operated out of Pelham included various grocery stores, a cafe and gas station. The Pelham Telephone System and the Pelham Gin were also part of the community businesses.

In the late 1920s families who had telephones were serviced by one wire that ran along the county road. Often times the line was fastened onto tree limbs and fence posts. It was a party line service with all of the residents on one line. Besides the telephone system a cotton gin was built in 1920 and employed six workers. It burned in 1931.

Education was a way of life in the area and there were several who became teachers.

Since education had always been an important factor in the community the High School Alumni Association, who also started the historical committee, decided the best way to preserve the history of Pelham and those who lived and died there was through a museum.

The community would like to see others share artifacts in the museum and help to preserve a special time in history.

Barbara Forman may be contacted via e-mail at bforman@corsicanadailysun.com

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Pelham History Museum will present a Memorial Day program at 10:30 a.m. May 25. After the program a show-and-tell party will be presented from 1 to 4 p.m. The community encourages others to bring artifacts that would represent the time period and be a part of the exhibit

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11/6/2001 BILL YOUNG: Pelham an excellent example of community preservation

Archeologists work diligently to preserve sites for the future when methods have improved so that excavation work may be better understood and historians strive to preserve oral and written history but there are other groups doing their best to preserve the environment or something from the past. The citizens of the small farming community of Pelham in far western Navarro County are not only trying to preserve their family histories, they are trying to save the existence of their community.

Every town is dealing with the same problem of trying to maintain a population that will allow the town to continue. Every year, the younger generations graduate from their local high schools and venture forth to attend a college or enter the job force in a larger city. Most never come back to the small communities except for short visits but a few do return to the towns where they were raised. As the older generation in each small town passes away, the populations of each community are reduced slowly but surely until many of the towns are gone forever.

There isn't a town in Navarro County that doesn't realize this problem. Corsicana's population peaked around 1940 and has never achieved this higher number since then. Looking at my 1901 map of Navarro County, I note that there were a number of towns that are gone today. Some like Wadeville, Re and Pisgah were relocated nearer to the new railroads. The names were changed to become Kerens, Navarro and Richland respectively. Other towns also moved to be near the railroads but retained their original names.

For the past few weeks my wife, Bobbie Jean, and I have been going around looking at historical markers. The Texas Historical Commission has wanted each local county historical commission to check each and every marker within their county as to the condition of each marker, the physical location according to the directions given and the accessibility to each marker. Catherine Porter of Pelham is one of Navarro County's commission members but she is recovering from serious back surgery so Bobbie Jean and I decided to check the markers in her area. I haven't been through the Pelham area in many, many years. In fact, probably the last time I traveled this far west on Farm-to-Market Road 744 was to go to Malone to eat fried catfish and sip on something other than a coke. I must confess that was over 40 years ago! Pelham has changed from what I remember but I was impressed with the small community that remains today. The citizens are working to save their settlement.

According to "Memories of Pelham," a book published by the Pelham Community Organization in September of 1999, Pelham is a community that is trying to keep their town from becoming another abandoned "spot in the road." The original settlement was comprised of freed blacks just after the end of the Civil War. Several of the original settlers acquired farm land in between the "Forks of the Creek" and the first name of the settlement was Forks of the Creek. When Navarro Mills Lake was built part of the town was forced to move to higher ground but through all of the adversity, the town is still going.

The Pelham Community Organization not only has published a booklet with grant funds, they hold several meetings annually to get some of the younger family members to come back and take an interest in the town where they were raised plus the organization has several ongoing fund-raisers. Currently, the town has two historical markers, one for the community and the other, for Wesley Chapel Methodist Church. Two other churches still have an active congregation also in the settlement. The Pelham Community marker is in a small roadside park along the side of FM 744 that is well maintained by the local citizens. They have also placed small stone markers for many of their townspeople in the small park.

I am impressed with what the Pelham group is and has accomplished, not only with what they are trying to do to save their heritage and their community, but how well the town is maintained. All of the churches are neat and painted and the general appearance of the community shows a lot of pride. My hat is off to the families of Pelham in trying to preserve their past. By the way, they are a nice group to visit with also.

 

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Edward L. Williams & Barbara Knox