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 Texas : Architecture : Churches

The Churches of School Hill
School Hill, Texas

by Charlie Turnbo

Precious memories, how they linger,
How they ever flood my soul……*

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It was a hot summer day when we last visited School Hill Baptist Church, ten miles northwest of the little community of Lingleville in Erath County, Texas. With me were my Mother, Electra “Peggy” Yardley Turnbo, Wife Beverly, Sister Patricia Rhodes, and Cousin Cathy Bays Holden. We were taking a trip down memory lane, revisiting the childhood church of Mom and her family who once lived here “out in the country.”

A flagpole stands at the front of the church with an American flag extended into the winds blowing from the south. The church property is fenced in front by a chain link fence and on the sides and back by barbed wire fences which are prevalent in this area of dairy farms and cattle ranches.
School Hill Baptist Church
School Hill Baptist Church Today

The church has been abandoned since closing its doors in the late 1950’s. It is weather beaten and all the paint has long since been removed by the forces of nature. The tin roof is tarnished but still covers the wood-framed building. There are open windows and doors with missing glass or door panels. It is easy to gain entry to the church from any of these openings.

On this particular day, there were three riding mowers busily cutting the grass on the church property. When we pulled up and went up to the church, we were greeted by Don Sims, his grandson and J.C. Moon. These men regularly look after the church and for years have faithfully mowed the cemetery and church grounds “because it’s the right thing to do.” Both of these families have loved-ones buried in the small cemetery behind the church. They turned off their riding lawn mowers and graciously gave us a tour of the abandoned church.

As you enter the tiny building, you step over missing and broken boards that once covered the entryway. You see wooden pews scattered haphazardly around the sanctuary. There is a podium sitting on a pew and it’s apparent someone used that to look into the attic of the building. Another podium sits by the side exit door.

School Hill Church interior
Inside School Hill Church

2002
There’s a large mural painted on the front wall of the sanctuary. It’s a large portrayal of the Jordan River and is signed and dated 1952 with the initials “A.L.” It’s in surprisingly good shape today in spite of the passing of time, except for a couple bullet holes and a mud dauber’s nest or two. Over the past half century, there’s been some vandalism at the church, for it’s always open and that could entice some who have bad intentions.
Mural showing the Jordan River








Mural by Annie Lynn Leatherwood, 1952

Photo courtesy of Carl Jones

There’s no baptistery in this Baptist Church. All the baptisms were done in nearby stock tanks. The church piano sits in the corner without the small stool that was used by my Grandmother when she played piano for the church. The piano has been damaged and vandalized so that it’s no longer usable.

Mom reminisces about her Mother, Emma Huffman Yardley, who played the piano for three decades here. Don Sims laughed and said he remembered her well and couldn’t ever figure whether she sang so loudly to drown out her piano-playing or played so loudly to drown out her singing. Betty Huffman was also a pianist for the church during the 40’s and 50’s.

Mom talked about other childhood memories of this place. She mentions “dinner on the grounds,” where each family brought a #3 washtub loaded with fried chicken, meatloaf, fresh vegetables and homemade breads.

Joe Huffman led the singing during the 1940-1950’s period. His deep, sometimes raspy voice would boom out the bass version of whatever song he was leading. He always wore a suit to church, according to Sue Shields, as did all the men. Dressing up for church in those days was important for both the men and women.

The simple wooden pews were unpainted boards nailed together to provide ample (but not terribly comfortable) seating for a hundred or more in the church. Mom recalled that the church pews were paid for by her Dad, Al Yardley. He served in every imaginable position within the church, other than Preacher.

Mom’s Sister, Juanita (or Nita) Yardley Gauntt, earlier had told us how she remembered the men sitting on the left and the women on the right side of the church. There were also some shorter benches that lined the right front portion of the church and seated the choir. Also, the infants and small children were placed on the floor on blankets during the church services.

Nita also recalled that there were wires extended the length and width of the one room church building. On these wires were long pieces of cloth that could be pulled during Sunday School to provide some privacy for the classes. These curtains didn’t block out all the sounds, so you could listen to whichever conversation held the greatest interest for you.

There were two wooden outhouses at the church (no longer there today). The men’s outhouse was on one side of the church property and the women’s on the other. One former regular from School Hill remembers that a trip to the outhouse could buy you some time away from the church to visit with others making a similar visit!

Church services were long and frequent. Church records reflect midweek services, Saturday services, two services on Sunday and frequent revivals. The various preachers who led these services were usually “bi-vocational” and worked other jobs during the week, or served other churches. In the latter days of School Hill Church, the Fort Worth Baptist Theological Seminary provided student preachers. They usually stayed with Al and Emma Yardley and ate their meals there while serving at the church.

Church was an important part of country living during the 1930’s, 1940’s, and 1950’s and this little church was a vital part of the spiritual and social lives of surrounding families during those days.


Churches are an Important Part of Erath County History!

The first church in Erath County dates back to 1854 when Erath was part of Milam County. The first congregations were Baptists and Methodists. By 1875, the growing number of churches were beginning to have resident pastors instead of “once a month” services by a circuit riding preacher. Church buildings were being built throughout the county. The Baptists had twelve organized churches and conventions and associations were being organized.

Former Tarleton Professor Lena Lewis in a newspaper article entitled “History of Erath County Churches,” reported that a hundred Baptist congregations were formed in Erath County, but consolidations and other conditions have decreased the modern day number considerably. She also reflected that the wider use of automobiles and the development of modern highways caused many smaller congregations to disband.

Moccasin Rock Church

The history of School Hill Baptist Church actually starts with two other congregations and churches.

In 1888, a Baptist Church was formed at Moccasin Rock. This church was located near the rural community of Lowell, off the highway between Lingleville and Desdemona.

In 1897 several churches in the western part of Erath and adjoining counties, organized the Round Grove Association that functioned until 1925. It is interesting to note that Baptist churches in Erath County have been affiliated at some time with the following associations: Brazos River, Bosque River, Leon River, Alvarado, Comanche, Palo Pinto, Erath County and Round Grove. (From “Baptists Claim Honor of First Church Organized in the County,” date unknown, Empire Tribune.)

Moccasin Rock Baptist Church originally was associated with the Erath County Association but in 1906, this church affiliated with the Round Grove Association and remained there until 1921.

Moccasin Rock’s pastors included J.H. Humphries, T.E. Ely, AL. Castleberry, T.E. Ely, A.M. Fagan, J.H. Cook, G.W. James, J.A. Stovall, W.S. Evans, Melvin Cox, S.D. Meyers, J.A. Bays, W.B. Sansing, J.A. Bays and G.A. Hendon. J.K. Hilliard was for many years the clerk. The church ceased functioning in approximately 1921.This church was located near Lingleville and was some times referred to as the Lowell Baptist Church.

Moccasin Rock’s building ultimately was moved in 1929 several miles to the north and became the building for School Hill Baptist Church. Carl Jones, a long time resident of this area, reports the church building was moved by teams of mules on wagon axles and wheels. The wooden structure, he recalls, was partially dismantled to make the move. One steep hill on the movement route required extra teams of mules to make the steep uphill climb. (Interview with Carl Jones)
While Moccasin Rock provided the church building, it appears that nearby Charity Baptist Church provided many of the School Hill Church members.

From a tattered paperback book by D.D. Tidwell, entitled “A History of the Baptist in Erath County,” (undated and publisher unknown) we get this information about Charity Baptist Church:

“Charity was constituted July 25, 1891, with 6 members by W.G. Crowder and P.D. Denton with Deacons James Guest and D.B. Smith. Charter members were James M. Garrison, James P. Swanner, Wm. E. Dunham and sisters Emily Swanner, M.A. Dunham and Anetta B. Garrison. Pastors have been W.G. Crowder, B.C. Harris, W.E. Holley, J.R. Davis, J.B. Purvis, B. H. Beal, W.S. Evans, J.P. Kinchen, R.A. Cox, Melvin Cox, J.A. Kidd, W.P. Shelby, W.E. Holley, and a Rev. Williamson and a Rev. Cook. In September 1929 J.A. Bays re-organized this church as School Hill. In 1904 Charity was dismissed from Erath Association and joined Round Grove. The church was not represented from about 1909 until 1921 and then irregularly. Association minutes state J.B. Denton was pastor in 1897 and R.N. Greer in 1924 although the church records fail to show these. The church was never very strong.”

We’re able to learn a lot about the early days of the churches of School Hill from handwritten records kept in bound journals. From church records we find this information on “Charity Missionary Baptist Church.” (Special thanks to Jo Ann Elston for providing copies of early church records)

“Charity Baptist Church” was organized July 25, 1891 and may have met in the school building located nearby. There were six charter members: Bro. James M. Garrison, James P. Swanner, William E. Durham, Sisters Emily Swanner, M.A. Dunham, and Anetta B. Garrison.” This church was located approximately 12 miles northwest of Lingleville off FM 8 on County Road #397 and about a mile west of its eventual successor, School Hill Baptist Church.

Today there is no sign of any building or church presence other than a small unfenced cemetery, which is called “Upper School Hill Cemetery.” When this cemetery was visited by Weldon Hudson in 1970 and an index made of the graves there, he recorded 17 marked graves and an additional six graves marked with fieldstones without names or dates. The earliest tombstone is dated 1884 and it appears the cemetery has not had any burials since approximately 1918. (Cemetery Inscriptions, Erath County, Texas, Vol. 2).

“Lower School Hill Church” – the successor church - also has a small cemetery, located directly in back of the church building. When indexed in 1970 by Weldon Hudson, there were five marked graves dating back to 1905. There have been more recent burials here not included on Hudson’s index. (Cemetery Inscriptions, Erath County, Texas, Vol. 2).
Lower School Hill Cemetery, Texas



 

Lower School Hill Church and Cemetery

According to newspaper reports and church records, “Lower School Hill Church” (also called by a variety of different names) was organized in 1929.

From “A History of the Baptist in Erath County,” we find this note about School Hill Church:
“School Hill is simply a reorganization of Charity. This re-organization occurred in September 1929 under missionary J.A. Bays. Pastors have been A.W. Cunningham, J.T. Carter, Jack Chambless, W.L. Stewart, Sam N. Bays, W.L. Stewart and R.F. Duncan. Clerks include M.A. Elston and Mrs. Ollie Elston.”
School Hill School, Texas



School Hill School Today

Photo courtesy of Carl Jones

Neighboring rural schools located in Lowell (Moccasin Rock) and School Hill were closed in about 1935. The School Hill School offered eight grades during its time of operation. ... next page
Copyright, 2002, Charlie Turnbo, 700 Ashley Ct., Salado, Tx. 76571 (CATurnbo@aol.com).
July 9, 2004


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This page last modified: August 9, 2006