THE HERITAGE OF THE FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH OF NEDERLAND, TEXAS, 1907-1990
By Mrs. Carolyn Lockhart
In late 1906 or early 1907, there was no Baptist church in Nederland. A Baptist preacher by the name of Feagin held revival services at 1007 Boston (then Main Street), which was the Dutch Reformed Church. From this revival came the organization of what is now First Baptist Church, Nederland, Texas. It was begun in March, 1907, with seven charter members: Mr. L. D. Meredith, Mrs. C. T. Ingwersen, Mrs. George Strawbridge, Mrs. E. N. Singleton, Mrs. Ed Macomber, Mrs. Frances Roberts, and Mrs. Alice Stover.
Worship services were first held in the little Dutch church on Main Street, now Boston Avenue, but after a few months an old building across the street from the old First Baptist Church on Boston was rented. This building was an abandoned stable. This was in 1907. The church records show that on Sunday, December 13, 1908, Mr. W. L. Freeman offered to sell his property in the 1200 block of Main Street for $500, $250 down, and the balance to be paid off in one year. This building was originally built to be a saloon, but before it could be opened, Nederland voted itself "dry," and Mr. Freeman sold it to the Baptists for a church home. The Lord "works in wondrous ways." Mr. Gille Peveto paid off this balance soon after the offer, and out of gratitude to him, the church was named "Peveto Baptist Church." Brothers Livingston, Meredith, and Ingwersen were appointed as trustees of the church property. The church voiced the hope that as the year 1909 came in, they would all be "strong in the faith" and full of hope for the future. The bell in this little church was 24 inches in diameter, weighed 250 pounds, and was donated by Sears, Roebuck and Company. The church was heated by a wood heater. Mrs. C. T. Ingwersen was our first organist. Soon after organizing, we joined the Southeast Texas Baptist Association.
Our first pastor was Bro. George Montgomery who served as a part-time pastor from 1907 until 1909. In 1908 the church conference was held that resulted in our buying our first property. On January 28, 1908, the first letter was granted to Mrs. Stover to join another church. The 1909 minutes show that there were 5 baptisms, seven additions by letter, and one dismissed. There was one excluded. The membership totaled 35. State mission gifts totaled $31.10, and $40.00 was given to Associational Missions. The offering in Sunday School on December 12, 1909 was $5.14.
Our second pastor was Bro. W. L. Robertson. He served the church from 1910 until 1911. While he was pastor, the church bought two small houses that stood where the old Dale Hotel used to be (1212 Boston). They were moved to the church property and remodeled. In 1910 messengers of the Association were Gille Peveto, L. D. Meredith, and W. L. Robertson. The only in the chapter, Mr. L. D. Meredith, was ordained a deacon prior to the forming of the church. In the early days, Hubert Wagner, son-in-law of Mr. Gille Peveto, was the first deacon to be ordained by the organized church. One of the two houses is still in the 1200 block of Boston Avenue and belongs to the Quarles' family. Mr. Gille Peveto died on July 5, 1911.
Our third pastor was Bro. Theo Heisig. He was pastor from 1912 until 1913. He was a Baylor graduate, a layman preacher, and he lived in Beaumont. He was a real estate dealer, and came from Beaumont twice on Sunday to hold services in the church. He helped every small church that could not afford a preacher, matching every dollar the church raised with one of his own. A committee was formed in 1912 to revise the church roll.
Our fourth pastor was Bro. W. S. Young. When he was pastor, the church and parsonage was wired for electricity. On April 8, 1914, the church bought two light bulbs. Bro. Young was well-known for his sermons on strict Christian conduct. John R. Hillman came to Nederland in 1914, and soon became active in the church. He was ordained a minister in 1921, and was a speaker at our Golden Anniversary in March, 1957. Candidates in these early days were baptized in the Neches River. On March 16, 1914, the sum of 60 cents was spent on a broom with which to sweep the church, and on January 25, 1914, there were 20 persons in Sunday School with an offering of 62 cents.
Our fifth pastor was Bro. V. V. Youngblood. He served from February 16, 1916, until May 31, 1920. Many items of interest were found in the church records during his pastorate. On March 15, 1916, the church paid a $4.00 deposit on their electricity. The first record of a church caretaker is mentioned. She was Miss Ida Hillman, and she was paid $2.00 monthly to clean the church and ring the bell. The motion was made and seconded on March 15, 1916, to put screen doors on the church. The sum of $5.90 was spent on song books. Also, a motion was made and seconded that the church buy two lots between the building and the corner. This was postponed until January 10, 1917. On February 14, 1917, a revival meeting was held by Bro. Payne of Wharton, for which he received $5.00.
The first reference to a Ladies' Aid Society was made during 1917. Active members in that organization, which numbered about ten women, were Mrs. J. R. Hillman, Mrs. C. T. Ingwersen, and Mrs. Crittenden. On March 21, 1917, the church voted to pay the preacher $250 a year. The church was growing, for on July 14, 1916, there were 42 people present for Sunday School, with an offering of $1.14. In 1917, Bro. Youngblood was our first pastor to receive a vacation. During 1918, the pastor's salary was raised to $300. In 1919, the church voted to ring the bell at 9:00, 9:15, and 11:00 A. M. On Armistice Day, November 11, 1918, Miss Hillman, now Mrs. Ida Galiano, rang the bell for one hour to signal to the people of Nederland that World War I had ended. On October 12, 1919, the church voted that each Sunday School pupil would receive one Sunday School quarterly free, and in case of loss, the pupil would have to buy the second copy. In 1919, the balance was paid off on the lots, giving the church 125 feet of frontage on the main street of Nederland, according to the records of that year.
Our sixth pastor was Bro. B. S. Franklin, who served from May 30, 1920, until July 8, 1922. On September 12, 1920, Rev. W. H. Fortney, pastor of First Baptist Church of Port Neches, was authorized to baptize our candidates because we had no baptistry. On that day, the church voted to pay $5.00 on the bicycle for Bro. Pettipas, who was an area missionary. On January 16, 1921, Miss Vivian Nelson was elected to be the president of the Baptist Young Peoples' Union and Miss Effie Bruinsma (Mrs. Fred Sanderson) was elected secretary-treasurer of the union. A committee was appointed to attend to the "Baptist Standard" subscriptions. The business meeting minutes of February 17, 1921, state that the work on the church property was progressing nicely, but that the treasury was about empty. That year, Mrs. Maude Weber, Mrs. Jimmy Gunn, Mrs. E. T. Smith, and Mrs. Emily Ware all pledged $2.50 a month to support the 1922 budget of $1,000. Seven deacons were ordained in the year 1920.
Our seventh pastor was interim pastor, Bro. Parker, who served only from September of 1922 until November 7, 1922, due to the resignation of Bro. Franklin on August 1, 1922.
Our eighth pastor was Bro. T. C. Estell, who served from November 23, 1922 until July 1, 1924. On January 23, 1924, at the request of the Hartburg Baptist Church, Edwin Williams was ordained to the gospel ministry. Also at that business meeting, the cost of building a larger church building was brought up, the amount being $8,000. On March 11, 1924, the church voted to sell the parsonage and two lots, and build the "Tabernacle." The "Tabernacle" was a very large, building with a nursery at the back. It had many windows, a small office and literature room, and also a choir loft. A door opened onto a wooden sidewalk which led to the little church which was used for Sunday School services. This building was unpainted, and the benches were also unpainted. The women and children had the responsibility for keeping the building clean. Main Street (now Boston) was shelled at that time, so housekeeping was a monumental job. Hand fans were provided by the local feed stores and other interested persons during the summertime. During July of 1924, Mrs. Lottie Lester was elected our regular pianist. There were approximately 15 people in the choir. On January 1, 1924, there were 179 enrolled in Sunday School and 100 present that New year's Day. During the spring, a tent revival was held across from the "Tabernacle" with the Rev. Bill Starns as the preacher. Candidates for baptism were baptized in the First Baptist church in Beaumont, which is now the Tyrrell Historical Library. On December 7, 1924, there were 151 people enrolled in Sunday School, and there were 150 present that day.
Our ninth pastor was Bro. Troy Brooks. His first term of service was from August 28, 1924 to January, 1926. At a meeting on August 28, 1924, the church voted to put a lock on the well, and in 1925, Mrs. James McNeill was elected choir director. In 1925 the name of our church was changed by popular vote from "Peveto Baptist Church" to First Baptist Church of Nederland. Deacons ordained during 1926 were H. L. Ingram, L. B. Cobb, J. D. Thorn, and P. F. Sanderson.
Our tenth pastor was Bro. E. E. Sheffield. He served only a few months, from September of 1926 until January 5, 1927.
Our eleventh pastor was Dr. J. H. Hardy. He served from May, 1927, until October 4, 1933. He came to Nederland from Rosenberg, Texas, and he was here when the "Great Depression" began on October 29, 1929. On December 14, 1927, the church arranged for gas heat to be provided inside the church. The church also bought a parsonage at 416 South 13th Street. Bro. Hardy took a special interest in the young people of the church. Charter members of the Women's Missionary Union were Mrs. (Jesse) Peek, Mrs. Strawbridge, Mrs. Ingwersen, Mrs. Macomber, and Miss Emily Langham, who married George Ware in 1912. Early WMU presidents were Mrs. Ella Singleton and Mrs. Maude Weber.
Our twelfth pastor, another interim minister, was Bro. Don Stirling. He was called on October 8, 1933, and left the next week.
Our thirteenth pastor was Bro. Troy Brooks. His second term as pastor was from January 31, 1934, until September 10, 1941. For some time, the church had worshipped in the old "Tabernacle," but before long, the old First Baptist Church, located on the corner of Boston and 13th Streets was erected under the leadership of Bro. Brooks. The "Tabernacle" was torn down in 1935, and while the new frame building was being erected, the church met in the old Langham School building. The new church cost $6,000, and it had a capacity of 300 people. In 1940, the new Sunday School teachers elected were Miss Elizabeth Quinn and Jack Fortenberry. In March, 1941, the church met in a special session for the purpose of accepting a beautiful painting to be placed at the rear of the baptistry. It was given by Mrs. Ingwersen and Mrs. (Pete) Dawson. The issue of whether or not to lock the church was discussed in a business meeting held on March 4, 1942. (Bro. Brooks died in March, 1982, at the age of 90.)
Our fourteenth pastor was Bro. James M. Garner, who served from December 7, 1941, until September 1, 1947. While he was pastor, the church purchased the old parsonage which was located on a quarter block of land at 13th and Chicago Streets in Nederland. The church employed its first Educational and Music Director, Roy J. Taylor. In 1945, the church purchased the Presbyterian property in Central Gardens and started a mission there. Bro. A. L. Wallace was the mission pastor. The bell was given to this mission, and it remained there until it was returned to the church in 1957. Bro. and Mrs. Garner were active leaders in denominational work during their Nederland pastorate. He was the first president of the East Texas Baptist Encampment. Mrs. Garner managed the district youth camps for years. In 1944, all indebtedness on the church property was paid off. In 1946, the Associational Letter indicated that the church had 727 enrolled in Sunday School, 174 enrolled in Training Union, 13 WMU organizations, and 101 tithers in the church body. Every Christmas during the World War II years, the choir broadcast special Christmas music over the radio. Many of the young men of the church served in World War II.
According to church records, a Bro. Westberry served as interim pastor between Bro. Garner and Bro. McCollum.
Our fifteenth pastor was Bro. Ray McCollum, who served from January, 1948, until October, 1959. On March 24, 1948, the church body authorized the purchase of property on Nederland Avenue in the 1900 block. Later additional land was purchased which gave the church a tract of 285 feet in length, fronting on Nederland Avenue, and ending adjacent to 20th Street. On May 6, 1948, the church was incorporated. W. C. Ruchti, Jr. served as director of music and recreation during the summer of 1950, and Pat Wortman was music director in 1952. Charles Cowley served during the summers of 1954 and 1955, and he came back as full-time minister of Youth and Music in 1957. Inez Gardner served as the pastor's assistant and Training Union director from 1948 until 1950. George neilsen was Educational minister in 1952, and he returned full-time in 1957. In 1950, Bro. A. L. Wallace secured the use of the Presbyterian building in Hillcrest Terrace for a mission. The property was purchased, and on January 28, 1951, the Hillcrest Baptist Church was organized. In March, 1952, the church hired Maurice Walmer as church architect, and in August, 1952, ground was broken for the new church building. The first of three units was partially occupied in 1954, and in 1955, construction was begun on the second unit.
In 1952, a tent revival was held on the new church grounds with 68 professions of faith, 60 baptisms, and 15 additions by letter. In 1954, a mission was started on Boston Avenue, which later became Seventh Street Baptist Church. F. S. James was the pastor. Between 1948 and 1957, more then 700 people were baptized into First Baptist Church of Nederland.
"HISTORICAL NOTE TAKEN FROM CHURCH RECORDS DATED SEPTEMBER, 1955."
"On Sunday morning, September 25, 1955, the last service was conducted in the old frame building on Boston Avenue and 13th Street. Seven hundred and eleven were present for Sunday School, fifty-two were present at the mission at 1065 Boston Avenue, making a total of 763. The pastor spoke about all the people who had labored to provide the present facilities. Monday, the movers came to move our equipment to Nederland Ave. and 20th Street."
Bro. McCollum is retired, and he and his wife reside in Portland, Oregon. Bro. W. A. Corkern was interim pastor between Bro. McCollum and Bro. Owens.
Our sixteenth pastor was Bro. Jerome P. Owens. On December 9, 1959, First Baptist Church met and decided to finish work on the parsonage before Bro. Owens and his family arrived. Kelly Whitley presided at that meeting. During the years 1961-1963, the church held two services in Fellowship Hall. There were 36 deacons in 1962, and Harold Hanson was Minister of Education. In March, 1962, Dalton Moore showed films of prospective floor plans for the sanctuary, and a $440,000 bond issue was voted in and accepted. The church then decided to build the third part of its construction program, Unit B. On September 26, 1962, church officials signed the sanctuary pact with E. R. Foster, contractor, and Herbert Voelcher and Associates of Houston. Tom Larrimore was Minister of Music at that time. In 1963, the music committee recommended that the church buy a concert grand piano, and a Baldwin organ....for the new sanctuary. Bro. Owens recalled the phenomenal growth of the church at that time, and he stated that the first Sunday in the new sanctuary was the most significant that the church had ever known, because the congregation "had caught a glimpse of what First Baptist Church really meant." On October 20, 1963, which was the Sunday the sanctuary was dedicated, there were 1,365 people present in Sunday School and 1,600 people in the morning worship service. During Bro. Owens' pastorate, the primary annex was also built. The sanctuary has a steeple that can be seen for miles, and the original bell was hung in this steeple during the time of its dedication.
Bro. Owens is now retired, and lives in Woodville. During his pastorate, the church bought the homes of three staff members.
Our seventeenth pastor was Dr. Gene Wofford. He and his family came to Nederland in July, 1964, from First Baptist, Heights, in Houston. Early in 1965, Bro. Ray Barber's six choirs participated in the Area Music Festival, and all of them received a superior rating. Over 400 people in the church were involved in the music ministry. In 1965, First Baptist reached its enrollment goal of 1,850 members, and on November 7, 1965, the church launched a challenging stewardship campaign. In February, 1966, it extended a call to Carl Smith of Silver, Texas to became the Minister of Education. The church operating budget was $146,681. It had over 250 prospect families, and visitation was at an all-time high. In May, 1966, the church bought an older motor bus from the Nederland School District. During the summer of that year, Bro. Barber, the music minister, took the Youth Choir to Glorieta, New Mexico. In December, 1966, Mr. and Mrs. Weldon Davis gave a special offering which was used to buy the sign on the front lawn. The church held its first "Candlelight Service" on Christmas Eve of 1966.
The following year, the Youth Choir made a trip to Ridgecrest, and the handbells were dedicated to the music ministry. Bro. Wofford was called to East Grand Baptist Church in Dallas in 1967, and he is now a professor at Houston Baptist University.
Bro. Victor Nichols was interim pastor between Dr. Wofford and Dr. Heflin. Under his guidance, the church adopted its first by-laws and constitution.
The eighteenth pastor was Dr. Jimmie Heflin. He and his family arrived in June, 1968. In October, 1968, the enrollment in Sunday School was 1,692. On March 30, 1969, the church invited Bill Rayborn to become Minister of Music, and he accepted. In 1970, the church met to discuss air conditioning the educational buildings at a cost of $8,000. Members agreed to collect a special offering for that project. The Church Council recommended that Training Union be held on Wednesday night and that the complete Graded Choir Program be held on Sunday night. It authorized the pastor and educational director to pursue plans for a day care center. On September 8, 1970, the Sunday School enrollment was 2,106. On February 10, 1971, the Personnel Committee recommended that the church hire Robert Shaddock as Minister of Education. In 1971, the church had both summer and Christmas Vacation Bible Schools in the Rio Grande Valley. The Day Care Center was organized in 1971, with Mrs. Joyce Savage as the first director. In 1972, the church called Bro. C. M. Lang as associate pastor in charge of visitation, and called Andy Elliot as minister of music.
In January, 1974, a committee investigated the financing of the Family Center, and by March, 1974, the fund for that new facility totaled $23,404. The church voted to begin work on it as soon as possible, and in April 1975, construction was begun, with Moore, Stansbury, and Vaught as architects. The building, designed so that a second floor could be added, was completed and dedicated in 1976. The church then called Wayne Norvell as minister of youth and recreation, and under his guidance, a puppet ministry was started. Bro. Norvell led the church during its first "family camp," which was very successful. The year 1976 being America's Bicentennial Anniversary, Bro. Elliot led the church in a stirring July 4 program on that Sunday. In 1978, the church participated in the "Brazilian Campaign" by sending the pastor and minister of music as an a evangelistic team. Following Bro. Heflin's resignation on September 17, 1978, the church sought the guidance of God as it searched for a new pastor. Bro. Charles Hawkes served as interim pastor between Dr. Heflin and Bro. Hardage.
The church's nineteenth pastor was Bro. Bill Hardage, who arrived with his family from Lamesa, Texas. During his pastorate, the church was extensively repaired, much work being done to the Adult 8 Dept., solar screens were added, a new roof was put on Unit B, and the office area was renovated. In 1979, the "Silverstones" Senior Adult Choir was organized, and in 1980, the church organized its fourth mission, the Parkway Village Mission, with Bro. Shelton Simmons as its first pastor. During 1981, the Adult Departments were divided, and "co-educational" classes were formed. Larry Pritchett arrived as family life director. The 1982 budget of $580,000 was approved by the church body. In 1981, the church had an old-fashioned "lamp-light" service, and the young people again held their Vacation Bible School in the Rio Grande Valley. During 1981, the Methodists held a joint service with our church due to converts who wished to be baptized by immersion. As of 1982, the deacon body numbered 73, with Doug Mattingly as chairman. The WMU registered one "Mission Friends," two "Girls in Action," two "Acteens" groups, one Senior High group, and one BYW group.
The church has a complete library that dates back to 1940. There are several hundred books, films, and other education equipment available to the membership. In 1981, the church surpassed its Lottie Moon Christmas offering for Foreign Missions. The Association Letter for 1981 showed the membership to be 3,052, with 2,181 enrolled in Sunday School. The church has ten choirs, ranging from pre-school to the Silverstones, as well as the handbell choir. Regular worship service is broadcast every Sunday morning at 11:00 A. m. on 93 FM.
As of January 1, 1982, the membership was 3, 063, with 2,090 enrolled in Sunday School. As of June, 1982, there had been eighty additions to the enrollment.
During the preparation for the church's Diamond Jubilee, the original church bell was brought down from the steeple by the great great grandson of Gille Peveto, a young man by the name of Doug Dixon. The bell was completely refurbished, and it will have a permanent place in the church foyer for future generations.
As of 1989, the church's pastor is Dr. Randy Rudisell, who was voted in by unanimous decision. The church, now entering its 82nd year, is still a beacon to all people searching for happiness and thorough Bible study.
The ties, which have bound First Baptist Church of Nederland together for 82 years, must never be broken, for they are ties of love, loyalty, and pride. The many people who have worked together, often under adverse circumstances, must never be forgotten, for in many cases, their very indentities are known only to God.....This historical summary is dedicated to all the people who have walked through the doors of First Baptist Church and have been blessed by its ministry. May these doors ever be open to those in need of spiritual food and may the Lord's blessing be upon us all. The End. (The editor acknowledges the use of the church's official published history, given to him by Mrs. Marie Lester, as well as the same printed in Yellowed Pages, XIX, No. 3 (1989), 127-141, of which he owns a membership copy. The editor has also taken the liberty to alter some spellings and wording, although meanings were left the same.)