An Excursion In Church History
by Mike McDaniel
HIS DEATH CAUSES US TO REFLECT UPON THE EARLY HISTORY OF THE CHURCH OF CHRIST IN CARUTHERSVILLE, MISSOURI
Sister Joy Broderick supplied me with the 1962 church directory. In the history, written by brother Don Johnson or someone earlier, it says that the first local congregation was started on June 20, 1911 on West Sixth Street. The first trustees were W.D. Pullen, J. W. Chandler, J. C. Hudspeth, and W. G. Phelps.
Looking for something on this date in the newspaper, I found nothing. However, I did find the following entries in the month of May in The Pemiscot Argusconcerning a tent meeting.
“Tent Meeting- A tent meeting beginning May 21st will be held on the vacant lot next to the laundry. J. W. Dunn of Memphis, Tenn., will do the preaching the first ten days, after which time, Dr. E. V. Wood of Trenton, Tenn., and A. O. Colley of Martin, Tenn, who were with us last year, will continue the meeting indefinitely. There will be an expert singer throughout the meeting to help in the song service. We cordially invite the public out to hear the story of the gospel by men who have studied and are trying to teach it to others” (May 19, 1911).
Since this entry mentions another tent meeting the year previous, I looked in May of 1910 and found the following:
“Evangelistic Services- A series of meetings, conducted by Elder A. O. Colley and Dr. E. V. Wood of the Church of Christ, will begin May 22nd, in this city. A tent will be used but as yet a location has not been decided upon. Brother Colley, who is a resident of Martin, Tennessee, is an able preacher, a noted evangelist and debater. Dr. Wood of Trenton, Tennessee is a brother of Dr. C. F. Wood of this city and is an excellent young preacher. The public is urged to attend the services” (May 19, 1910). I have an advertisement for a Charles F. Wood in the May 26, 1910 paper. He was a registered dentist in Caruthersville. I have no way of knowing if he was a member of the church but it is possible since his brother was a gospel preacher and was assisting in a meeting here. This is the earliest gospel effort that I know of in Caruthersville. That is not to say that there were not others, but this is the first of which I have found a record. It is a full year before the church was said to be established here. So the following year, 1911, brethren Colley and Wood were back along with brother J. (Jasper) W. Dunn. Brother Dunn was a gospel preacher from Memphis, TN who had helped the church there through the use of tent meetings. In 1905 brother B. B. Goodman from Memphis said of brother Dunn, that he “was a good man and full of the Spirit, capable of doing us much more good.” By 1907, brother Dunn left Memphis and was engaged in evangelistic work through tent meetings. The church of Christ is said to have been established here in Caruthersville the very next month after this second tent meeting.
“The Christian services that began in the tabernacle on Third street Monday evening are increasing in attendance and interest. Evangelist J. W. Dunn is a pleasant and forceful speaker and Prof. Thompson is one of the sweet singers of Israel. The services bid fair to accomplish great good, and are to continue some time. The entire town is cordially invite to take part in their efforts for good. Services each day at 8 P.M. A question book is open to the public. – Contributed” (May 25, 1911).
An Increasing Interest- “The services at the tabernacle continue with growing interest. Evangelist J. W. Dunn has been delivering some unusually strong sermons on the “Gospel Plan of Salvation.” The Bible alone has been appealed to and the appreciation is evidenced by the marked attention given. Dr. E. V. Wood arrives Friday to continue the efforts some ten days after which A.O. Colley comes for a ten days’ stay. Preachers especially invited to attend with the town. Prof. T. 3 James E. Laird (1952) The Courthouse In Caruthersville In 1920 B. Thompson will continue to conduct the song service with his characteristic ease and proficiency. Services each night at 8 o’clock” (June 1, 1911).
On July 6, 1911, there was this entry in The Pemiscot Argus. “Work is progressing nicely on the new Christian Church which is being built in the Ferguson addition. The membership is small as yet, but will probably increase now that a building has been secured. For a time, at least, they will have preaching services, about twice each month, but afterwards secure a resident pastor (sic).”
Now the building was at 604 West Sixth Street near Ferguson. Sometimes the church of Christ was also called the Christian church during this time period. It was in 1906 that a nation-wide census recognized two groups distinct from one another. Newspapers often still used the names interchangeably, not knowing any difference. But the local Christian Church is not said to have been founded in Caruthersville until June 30, 1916.
I found one more thing in the 1911 papers. On August 3, 1911, there was this entry in the local news of the Pemiscot Argus: “James E. Laird of Kennett will preach at the Courthouse Sunday morning, August 6 at 10 o’clock. He is a minister of the Christian Church.”
Based on this entry, I began to look to see if I could find anything about a James E. Laird. Several things were found in my own library. In the book, Arkansas Angels, I found a picture of a preacher’s meeting held in the 1930’s at the old Plyburn Street church building in Pocahontas, Ak. Among the names is a James E. Laird! This confirmed that James E. Laird was a preacher for the churches of Christ. In a book which Perry McDonald gave me a few years ago entitled, Preachers for Today, 1952, I found James Edgar Laird listed! He was baptized by Len D. Williams in 1903. He began preaching near Hornbeak, TN in 1906. In a book on the life of brother John R Williams, Len Williams’ famous father from Obion County TN, it is said that Brother Laird was the uncle of Leslie G. Thomas and C. B. Thomas. They were living in Rutherford, TN when their father died, so the mother and the Thomas boys moved in with brother Laird and his mother. It was in the Bethel community about six miles from Hornbeak. Brother Laird and his mother had already obeyed the gospel when the Thomas family arrived. The church no longer exists at Bethel. The congregation moved at some point from high on the bluff on the Webb Chapel Road down to the Bluff Road below. It eventually disbanded, and there are some members at Hornbeak today who still remember worshiping at Bethel.
Several years ago, brother Martel Pace wrote on the history of the Slicer Street church in Kennett. He included a letter written on November 23, 1955 by James E. Larid to O.B. Hampton. In it the account is told of the first effort to establish the church in Kennett, Missouri in May of 1911.
…I was living in Holcomb, MO. I decided to get a preacher and take a tent to Kennett for the meeting. A young man who had been leading the singing for he and I, borrowed a wagon and team from a man in Holcomb, and hauled the tent to Kennett. We had to pass through some back water near White Oak and the front wheels dropped in a sunken place and we were stuck, as it was early in the spring, the water was cold, and I had to get out and wade that cold water to a farm house and get a man to bring his wagon and load the tent into it, and pull our wagon backwards to where we could turn around and go another way. In pulling our wagon backwards about a quarter of a mile, a little before we got out of the water, one of the wheels fell off our wagon. Again I got out and went to the farm house to borrow a garden rake to see if I could locate the tap. I did locate it and got back on and we got to Kennett that night, wet and cold, and had no supper.
That was the beginning of the work there in Kennett. I conducted some two or three meetings there, baptized a number, including brother Hence James and his family, got them to buy the lot, and encouraged them to build the first frame building. But before we bought the lot, we met for some time in an old upper room where they would have a show the night before, and left beer and whiskey bottles, all over the place. We had to clear away the bottles, sweep the floor and smell the beer and whiskey while we endeavored to worship the Lord.
This letter shows the difficulty which these men faced in seeking to spread the gospel in this area. In the Dunklin Democrat, I found the following entries about this tent meeting. “Elder W. E. Morgan of Abilene, Texas, and evangelist of the Christian Church, will start a tent meeting on the lots west of the Wyman hotel, Sunday. There will be good music at every service and a singing class from Holcomb may be present part of the time (May 12, 1911). “This week Kennett did very well. It entertained the Bloomer girls at baseball; started a “holy Roller” meeting, and listened to an antiorgan preacher in a protracted meeting. We are versatile, if anything” (June 2, 1911). “The protracted tent meeting which had been going on, near the Wyman hotel for more then two weeks closed Wednesday night. Evangelist W. E. Morgan, who did the preaching, was one of the best scholars who had recently held a meeting here. He entirely satisfied his followers though there was some criticism of his views on the question of the kind of music that should be used in church services. There were a number of converts under his preaching.” (Did not get date but probably the next week).
I found the following statement in the Kennett newspaper on June 30, 1911. “The branch of the church of Christ that held the tent meeting here a few weeks ago, has rented the Kennett opera house, and now holds regular services there. Preaching the first Sunday in the month by Elder J. E. Laird; Sunday school every Sunday morning at 9:30, and prayer meeting at 7:30 every Thursday night.”
Then there was this statement in October 20, 1911, “The branch of the Christian church that is opposed to musical instruments in service, hold Sabbath School and preaching and religious services at the Kennett Opera House, every Sunday, and have good crowds.”
So tent meetings were being conducted simultaneously in May of 1911 in Kennett and Caruthersvile in efforts to establish the church in this area. After the church was established. It appears that the brother Laird was preaching at Kennett on the first Sunday of the month and at Caruthersville once or twice a month and at possibly other places.
Another interesting note found in Leslie G Thomas’ biographical sketch is that brother Laird and his sister (Leslie’s mother) were said to be direct descendants of a famous gospel preacher, Moses E. Lard. Brother Lard was known as the most famous gospel preacher in Missouri in his time. “Laird” was originally spelled “Lard.”
Among the debates which brother Laird is said to have conducted is “Laird-Wright, First Christian.” I believe this same Wright was the preacher for the Christian Church in Caruthersvile. Unfortunately, I do not know the date of it. Later in my account, Mr. Wright will be a participant in another important debate.
Brother Laird’s training is listed as being at Monea College in Rector, Arkansas. Going back to the Arkansas Angels book, more was discovered. The church at Rector was started around 1885. Brother John R. Williams from Hornbeak, TN preached a number of meetings there which helped the church to grow. In 1910, the church began a Bible School in Rector called Monea Bible School. James E. Laird is listed as one of the teachers. In 1911, brother M.S. Mason, who was a Methodist and a school teacher who had just been converted during a meeting at Cardwell, MO by John R. Williams, came to Rector and roomed with Brother Laird. He began to preach. At some point, he was invited to become president of Monea College. He decided to accept the invitation on the condition that Brother Laird come and be his co-worker. Possibly, Monea Bible School and Monea College were two names for the same school, or one was the outgrowth of the other. One of Monea College’s students was Curtis Porter, who will be mentioned again later. Also, it appears that both Leslie G. Thomas and C. B. Thomas went to Monea for awhile. In 1916 and 1917, C. B. Thomas was preaching for the church in Kennett on a regular basis. Monea College had a short life. And the school property was sold back to the School District by 1920.
To summarize what we have found out so far: A. O. Colley and Dr. Wood were responsible for a tent meeting in Caruthersville in May of 1910. Brethren Colley, Wood, and Dunn all preached in a lengthy meeting here in 1911. The local church was established in June. A church building was being built on W. Sixth Street in July, and brother Laird was preaching here in the Courthouse in August while teaching at Monea Bible College in Rector, Arkansas.
Something happened to that first church. I am not sure what. But it appears that it ceased to meet at some point, because by 1916, their building on West Sixth Street was no longer being used for services. We wish we knew more, but this is all we have found. One of the things evident in this time period is that Second Timothy 2:2 was definitely being carried out. “And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.”
My next reference point is June 30, 1916. On that day, following a tent meeting by a preacher by the name of Ernest House, a church organized under the name of the First Christian Church with E.P. Blanchard, J. C. Hudspeth, and John W. Chandler as elders. You will notice immediately that two of these men had been trustees of the first local church in 1911. This new church had a ladies’s aid society and a musical director who was a soloist and cornetist. So this Christian Church had instrumental music as well as supported missionary societies. This Christian Church met in the court room and in rooms in the Green building on Ward Avenue. They met in the meeting house on West Sixth street on September 22, 1916 which seemingly was vacant by this time. Finally, on April 13, 1917, a J. W. Stephens purchased the building on West Sixth Street. He was a well-known businessman and owner of a liquor store and originally intended to used the building for a warehouse.
On June 22, 1917, the Christian church had a Mr. Minor from Charleston to come and preach at both services at West Sixth Street. But due to the fact that the West Sixth street building had no meter and was unable to have lights, the evening service was held at the Presbyterian church. Money was soon solicited to repair the building on West Sixth Street and wire it for lights. A meeting was held in the building in August of 1917 for the Christian Church.
Now we come to something I have wondered about since I first came to Caruthersville and saw the picture above. I found in the newspaper the article which explains the picture which hung in the Hwy U building and which is currently in the secretary’s office. I have long wondered about that picture. The title of it says “Churches of Christ convention” held on May 6, 7, and 8, 1919. What I have found is that this was actually a convention for the Fourth District of the Christian Church. The paper records the officers of the convention and the speeches that were held including some reports of the Woman’s Missionary Societies.
Nevertheless the picture is still of significance to us and our history. Why? Because in this picture is the original church building which was built by our brethren in 1911 and for which James E Laird preached! That makes it special to us for it was the very first church building used by brethren in Caruthersville. However, by the time the picture was taken, the Christian Church had taken over this building which had been abandoned.
Later when the Christian Church built another building, I have been told that this building was bought by a man who moved it to the east side of town for a nightclub though his wife pleaded with him not to use it for this purpose. The husband was later found murdered in the building, and his grieving wife ordered the building destroyed.
The big question is this: “What happened to that first local congregation which started in 1911 in the West Sixth street building?” That I do not know. All I know is five years later, two of the original trustees had apostatized and helped in starting the Christian Church and that the building on West Sixth street was not being used at that time.
On June 26, 1919, a special dedication service for the First Christian Church was held in the West Sixth Street building. The building had the doors and windows tightly screened, floors stained, handsome new pews put it, a “choir box built and seat with opera chairs” (which shows me that it didn’t have it before) and a nice concrete baptistry.
Now we move on to May 17, 1921. A preacher by the name of F. L. Paisley of Memphis is holding a “Gospel Meeting” under a big new tent by the side of the Majestic Hotel. Brother Paisley was a preacher for the church of Christ. William Woodson mentions some articles in which he objected to the “pastor system” in the Gospel Advocate in the 1940’s. In the advertisement in the paper, brother Paisley guaranteed “to teach nothing that can not be sustained by the Bible, the only court of appeal. The following interesting themes are planned for dates herein named: Friday night Behold the Lamb of God, Saturday night The Lost Christ, Sunday Morning The New Man, Sunday Night A Perfect Faith, Monday night The Rich Man and Lazarus. The last subject will be full of interest to those who are undecided about the future of the wicked. The doctrine of “no hell” will be given due attention.” Notice carefully this last statement because we shall see the significance of it later.
On May 31, 1921 the Gospel Meeting which had gone on for two weeks closes. There is this note which will be of interest to many of you at Central: “Elder Paisley returned to this city today for the purpose of baptizing a convert, Miss Cassie Watkins, which rite took place at two o’clock at the Natatorium (which must refer to the city swimming pool).” I have heard many speak fondly of sister Cassie Watkins Mangrum. James Mott showed me a Nichols Pocket Bible Encyclopedia which she gave James and Brenda. Perry McDonald tells the story of how Cassie Mangrum once asked Perry to tell Hugo McCord hello. Hugo did not recognize the name at first, but when Perry said Cassie Watkins, he immediately knew her.
On June 3, 1921, there is this item in the paper: “The Church of Christ congregation will hold a meeting next Sunday morning at the H. S. Smith Undertaking Parlors at ten o’clock – a sort of communion meeting and largely for the purpose of organizing and establishing a church here on a firm basis. This is the church represented by Elder Paisley, who held a series of tent meetings here recently, and through the Democrat the members are earnestly requested to be present at the place designated next Sunday morning.” Here are diligent efforts being made to re-establish the Lord’s church in Caruthersville through means of a tent meeting and by which Sister Cassie Watkins Mangrum was immersed into Christ!
The next major recorded event is a great debate which was held in Monett, Arkansas. You ask, what would be the significance of this to the church in Caruthersville? It is because the debaters were W.C. Wright of the Christian Church in Caruthersville and Curtis Porter of the church of Christ in Monett, Arkansas. Keep in mind that I know there was a debate between Brother Laird and a Mr. Wright of the Christian Church. There is an item in the paper in which Mr. Wright stated that he had debated two members of the church of Christ previously. One of these debates was probably with brother Laird. I am not sure of the location or the time. Remember also that brother Porter was a graduate of Monea College where brother Laird taught.
The debate propositions for the Porter/Wright debate surprised me. They were not about instrumental music and the use of missionary societies as one might expect. The following propositions were debated: First – The Scriptures teach that man is wholly mortal, and unconscious between death and resurrection. W. C. Wright affirmed. Curtis Porter denied.
Second – The Scriptures teach that those who die in disobedience to the Gospel of Christ will suffer everlasting punishment (endless torment.) Curtis Porter affirmed. W. C. Wright denied.
Third – The Scriptures teach that only regenerated people share in the resurrection of the dead. W. C. Wright affirmed. Curtis Porter denied.
I have a book entitled, Quibbles that Backfired by W. Curtis Porter is which he speaks of his debate with Mr. Wright. He states:
“I met W. C. Wright of the Christian Church in a debate in Monett, Arkansas, where I now live, in 1921. While he was a preacher of the Christian church, he had gone beyond their ordinary doctrine, and had embraced the doctrine of the Christidelphians. He had become a materialist in concept. He held to the idea of no endless punishment for the wicked, and no resurrection for the unbeliever. Their position is, and his position was, as he had expressed it, that when an unbeliever dies, he is just as we sometimes say a long time dead. There will be no resurrection for him. He affirmed during that debate that only regenerated people will share in the resurrection of the dead. He defined regenerated people as those who had believed in the Lord, repented of their sins, confessed their faith in Christ, and have been baptized into him. Nobody else is regenerated today, they are God’s people and they have no part, anybody but them, in the resurrection. And in our discussion of it, he introduced a statement by Paul in 1 Cor. 15, “As in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive,” and he defined as “in Christ” those who had been baptized into 9 Christ. He preached that in Christ all shall be made alive. Nobody shall be made alive except those that are in Christ. Therefore, nobody raised from the dead except God’s people: nobody but Christians. Only those “in Christ” will be made alive. I said in responding to it, “I know that the term in Christ sometimes refers to those who are Christians, but not always. In this place, I am certain that it does not. For not only did Paul say that “in Christ shall all be made alive, but he said that “as in Adam, all die.” As in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive. And if “in Christ” means only Christians, “in Adam” means only sinners. They are used in contrast. If in Christ means nobody will be raised except Christians, then those who die in Adam means nobody will die except alive sinners. And upon that basis then, we would have to reach the conclusion that those who are raised will be those who never died, and not one of those who died will even be raised.” With this reply by brother Porter, Mr. Wright’s quibble backfired.
There is a report of this debate in the Pemiscot-Argus on August 7, 1921. It is written by a B. B. Goodman of Memphis who shall become an important part of the history of the church in Caruthersville. He said, “The speakers conducted themselves in a high class gentlemanly way, as they should. No personalities engaged in by either. This debate was conducted on a high plane and much good was done and everyone said they received instruction that would be beneficial. Curtis Porter asked W. C. Wright in every session to repeat the debate in Caruthersville. Mr. Wright did not answer Mr. Porter in this question until the third day. Mr. Wright refused to repeat the debate in Caruthersville, because the church he is pastor of asked him not to meet brother Porter or anyone in Caruthersville in debate, and in respect to their wishes he refused to have the debate in Caruthersville. The debate was to be held in the Christian church of Monett, but at the last moment they refused the use of the building. Other church houses were sought, but refused. The picture show house was arranged for, but as soon as this was known to the church people, they brought pressure to bear on the management of the show house and he refused the house, so the debate was held in a grove about one and half miles from Monett, an ideal location. Large crowds were in attendance and the best of order prevailed. Some estimate that the attendance at each session was as much as one thousand. On Wednesday of the debate in one of Mr. Wright’s speeches he denounced in no uncertain tones the people of Monett who would not allow the debate to be held in Monett, saying that they would not allow a full, fair and honest investigation of the word of God, calling them “over pious sapsuckers, peckerwoods, etc.” The Monett, Ark., debate is now history. Mr. Wright, your brethren in Caruthersville supported you to debate the above propositions in Monett, Ark. In as much as they thus endorse your teachings, why should you and they refuse to have fair, honest and honorable investigation of these propositions at Caruthersville? Again we ask you to meet the issue in debate. A few months ago, through the paper published at Piggott, Ark, you threw the gauntlet at every man’s feet. Why should you go to the bushes so soon?”
In the tent meeting of May, 1921, brother Paisley had preached against the false doctrine of no eternal hell. Now the Christian church preacher had been met in debate on the subject but in Monett, Arkansas rather than in Caruthersville. Brother B. B. Goodman wrote this report of the debate and challenged Mr. Wright to debate brother Porter in Caruthersville. On August 11, Mr. Wright replied and refused to debate. Such a debate would no doubt have helped the church here, but it was not to be.
In His book Standing For The Faith, a History of the Churches of Christ in Tennessee, 10 John R. Williams brother William Woodson relates how local churches were often established in the early 1900’s. “The primary means was by evangelistic efforts either in a tent in a new area, or a building or hired hall. Interested churches sent preachers across the state and these men preached at out of the way places as well as at large centers of population. Each church was encouraged to win converts. A small band would be reached in a tent meeting. They would decide to establish a church, make an appeal for help, and soon a new meetinghouse would be announced, and the cycle would begin again.”
Brother Earl West wrote that it was soon discovered that owning a tent was a comparatively inexpensive way of doing evangelistic work. Tent meetings provided a vital instrument for evangelizing at the turn of the century. But hand in hand with tent meeting were debates. “No activity…was more exciting or generally more fruitful than the brotherhood’s religious debates.” They were also an evangelistic tool of the church for many converts were made from denominationalism by means of hearing the truth defeat error in debate.
Both of these means, tent meetings and debates, played a prominent role in the re-establishing of the church in Caruthersville in 1921 and 1922.
Sometime during this period, C. T. and Maggie Baird, whom many still remember, moved to Caruthersville. Their daughter says they obeyed the gospel in Lake County, TN at Jones Chapel under the preaching of John R. Williams. It is said that “If it had not been for him, they would not have known about the church.” They later moved to Caruthersville. Brother Baird is listed as one of the elders in the church in 1962.
According to the 1962 church directory, in 1922 the church started meeting in private homes. It says that the only ones in attendance were Mr. and Mrs. C.T. Baird, Charles McCord and family (which includes Hugo, but it is interesting that his mother is not named, probably because she was not yet a member of the church), Mrs. Ella B. Hunt (of whom I have found nothing out) and Mrs. Cassie Mangrum who had been baptized after the 1921 tent meeting.
C.T. Baird’s daughter, Gladys Evans, has said that the McCord family was already here when the Bairds arrived in town.
So far, the only member of the local church we have found is Cassie Watkins Mangrum in May of 1921 unless it be Dr. Word, the dentist back in 1910. But at some point a family moved to Caruthersville by the name of McCord. I suspect it may have been around 1921 or 1922.
Hugo McCord’s mother had taken him as a little boy to Sunday School at the Methodist church in New Albany, Mississippi, where his grandfather was a staunch member. Later they moved to Holly Springs and attended the Methodist church there.
Hugo’s father attended Georgia Robertson College in Henderson TN (which later became FHU) along with a fellow student by the name of N. B. Hardeman. It is believed that he obeyed the gospel during this time. However, his wife did not. Hugo’s father was named Charles S. McCord. He was a business man, who held Coca Cola franchises in Fort Scott, Kansas and Caruthersville. According to brother West, there was no New Testament church in Caruthersville at that time and that brother Charles McCord sought to establish one. You recall the earnest plea in the paper after the 1921 tent meeting to establish the church on “a firm basis” and that “the members are earnestly requested to be present at the place designated next Sunday morning.” The two men mentioned in connection with that meeting was the preacher, F. L. Paisley and B. B. Goodman who wrote that article about the debate in the paper.
Brother West wrote that brother Charles McCord sought to establish the church here and that the opportunity came when B. B. Goodman, a traveling salesman for the Stratton-Warren Hardware Company of Memphis, TN approached him. Brother Goodman was a member of the Union Avenue church in Memphis. He had searched for a congregation in Caruthersville but had found none. I surmise that brother Goodman was looking for that congregation which they had started the previous year, but couldn’t find it meeting anywhere. It is not inconceivable that he may have had something to do with the tent meeting with his preacher, J. W. Dunn back in 1911. Nevertheless, when brother Goodman learned that Charles McCord was a member of the church, he sought him out. The two of them worked together to establish a New Testament church here. Brother Goodman asked brother McCord to rent a lot, assuring him that Union Avenue church would send a tent, chairs, and songbooks as well as a preacher and a song leader for a gospel meeting.
Brother West wrote in another book that the congregation in Memphis was begun in the same way, through tent meetings. After securing financial help, a tent was bought for $61.50 in the Spring of 1905 and used to build up the church there. By late summer, the tent was debt-free. Brother B.B. Goodman had seen this method work in Memphis and was determined to utilize it in Caruthersville. Brother West records the year of this tent meeting as 1923. However the paper clearly identifies the time as June 16, 1922.
Brother L. L. Briggance, a Bible teacher at what had now become Freed-Hardeman College, conducted this first meeting. The paper said, “Briggance, a minister of the Christian persuasion from Henderson College, Tennessee is holding a series of Gospel meetings in a tent on the James Moors lots next to the Majestic Hotel.” This was the same place where the tent meeting was held the previous year. “Large crowds are attending and considerable interest is being manifested. The song service is conducted by a Mr. Holland of Greenfield, Tenn. and is an enjoyable feature of the services. Briggance is a fluent speaker and holds the attention of his audience from start to finish.”
On June 16, 1922, the tent meeting ended. The paper recorded three additions to the church: Mrs. Ruby Clifton, J. H. Simmons and Hugo McCord, small son of Mr. And Mrs. C. S. McCord. It said, “These candidates were baptized Wednesday morning at the Caruthersville Natatorium, which, by the way, is an excellent place for such rites.” The church was slowly growing and was helping to produce within its ranks, a well-known gospel preacher. Brother West recorded that in the tent meeting with brother Briggance, Hugo McCord heard his first gospel sermon and learned that the church was not a denomination and that sprinkling was not baptism. Hugo was twelve at the time. He made the good confession and was baptized in the city swimming pool (called the Natatorium) which was directly across the street from the house where they lived. James Mott tells me that this pool was at the corner of 5th and Ferguson. Interestingly, this would have been about a block away from where the first church building had stood at 604 West Sixth Street.
Brother McCord was grateful for the rest of his life for brother B. B. Goodman who paved the way for him and his mother to enter the practice of New Testament Christianity. This brother Goodman from the Union Avenue church in Memphis, must have been quite a man. From the tent meetings which he organized using Union Avenue resources, to the Monett debate and his challenges to the Christian church preacher in the local paper for a debate in Caruthersville, brother Goodman obviously felt strongly about establishing and building up the church here. We need men with his zeal and attitude today.
In a private letter in which brother McCord wrote in December of 2000, brother McCord wrote, “After brother Brigance baptized me in the city swimming pool, the next Sunday the small group had the Lord’s Supper in Sister Hunt’s home. Soon they transferred to the Smith Parlor, and from there in time to a room above Sawyers’ Pharmacy (called the Odd Fellows Hall), and there some patient people listened as I attempted to preach my first sermon!”
In August of 1928, seventeen year old Hugo preached his first sermons while encouraged by his family and the other members of the small congregation. He spoke on “Christian worship” and “The Conversion of Cornelius.” Hugo decided that he would become a gospel preacher. The only school he knew of was the Old Georgia Robertson College in Henderson, TN, where his father attended. At that time, brother Briggance had left to teach in Murray, Ky., A.G. Freed had resigned to work with David Lipscomb College, and N. B. Hardeman had left to visit the Holy Land. The school was being led by Claude Hall and C. P. Rolland. N. B. Hardeman later returned to take up the presidency of the school.
Hugo’s desire to go to Henderson was so great, that he left Caruthersville High School in 1928 to spend his senior year at the high school at Freed-Hardeman. That year, 1928- 1929, was the last time that Freed-Hardeman conducted High School.
Brother Hugo was first invited to preach at the church in Booneville, Mississippi on March 24, 1929. Later, when another brother had to cancel a Gospel Meeting for the Beech Hill church in Tippah County MS, brother Hugo was asked to fill in. His second Gospel Meeting was held near here in Holland, Missouri on June 15-30, 1930. He prepared by memorizing one of N.B. Hardeman’s sermons in his first volume of the famous Tabernacle Sermons at Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, TN. After this first sermon was preached, an elder announced to the crowd that this young nineteen year old preacher should be helped to attend college. He asked the people to walk up and place their gifts upon a table. Later the Coleman Avenue church in Memphis had him come over each week and preach for them.
Brother Hugo told of the happiness in his family when his mother was baptized. “My mother’s love and respect for her godly Methodist parents held her back several years from obeying the gospel. But one night, lying awake in bed, she aroused my father, saying, “I cannot read about 13 Sawyer’s Pharmacy in 1910 my church in the Bible. I want to be baptized, and I want running water!” Although the city swimming pool wherein Hugo had been immersed was just across the street from their house, it was not “running water.” The Mississippi River was only a half mile away from their house, but the current was running too fast to baptize in it. It was too dangerous. So the next morning, they drove some 16 miles to a bayou, near Steele, Missouri where running water was found. It was there that Hugo’s mother was baptized for the remission of her sins (Acts 2:38).
Joy Broderick remarked to me that she remembered her family picking up brother and sister McCord and bringing them to church at 11th and Carleton.
Hazel Manley remembers meeting in the Odd Fellows Hall above Sawyer’s Pharmacy. Gladys Baird Evans, daughter of C.T. Baird, attended with her husband, Arthur, who was converted from the Baptist church and baptized in the Mississippi River. Others who attended during this time were M/M C. T. Baird, Eric and Eleanor Taylor, Charlie and Belle Watson and son James, and Glenn and Laura Figgins. Gladys Evans said that one of the preachers during that time was William Davis Medearis. Brother Medearis began preaching in 1939. In Preachers of Today, 1952, his biographical sketch does not mention located work in Caruthersvile. However, it does mention his being on the radio in Caruthersville. Gladys Evans believes that brother Medearis lived in Kingsport, TN. He attended Harding and Freed-Hardeman Colleges during the 1930’s, and it is believed that he drove in and preached for the church periodically during this time.
By the time the church moved to the frame building on the lot at 11th and Carleton in 1940, there were only about 25 members. In addition to the names of those mentioned by Hazel Manley above, Marie Tripplet adds the names of Mrs. Hemphill, The J. J. Richardsons, M.M Dycus, M/M/ Sayre, M/M Townsend, M/M Jones, and M/M Watkins and their daughters and perhaps others. The frame building was moved to the back of the lot and replaced with a new building in 1948. In 1952 an educational wing was added. The old frame building from 1940 was moved to the corner of 20th and Rufus for the use of the Eastside congregation. The building is still at that location and is being occupied by a family. By the time of the 1962 church directory, the church had prospered to around 300 members.
When the congregation outgrew the facilities at 11th and Carlton, plans were made to obtain property which would allow for future growth. Construction on the building on Hwy U was begun on October 11, 1964. The church moved in 1965 to that building on Hwy U.
In 2003, the church was made an offer from the Jesus Name Tabernacle United Pentecostal Church to purchase the Hwy U property. Since the building was aging and in need of constant repairs and was much greater in size that the church’s present needs, the decision was made to sell it and build a new building on Playground Road. Work began in May of 2003. On December 1, 2003, the church moved out of the Hwy U building and met for three weeks at the American Legion Hall. On Christmas Eve of 2003, we gave our first tours of the new building and met in it for the first time on the last Sunday of the year.
There has been difficulty in listing all of the various preachers for the church and the years in which they served due to inadequate records. It is likely that in the early history of the church, preachers attending college drove in to preach here and were not located. Preaching may have occurred only once a month. The following list is the best we can do based on the information we have. We have supplied pictures as we have been able to obtain them. The dates are as close as we can get.
I telephoned brother M. L. Sexton in June of 2004. He and his wife Charlene live in Fort Worth, Texas. He is in bad health. Brother Sexton told me that he taught school at McCarty for two years and was principal of a school near Cottonwood Point. He drove in to preach at Caruthersville and also “re-started” the church at Hayti. He started the church at Bragg City by an open-air meeting in a parking lot. The McCord family was still living here, and they remembered driving sister McCord to worship.
I also spoke with Wilma Deaver in August of 2004. She said that Roy Deaver preached here by appointment while a student at FHC during 1940-1943. This would have been just after the wood frame building was built in 1940. She remembers being afraid of crossing the Mississippi River on the ferry when they would come to Caruthersville. She spoke fondly of M/M Bob Jones and of what good friends they were.
In September of 2004, I spoke to brother Bill Smith. While he was a student in Harding, he traveled here by train in 1945 and preached here. Upon graduation, he went to Syracuse, New York and lived there. He got married in May of 1947, and they moved to Caruthersville. This was a time of great success for the Lord’s work here. It was during this time that the new church building was built at 11th and Carleton in 1948. Brother Smith wanted us to know that sister Mattie Magers was in some part responsible for the conversion of fifteen people during this time! Sister Mattie has the bulletin in April of 1950 announcing that Bill and Wray Smith were leaving. The average attendance was around 158 and the average contribution was around $130. Brother Smith said that the McCords had returned to New Albany, Mississippi by the time they arrived here.
. . . Mike McDaniel