Fannin County, Texas

Bethleham Baptist Church To Have 100th Anniversary

By Wanda Winnett

The Bethlehem Baptist church was first located on land belonging to Mrs. Annie Garrett, between the present homes of Mr. and Mrs. Wilford Nichols and. Mrs. M. L. Roberson, just north of Fairview Nursing home,

The log church was built under the direction of Rev. H. E. Cleveland and Rev. Billy Cox. The 25 charter members were Mrs. Phillis Williams, Mrs. Charlet Stimpson, who was the first janitor, Mrs. Birtha Ann Perry Polly Howard. Mrs. Jennie Williams, Mrs. Caroline Wagoner, Mrs. Febie Cowens, Mrs. Julia Brown, Mrs. Sidney Edmond, Mrs. Matilda Brown, Mrs. Phillis Dejornett, Mrs. Elvira Perry, Mrs. Ann Johnson, Mrs. Lou Dupree, Jordan Lightfoot, Henry Garrett, Sr., Henry Perry, John Edmond, T. T. Thurston, Ike Johnson, Ike Shipley, Sam Seay, Jordan Douglas, Ellic Brown and George Perry.

As the membership grew so did the need for a bigger better building in which to hold the worship services. In 1872, just one year after the log church was erected, the Missionary Society with Mrs. Callie Davis, president, purchased the lot on North Franklin and presented it to the members as a site for locating a new place of worship.

The same Society provided a small building and then a church was erected with only three windows on the north and a bigger one at the west side, but before long a wing was added. During the pastorate of Rev. N. L. Wirdlow, several changes were made including putting the pulpit at the west instead of the north.

​In 1924 while the Rev. R. E. Jones was pastor the church was rebuilt; and additions added in 1937 under the guidance of the Rev. Joseph Wilson. The cafeteria was added in 1941 while the Rev. H. W. Cunningham was pastor.

1947 was a great year for Bethlehem Baptist church and its members. First the Rev. U. S. Cornelius became pastor, and it was during his tenure in Bonham that the old building was razed and the stately church which stands nestled in the trees at 1415 North Franklin became the church home for many members of the community. The building was built, furnished and paid for in three years. Much credit is given to the Rev. Cornelius for the success of the project. His great interest, love and enthusiasm seemed to spark the congregation into giving their assistance, in time, talent and monies.

Rev. Cornelius will be the guest speaker at the services on April 25th when he returns to Bonham to renew old friendships.

Other officers and members of the first Missionary Society, a group with vision, were Mrs. Edeline Christian, secretary, Mrs. Emma Edward, treasurer, Mrs. Myra Smith, Mrs. Annie Garrett. Mrs. Lina Murphy, Mrs. Harriet Shipley, Mrs. Meriah Hays, and Mrs. Millie Ingram.

Twenty-eight ministers have filled the pulpit at Bethlehem. The first wedding held in the church was that of Miss Bettie Sue Elliott to Paul Fuller, Sr., on June 29, 1959.

For many years Mrs. M. E. (Myra), Dejornet kept records of the various organizations of the church. She was the oldest member of the congregation when she died August 30, 1960.

Dudley Perry, who is 97 years old, has supplied much of the history of the first church.

Although the group who founded Bethlehem Baptist church in April 1871, are now dead, their friends and relatives have continued the work of the church in such a manner that if they could be present at the 100th anniversary they would beam with pride and say “well done, my brother, well done.’’

The April 25, services at Bethlehem will be the 100th anniversary and the pastor the Rev. E. J. Rhodes, and members are inviting their many friends to come join in the worship services.

Bethlehem Baptist Church History

In 1871 a small group of Christians had a desire to worship together in one centrally located place, and under the leadership of the Reverend Billy Cox and H. E. Cleveland, the Bethlehem Baptist Church was organized.  The first church was built on the estate of Mrs. Annie Garrett.  The plot of land is located between Preston and Lee streets in the five hundred block.  The building was made of logs.

​As the membership grew, the members saw the need for a larger and better place of worship, so in 1872 the present lot was purchased and given to the church by the Missionary Society.  Mrs. Calllie Davis was the president of the Society at that time.

They also purchased a small building which was used until a larger building was purchased during the pastorate of Reverend H. L. Wirdlow.

The men and women who were pioneers in this movement were Brothers Jordon Lightfoot, Henry Garrett, Sr., Henry Perry, John Edmond, T. T. Thuston, Ike Johnson, Ike Shipley, Sam Seay, Jordon Douglas, Ellic Brown and George Perry.  Sisters Callie Davis, Edeline Christian, Emma Edwards, Myra Smith, Annie Garrett, Lina Murphey, Harriett Shipley, Mariah Hays, Mille Ingram, Phyllis Williams, Charolet Stimson, Bertha Perry, Polly Howard, Jennie Williams, Caroline Wagoner, Febie Cowens, Matilda Brown, Phillis Dejournett, Elivira Perry, Ann Johnson, and Lou Dupree.

​The first Missionary Society was organized in 1871.  Callie Davis was the first president.  Other members were Sisters Edeline Christian, Secretary, and Mrs. Emma Edwards, Treasurer.  Sisters Callie Davis, Edeline Christian, and Emma Edwards signed the deed to the lot along with the following trustees and deacons:  Rev. E. S. Silas, J. D. Locke, Littleton Knighten, John Blackman and Green Edwards.  Several years after the deed was signed other men were added to the deacon board and their names were added to the deed:  B. K. Johnson, Dock Johnson, Sam Harp, Peter Johnson, Will Morley, L. G. Stull, and R. B. Chapman.

In 1875 the following men were added to the board:  Dave Lock and George Moore.  IN 1886, Arch Beasley, Jordon Douglas and John Daily were added.  About 1930 other men were added to the board: L. D. Swindall, Harrison Phillips, Edward Dupree, Charlie Phillips, and H. M. Miles.  In 1945, J. L. Holford was added to the board.

In 1957, Jessie Higgs and Herbert Chapman were ordained as deacons, and later Matthew Jackson.  In 1969, Joe C. Dale and Roosevelt Ross and, in 1966, Cecil R. Jones was added.  In subsequent years the following men have been added to the board of deacons: Alvis Ryan, Dwight Mason, James Henson, Leon Smith, Melvin Harvey, and Charles Bowen.

The cafeteria was built in 1941 under the leadership of Rev. H. W. Cunningham.  In 1949 the church was rebuilt during the pastorate of Rev. U.S. Cornelius.

On August 26, 1979 the church extended the Call to Reverend L. S. Wilson, Sr., of Dallas, Texas.  He came the following Sunday and accepted the Call.  He preached his first Sermon as Pastor, October 7, 1979.  The fellowship annex was built in 1981 under the leadership of Rev. L. S. Wilson.  Extensive renovation of the entire church was completed in the fall of 1988.

Bethlehem has been blessed with thirty pastors namely:  (Rev. Alvin Walton was Pastor of Bethlehem when N.W. Dist. Ass'n was organized in 1875) Reverends Billy Cox, H. E. Cleveland, C. H. Shaw, F. G. Davis, H. E. Curry, Abner Taylor, W. H. Claiborne, W. L. Balay, J. C. Sweendy, N. L. Wirdlow, J. W. Gray, A. Benjamine, W. H. Lynch, Felix Jones, T. H. Wilkins, Prince Jones, R. E. Jones, D. T. Trammel, Joseph Wilson, H. W .Cunningham, E. B. Hurd, E. W. Crigler, U. S. Cornelius, V. P. Perry, A. B. Simmons, B. J. Bradford, L. A. Kesse, E. J. Rhodes, James T. Thompson, and our present pastor [1986] L. S. Wilson, Sr. (Associate ministers of Bethlehem presently [1986] are: Charlie Phillips, Rod Peterson, James Henson, Cecil Jones and Alexander Prabakaran.

Our One-hundredth Historical Marker was dedicated Sunday May 21, 1972.

​April 27, 1978 the church elected its first Historical committee, with Mrs. Mattie Lee Roberson as Chairman.  Mrs. Roberson passed before she had an opportunity to work with the committee.  She conceived the idea of preserving the history of the church.  In February of 1979 Mrs. Noble Chapman presented the church a Historical Case in Loving Memory of her late husband, Herbert S. Chapman.  Mrs. Noble Chapman was named Mother of the Church in 1986.

Marker Text:

Organized in 1871 under the Revs. Billy Cox and H. E. Cleveland.  First church was a log cabin on estate of Mrs. Annie Garrett,  between Preston and Lee Streets.

In 1872 Missionary Society bought present lot.  Building then here was remodeled by the Rev. N. L. Wirdlow and congregation.

A new church was erected in 1926 during pastorate of the Rev. R. E. Jones.  In 1949, present church was built while the Rev. U. S. Cornelius was minister.  By 1952, mortgage on building was paid.

On April 25, 1971, congregation celebrated centennial with the Rev. E. J. Rhodes as minister.

Location:  1415 Franklin, Bonham

More information on the history of the church is in Bethlehem Baptist Church Looks Back Over One Hundred Years of Progress.

See also Bethlehem Baptist Church Directory, July 1980.

Bethlehem Baptist Church