135 YEARS AND COUNTING;
THE FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH OF TRENTON, FANNIN COUNTY, TEXAS
Context: Approximately twenty-eight miles south of the Red River, in the Southwest corner of Fannin County, you will find the City of Trenton.1 During the early 1800's wagon trains brought many families to this area and a thriving new community was created. And with this new community came the need for a place of worship. Thirteen years before the incorporation of Trenton, the First Baptist Church was established.
On January 7, 1877 early settlers around the community of Trenton began meeting for worship in the Burns School House, which was located north of their present day location. The church body organized under the name of the Smyrna Baptist Church of Christ, and continued to meet in the old school house.2 The first pastor of the newly-organized First Baptist Church, was Martin W. Gentry, a “Parson” traveling from Washburn, Missouri by way of Arkansas in 1844. Pastor Gentry was very instrumental in the organization and progress of the Church. Pastor Gentry was an elderly balding man with a full beard and a stern face. It is believed Pastor Gentry served as leader of the church until 1886. In 1878 the total membership was seventeen (17) people.
On January 7, 1877, Trenton Baptists began worshiping in the
Burns school house. The church body organized as Smyrna Baptist Church of Christ, with Martin W. Gentry as the first pastor. In 1886, the church called their second pastor in Jno. William Connelly. The church entered into fellowship with the Sister Grove Association in 1878 until the Fannin County
Baptist Association formed in 1889. In 1897, under the leadership of Rev. J. M. Harder, the church built a frame building on the present site. A fire in November 1953 completely destroyed the sanctuary. The congregation met in the high school auditorium until a new church was completed in July 1954. The church continues to support global missions and community needs.
302 N. 2nd Street, Trenton
Second Building - 1897
As was the case throughout the entire area, times were hard and many people struggled just to stay alive. But their strong faith and religion saw many through. Known as the “Wildcat Thicket” the area was thick underbrush and many full cedars. Animals including wildcats, bob cats, panthers, bears, wild boars, wild turkeys, and prairie chickens roamed the area. This was not an area that welcomed growth. The organization of a place of worship and to build a congregation took many dedicated Christians. Most people had a long journey just to make it to church on Sunday mornings. Once there, it became an all-day event with meals and fellowship throughout the day and ending just in time for the evening services.
Overview: In 1886, the church found their second pastor Jno (pronounced John``J.W.”) William Connelly.3 Reverend Jno W. Connelly came to the Trenton area in 1870 from Bloomfield Kentucky after being ordained a minister October 1, 1868.4 During Reverend Connelly’s tenure as pastor of the church, he performed well over four hundred (428) twenty eight weddings and countless funerals. Reverend Connelly served as pastor of this church until 1891. The First Baptist Church entered into fellowship with the Sister Grove Association in 1878 and continued in this fellowship until the forming of the Fannin County Baptist Association in 1889. It was in 1886 during the leadership of Pastor Connelly, the congregation decided to drop the name Smyrna and became known as the First Baptist Church of Trenton. That year the church baptized a total of seven, bringing their total membership up to twenty three (23) members. Reverend Connelly served as pastor until 1891. Between 1891 and 1892 the church was without a full time pastor. The church remained active through the services of the association for worship services.
The marker was dedicated on August 17, 2014. Shown above are Janice Smith of the church, who was instrumental in obtaining the marker, and Larry Standlee of the Fannin County Historical Commission, who unveiled the marker.
Then in 1892 J.M. Harder was called to pastor the church. With the onset of the railroad, which allowed many new people into this area, the congregation soon found they had outgrown their meeting place in the Burns school house. In 1897 during the leadership of Reverend Harder the second church building was constructed.5 The congregation decided to move closer into the Town of Trenton which by this time had incorporated. The old Burns School House/Church building was sold to Y.B. Reed and moved from its original location to Mr. Reed’s property just east of Trenton. The building still stands on property owned by John Alexander. The roof was removed, and a barn was built around it.
Funds for the new church construction were solicited by the members, both men and women, riding horse-back throughout the county. The new church building was constructed on block 3 of the Earnhart Addition, 305 Second Street, at the corner of Second Street and Robinson Street, in the town of Trenton.6 This is where the existing church is now located. The new church consisted of a basic auditorium. A few classrooms were added when the Sunday School Classes were able to raise the funds. Reverend J.M. Harder left the church at the turn of the century in 1900 having served a total of eight (8) years. The third gentleman to lead the First Baptist Churches’ flock was J. A. Held in 1901. Reverend Held only served the church for a total of one year, leaving in 1902. By this time the membership totaled eighty (80) persons. The church was growing rapidly which allowed them to begin providing funds for foreign missions.
In 1906 under the leadership of Reverend A. Lee Boyd, the First Baptist Church of Trenton, hosted the Fannin County Baptist Association for the first time. The meeting was held August 2nd through the 5th and was a great benefit to the church. Membership had grown in 1906 to a total of 113.7
1908 brought more changes to the church. More members meant the church was able to support more missions and update the church facility. It was in this year they were able to replace the old fashioned pump organ with a new more up-to-date one. This organ was paid for by contributions from the church and community.8
In 1918 the church hosted, for the second time, the annual meeting of the Fannin Baptist Association. B. F. Milam was the pastor at this time. This event brought a total of twelve (12) baptisms, and five (5) people joined the church by letter, Total membership was 136.91930 brought probably the youngest person ever to be called to preach at the first Baptist Church of Trenton, was Reverend Robert Fling. At age nineteen (19) Robert was called to pastor the church. Young in years did not stop Reverend Fling from striking out to take the church in new directions. The son of the Head of the Education department at East Texas State College, which is now Texas A&M, Commerce, aided Robert to reach out to other areas not otherwise taken by the church. In three short years, he was instrumental in raising funds for the church where in the past donations were very spontaneous and mostly inadequate to meet the church needs. With assistance from Reverend Fling, the church began a Home Missions Board; established Southern Baptist Churches in New York City and spoke at the national conventions. The First Baptist Church of Trenton was beginning to be recognized by its peers. In 1933 Reverend Fling left the church for the mission field in Germany.10
During the month of March in 1945 under the guidance of Reverend J.G. Miller, the congregation voted to provide for a full time pastor. Up until this time the church members would take turns meeting with the Methodists Church for worship services. One Sunday preaching be held at the Baptist church and the next Sunday, it would be held at the Methodists church across the street. Now, the Baptist members felt the time was right to offer the preaching position on a full time basis. Reverend Miller, however, tended his resignation to the congregation September 9, 1945 and the church was once again without a preacher.
The following year on Tuesday night, February 26, 1946, the congregation met for the purpose of calling a pastor. The name of I.L. Whetsell was brought before the church for consideration and Reverend Whetsell became the twenty-second (22) leader of the church. By this time church membership was up to 169 persons. The first parsonage the church purchased was on April 14, 1946. The church voted to purchase a house and property to be remodeled and funded by solicitations. Once again, the position of pastor of the church was short lived. Reverend Whetsell tended his resignation on March 23, 1947. The congregation accepted.
Six days following the resignation of Reverend Whetsell, the congregation met to call a new pastor. Harold Renfro was voted into this position on April 20, 1947. Three (3) months later, he too resigned. The church regretfully accepted. In July, 1947 the church installed the very first cooling fans at a cost of One Hundred Fifty Four ($154.00) Dollars. Membership was a total of 199 members.
The next three (3) years brought many changes to the church. Although they did not have a full time pastor, they continued to meet and worship God. In 1948, while Fred Thomas was pastor, the church added an education building to the rear of the sanctuary. It contained six (6) classrooms, a kitchen and large fellowship hall. By this time there were a total of 192 members on the church roll and attendance each Sunday was an average of 85 with 138 enrolled. The floors of the church house were refinished, stained glass windows were installed and the isle of the church was carpeted. Also, Reverend Thomas was very instrumental in replacing the baptistery. In the month of May, 1953, the church voted to purchase a piano. On November 1, 1953 Reverend Thomas was called from his beloved First Baptist Church in Trenton to accept a position in Newellton, Louisiana. The church body regretfully accepted his resignation to be effective November 15, 1953.11
It was only three weeks after Reverend Thomas resigned as pastor that tragedy struck the First Baptist Church. On Saturday night, November 29, 1953 a fire of unknown origin broke out and completely destroyed the church. All that was left was the parsonage which was located to the north of the church. The congregation met at the burned out church and immediately began making plans to rebuild.
Fred Thomas was called to hold a revival at the high school auditorium where they had been meeting since the fire.12 He told the Trenton Tribune Newspaper, that on Sunday morning, November 20, 1953, he was notified of the fire by Miss Thelma Broohings. Within a few weeks Reverend Thomas had resigned his position in Louisiana, and resumed as pastor of the First Baptist Church in Trenton. Reverend Thomas remained as pastor until 1955 when the third version of the First Baptist Church was completed.13
The church had carried only a Ten Thousand ($10,000.00) Dollar insurance police before the church had burned, and they had to raise an additional Sixteen Thousand ($16,000.00) Dollars for construction. This left them having to finance approximately One Thousand ($1,000.00) dollars. Once again, the entire community assisted the church members in raising the needed funds. The most successful fund raiser was a barbeque at the school gymnasium. Members of the local Methodists church and the community, supplied the beef for this supper. Proceeds netted Six Hundred ($600.00) Dollars. But the largest amount of money raised was received only two weeks before moving into the new building. It was a single contribution in the amount of Two Thousand Four Hundred Thirty Nine ($2,439.00) Dollars. A most welcomed contribution.14
For a total of seven months and twenty one days, the congregation met in the high school auditorium until the new church building was constructed. In March 1954 construction began on the site where the church had burned. On July 1, 1954, they moved into the new building with a congregation that totaled 256 members with 193 enrolled for Sunday school. This was designated “Victory Sunday.” Church members as well as most of the community celebrated. During this year in the new building, a total of 11 were baptized. The new auditorium of the church seated two hundred people. Central heat and air conditioning ducts were installed in the building, but the actual units were not purchased until the church paid the One Thousand ($1,000.00) dollar debt taken out to complete construction. By 1957 the debt was paid and the units were purchased and installed.
It was at this time Reverend Thomas purchased a mimeograph machine and donated it to the church. This enabled the church to publish weekly bulletins. He also organized a choir and even directed it along with his preaching duties. But then, Reverend Thomas felt the call to move on and on April 3, 1955 the church accepted his resignation for the second time, to become effective on April 17, 1955.15
When Bill Perrin accepted the position as pastor at the church on July 14, 1957 his salary was thirty (30) dollars per month. In October of the same year three deacons were ordained. They were Lynwood Coleman, Norman Butler, and Millard Head. To date, Lenwood Coleman retains his position as deacon, being the longest reining deacon at First Baptist Church.
On March 9, 1960, the church voted to purchase a one hundred foot lot just east of the church property for a total cost of Two Hundred Fifty ($250.00) Dollars. Reverend Perrin resigned on January 8, 1961.
Under the direction of Bill Self, the church purchased the property to the south of the church. The church was beginning to stretch out and grow. A Bible ministry was formed in April 1968. The church purchased twenty Bibles for the young people’s department. Then in May, they purchased an additional two hundred (200) Bibles and distributed them free of charge to the homes in the community.16
On November 10, 1974 Raymond Laramore was voted in as pastor of the church. In June of 1974 Vacation Bible School enrollment was a total of 140 children. The next month, the church purchased a bus from Blue Ridge Baptist Church of Two Hundred Fifty ($250.00) Dollars. The bus was for general church use, and to provide a means of transportation to anyone wanting to come to the church during services but were unable to come on their own means.
With the church continuing to grow and with such a large number of children in Vacation Bible School, the church finally decided to go through with their plans to create a church library. In the summer of 1975 under the direction of Mrs. Annie Mae Reagan, a library was created.
On Easter Sunday, January 1977, under the direction of Reverend Raymond Laramore,the church celebrated its 100th Anniversary. The entire community and churches from all over the county celebrated this milestone. Total membership was 392 by this time. The church dedicated the fellowship hall to Mr. and Mrs. Lee Norman, two of the most dedicated and faithful church members for many years. Later that same year the church purchased the lot to the south of the church building to be used as a parking lot.
On February 16, 1986 James Henry became thirty-sixth (36) pastor of First Baptist Church of Trenton. During James Henry’s tenure, several changes took place to the church building itself. The first microwave oven was purchased for use in the fellowship hall in the summer of 1986. During that same summer the front porch was re-modeled; a hand rail and ramp were added. In the fall, two new double doors were added to the front of the church building, and the members voted to incorporate the church, something that had never been considered until this time.17
James Henry began a visitation program in 1989. This too continues to be practiced.In the early 1990's, the church began the first scholarship fund by granting a total of Nine Hundred ($900.00) Dollars for anyone attending a college or seminary for the Lords work. Also in the early 1990's, the sanctuary was remodeled with new windows and carpet, a new sound system and tape deck.
In 1992 James Henry served as a chaplain at the “Carl Sausage” plant in the neighboring city of Whitewright, Texas. During this same year, it was learned that Baylor University located in Waco, Texas, was considering installation of a nude art class for the students. Many churches and especially the First Baptist Church of Trenton, opposed this type of teaching and the entire congregation voiced their objections in the form of letter writing and telephone calls. This resulted in Baylor University declining to offer these classes.
Under the leadership of James Henry, the church established a camp fund, installed choir hand rails; organized a local food pantry; installed the first central heat and air conditioning in the church; purchased new pew cushions; installed a ramp on the north side of the church into the fellowship hall; and built an addition to the south of the education building to be used for the youth of the church.
The church now supports many missions throughout the world. The youth department maintains a large membership, as does the nursery. There are now a total of twelve active deacons. Below is a listing of the present day deacons: Lenwood Coleman October 4, 1959
Gailen Todd August 20, 1972
Henry Morgan February 11, 1976
Morris Hall January 12, 1996
Leon Moore September 7, 1997
Bill Spann September 07, 1997
Royce Call April 11, 1968
David Parks May 20, 1960
Jeff Barnes February 21, 2001
Kirk Smith February 21, 2001
Tim Kidwell February 21, 2001
John Hines February 21, 2001
Garel Philburn August 18, 2002
Brian Skinner February 2009
In March 2000, with a growing congregation, the church members voted to have two services on Sunday. This practice remains in effect. During this same year, a new sound system was purchased by the church. Also, the First Baptist Church of Trenton stepped into the twenty-first century with the purchase of a more modern sound system, a lapel microphone and a cell phone.
2001 brought about several changes. In February a ministry for shut-in was started; in March a prison ministry began and plans for a new building began; in August the church members voted to join the Southern Baptist Convention of Texas; September, additional land was purchased between North Pearl and Second Streets for a parking lot; and in the month of October, the church received an award at the Association meeting for having the fastest growing church in the association.
January 6, 2002 the church celebrated its 125 anniversary. This was a very special day for the congregation as well as the community. The church membership now stood at 527 and growing. As a result of the growth, expansion of the nursery took place during the summer of 2002, making the room twice as large as it once had been. This same summer, the first Spanish Sunday school class was started, which remains an active part of the church and community.
Significance: By February 2003, the church had purchased additional property for the future construction of a new building. The church continues to supports missions in Mexico, Slovenia, Russia, Asia and several other locations around the world as well as many states in the United States. Mission support is a very important outreach for the church. At a meeting July 27, 2005 plans began for a State Historical Marker for the First Baptist Church of Trenton. On Sunday August 21, 2005 following the morning worship services, the members officially voted to begin planning to build a larger building for the church. This new church, the fourth time the building has been constructed, will have many more classrooms, a fellowship hall, and a basketball court. The old fellowship hall had been converted into classrooms in 2002. Plans are now being studied to make it a two story structure, far different from anything the First Baptist Church has ever seen in Trenton. Total membership at this time is 515. Additional growth and membership is expected. God has blessed the congregation of the First Baptist Church of Trenton as it remains strong for 135 years and counting!
1. Taken from The History of Trenton, Texas, 1999.
2. The 100th Anniversary of the First Baptist Church, pamphlet - 1977
3. Taken from the last will and testament of Jno William Connelly, recorded in the clerk’s office of Fannin County, Texas - March 1904 .
4. “History of Fannin County, Volume 2" by Floy Crandall Hodge.
5. Trenton Tribune Newspaper, Thursday March 24, 1977 edition, front page.
6. Hare and Jackson Official Map of the Town of Trenton, dated 1894.
7. Records of the First Baptist Church of Trenton, TX.
8. Records of the First Baptist Church of Trenton, TX.
9. Records of the First Baptist Church of Trenton, TX.
10. Records of the First Baptist Church of Trenton, TX.
11. Records of the First Baptist Church of Trenton, TX.
12. Taken from the Trenton Tribune Newspaper, Thursday edition, August 20, 1981, Page 3.
13. Re-Print in the Trenton Tribune Newspaper, Thursday edition, March 24, 1977 Front page.
14. Treasury records of the First Baptist Church of TX.
15. Records of the First Baptist Church of Trenton. TX.
16. Records of the First Baptist Church of Trenton, TX.
17. Records of the First Baptist Church of Trenton, TX.
Pastors of First Baptist Church Trenton
Martin W. Gentry 1878 – 1886
Jno W. Connelly 1886 - 1891
J. M. Harder 1892 - 1900
J. A. Held 1901 - 1902
J. L. Truett 1903 - 1904
J. W. Foster 1905 - 1905
A. Lee Boyd 1906 - 1907
E. D. Reece 1908 - 1908
M. B. McGee 1909 - 1911
B. F. Milam 1912 - 1918
T. G. Green 1919 - 1919
S. T. Gray 1920 - 1921
T. S. Gray 1921 - 1921
J. H. Laughlin 1922 - 1922
W. L. Brumlow 1923 - 1924
E. H. Garner 1925 - 1925
G. L. Vaughn 1926 - 1929
Robert Fling 1930 - 1933
C. E. Fite 1934 - 1935
Author Johnson 1936 - 1937
J. W. Lester 1938 - 1939
George A. Nichols 1940 - 1943
J. G. Miller 1944 - 1946
V. L. Whitshell 1946 - 1947
Harold Renfro 1947 - 1947
Fred Thomas 1948 - 1954
Travis Holland 1955 - 1956
Bill Perrin 1957 - 1960
Leroy Martin 1961 - 1963
Robert Moore 1964 - 1965
Bill Self 1966 - 1968
Milton Kirchmeir 1969 - 1970
Gary Payne 1971 - 1974
David Griffin 1974 Interim Pastor
Raymond Laramore 1974 - 1978
V. L. Harris 1978 - 1979
Jerry Woods 1979 - 1982
Earl Bruce 1983 - 1985
James Henry 1986 - 1996
Doug Gifford 1997 - 1999
Steve Holland 1999 - 2010
Joshua Crutchfield 2010 - to date