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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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)
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
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.
School Hill Church and Cemetery
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.”
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
2002, Charlie Turnbo, 700 Ashley Ct., Salado, Tx. 76571 (CATurnbo@aol.com).
July 9, 2004
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