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|
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
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. |
Mural by Annie Lynn Leatherwood, 1952
Photo courtesy of Carl Jones
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
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 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.
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.
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.
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.)
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
“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)
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).
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.
| || |
Lower 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.”
| || |
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|
2002, Charlie Turnbo, 700 Ashley Ct., Salado, Tx. 76571 (CATurnbo@aol.com).|
July 9, 2004
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