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Church History of First United Methodist Church of Belton
 

The Methodist church in Belton was first organized in 1850, 74 years after the American Revolution and five years after the Republic of Texas was admitted to the United States as the 28th state. It was a circuit of the Georgetown Mission of the Methodist Episcopal Church South and met for worship in a grove of trees. That same year Bell County was established with Nolandsville (or Nolands Spring) as the county seat. Within two years the county seat would be renamed Belton. Settlers began to move into the area that is now Bell County early in the 1830’s, indeed there were 8 families living in what would become Bell County by 1832. The Texas Revolution in 1836 caused a great dislocation of people and hostile Indians drove out all settlers around 1837. By the early 1840’s settlers began to return and population increased, probably helped by annexation and statehood in 1846.

The first petition to establish a county out of Milam County to be called Clear Water County was ignored in Austin, but two years later a second petition – this time asking that the county be named Bell County after then Governor Bell – succeeded and Bell County came into being in 1850. The city fathers of the new county seat provided for the development of churches, setting aside lot 3 of block 16 for a Methodist Church on Pearl Street.

The Cumberland Presbyterian Church was completed in 1854 near the site where our present building is now located and allowed the Methodist Congregation to meet there once a month until our first building was completed. The first church building was of native stone and hewn cedar begun in the late 1850’s and completed in the early 1860’s.

The civil war affected Belton and our church resulting in no pastoral appointments for the years 1859 through 1865. After the war Belton and our church began to develop.

Apparently our little city was known outside of Texas, because a group of merchants from New York City gave a steeple bell to our church in honor of Dr. John Embree in the early 1870’s.
 
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By 1884 the congregation outgrew the original church building and the present site on East and Third Avenue was selected.  The present building was completed in 1886.  The steeple bell was moved to the new site where it continues to call worshipers to services each Sunday morning.  The new church was so impressive as it sat on a high point in the city it was referred to as “The Cathedral Church of the Northwest Conference” by Bishop Joseph S. Key in 1889 when the annual conference was held in Belton.

 

In addition to the bell which was part of the original church building, we also still have the original silver plated baptismal font and the first communion set, consisting of a silver plated pitcher and two chalices engraved with MECS (Methodist Episcopal Church, South).
 
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 At that time, the tower below the steeple was about 16 feet higher than it is today, there were metal sculptures atop the 14 pilasters that were thought to be stylized crosses and the front steps went directly down to East Street with no shelter outside the front door.  Inside, the original pulpit was on the south side and there was no balcony.  An internal pair of stairs at the West end led from the sanctuary to the basement. 
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The two chalices were needed to serve both men and women because it was customary for them to sit on opposite sides of the church.
 
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The original pulpit chairs were rescued from the dump and restored by Mrs. Winnie Lewis.

The first remodeling was done in 1894 when the pulpit was moved to the east end and pews turned 90 to face the altar and a large stained glass window in the east wall. Considering the design of the church this may have been a planned development from the very beginning.

The next big change was the installation of the Pilcher water powered tracker action organ.

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This was a product of Henry Pilcher and Sons of Louisville, Kentucky. Mr. Pilcher emigrated from England in 1832 to New York, then Chicago and finally to Louisville. The Pilcher company was bought out in 1944 by M.P. Miller of Hagerstown, Maryland where detailed specifications of our organ were available as late as 1963. The east window was now obscured by the array of organ pipes. A narrow, winding, dark stairway led from the basement up through the organ cabinet so that the choir could enter the choir loft directly from the basement. The cost of the original organ was $4,000.00. Its present value is over $250,000. The hydraulic power system was soon replaced by an electric motor.

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A major renovation took place in 1925. The timbers of the upper tower had to be removed and the structure shortened by 16 feet. A dome covered the tower until the present steel and fiberglass steeple could be built The metal sculptures on the 14 pilasters were discarded due to their poor condition.
The original windows were Gothic stained glass, but after 39 years of service, they had to be replaced with Florentine glass, which was painted green in 1936 to reduce the light.  The window behind the organ in the original East wall of the sanctuary is made from this glass.  The front steps were changed to the present design with a roof shelter added at the front door.
 
 
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Inside the sanctuary, a balcony was added and the internal stairs to the basement were removed and replaced by new stairs to provide access to the balcony.  Originally the basement was one large room with columns supporting the sanctuary floor with the Pastor’s study in the South East corner.  The 1925 renovation added folding wall sections between the columns.
 
In 1969, the town room was converted to a “brides room” and new front doors were given in 1970.  The brass rail was added to the balcony.
 
The communion kneeling pads were designed by Edie Sunday based on the side and back window designs.  The needlework was completed by the ladies of the church in 1977.

Some time later, permanent walls were added so that the outer areas could be used for offices and study rooms. The first church kitchen was in the north east corner and is now used for custodial supplies.

The next renovation took place in 1938 when the church was painted, hardwood floors installed and the choir and chancel area updated to the present configuration.

In 1950, we celebrated the centennial year of the church’s organization. The church members decided that stained glass windows would add to the beauty and dignity of the sanctuary. The Black Art Glass Company of San Antonio drew symbolic designs specifically for this sanctuary. In the Gothic Arch of each window, a different symbol is set in a ruby design of the quarterfoil and square, emblematic of the gospel of the four apostles. The same designs and symbols were incorporated into the kneeling cushions at the altar rail. In 1985, protective coverings were installed over the stained glass windows.

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Gothic hanging lanterns and matching dome lights under the balcony were added along with concealed lighting for the choir and pulpit.  Carpeting was laid in the aisles, the rostrum and in front of the chancel.
 

The choir loft was revamped by the installation of 23 theater type seats.

By 1954 the organ needed extensive repair. Otto Hoffman of San Antonio was called in to rebuild and enlarge the organ. It was fully electrified and some new functional pipes were installed behind the old organ pipe facade. Panel doors were added to the front of the organ expansion to permit listener viewing, a feature usually seen only on older European organs. According to Mr. Hoffmann, materials and construction of this organ was of such that it would last for centuries given proper care.

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 The wooden baptismal font is in memory of Dr. and Mrs. H.C. Ghent.
 
 
 
 
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 The altar table is in memory of
Mattie Lee Holman

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The education building was begun in 1948 and consisted of surplus military buildings from Fort Hood.  It was assembled in a “l” shape starting at the South East corner of the church extending East and then back North to the present building line.
The inside of the “L” at the back of the church was left open until 1960 when it was filled in to form the Fellowship Hall, the Kitchen and the Study rooms on the second floor.
 
 
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East of the education building (left in the picture) was the parsonage that was built in 1907 which was used until 1958 when a new parsonage was built at Downing and Hastings Road.
This aerial view also shows the “L” shaped education building before it was filled in to form the Fellowship Hall, Kitchen, etc. as seen in the recent photo above.  Notice the dome on top of the tower on the right where the steeple used to be.  

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In 1974, a parking lot area was leased from Santa Fe for $1.00 per year and made available for sale.  A financial campaign was conducted to raise the $24,000.00, and the transfer was completed in the spring of 1975.

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The old parsonage was used as the youth center from 1958 to 1985 when it was replaced by the Family Life Center which was begun and completed in 1986. Here are some pictures of the ground-breaking ceremonies and the dedication plaque.    

 
There are two historical markers on our church.
 One was placed there in 1978 as a Recorded Texas Historic Landmark.
 
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The Bell County Sesquicentennial Committee plans to bury a Time Capsule with artifacts to be opened in one hundred years – be we Methodists, thanks to our ancestors, have a wonderful artifact here in our church, and it is to honor those farsighted Methodists who served here in years past, that we dedicate this Methodist Historical Marker today.

 

  1. To the original members whose offerings and labor built the church originally….
  2. To the citizens who placed the Bell which still rings every Sunday..
  3. To the members who placed the Organ that fills our sanctuary with beautiful music – and those who have provided its’ upkeep through the years…
  4. To the families who placed the beautiful windows and the kneeling pillows…
  5. To the members who furnished the original Communion service and baptismal font….
  6. To the members who have furnished the various altar furnishings….
  7. To all the members through the years who have sung in the choir….
  8. To those who have contributed all the song books and choir robes…
  9. To those who have supported the many mission programs…
  10. To all the Pastors who have served here over the 150 years…..
  11. To all the present members who have pledged to carry on…..
  12. To the future generations who will serve here in the traditions so well established 150 years ago.

 

 Closing Prayer

To quote from the Centennial Celebration of the church:

 

“May those who follow after us have the same courageous leadership

 as we of the first century have had, never forgetting that God still rules the Universe and honors the labor of those who serve him.”