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Historically Speaking: First church in Pecos Valley built by Methodists

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Photo Courtesy of the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico Archives The caption reads, "First Methodist Church, rock building built 1897, at W. 2nd and Pennsylvania, Roswell. Used until 1936 when a new building was built. Women in long dresses pictured in the front of the church. First Methodist Church South of Roswell, NM" — date and people unknown.

Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

By Janice Dunnahoo

Special to the Daily Record

When this country was first settled, there were no churches, there were no ministers, there was no place to hold funerals, or weddings, or even community social events. It became very important for growing communities to have a church. Churches in the beginning were places not just to hold church services, but also doubled sometimes as schools, orphanages, small hospitals for the infirm, and yes, community meeting places.

In the beginning, church service came in the form of camp meetings, tent meetings and/or singings, and were led by itinerant preachers. They were always well attended by those who could make their way into town for the purpose of worship.

Following is an article from the El Paso Times dated Sunday, July 12, 1953, written by Roswell’s own Georgia Redfield.

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Editors note: Redfield (1877-1956) had been hired in 1936 by the Federal Writers’ Project (FWP) to collect stories and facts on her community. She had been writing about local history before and was a published author.

Following is Redfield’s article:

“Roswell, N.M. — “The recent discovery of a rare old photograph of the little Adobe Methodist Church, South, Roswell First Church, that was erected in 1888 and also having the distinction of being the first church to have been built in the Pecos Valley, will probably be of interest to early resident church members of Southeastern New Mexico.

The old Adobe church is of special interest to the writer because of her becoming a member of the Methodist organization (when a young school girl) during an Abe Mulkey revival meeting in 1895 during which the cowboys ‘passed the (10 gallon) hat’ that they filled to the top with money for buying the famed ‘Cowboy Bell.’

“Old Bell Rests

“The old bell that summoned the few remaining old timers to church services in the early days, and many of their children and grandchildren now rests its sweet tones impaired from long usage, and rough storms and weather conditions. It occupies a place of honor on the front corner of the present church grounds at North Pennsylvania Avenue and West Second Street.

“The church was built in the center of a prairie dog colony, surrounded by mesquite and salt grass, some of which is shown in the accompanying photograph. On the bottom margin is an inscription, in old style printing type:

“ERECTED IN 1888

“Presiding Elder, J.M. Crutchfield

“Pastor in Charge, W.F. Gibbons

“Official Board, E.T. Stone,

“J.C. Lea, A.W. Johnson, and S.G. Keyser.

“Following completion of the building, John Stone, a charter member and one of the main ‘props’ of the church, set about collecting small donations for church furnishings. Any large amounts would have been a hardship on the early valley sellers, who, establishing new homes and ranches in the new area had already contributed as much as they could afford toward the church building fund, water wells and irrigation projects, in order that industries might be established.

“For about two years, until lumber could be purchased for seats and a pulpit for the church, planks were placed across boxes for seats and table and chairs were loaned for a pulpit.

“Finally, after lumber, used in addition to the Adobe’s, was hauled in from the mountains, the seats and a pulpit used for nearly 25 years, in three different Methodist churches, South, were made by the Reverend J. C. Bush, one of the earliest pastors in charge who was a carpenter and cabinet maker, as well as a ‘minister of the Gospel.’

“Small glass kerosene lamps for lighting during evening services were placed atop the small portable organ, loaned by Mrs. Mary Cobean, mother of Roswell’s present Mayor, Warren Cobean, and Hial K. Cobean of Cobean Stationery Co. Mrs. Cobean, besides being the first organist, was one of the main women ‘props’ of the church and Sunday School. She was president of the Ladies Aid and was always selected as an aide-de-camp for all church projects and social organizations.

“MISSION ORGANIZED

“Because of the drowning of a young son of Mrs. Helen Johnson, who was swept away from his horse when fording the Pecos River when sent to summon a physician for a member of the family, and there was no minister to conduct the funeral services, that were led by his own mother, Mrs. Johnson, vowing to secure ‘a preacher before another death in the Pecos Valley,’ became the moving power for organizing the Roswell Mission, in San Angelo District, West Texas Conference, in 1887.

“The eight charter members were Mrs. Helen Johnson, Wyly Johnson, Ollie Johnson, Ida Johnson Pruitt, Annie Fountain, Sallie Chisholm Robert, Andrew Thompson, Suzannah Thompson.

“Mrs. Helen Johnson, who had organized the first Sunday school in the area, that was held in a tent, with Mrs. Johnson gathering up her Sunday school pupils each Sunday, driving her rough farm wagon herself, was proud of the honor of being appointed the new church Sunday school superintendent.

“Mrs. Lucious Dills of Roswell (who was Gertrude Lea, daughter of Judge Frank Lee is the oldest living member of the church having joined May 31, 1891. Mrs. Dills also is the only living member of the first Sunday school, who attended Mrs. Johnson‘s tent Sunday school class. Little Gertrude Lee was one of the classmates of the drowned youth, son of Mrs. Johnson. She picked wild flowers for his grave and joined in the song and prayer services conducted by his mother.

“CHURCH GREW

“The old adobe church growing too small to accommodate the constantly increasing membership, a larger church and Sunday school rooms, constructed of native stone, located on the corner site of the present church was used for 20 years, until condemned as unsafe, and was demolished.

“The imposing First Methodist Church, that replaced the smaller stone church on North Pennsylvania and Second Streets, is one of the largest and most beautiful church buildings in use at the present time in Roswell.

“Included in the new church home, of this older Methodist Church South, organization, are Sunday school rooms, reception hall, banquet room, in which receptions, dinners and suppers and old time reunions are held, and kitchens for cooking, all equipped with every modern convenience.

“The church and all equipment and furnishings, costing approximately $100,000, was almost clear of debt at the time of its dedication by Bishop H. A. Boaz on May 17, 1936, and the entire indebtedness has been cleared away for 18 years.

“A new addition to the church costing $60,000 and the purchasing of additional lots have brought the value of the church property up to approximately $250,000. Membership at the present date (1953) is about 1,800.

“The Reverend Austin H. Dillon has been pastor in charge of the First Methodist Church for three years. His assistant, in charge, is B. Nathan Pipkin.”

Janice Dunnahoo is chief archivist at the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico Archives. She can be reached at 575-622-1176 or at jdunna@hotmail.com.