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By Margaret Toal
For the Record 

Methodists celebrate 150 years with open house


Last updated 3/28/2023 at 6:36pm

Members of First United Methodist Church in downtown Orange have been dusting and polishing their historical church for an open house on Saturday as park of Art in the Park nearby. The congregation is celebrating its 150th anniversary and the landmark Gothic-style building was dedicated 100 years ago.

Ministers often need a bit of help with expenditures and the Methodists of Orange County have a unique history for a part-time income. Early denomination ministers here rode the "Alligator Circuit," nicknamed that because the traveling preachers killed alligators to sell the hides.

First United Methodist Church of Orange is a direct offshoot of those circuit riders, with records showing the ministers came here as early as 1859. The first Methodist Church here was formally formed in 1873, a 150 years ago.

The congregation of the church is now celebrating the landmark anniversary, which coincides with the 100-year dedication anniversary of the towering Gothic-style church building in downtown. As part of the celebration, the church is offering free guided tours of the historic building on Saturday during the Art in the Park festival in Stark Park, a block away. The church is at 502 N. Sixth Street at Elm Avenue.

Youth of the church will be selling a special ornament created for anniversary as a fundraiser. The ornaments will be $20 each.

The book "Orange: Gateway to Texas" by the late historian Dr. Howard Williams, said the oldest church in Orange is Old First Orange Baptist Church, which "legend says" goes back to 1957. The Methodists first congregated in a Methodist Episcopal Church in 1866 and then formed the Methodist congregation in 1873.

First United Methodist church history says 44 members signed the original papers with Mrs. Emma George Latcham as the first name. They bought land for their church on College Street across from Evergreen Cemetery. The first building was "tiny" and wood-frame with the Reverend Gillum as the first pastor. The church would let other Evangelical denominations use the building.

That first building burned in 1889 and the congregation met at the Orange County Courthouse for a while. They then bought property at Border and Henderson streets and in 1892, build a new church. The one-story, wood-frame building had a large sanctuary with a room at the back for Sunday school. Miss Annie Sells was the Sunday school superintendent.

By 1894, the congregation had expanded to 334 members with the Reverend W.W. Watts as pastor. W.H. Malone at the time was Sunday School superintendent, a position he held for 37 years.

As the town of Orange moved northward, the Methodists looked for a new site and chose land at Sixth and Elm streets north of Green Avenue in 1910. They moved the wooden church from Border Street to the new location.

Then in 1919, the congregation hired local architect and building Thomas Avant Howell, a longtime church member, to design a new sanctuary and church building. He had been on the church's board of stewards since 1903.

Howell designed a Gothic-style brick church with a second-story sanctuary that includes a balcony area, cathedral ceiling, and is surrounded by stained glass windows.

The three windows at the front were created by the Texas Art Glass Company of Houston and tell the life of Christ. The windows are reproductions of famous religious paintings like "The Good Shepherd," "Jesus Among the Lowly," and "Jesus and the Little Children."

The congregation moved into the new church in 1921 while it was still under construction. It was completed and dedicated in 1923. The sanctuary for a number of years was the biggest gathering spot in Orange with high school graduation ceremonies and other community events held there.

The church history says the congregation continued paying the loans on the building until 1937, when the Reverend Ed Barcus came and raised the money to pay off the debt.

Since those early years, First United Methodist has had additions to its campus, including the Slade Memorial Chapel, a gift from the late Edgar and Gladys Slade Brown Jr., plus the Family Life Center. The downstairs has also had renovations.


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