Railroad that gave birth to city also provided homes for its early churches

In Longview, the railway that gave birth to a town also gave an important boost to one of the most important pillars in the city’s history — the churches that formed in the town’s early years and continue to call downtown home.

In 1870, O.H. Methvin deeded 100 acres of land to the Southern Pacific Railway, which was soon acquired by the Texas and Pacific Railway. Between 1873 and 1875, Texas and Pacific donated land to the early forms of what today are First United Methodist Church, First Baptist Church, First Presbyterian Church and First Christian Church. Two other churches also organized downtown in Longview’s early years: Trinity Episcopal Church and St. Anthony Catholic Church.

Those congregations’ effect on Longview ripples far outside the city’s heart, though, through the formation of other churches, by serving as church-home to many of Longview’s leaders and through the creation and support of schools and a variety of social service organizations. As those churches take part in Longview’s sesquicentennial celebrations, they’re planning their own anniversary celebrations and looking forward to a future that leaders at all six churches said will see them continue to serve from their homes in downtown Longview.

First United Methodist Church■ Longview area Methodists worshiped in the “meeting house” from about 1840 to 1860 on College Street.

■ Starting in 1860, Methodists worshiped in a new church at Earpville, on the Marshall and Tyler road.

■ In 1874 the church building was moved to land the railroad donated. O.H. Methvin was one of the church trustees. First Methodist still sits at that location today.

■ In 1875 the church dedicated a new brick building on the site. It was the first brick church in the area, and possibly the state.

■ Kelly Memorial Methodist Church was constructed at the site in 1900. It served the church until 1950, when it was razed to make room for the present-day sanctuary.

■ Opening services at the present-day sanctuary were held on March 2, 1952, and the church was renamed First Methodist Church. Other buildings have been added to the church campus since that time.

■ The church established its School for Little Children in 1958. In 1969, a group from the church’s United Methodist Women established Asbury House, a nonprofit preschool for low-income families.

■ The church’s final name change, to First United Methodist Church, occurred in 1991.

■ Weekly worship attendance averages 500 people.

First Baptist Church■ The Baptist Church of Longview, Upshur County, Texas, was formed in 1871 in a home, with 15 charter members.

■ The church name was changed after Gregg County was formed in 1873 out of portions of Rusk and Upshur counties.

■ The Texas and Pacific Railway on Sept. 1, 1874, gave the church land at the northwest corner of South Fredonia and South streets.

■ The first church building was erected in late 1874.

■ The church incorporated as the First Baptist Church of Longview in 1914.

■ In the 1930s, the church established the Northcutt Heights, South Highlands and East Moreland mission congregations. Those churches eventually became Northside Baptist Church, Valley View Baptist Church and Mobberly Avenue Baptist Church. In 1957, First Baptist also established what is today’s Oakland Heights Baptist Church.

■ The church built several sanctuaries since that time, purchased numerous additional pieces of land, and expanded church facilities in other ways as well. The current sanctuary was dedicated in 1951, with information for the church’s historical marker describing it as a “magnificanet modified Gothic style sanctuary and chapel of pink sand brick with a rose blend and copper roof.”

■ The church also established the Wee Learn Center.

■ Average weekly worship attendance is between 450 and 600 people, not including the approximately 130 people who attend the church’s Spanish-language worship.

First Presbyterian Church■ In October 1872, 16 Longview residents who were members of the Old School Presbyterian Church of the Southern Church met to form a mission church. Another meeting was held in April 1872, after the East Texas Presbytery had authorized the church.

■ In November 1873, the Texas and Pacific Railway donated land at the corner of Methvin and Center streets to the church, where the church still stands today. The church’s first building was completed in 1874. It has been described as being made of wood and rectangular shaped, about 36-by-60-feet, with a “portico, four columns, and a high steeple” where a bell the congregation still uses today hung.

■ The church’s second building, which was made of brick, was completed in 1900. It was described as “red brick, English Gothic style with beautiful stained glass windows.” It was torn down in 1940, to make room for the sanctuary that still serves the church today.

■ The first service was held at the current sanctuary on March 16, 1941, with additional buildings and facilities added over the years.

■ In 1979, the church’s mother’s day out program evolved into the Presbyterian Children’s Center.

■ The church has 230 members.

First Christian Church, Disciples of Christ■ Organized in 1875 by 12 charter members.

■ First met in a building on Green Street known as “Mrs. Leak’s School.”

■ In August 1875, the church acquired a gift of land from the Texas and Pacific Railroad at the southeast corner of Methvin and Green streets. The deed wasn’t recorded until June 30, 1892.

■ The first church home was built by men in the church in 1875 and had “one large room with a high ceiling, a steep roof made of pine shingles and a belfry.”

■ In 1906, the church’s growth necessitated construction of a new home which also was built on the donated land. It was made of “cement stone blocks molded in a pattern that resembled natural stone. It was “of modified Gothic architectural design,” with stained glass windows and a baptistry. The sanctuary burned in 1914 but was restored.

■ By 1932, the church had outgrown its Green Street location. That property was sold, and Mr. and Mrs. W.C. Hurst sold land on Sixth Street to the church for a new location for First Christian. Groundbreaking was on May 6, 1934, and it was dedicated on Sept. 8, 1935. The church building, which is still home to First Christian, has been described as a “beautiful red brick building with stained glass windows, red tile roof, and vaulted ceilings with massive oak rafters.”

■ First Christian’s PREP School — Providing Readiness and Enrichment Preparation — was established in 1976 and continues to serve children ages 6 months to kindergarten.

■ Sunday worship attendance averages about 180 people.

St. Anthony Catholic Church■ Catholic parish in Longview started as mission in 1880 under the church in Galveston.

■ Longview Catholic community became part of the Dallas diocese when it was formed in 1890.

■ Land for earliest church, where St. Anthony is located in downtown Longview, was purchased from J.C. Turner for $125. Masses were said in alternating homes and locations with visiting priests until the first church was built in 1884.

■ Catholic Community Sisters of the Incarnate Word operated a school at the church in its early years.

■ The oil boom meant church growth. The current sanctuary was constructed in 1941. Then, a school next door was completed in 1949 and staffed by the School Sisters of Notre Dame.

■ As the Parish grew, it also outgrew the school, which led to the establishment of St. Mary’s Catholic School. That in turn gave rise to the St. Mary’s church, which was completed in 1979.

■ St. Anthony’s Parish has a membership of almost 900 families.

Trinity Episcopal Church■ Episcopal services started in 1886 in space borrowed from other churches and organizations, with Estelle Wright Honea recognized as Trinity’s founder.

■ Trinity Episcopal founded as a mission church in 1893.

■ The first building, with a 1907 cornerstone, was located on Fredonia Street.

■ Trinity moved to its current location at Sixth and Padon in 1935 and has remained there. The actual building, however, has burned twice, and was once condemned because of “insufficient roof structure.” The church was rebuilt each time.

■ The current building was completed and consecrated in 1985. “ A phoenix appears in the church’s Gospel Window. It is both an ancient symbol of the resurrection of Jesus and an appropriate metaphor for Trinity Episcopal Church,” the Rev. Bill Carroll, rector at Trinity Episcopal Church, said.

■ Trinity Episcopal Church oversaw what is now Christus-Good Shepherd starting in 1960 at the request of the Gregg County Commissioners Court until 1975, when a community-based board took over operation of the hospital.

■ Trinity School of Texas, a “principal mission partner of the church” and independent school, was founded in 1957.

■ Weekly Sunday morning attendance averages 150 people.