175 Years of History
The First United Methodist Church at Bridge and Power streets in Victoria is believed to be the oldest Protestant Church in the Victoria area. This is a brief account of it’s passage through 175 years. It all started in 1839 in the then Republic of Texas. The Reverend Jesse Hord held services as a circuit rider for the Mississippi Methodist Conference. His large circuit included all the coastal country between the Trinity and San Antonio rivers. He traveled throughout his circuit on horseback.
Formal church organization occurred in December of 1840 as part of the newly formed Texas Methodist Conference. Another circuit rider, the Reverend Joseph P. Sneed, whose circuit was generally from the mouth of the Guadalupe river to Seguin, was assigned as minister. A small building used as a Courthouse in old Victoria was also used for religious and public meetings and served the small congregation on Reverend Sneeds circuit.
The location, time and minister of the congregations own first church building is not clear but the church is believed to have been on South street which is very near the Guadalupe river and was probably near the most active part of Victoria in those days.
Here’s an interesting comment on Methodist church organization along the Guadalupe river from the memoirs of the Reverend John W. DeVilbiss, a circuit rider and our churches minister in 1843-44. A camp meeting was held on McCoy creek, a tributary of the Guadalupe river. The neighborhood was called Cuero settlement and most of the people lived on a creek of that name. It was about 35 miles below Gonzales and about 5 miles from the present town of Cuero. A large oak tree afforded shade for the congregation. We had a number of Captain Hayes Texas Rangers under Lt. Greenwood to guard our horses and none were lost to the Indians.
In 1851-52 a new church building was erected at 110 West Santa Rosa street. In today’s Victoria, this is about in the middle of the block and across the street from the First Victoria National Bank parking lot. The building can be seen on the 1867 lithograph of the city of Victoria. Pre-civil war records show a slave owner church member and his slaves listed on the membership roll. This building served the congregation until 1876 when a new wooden frame church building with a 40 foot steeple was erected at today’s church location at Bridge and Power streets. This building was badly damaged by the hurricane that destroyed Indianola in 1886 and it took 10 years to complete and pay for the hurricane damage. The first parish parsonage was erected in 1889. In November of 1910 the wooden church building with the 40 foot steeple was destroyed by fire. Records say the prized old church bell was never found in the ruins, not even any molten metal.
In April of 1911 construction of a new, more commodious, (convenient and roomy, spacious and satisfactory for the purpose), building with a 56 foot center dome and a seating capacity of 300 was begun at the Bridge and Power street location. Monetary difficulties and a painful and irreparable schism, (division or disunion.esp. Into mutually opposed parties), in the church membership delayed dedication of this building until 1924. The hurricane of 1942 blew away the 56 foot center dome and damaged the roof and church interior. When repairs were made the dome was not replaced and this building served until 1959. In 1959-60 the present church and associated buildings featuring the stunning stained glass window above the alter was constructed. Several major additions and acquisitions over the years, including upgrade to a new parsonage, the Crossing, the Christian Life Center and the Children’s Education Center make up the large church complex today. Since 1839, about 75 ministers have served the church. Among them were numerous circuit riders and church organizers, a survivor of the ill fated Meir expedition to Mexico who must have drawn a white bean, a former Captain of the Confederacy, the father and father in law of Texas Governors, James E. “paw” Ferguson and Miriam A. “maw” Ferguson, and one who died in the terrible yellow fever epidemic of 1867. A Texas Historical marker on the grounds reads in part, itinerant Methodist preachers held worship services in Victoria as early as 1836 and organized the first protestant church, also, this church has been known as Victoria Methodist Church, Callender Church, First Methodist Church and First United Methodist Church. The church, today, reaches out into the community from it’s unique downtown location in many ways, to many people.
From circuit rider, church organizer preachers, beginning in 1839 with the Reverends Hord, Sneed, and DeVilbiss, to The Reverend Jarrell V. Sharp today, this church has survived the ravages of time and remains active and vital in it’s 175th year with the expectation that the best is yet to come.
The names, dates and historical information in this brief account are compiled from records and books in the church library and from various civil records of Victoria, by Art Kenne, a long time member, interested in the church’s past and it’s future.
For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many,
are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.
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First United Methodist Church - Victoria, TX
407 N. Bridge
Victoria, TX 79901
fax: (361) 578 1433