A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE SANCTUARY AND CONGREGATION OF THE FIRST PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH OF BONHAM
“At a meeting held at Bonham, Fannin County, Texas, by Rev. C. M. Shepperson on the third Sabbath in August 1872, a Presbyterian church was organized”
THE CHURCH was organized with fourteen charter members. The members met jointly with the Baptists and later with Cumberland Presbyterian Church for thirteen years. By 1882 the congregation had grown to 52 members. In 1883 a church at Dodd City was organized as a mission outreach. Twenty-five members of the Bonham church transferred to the Dodd City church. The congregation recovered quickly from this loss in membership, and by 1900 had 122 communicant members on the roll.
THE CONGREGATION acquired its first building in 1885. It was located two blocks south of the present location. The building cost $1,300. In 1897, the present property was purchased from Charles Carleton and the building was moved to its present location and the structure was completed in the cruciform style. Dr. J. H. Wiggins, great-grandfather of three members of our congregation, was minister during this time. The windows were solid colored glass, purple over gold; the walls were papered; the floor was pine; the pews were oak; the organ was a free-standing pedal organ. The present building, in a sense, represents the perseverance, commitment and dedication of the congregation of the First Presbyterian Church. The congregation has continuously maintained and improved the structure as a symbol of its dedication and commitment to God and the community.
THE ORGAN, a Mohler, was installed in 1912 during the ministry of Dr. Edgar Williams, father of Dr. Thel Williams. Mrs. Emilie Williams, Dr. Edgar Williams’ wife, served as organist, and Thel was one of the children who helped pump the organ. In 1921, while she was a junior in high school, Mary Ella (Lowry) Swann became church organist. She continued in this position for 50 years. In 1964, electric bellows were installed in the organ, which remains as one of two pipe organs in Bonham.
OVER THE YEARS, the sanctuary building has been remodeled and improved partly as a result of memorials.1940: The present stained glass windows were installed, the arch between the sanctuary and the "west room" was built, new lighting fixtures were placed in the sanctuary, and the aisles and pulpit areas were carpeted.1942 J. R. Caton deeded the property and house currently known as the youth house to First Presbyterian Church “as a church manse…or an educational building”.1944: The Ladonia church gave their bell to the Bonham church to hang in its "long vacant" belfry.1950: The educational wing was remodeled and enlarged.1953: Earphones for the hearing-impaired were installed on the pews.1955: Central air and heat were added (the sanctuary had ceiling fans). The colors in the sanctuary were changed to green with green carpet runners, green curtains around choir loft.1969: The color was changed back to red with red carpeting, red pew cushions. The choir loft bannister was added, new pews purchased, new lighting fixtures, and a new pulpit were added at the same time.Other changes: installation of several memorial stained glass windows at the front doors, transom, north doors and north window of north foyer.1994: The house being used for education was sold and moved and a new Williams Education Building was erected.2010: A Common Ground Prayer Garden was added on the adjoining lots, containing a prayer wall, Baltic labyrinth, cross, and gazebo.
RECENT CHANGES have included the renovation of the sanctuary, repair of the church belfry, and removal of a small room to enlarge the hospitality area, now known as “the Collins Hospitality Area’ in memory of brothers Billy and James Collins. Wood from the virgin century-old beams were used to make a cross for the wall and offering plates.
Two members of this congregation, Dr. Ed Grant and Dr. Charles Kraemer, went on to become moderators of the General Assembly, which is the highest governing body of the Presbyterian Church. Three members have become ministers: Charles Caldwell, Lem Tittsworth, Jr., and Irvine Williams.
MINISTERS who have faithfully served the Lord and our congregation for the past 140 years include:
C. M. Shepperson, supply, August 1872 - October 1873
Rev. W. N. Dickey, August 1874 - December 1877
Rev. H. G. Boude, October 1878 - August 1881
Rev. A. W. Wilson, October 1881 - April 1886
Rev. Cornelius Miller, 1886 - 1887
Rev. O. C. Chandler, 1880 - 1890
Rev. J. H. Wiggins, 1890 until death in 1901
Rev. R. L. Date, 1902 - 1903
Mr. Eddings, student supply minister
Rev. W. L. Hickman, 1903 - 1906
M. F. Cowden, supply, 1906 - 1907
Rev. Edgar Williams (father of Dr. Thel Williams), 1907 - 1920
Rev. Alexander Gray, supply from Austin College, 1920 - 1921
Rev. Ora C. Houston, August 1922 - February 1923
Rev. C. P. Owens, May 1923 - November 1926
Rev. J. G. Varner, June 1927 - October 1940
Rev. W. J. Coleman, 1941 - 1942
Rev. J. Harvey, January 1943 - October 1945
Rev. Chalmers G. Long, January 1946 - March 1956
Rev. Harry Johnson, September 1956 - June 1959
Rev. Richard O. Young, June 1960 - December 1963
Rev. William Cheatham, July 1964 until death, June 23, 1969
Rev. Lionel Hallonquist, November 1969 - June 1972
Rev. Hugh O'Neil Dancer, 1972 - 1974
Rev. Steve Kerr, 1974 - 1983
Rev. Oran Sigler, 1983 - 1984 (interim
)Rev. David Sharp, 1984 - 1985 (interim)
Rev. Carl Crawford, 1985 – 1990
Rev. John Braly, 1991 (interim)
Rev. Alan Griffin, 1991 – 2000
Rev. Duane Bidwell;, 2001-2002 (interim)
Rev. Sallie Watson, 2002- 2008
Rev. Larry Thomas – 2008 – 2010 (interim)
Rev. Brad Dardaganian , 2010 - 2016
Bonham Church Founded "Third Sabbath in Aug. 1872"
The Favorite, August 20, 1972
The records say it was the “third Sabbath of August 1872” when the First Presbyterian church in Bonham was founded and they list “Rev. E. V. Shephardson, Evangelist” as the organizer.
And, so, on the third Sabbath of Aug. 1972 the congregation of the First Presbyterian church observes the 100th anniversary of that founding and the years of Christian service and influence the Presbyterian church has had on the community.
There have been several histories of the church written for use for various programs and occasions. But possibly no one person has compiled more data and been closer acquainted with the historical background of the church than has Mrs. H. A. (Helen) Burow, whose grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. John Wesley Newman, were among that small group of people who organized the congregation 100 years ago.
Not only has Mrs. Burow maintained a closeness to the church’s historical background because of family ties throughout the 100 years, but as chairman of the Fannin County Historical Survey committee through many years of accomplishment in recording all Fannin county history.
Here is one of the histories from her records (written in 1931) that tells of the early days of the church, and related here as it was written:
The First Presbyterian church of Bonham Texas, was organized the third Sabbath of August 1872, by Rev. E. V. Shephardson, Evangelist, with the following members:
Mr. and Mrs. H. L. Parmlee, Mr. and Mrs. Robert A. Ross, Dr. and Mrs. Orville Caldwell, G. B. Caldwell, E. R. Gill, John W. Newman, Cordelia Newman, Thomas W. Ross, Sara E. Ross, R. H. Cashion and Mrs. Josie Smith. Messrs. Parmlee, Robert A. Ross and O. Caldwell were elected Elders. Messrs. J. W. Newman and R. J. Cashion deacons.
In December this number was enlarged by the addition of Dr. J. L. Buchanan, John A. Price, Frank A. Ramsey, J. P. Holmes and V. A. Ewing. This small group constituted the First Presbyterian church in Fannin county.
For 13 years the organization had no home of worship of its own, but through the kindness of Christian Courtesy of first the Baptist, afterward the Cumberland Presbyterian, they held monthly services when they could secure a minister.
They were supplied during this period by C. N. Shephardson, Aug. 1872-Oct. 1873; W. N. Dickey, Aug. 1874-Dec. 1877; H. B. Boude, Oct. 1878-Aug. 1881; A. W. Wilson, Oct. 1881-Apr. 1886; Cornelius Miller. 1886-1887. The only regular pastor up to 1891 was the Rev. C. E. Chandler.Aug. 1888-May 1890.
In 1885 under the ministry of Dr. A. W. Wilson, the congregation secured a lot and erected a building two blocks south of the present location at a cost of $1,300.
In 1890, the Rev. J. H. Wiggins was called to the pastorate of the church and served it regularly until his death in 1901.
In December 1897 it was decided to complete the building as originally planned. It became evident that a change of location was believed desirable, the result being the selection of the present location, the removal of the church and its completion. The present building was the result of the united efforts of the congregation, aided generously by friends.
After Dr. Wiggins’ death the church was served by the following pastors:
Rev. Dale, 1902-1903; Mr Eddins (student supply) and Rev. Hickman, 1903-1906; Rev. M. F. Cowden (stated supply) 1906-1907; Rev. Edgar Williams, May 1907-Oct. 1920; Rev. Alexander Gray (supply), Nov. 1920-April 1921; Rev. O. C. Huston May 1922-Feb. 1923; Rev. C. P. Owens, 1923-1926, and Dr. J. G. Varner became pastor in 1927 and was serving at the time this history was written in 1931.
During Mr. Williams’ pastorate the pipe organ was installed and three Sunday school rooms were constructed on the east side of the building. Also during his pastorate the congregation undertook the support of a missionary in Korea (Mr. L. C McCutchean) and continued this work from 1909 to 1926 when on account of the loss of several valuable members, they sorrowfully realized that they must give up this work.
About 1903 the congregation bought from Mr. and Mrs. Harry Martin a residence on North Center street, a short distance from the church, for the use of a manse. The first pastor to occupy it was Mr. Hickman. After Mr. Williams left in 1920 the house was sold and moved off of the lot and in 1924 a modern two-story house was built on the same location. Organists recalled from an early date are Miss Blanche Newman (Mrs. Jas. R. McKinney), Miss Pearl Revell (Mrs. Briggers), Miss Cleo Caldwell, Josephine Ewing (Mrs. H. L. Nunn), Mr. C. E. Foster, Mrs. W. L. Hickman, Mrs. Henry Holland, Miss Inez Weathersby (Mrs. Edwin Agnew), Miss Winnie Sue Johnson (Mrs. Pearl Bohannon), Miss Mary Ella Lowrey (Mrs. Harry Swann,) Miss Mary Louise Rountree and Miss Elizabeth Anderson (Mrs. W. B. Leeman).
Former choir directors are Mrs. Will H. Evans, Mrs.F. C. Allen and Mrs. C. E. Foster. (There have been those who followed, but these had served up to the time this history was written.)
Former members of this church who have become volunteers for Life Service are Dr. Charles T. Caldwell, who for 35 years was pastor of the First Church, Waco; Dr. Edward Grant, Education Secretary of Foreign Missions, and Charles Kraemer, who is a senior at Davidson college and is preparing for the ministry.
The report said the “little congregation of barely more than a dozen has grown to a membership of 170 in 1931. Many others have been connected with its 59 years of history, but have moved away or been called by death.”
It said the Woman’s Missionary Society was organized about 1894. The Auxiliary was organized in 1920.
First Presbyterian Church U.S. Erected 1885. Congregation organized in 1872. Only church in area with spire and belrey.
Location: 9th and Main, Bonham