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The First Baptist Church of La Feria

The city of La Feria is celebrating its 100th year anniversary and to commemorate the occasion we are digging deep into our archives each week to bring you images and stories from La Feria’s colorful past.

BiCentennialHistoryCover The following story is a chapter from a manuscript entitled The Bicentennial History of La Feria, Texas written by Eddie Gathings McNail in 1975. Throughout the coming year we’ll be reprinting sections of her research into the history of La Feria as the city celebrates its 100 year anniversary.
An undated photo of the permanent building housing La Feria’s First Baptist Church. The first service was held there on June 28, 1926. The building still survives today. Photo: Courtesy of First Baptist Church La Feria.

An undated photo of the permanent building housing La Feria’s First Baptist Church. The first service was held there on June 28, 1926. The building still survives today. Photo: Courtesy of First Baptist Church La Feria.

The Baptist Church as well as the Methodist, Presbyterian and Christian churches cooperated and shared together as one church prior to 1912 and for many years thereafter. Travel was practically impossible as roads were dusty or muddy trails through the brushland. It was limited to horse-drawn vehicles, riding horseback or going on foot. A building downtown was used on Sunday for church services.

The four faiths erected a small frame building on the present site of the Methodist Church on Main Street. The Sunday School collection was spent to buy literature for the combined school while the church collection paid the visiting preacher. Rev. L. R. Burress, a missionary for the Home Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, preached when he was in La Feria. The Methodist Church provided a preacher for two Sundays a month, the Baptist for one Sunday and the Presbyterians for one Sunday.

The home of Dr. and Mrs. S. I. Colvin, who lived on Tio Cano Road of the Adams Tract, was the meeting place for eleven Baptists in April, 1912. This home was across Highway 83 from Restlawn Memorial Cemetery.

The charter members were: Rev. Roberts of Ohio, the first Baptist pastor, his daughter, Harry P. McNeil, Dr. S. I. Colvin, Mrs. S. I. Colvin, Dora Colvin (Mrs. Harry P. McNeil), Mr. John Kruger, Mrs. John Kruger and two children and Mr. C. H. Ritter.

The first deacons were: C. H. Ritter, Harry P. McNeil and John Kruger. Harry McNeil also served as the first clerk.

It was not long before new members began to arrive. They were the M. L. Ashworths in 1920; the W. T. Cones in 1923; the George Stohlers, the J. E. Robinsons, the I. F. Scotts, the A.C. Herrens, the P. A. Coppins, M. A. Everett and the J. H. Mitchells in 1924; the J. L. Clouds in 1925; the A. F. Landrys, the M. R. Bramwells, and the J. A. Flows in 1926; the Charles Swifts in 1927; the L. G. Watsons in 1929; and the T. C. Hennessees, the W. E. Holleys, the J. O. Durhams, the A. J. Worcesters and the W. L. Sloanes in 1930. Many of these splendid people are still serving in the Baptist Church today.

On September 26, 1923, monthly meetings were held in the Methodist Church with Rev. M. E. Broadus as pastor and M. L. Ashworth as clerk.

Services were moved to the La Feria High School and were held every Sunday beginning in September, 1924. The first elected Superintendent of a full graded Sunday School was

Mr. Paul G. Greenwood of Harlingen. The attendance on that Sunday was 200. Mr. Greenwood also organized Sunday Schools in Santa Rosa and Alamo.

W. V. Sproles, H. A. Moore, D. L. Stoker, J. E. Robinson, Eddie Stonier, Woodrow Wisdom, Merrill V. Snowden and Clyde R.

Somers have served as Sunday School superintendents through the years.

Mrs. Harry P. McNeil’s home was where the organizational meeting of the Woman’s Missionary Society was held in February, 1923. These officers were elected: Mrs. McNeil, President; Mr. J. D. Wimple, Vice President; and Mrs. C. H. Christian, Secretary.

Since that time Mesdames J. H. Mitchell, C. W. Simpson, J. D, Russell, L. R. Murphy, H. A. Briscoe, M. R. Bramwell, A. W. Amthor, L. V. Miller, W. L. Sloane, P. A. Coppin, Harla B. Cox, J. W. Daniel, Fred Hofer, Herman Durham and J. C. Dunn have served as President with most of them serving more than one term.

The Baptist Young People’s Union (now named the Training Union) was begun in September, 1924 with Mrs. Grace Ashworth BeBemy as Director. Many other directors have headed the Training Union and faithfully carried on the work of the Lord.

Weekly prayer services on Wednesday night were started in April, 1925 and continue to the present time, 1975. These services are always well attended.

Two lots were donated by the La Feria Townsite Company and two by the Parker Security Company for a church building in 1924.

The building committee was Dr. I. F. Scott, Paul G. Greenwood, L. H. May and Mrs. J. D. Wimple. In May, 1924, plans were submitted for the building and on June 28, 1926, the first service was held in the new building by the Rev. Odis Rainer, the pastor.

In 1937, when Rev. W. N. Clark was pastor, the educational building which cost $5,000.00 was erected. Additional educational facilities were built in 1949 at a cost of $12,000.00 when Rev. John T. Littlejohn was pastor. Adjoining property was purchased in 1958 on the corner of Magnolia and Main Streets for $12,000.00. The church nursery is located in the red brick home.

This property was paid for by September 4, 1960. Mary Elizabeth McNeil, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Harry P. McNeil, was the first one to be baptized in the church.

Rev. W. A. Christopher officiated at the first wedding in the Baptist Church, uniting Miss Mabel Mitchell, who was the daughter of Judge and Mrs. J. H. Mitchell, and Mr. Frank Lucas on June 23, 1927.

In October, 1926, a two story frame parsonage was bought for $3,250.00 and was sold and moved off the present parsonage lot in 1955. At a cost of $16,375.00 the present brick parsonage was constructed. The total value of all the church property in 1926 was $16,000.00. In 1968 it was valued at $83,000.00, and in 1972 at $108,000.00.

The seventeen pastors who have guided this church have been

Rev. Roberts, April, 1912
M. E. Broadus, Sept, 1923 – Nov, 1923
J. E. Petty, 1923-1924
Odis Rainer, 1925-1927
W. A. Christopher, 1927-1928
J. E. Stack, 1929-1933
N. B. Moon, 1934-1936
W. N. Clark, 1936-1938
Joe Amerine, 1939-1943
W. N. Clark, 1943-1944
Loyal E. Brown, 1944-1946
John T. LittleJohn, 1946-1954
Curtis Simpson, 1955-1957
Albert M. Brown, 1957-1967
Joe Rubert, 1968-1969
James Ware, 1969-1971
William H. Bearfield, 1971-

The membership of the First Baptist Church has risen and declined since its beginning. In 1912, there were eleven members; in 1926, 230 members; in 1965, 345 members; and in 1973, 539 members. The highest Sunday School enrollment was 501 in Rev. Curtis Simpson’s pastorate, and the highest Sunday School attendance was 394 in Rev. J. E. Stack’s pastorate.

The First Baptist Church of La Feria has stood as a beacon light calling all men to Christ, our Savior. May they be as faithful to the future as their ancestors were to the past.

Do YOU have any photos, books, or stories that might help us piece together La Feria’s storied history? If so please email us or call our office at 956-797-9920 and let us know!

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2 Responses to The First Baptist Church of La Feria

  1. Brenda G Ford Reply

    October 27, 2015 at 11:30 pm

    I remember “Brother” Littlejohn. Just catecorner across the street, from our home, I used to go over on Saturday mornings to see him in his study, and would be treated to a Bible story, cookies and lemonade,( made by Mrs. Littlejohn). I was trekking over from age 3-1/2 until he was replaced. Wonderful childhood memories there.

  2. Vivian Reply

    December 16, 2017 at 10:56 pm

    I remember seeing the church on my visits as my Grandparents, John & Effie Mitchell were methodists

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