METHODISM CAME TO PORT NECHES IN 1881
By W. T. Block
Reprinted from W. T. Block, "Methodism Came to Port Neches,"
YELLOWED PAGES, XI (Aug., 1981), 123-126;
also, W. T. Block, "Methodist Movement Follows Midcounty's Growth," MIDCOUNTY
CHRONICLE (July 22, 1987), p. 26ff;
also W. T. Block, SAPPHIRE CITY OF THE NECHES (Austin: 1987), Ch. V, pp. 109-115.
When W. E. Parsons, an early citizen of Port Neches, penned the history
of his church in 1942, he cited a quote from Edward Everett Hale, which so profoundly
portrayed every forgotten circuit rider who ever carried the tenets of Methodism into the
"No blaring trumpets sounded out his fame; he lived - he died -
I do not know his name."
And so it was with the unknown Christian soldier of the Methodist
Episcopal Church, South, who first preached on the banks of the Neches River at Grigsby's
Bluff, now Port Neches. It may have been Alexander Hinkle, Jarvis L. Angel, Lacey Boone,
W. H. Cotton or any one of a dozen other saddlebag preachers who traversed the
"Alligator Circuit" of Southeast Texas in the early days; his name has vanished
amid the mists of time.
In 1981, First United Methodist Church of Port Neches celebrated its
centennial anniversary. It was there on September 6, 1881, that Rev. W. H. Crawford
organized the first Methodist congregation in the home of Mr. and Mrs. William Gentz.
Except for a small sawmill and a shingle mill, Grigsby's Bluff
possessed no industry worthy of mention until 1902, the year that Central Asphalt and
Refining Co., later to become Texaco, built its roofing and asphalt plant there. In the
same year, the town's name was changed. For fifty years, the population had remained
steady and strictly rural, with about thirty farm families scattered from Smith's Bluff,
the site of Union 76 refinery, to the present city limits of Groves.
Half of the earliest residents were German-speaking immigrants, who
probably had been Lutherans in their native Prussia, but found no church of that
denomination in Jefferson County. Early immigrants included Frederick Rexas, Frederick
Behlke, George Christian Gentz, Fred Gentz, Charles Gentz, William Gentz, George Block,
William Block, Charles Block, Albert Block, George L. Block, August Schramm, John Wiltz,
Mikiel Staffen, Karl Meinke, Henry Wendt, Henry Wendling, Joe Block, Adolph Block, Leopold
Block, August Block, and John Kline.
Native-born families included John C. Beaumont, Jack Beaumont, Sam Lee,
B. G. Whittington, Oliver and George Keith, Albert Smith, 'Bud' Smith, Sam Remley, Henry
Heisler, W. G. Gentz, Will Merriman, Marion Merriman, Otho Merriman, Walter Merriman,
Albert C. Block, Will Block, Sr., Martin Block, Charles Hemmingway, Albert Staffen,
Charlie Staffen, Jim Rachford, Robert Rachford, W. M. Nelson, Seburn Berry, Radford Berry,
Levi and Lastie Hillebrandt, D. A. Bibb, and D. W. Sampson.
The first congregation had only sixteen members. The earliest services
were conducted in the homes of the Keiths, Smiths, Beaumonts, Gentz, Remleys, Klines,
Sampsons, Lees, Nelsons, and Merrimans.
According to the late George Keith, Rev. Crawford once commented about
the hardships of his circuit-riding days, which resulted in the establishment of the Port
Neches congregation, as follows:
- "In 1881, I served Sabine Pass and Terry Mission (Orange County) and elsewhere in
Orange, Hardin, and Jefferson Counties," Crawford reported. "I traveled 200
miles each month and organized a church at Grigsby's Bluff of 16 members. Alligators,
which infested Taylor's Bayou by the hundreds, were the only inhabitants of what is now
Port Arthur. I was once lost between Grigsby's Bluff and Taylor's Bayou in a dense fog,
and came near losing my life."
As the turn of the century approached, newcomers to Midcounty helped
swell the membership, and some descendants of the old Prussian families embraced
Methodism. New additions to the church included the J. B. Cooke family of Nederland, Fred
Wood, Miss Verna Gibson, the Will Block family, and Miss Maude Lonsdale, an early Port
Neches school teacher.
Usually, a foot-pedaled organ accompanied the services. Coal oil lamps
and lanterns lit the sanctuary at night. As was then the custom, women sat on one side of
the church and men on the other. Sometimes worshippers brought lunches, prepared for an
entire day of services. Although a Sunday School was conducted each week, circuit riders
came only infrequently until well into the twentieth century, with rarely more than a
single service each month.
About 1885, George Rexas sold a house to W. P. H. McFaddin of Beaumont,
who soon mounted it on rollers and wagons as he attempted to move it. When his equipment
broke down, he offered to sell the house for $100. Because of the generosity of Margaret
Keith, Port Neches acquired its first church building, which was also used as a school.
(This building at 504 East Port Neches Avenue and Sycamore Street still stands, being long
since converted into a residence.)
In 1894, as Port Neches developed more toward the west, Emory
"Bud" Smith allowed the congregation the use of a one-acre tract at Port Neches
Ave. and Nall Street, but did not convey the title to it. Later, when the land, on which
had also stood a combination church and school building, was sold, Dr. J. H. Haizlip of
Nederland bought it and sold it to the Methodists for only $150, even though the
congregation had offered him $550 for it.
This additional expense being added to the $125 annual preacher's
salary, it appeared at one time that the members might default on their indebtedness.
Conrad D. Wagner of Nederland, however, loaned them the money to clear all of their
obligations and, although they repaid a part of the loan, he graciously cancelled the
Between 1885 and 1916, the Port Neches Methodists continued to be
served by circuit riders or by preachers who pastored two or more churches. Most of them
remained only one or two years, and the list of ministers is too lengthy to elaborate
Reverend W. M. Sherrill organized the first Epworth League and
Missionary Society in 1904. In 1903, Rev. J. C. Kee lost his life while attempting to swim
the Neches River on horseback.
From 1913 to 1915, Rev. J. C. Stewart pastored the church, followed by
Rev. M. F. Wells in 1916. In 1917, Rev. J. L. Redd preached here twice each month. (While
in Port Neches in 1918, Rev. Redd's son, Pvt. J. L. Redd, Jr., was killed in the U. S.
Army in France.) Although Port Neches was still sparsely settled, wartime employment at
the Texas Company (Texaco) asphalt plant bolstered the enrollment of the church
The writer can recall a few families who united with the Methodist
congregation before or after World War I, including Martin Wagner, W. E.Parsons, A. C.
Mullins, Bruno Huval, Amos Tenner, T. A. Barnes, E. S. Bellair, B. E. Bigler, W. H.
Garrett, J. M. Bland, Dr. J. G. Welch, C. E. Nicholson, Fred Nelson, A. L. Brooks, C. M.
Miller, H. Burkhart, Mrs. M. McConica, B. J. Knight, E. M. Wilkerson, and Wesley McKee.
By 1917, the membership totaled about 100, and it became obvious that
they could not tolerate the cramped quarters of the old building much longer. Electric
lights had already been installed. When weather permitted, Sunday School classes met on
the lawn outside. But Rev. Redd informed the board of stewards that he would not sponsor a
new building program until the membership increased.
Anna Block (later Mrs. B. J. Knight) tried to enlist the aid of her
father, a steward and trustee, to sponsor a building program in defiance of the minister,
which he refused to do. Undaunted, she mailed a number of unsigned post cards to members
bearing the following message: "There will be a meeting at the church Wednesday night
to consider the building of a new church."
When the members convened, Mrs. H. Burkhart and Will Block explained
the purpose of the meeting and the unauthorized mailing of the post cards. Each headed the
building subscription with a $100 donation. Before the meeting adjourned, $700 had been
raised, and a $500 donation from the Texas Company was soon added. In the fall of 1919,
the new sanctuary was completed, with the Carter Lumber Company holding a $3,600 mortgage
During the years before a bank was organized in 1920, A. C. Mullins, as
church treasurer, was often entrusted with sizable sums of church funds. To safeguard it
at night, he sometimes placed the money in a cotton sack and "used a large chinaberry
tree in his yard for a bank, tying the sack up high in the thick branches."
In 1920, Rev. W. E. Hassler became the first full-time pastor and
remained until 1925. Membership quickly jumped to 250, with an average attendance of 200.
In 1921, the adjoining parsonage was completed, giving the church a solid frontage of one
block along Port Neches Avenue.
Rev. Hassler also conducted the first Vacation Bible School in Texas,
perhaps in the entire South, which lasted two months and was eagerly attended by adults,
young people, and children. By 1925 when Hassler wass transferred elsewhere, the church
indebtedness had been paid off and the mortgage burned.
During the ensuing years, Bro. Hassler was followed by a number of
popular and industrious ministers, including as follows: Revs. T. C. Sharp, 1925; L. T.
Brothers in 1927; R. E. Connell, 1929; T. I. Beck, 1932; Harry Rankin, 1933; M. S. Jordan,
1936; S. P. Wright, 1937; and F. C. Adams, 1941. In November, 1941, Rev. Hassler was
returned by the conference for his second pastorate. Following his retirement in 1956, he
returned to Port Neches to reside, and he continued as associate pastor until 1972.
By 1942, the church had again outgrown its sanctuary, but World War II
would delay the erection of a new sanctuary for seven years. Church membership by 1942 had
jumped to 460, with an average Sunday School attendance of 200. The Board of Stewards had
grown to eighteen, and sixteen Sunday School classes met each week in the educational
A new church site at Nall and Eugene Streets was purchased, and during
the second pastorate of W. E. Hassler, the present sanctuary was constructed in 1949. In
1954, the present parsonage was built by Rev. L. A. Reavis, and in 1960, the educational
building was added under the pastorate of F. D. Dawson.
In 1979, the pipe organ was installed and dedicated to the memory of
the beloved Rev. and Mrs. W. E. Hassler, each of them only recently deceased. The present
pastor (1981) is Rev. James M. Frazier (who continues to the present day-1988), ably
assisted by Rev. Gary Leinhart.
A century of church history always represents the accumulative efforts
of many ministers and laymen. Those who have labored in the Port Neches Methodist vineyard
in the twentieth century are most often the best recalled and recorded. So often, though,
the endeavors of so many early circuit riders and pioneer church members remain entirely
unidentified and unheralded, and like our unknown soldiers of past wars, their religious
exertions are, and must remain, known only to God.