This congregation was organized as a mission of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., in 1875 at Valley Creek (3 mi. N) through the efforts of H. L. Parmele, the community's founder and leading merchant. The Rev. DeCoasta Howard Dodson, a noted Christian educator, became the first pastor.
After a spring storm damaged the church building in 1883, the congregation moved to the new town of Leonard, created by the coming of the Denison and Southeaster Railroad. They built the town's first church building on the corner of Houston and Main streets. In 1905 Leonard Presbyterian Church merged with the local Cumberland Presbyterian Church, which had been organized at Grove Hill (3.5 mi. NE) in 1870. The Rev. N. M. Grafton became the new pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, as it was named after the union.
The church structure on this site was used for worship by the Cumberland Presbyterian congregation and continues in use today. Additional facilities were built as membership increased.
Members here have included pioneer settlers and prominent community leaders who made significant contributions to the area's development and heritage.
Location: Connet & Thomas St., Leonard
Historical Marker for Leonard Presbyterian Church
(Article taken from A History of the First United Presbyterian Church, Leonard, 1875-1982
by Ruth A. Borland Davis and Elizabeth Brooks Davis)
Click on the link above to view the entire History
The First Presbyterian Church of Leonard formally received and dedicated a state historical marked in ceremonies held at 2:30 p.m., July 16, 1983, the Saturday of the Leonard Picnic. The ceremonies were held at the Church.
In the early 1870's, a wealthy new York stockbroker, Tom Murphy, and a grocer, H. L. Parmele, began organizing a small Texas colonization effort. Both Murphy and Parmele were brothers-in-law of Samuel F. B. Morse, inventor of the telegraph. The prerequisite for joining the colony was membership in the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (Presbyterian Church, U. S. A.). Family names included in the colony membership were Rockwell, Conklin, Parmele, Ludlow, Van Pelt, Kuyrkendall, and Wright.
Mr. and Mrs. Parmele, their two grown daughters, (Bessie and Moddie) and a grandson (Asa) settled around 1872 in southwest Fannin County and established the community of Valley Creek.
During the next eight years, the rest of the Presbyterian colony began arriving via "immigrant train". (Their household effects rode in the front of a railroad car; the living quarters were in the back of the car.) They crossed New York State and traveled into Canada at the Niagara Falls over the Rainbow Bridge. In Canada, they traveled down the north side of the Lake Erie, through Ontario, to Windsor. The train re-entered the United States at Detroit, Michigan and went on to St. Louis, Missouri. The railway ended at Sherman, Texas. Colony members then moved overland by wagons to Bonham and continued on to Valley Creek.
In 1875, the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., was organized in Valley Creek under the guidance of Parmele and with the help of the Presbyterian Board of Home Missions. The congregation of this mission church met in one another's homes or in the community schoolhouse until a church house was built in 1878. The preacher for the small congregation was Mr. DeCosta Howard Dodson. Pastors and ministers for the mission church between the years 1875 and 1883 included the Reverend Mr. Rogers, the Reverend Mr. Van Emon, and the Reverend Mr. Johnson.
In 1880, the Valley Creek community was excluded from the new Fannin county route of the Denison and Southeastern Railroad. Two new towns were created on the line in Fannin county: Trenton and Leonard.
The town of Leonard sprang up quickly. From a population of 50 in 1881, it grew to a population of 350 by 1885. No doubt it was the combination of the growth of Leonard and a storm-damaged church building that brought about the mission Church elders' decision to relocate the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. to Leonard in 1883, and to build a new church structure. The new chosen name was the Leonard Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. The congregation called the Reverend Mr. Johnson to supervise the relocation and rebuilding of the church.
The new church building, another frame structure, was built in 1883 on the northeast corner lot of Houston and Main Streets in Leonard. (This is north of the present-day First United Methodist Church.) This was the first church building erected in the new town of Leonard.
The Leonard Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., grew as Leonard grew. From a small mission church began by a familial Presbyterian colony the membership now stood at 50.
During this period, four men served the congregation as its Teaching Elder (church minister): the Reverend Mr. Johnson, the Reverend Mr. S. P. Ulrich, the Reverend Mr. Lampton, and the Reverend Dr. DeCosta H. Dodson.
Between 1883 and 1905, Dr. Dodson became well-known in the North Texas area as both a pastor and as a Christian educator. His influence upon the educational system of Leonard was great.
The Cumberland Presbyterian Church had organized a church in the Grove Hill community of Leonard following the Civil War, around 1870. Their membership began to decrease as members moved closer to Leonard. On October 15, 1905, the Grove Hill Cumberland Presbyterian Church and the Leonard Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., were united by a joint action of the church's Sessions. This union took place under the leadership of the Reverend Dr. DeCoasta H. Dodson, pastor of the Leonard church, and the Reverend Dr. Kirkpatrick, pastor of the Cumberland church. Elder's representing the U.S. A. church were A. L. Melton, James Sheils, J. R. Wilson, and J. J. Conklin. Elders representing the Cumberland church were W. E. Cox, J. C. Christian, F. P. Wilson, and H.C. Mitchell. The name, First Presbyterian Church, was selected by the Sessions. The Reverend Mr. N. F. Grafton accepted the congregation's pastor's call. The combined membership of the church was 100.
The frame structure used by the Cumberland Presbyterian Church was built by Dr. DeCosta Dodson in 1898 and is the church's current location at the northeast corner of Connett and Thomas Streets. The structure of the U.S.A. church was torn down; the materials were salvaged to build a manse east of the church. The N. F. Grafton family soon built a personal family home on the large lot due north of the current Billy Grimes home on Parmele Street. The manse was let to various families until it was razed in 1958 to provide space for a parking lot.
Pastors and ministers during the period 1905-1958 include the Reverend Mr. N. F. Grafton, the Reverend Mr. U. C. Howard, the Reverend Mr. E. E. Diggs, the Reverend Mr. C. W. Yates, the Reverend Mr. C. C. Hines, the Reverend Mr. L. S. Markham, the Reverend Mr. A. A. Hyde, the Reverend Mr. J. W. Joiner, the Reverend Mr. A. C. Evans, the Reverend Mr. Art Ray, the Reverend Mr. Otis D. Swisher, and the Reverend Mr. Howard Holland. Reverend Paul Markham pastors a church in Monroe, Michigan. F. K., son of the early elder F. K. Malendore, an ordained minister, is now retired and living in Prosper, Texas.
In the early 1950's, Sunday School and church attendance greatly increased (from 21 to 45), with teenagers and young children in the majority. Consequently, the Session voted to add an educational building on to the northwest end of the church in 1953. Elders at this time were Thomas E. Wright, Pat Wilson, Clarence Weaver, and Sherman Latimer. The Reverend Mr. Howard Holland was pastor. This building continues to be used for church activities, and is greatly enjoyed by various civic groups and clubs for their meetings.
In 1964, a brick manse was built one block west of the church, on Thomas Street. Funds for the building of this home were a gift to the church from a long-time member, Blanche Ferguson Giles (Mrs. Ellis Giles). The original church bell, a part of the mission church at Valley Creek and all generations of the Leonard church, was permanently installed in the west churchyard in loving memory of "Miss Blanche" in 1964. It is rung to announce the Sunday worship services.
The church's name was changed in 1958 to the First United Presbyterian Church to reflect the national union of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of American and the United Presbyterian Church in North America. The denominational name was changed to "The United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America."