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History Of First Baptist Church, Hale Center

In describing the early days of the Staked Plains Of Texas, area historian Mary L. Cox wrote:

In 1880 Hale County was marking time at a brief interval which may be designated as a Post-Indian Pre-Settlement Period. Her lands were but a waste of windswept prairie, uninhabited by any living creature save and except by a few scattered buffalo, wild-horses, antelopes, coyotes, prairie dogs, and rattlesnakes.
The decade that had just passed witnessed the last stand of the redmen on the Staked Plains Of Texas.....The last outbreak of the Indians on the Plains occurred in the summer of 1874, when six hundred warriors with their families and all their worldly goods left the reservation bound for the Panhandle to join 1,500 Indians in hiding in the Palo Duro Canyon. General Mackenzie's troops located them and taking them by surprise routed them from their hiding places in a final battle on September 28, 1874, and sent them scurrying back to the reservations.
Buffalo hunters followed swiftly on the heels of the soldiers and in a few short years they rid the prairies of the ponderous beasts which for centuries had made the Plains a Happy Hunting Ground.

The first permanent settler to arrive in Hale County was Reverend Horatio Graves, a Northern Methodist Minister, who came from Ausable Forks, New York. He read in the New York CHRISTIAN ADVOCATE about cheap land for sale and about the fine climate in Texas. We know from information furnished from her family that a granddaughter made this statement:

Grandfather went to Texas because he felt that the availability of cheap land, where the winters were not as cold as the winters in New York state, made Texas an ideal location for establishing a Methodist colony.

Graves first came to Texas in 1877 to locate Government Strip land, distributed to railroad companies as a bonus for building railroads in East Texas. He stopped in Eastland, Texas, hired a surveying party, and then journeyed on to the Staked Plains. On this trip his group located "Bottle Corner" near the center of Hale County. (This was the controlling survey corner for many years for the county.) They surveyed about twenty-five sections, of which Graves bought sixteen sections for himself, paying twenty-five cents per acre after all expenses had been paid.
After making a second trip in 1878 to locate a big tract of land for eastern speculators, Reverend Graves felt it was safe to bring his family to the frontier. In July, 1882, he and his family left Ausable Forks, New York, arriving in Eastland, Texas, by railroad, and then traveled on to Estacado, Crosby County, Texas, in two wagons. He left his family in Estacado while he built a house for them. In March, 1883, the family moved to Hale County.
The first settlers viewed the Staked Plains with varying reactions. Upon moving to the new home in Hale County in March, 1883, Lottie Graves saw a strange beauty as she described:

The vastness of the prairies, the blue vault of the sky meeting the earth in the wide circle of an unbroken horizon was impressive, as was the sunrise and the sunset and the deep blue heavens shining with brilliant stars at night.

George D. May, who came in the Spring of 1883, said,

Lots of the country was not usable in those days on the account of lack of water. I could have bought land at fifty cents an acre, we didn't think there was any water. We didn't know you could drill anywhere you wanted to put down a well and get water.

The Graves home soon became a community center, a religious center, and a school house for the early settlers and cowboys on the Circle Ranch, Morrison Brothers Ranch, and ranches farther west. A post office was established June 3, 1884, and Graves named it Epworth after the small town in England which was the birthplace of John Wesley, founder of the Methodist church. Reverend Graves started a Sunday School in his home in 1883, and he preached to those who came. He and his wife tutored their three daughters for three years, then in 1886, they hired a tutor for one year. A school by subscription (shared expenses) was held in their house until a school house was built and a school district was organized in 1889. The new school was located one half mile west of the Graves home.
A Union Sunday School for all denominations was soon organized and the preaching was shared by circuit riding preachers and area missionaries of all denominations. In the absence of a preacher, Reverend Graves would preach.
In July 1889, Reverend R.M. Morris, pastor of the First Methodist Episcopal Church South of Plainview, helped organize a Methodist Episcopal Church South in the Epworth school house. The charter members included Mrs. L.T. Lester, Mrs. A.N. Jones, and Mrs. A.M. Jones. Since most of the Methodists in the area were Southern Methodists, Reverend Graves gave up his dream to establish a Northern Methodist Colony.
On January 16, 1891, a group assembled in the Epworth school house and organized the Hale City Missionary Baptist Church, with twelve charter members. Reverend I.B. Kimbrough, an area missionary appointed by the Texas Baptist State Board, acted as moderator, and W.P. Blake served as clerk. Earlier, Reverend Kimbrough and T.H. Stamps (another area missionary) had helped organize the Missionary Baptist Church of Plainview on November 23, 1890.
The Hale City Baptist Church called Dr. I.B. Kimbrough as its pastor. He could preach only one Sunday each month because simultaneously that year he was serving as pastor for the Plainview Baptist Church, the First Baptist Church of Floyd County (near Lockney), and Floyd City Baptist Church (in present day Floydada). Not long after the church was organized, Reverend Kimbrough held a "meeting" with one person baptized and seven added to the church by letter. This made a total membership of twenty for 1891, as reported to the Llano Estacado Baptist Association.
No records of the church's first twenty-one years are available, so there is no known record of the original twelve charter members. Both Roberta Akeson (daughter of N.M. Akeson who wrote an early history of the church) and Mrs. G.E. Ritchey (who joined the church in 1904) stated the records were destroyed by a fire. Before she died in 1928, Rebecca McEntire listed herself plus her daughter and son-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. A.D. Wallen, as charter members, in conversations with this writer, her great-grandson.

From various sources, early members are known to include Mr. and Mrs. J.H. Calvert, Mr. and Mrs. D.L. Sheply, Mr. and Mrs. Jack Hamilton, Mr. Pierce (Mrs. Hamilton's brother), Dr. and Mrs. L.B. Lovelace, Mr. and Mrs. J.W. Weaver, Mrs. George Baker, Mr. and Mrs. W.P. Blake, and Mr. L.T. Lester.
The name of Epworth Post Office was changed to Hale City on April 16, 1891, and the post office was moved to Hale City on June 1, 1891. The Hale City Baptist Church continued to worship in the Epworth School house, until it burned in 1892 under suspicious circumstances. The school house for Hale City was built in 1892 and was used by the church for a place of worship. After a severe drought and a grasshopper plague, many people moved. Those who remained ended their bitter struggle to keep separate the survival of the two towns of Epworth and Hale City, which were only two miles apart. Both communities were consolidated in 1893 into one townsite named Hale Center, located between the original townsites near the center of Hale County.
The two school districts of Epworth and Hale City were consolidated into the Hale Center school district and the school house was moved to Hale Center in 1893. The name of the post office was changed and moved to Hale Center on September 19, 1893. The name of the church was changed to Hale Center Missionary Baptist Church when the name of the post office was changed.
The pioneers' struggle to get established and to survive is reflected in the church reports to the association for all giving reported from 1891 to 1900:

Pastor's salary $931.75; State Missions $32.50; Orphan's Home $18.00; Education $10.00; Minutes $9.90; Foreign Missions $7.50; Sunday School $6.00; [Other $10.00]; for a total of $1,025.65

In 1895, there was a division of churches in the north and south parts of the Llano Estacado Baptist Association over doctrine and other reasons. Fellowship was withdrawn from Hale Center Baptist Church, one of eight churches accused of trying to divide the association on Martinism (a heresy on regeneration).
The church had a banner year in 1899 when a revival was held and seventeen people were added by letter. This increased the total membership to forty. During this year the church was host to a three day associational meeting of the Llano Estacado Baptist Association.
All denominations continued to worship in the school building until the Methodist congregation built the first church building in the area in 1902. The Methodists invited the Baptists and all other denominations to share their building and rotate the responsibilty for worship service. (This type of sharing among Hale Center congregations still continues with weekly services for Hi-Plains Nursing Home in Hale Center.) The Baptists met in the Methodist faciity until they completed their own building in 1908.
Mrs. W.B. (Ella) Smith said the church was not finished until 1908, and the reason she remembered so clearly was because she was still on her honeymoon and her husband "Brother Bill" helped to finish the work on it. She also recalled that the building did not initially have a baptistry, so any tank with water was used. The baptistry was finished and put into use in 1925.
Land for the Baptist Church properties was originally purchased from T.L. and Della Lambert on February 17, 1906, for a price of $50. This was the entire block #102, which has lots one through sixteen. Our present church facility is located on lots one through eight, facing Sixth Street, between Avenue H and Avenue I. Lots one and two were sold and bought many times, and the church bought them back finally in 1955. Lots nine through sixteen were sold off, then on May 15, 1975, the church bought back lots nine through twelve and half of lot thirteen from the Shaddens.
The first church building built was on lots 6,7, and 8, facing the east. The building cost $200 plus volunteer labor from W.H. Hand, J.J. Cole, D.S. Humber, Elbert Humber, the pastor J.J. Lively, and others. On January 28, 1910, the church entered into a loan for $1,000 from J.L. Harrington, B.P. Adams, and N.M. Akeson for the purpose of building a five room parsonage.
After a branch of the Santa Fe Railroad was extended to Plainview in 1907 and to Hale Center in 1909, and with the coming of the automobile and the drilling of the county's second irrigation well on the Robert Alley farm (which joins Hale Center on the west), the area began to experience a phenomenal growth. Both local and out of state land developers organized excursions into the area for prospective settlers.
Robert Alley's immigration business was helped by an ad he placed in the WALLACE FARMER newspaper of Des Moines, Iowa. Mr. Alley had brought the editor to Texas to see what was being done with irrigation. The ad placed in the paper stressed the conclusion of the editor: "The only drawback with this country is that it has always needed one more rain: irrigation has supplied that extra rain." Immigrants came from all parts of the United States.
As the area experienced growth, the church also experienced growth:
YearChurch Membership

Concerning the table, there were 25 males and 38 females in attendance at the church in 1911.

There were stricter rules for church membership in those days. During the tenure of the church's first full time pastor (1917-1918) strict discipline was enforced, and a member could be let out of the church for cursing and drinking.
It was during the tenure of Reverend C.A. Joiner (1924-1929) the church voted to update the church membership roll, and all non resident members who had been gone over four years were dropped. All resident members who had not attended church in two years were dropped from the roll.
Conduct of an individual was accountable, because charges were brought against Brother __________ regarding his conduct. A committee of two was appointed to talk to him. Then one week later, he came before the church at a conference and confessed his wrongs and asked forgiveness. The church forgave him.
There seemed to be an unending struggle against the economic and psychological implications of the "Dust Bowl" and "Great Depression" years. Starting with the pastorate of Reverend C.A. Joiner (1924-1929), and continuing through the services of Reverend Joe Wilson (1930-1933) and Reverend M.E. Fairchild (1933-1940), the church grew in membership, but the staff did not. With excellent spiritual leadership and the cooperative and determined spirit of the membership, drastic adjustments were made to keep the church financially sound. Also during this period, a Young People's Annex, a new church building, a new parsonage were built and paid for, and a Mexican Mission was started.
Some of the actions taken as shown in the church minutes were:
The depression began to show in the financial reports of the church in 1928. The pastor's salary was cut from $2,000 to $1,902.50. Plans for building a new church building measuring 50'x 90' (with a full basement) had to be canceled in 1929. Members who had contributed to the building fund were allowed to withdraw their contributions if they so desired.
Membership had grown so by 1921 that shortages of Sunday School rooms led to authorization for the Young Peoples to build a House Annex for use by the Young Peoples Department.
As economic conditions worsened in 1931, the pastor's salary was reduced to $100 per month, the literature order was cut by canceling the orders for adult literature, and janitorial duties were taken over by unpaid male member volunteers, in order to limit costs.
Later records showed that the church owed $300 to the pastor, $62 for literature, and $175 on the Young Peoples House Annex. Pastor Joe Wilson offered to forego his salary for July and August, while he left to hold revival meetings. This offer was accepted by the church.
The 1933 approved letter to the association showed the worst year of the Depression. The pastor's salary was $281.34. All giving totaled $1,052.36. Membership was 426.
In 1933, the church rented 100 acres of land for cotton farming. By a standing vote, the church promised to support the farming project. A manager and an assistant manager were appointed.
On June 4, 1933, Pastor Wilson resigned. On September 3, 1933, Reverend M.E. Fairchild was called as pastor for one year. The budget of $1,300 with a pastor's salary of $900 annually suggested the economy of the area was still tight.
With a renewed faith and with an energetic, optimistic, and dedicted pastor and family, and with signs that the Depression was subsiding, the church voted on January 28, 1934, to tear down the first church building and replace it, using the plans first drawn up in 1929, with additions. Within an unbelievable time of just over four months, the first church services were held in the new church building on June 3, 1934.
The new building was constructed for $7,500. Except for one paid superintendent of construction and one or two other employees, the church was built with volunteer labor. It turned into a community wide project. The list of 197 laborers and donors included members of all denominations as well as non churched community members participating in the construction of the new church building.
Within a short time the new church was paid for, and the church voted to build a new parsonage, valued at $2,500. The church and parsonage were paid for in less than five years.
In 1937, Jerusalem Baptist Chapel was commissioned as a mission of the First Baptist Church for the Mexican people in the area. It was the first Anglo church sponsored mission in the Staked Plains Baptist Association. Mrs. Mae Abbott, Home Mission Board missionary to Mexicans in West Texas and New Mexico, aided in establishing and maintaining the mission until the first pastor, Samuel Hernandez, was called in 1941.
Brother O.C. Edwards (1941-1942) was pastor when the church observed its 50th anniversary with a Homecoming Celebration. World War II soon followed, and by the end of 1943, eight women and thirty-two men of the church membership had entered the armed services or defense work.
During the next two decades under the leadership of pastors F.N. Allen (1942-1949), Joe Morman (1950-1954), Bill Ratliff (1954-1959), and Tommie Allen (1959-1963), the forward movement of the church included the paid-for expansion of the physical plant, construction of a new pastorium for the church pastor and another for the mission pastor, and construction of a new mission church facility. All the while, the church was ministering to a growing membership and widening its mission efforts. Each pastor's unique personality and preaching and leadership abilities helped the church membership to mature in its church life. This was done by building on the foundations already laid by former pastors and under God's blessings.
Widened mission efforts included the building of a cabin at Plains Baptist Assembly, near Floydada, Texas. The church underwrote the construction of a Baptist church in Pocatello, Idaho, in 1955 (this same church was refinanced for fifteen years in 1960). In 1956, Hale Center pastor Bill Ratliff preached a revival in Twin Falls, Idaho. The church provided support for Valley View Mission in Colorado in 1959, and began support for Westminster Baptist Church near Denver, Colorado, in 1960.
In 1962, the church started support for Craigmont Mission through the Lewiston, Idaho, Baptist Church. Support for the Clarkston, Washington church began in 1963; that same year, Hale Center pastor Tommie Allen moved to the Clarkston church.

Soon after Brother Charles Broadhurst (1963-1966) came, the church voted to enter into another building program to provide additional space and do away with the old church educational building. All indebtedness had been retired except the debt on the Jerusalem Baptist Chapel Church building.
THEN the worst disaster ever to hit this community came June 2, 1965, about 9:00 PM, a devastating tornado. Among the great mounds of rubble in the city was found a demolished First Baptist Church facility. The building plans had to be enlarged to completely rebuild the church buildings.
The tornado was a great misfortune, but it failed to demoralize the membership. Instead it seemed to draw the members together with unity and purpose, to build again and to continue to go forward for the future of the church. The church voted to build the present beautiful building now standing. A warm spirit was in the fellowship as the people accepted the responsibility of the approximately $350,000 debt willingly.
First services in the new building on June 12, 1966, drew the largest crowd ever. There were 493 registered in Sunday School, and over 600 attended church services, with 74 visitors including 50 from out of town. All auditorium seats, both cry rooms, and extra chairs were used to fill the building to capacity. The 75th Anniversary and Dedication Services for the new building were held August 21, 1966.
The supporting organization which keeps our church mission minded is the Woman's Missionary Union (W.M.U.), formerly called the Ladies Aid Society and later, the Woman's Missionary Society (W.M.S.). The W.M.U. emphasizes prayer for missionaries and mission efforts around the world. The W.M.U. also encourages financial support of missions through the Cooperative Program of the Southern Baptist Convention, and through special fund drives for State, Home, and Foreign missions. Mission gifts have grown through the years from a meager pioneer beginning to current strong and stable levels, thanks to mission education and training by Women's Missionary Union organizations: Baptist Women, Baptist Young Women, Acteens, Girls In Action, and Mission Friends.
For almost two decades under the leadership of pastor T.J. Ozbun (1966-1971), Carrol Green (1971-1980), and Ron Mooney (1980-1984), the focus was on building on foundations already laid, further widening of mission projects, and emphasis on local outreach and membership nurturing and training.
Widening of missions efforts in this time period included continuing support for missionaries in Mexico; summer missionary work in North Dakota in 1974; World Mission Conference honorarium in 1979; and support for Richard Atwood's study in Switzerland, 1980. The church also underwrote and supplemented budgets for struggling churches in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1973; in Colville, Washington, in 1979; in Anchorage, Alaska, in 1979; refinancing of Omaha, Nebraska, in 1979; Carrizo Springs, Texas (burned), in 1980; Townsend, Montana, in 1981; and Plains Baptist Assembly near Floydada, Texas, in 1983.

Evangelistic support, teaching, and service missions included a Vacation Bible School in Espanola, New Mexico, (Young People), in 1973; evangelistic support of combined revivals in the Pacific Northwest with team of pastor and five lay people in 1974; separate trip by pastor in 1974 to help Frontiers for Baptist Men in Grand Coulee and Spokane, Washington; support for Baptist Student Union (B.S.U.) mission sponsored by Hardin-Simmons University (including our student members Richard Atwood and Vickie Teeter) in 1975; our pastor went to California as part of an Evangelistic Crusade in 1981; Brotherhood trip to Ojinaga, Mexico, across from Presidio, Texas, in 1984, to work on a building for a seminary for bivocational pastors; various trips to the Rio Grande area in support of medical missions; and involvement of various members in support of Lay Witness Missions. Local outreach and membership nurturing and training included such things as an open air revival at the local football field in 1969; participation in a similar Encounter Crusade with the South Plains Baptist Associaton in the football stadium at Plainview, Texas, in 1970; a church youth rally led by future staff members Ted Latham, evangelist, and Eddie Turner, music leader, in 1971; participation in Explo 72 in Dallas, Texas, in 1972; establishment of a bus ministry locally in 1973; establishment of a downtown coffee house for a young people's meeting place in 1974; sending of the educational minister and wife to the Institute in Basic Youth Conflicts in 1975; participation in the Good News For Texas Crusade in 1976; establishment of a TV ministry first to the hospital and nursing home in 1977 (later expanded in 1980 to local cable subscribers); having several members attend the Bill Gothard Institute in Basic Youth Conflicts seminar in Lubbock, in 1978; sending young people to Corpus Christi Evangelism Conference in 1979; participation in the Jay Strack Crusade in Plainview, Texas, in 1981; and participation in a Family Life conference, in 1983.
The church entered into a $57,000 renovating campaign to restore the beauty and preserve the church building in 1983. During the closing years of the century, under the leadership of Pastor Ted Latham (1984-1989) and Gene Meacham (1989-present), the primary thrust was and is missions and nurturing the membership while proclaiming a living application of the Christian message. The Church has continued to support young churches and missions, and has encouraged the participation of its young people in mission activities. Mission efforts recently included support for Kemp Street Mission in El Paso, Texas, in 1984; underwriting a church loan for Calvary Baptist Church in Houston, Texas, in 1985; support for Hispana Baptist Church in El Paso, Texas, and underwriting a loan for Arlington Park Baptist Church, a mission of Wood's Chapel Baptist Church in the Arlington, Texas area in 1986; pastor participation in the Greater Bakersfield, California, Crusade in 1988; and support to Park Springs Baptist Church (mission) in Arlington, Texas, in 1990. Young people participating in missions have worked in four missions trips to El Paso, Texas in 1985, 1986, 1987, and 1988. (Lionel the puppet was lost during the 1986 Mission Trip.) In 1989, there was a mission trip to the Muncie, Indiana, area. The church had a very well-planned and attended 95th Anniversary Homecoming Celebration on July 5 and 6, 1986. Many former members, outside visitors, and former staff members joined local members who attended the worship services and dinner on the grounds for a joyful period of fellowshiping.
Following an earlier $8,500 bequest from the Venie B. Jefferies Estate in 1981, the church in 1987 received a bequest of $33,000 of undesignated funds from the R.A. Jefferies Estate, and voted to send 10% to the Cooperative Program, designated to go directly to nearby Wayland Baptist University in Plainview, Texas, during a time of financial need. Other fund designations included 2% to association missions and 4% to fund a contingency fund for use in missions later, with the remainder designated for capital improvements for church properties.
After 51 years of supporting the Jerusalem Baptist Chapel, the church voted February 10, 1988, to allow the mission to become a full time independent church, to be called Iglesia Bautista Jerusalem at separation in early April, 1988.
In 1986 the church purchased lots and a brick house across the street adjoining the church propert on the east. Remodeling was completed in 1988 at a cost of approximately $30,000. The building is now used to house the church's Youth Minister.
Our church has always been strong in mission efforts. At the closing of the century, it is astonishing that the LORD sent the Gene Meacham family to be our pastor and first family. The Meachams were missionaries to Malawi (1974-1979) and the Transkei in Africa (1979-1984) before returning to Texas to further the education of the three daughters, after which the parents hope to return to the mission field. Our current minister of music, Eddie Turner, served in Okinawa as a missionary in 1973 and 1974.
In review, peak periods were reached in each of the following:
1985Ted LathamTotal Membership922
1958Bill RatliffSunday School Enrollment712
1958Bill RatliffSunday School Average350
1955Bill RatliffBaptisms76
1985Ted LathamTotal Giving$210,325
Total Baptisms From 1891 to 1990-1,677
Members Licensed Or Ordained To Preach-16

The church has supported Wayland Baptist University from soon after its beginnings as a junior college, through its time as a college, into its growth into a university. We still support the university financially and by encouraging our young people to get a Christian education at Wayland or other Christian institutions.
God had a plan to put His WORD in place in an area that seasoned scouts predicted would be a "vast wasteland" because there was so little surface water. It became a land of milk and honey soon after the coming of the first permanent settlers. With Horatio Graves, He had a messenger to proclaim the Good News. From the early pioneer Christians, God planted a Baptist Tree, and it sprang forth and grew, and grew, and grew. God gave it His love and His care.
Through the past one hundred years, the First Baptist Church of Hale Center, Texas, received the guidance and blessings of God, through periods of trials and tribulations, and growth and prosperity. Being the product of visions and labors of those who have gone before, we are the grateful heirs of this rich heritage.
At the close of this century, the Baptist Tree is very much alive and strong and producing fruit. This church with a renewed dedication and humility enters a new century with a God given hope for the future. The old challenge is still a new challenge, "Go ye therefore, and make disciples..."
"Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for men. Let them exalt him in the assembly of the people and praise him in the council of the elders...He turned the desert into pools of water and the parched ground into flowing springs; there he brought the hungry to live, and they founded a city where they could settle. They sowed fields and planted vineyards that yielded a fruitful harvest; he blessed them, and their numbers greatly increased and he did not let their herds diminish." Psalms 107:31,32,35-38 (New International Version)
"Beginnings are always interesting, important, factual, and should be recorded," said Staked Plains Baptist Association historian Grace Heck.
It is with this scripture in mind that this history is written: "Let this be written for a future generation, that a people, not yet created may praise the Lord." Psalm 102:18 (New International Version)

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EDITOR'S NOTE (MELVIN RITCHEY) The Brief History Chapter has very little detail, so it was decided to expand on things mentioned in it. From here forward, more detailed information has been written on the growth, development, and spiritual sides of our church life, including individual involvement.
The Brief History Chapter was written to accompany an application for a One Hundred Year Historical Marker. We were requested to keep it brief.
Minutes of First Baptist Church, Hale Center, Texas, were not available for research for the years 1891-1911, 1920-1921, 1936-1940 or 1950-1954.

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This selection was taken from A CENTURY OF LOVING, CARING, AND SHARING; 1891-1991; FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH, HALE CENTER, TEXAS. Copyright 1991 by First Baptist Church, Hale Center, Texas. Published in the U.S.A. by Nortex Press, A Division of Eakin Publications, Inc., Austin, Texas. Written, Compiled, And Edited By Melvin L. Ritchey and History Book Staff. All Rights Reserved.