The history of San Jacinto County dates back to Stephen F. Austin’s first colony, although the first establishment of our county took place in 1870, when parts of Polk, Walker, Montgomery and Liberty counties were combined to form San Jacinto County. Austin’s colony extended to the Trinity River watershed, roughly along Texas 156 toward Point Blank. After receiving a commission from the Mexican government to settle this area, Joseph Vehlein, a German immigrant to Mexico, deeded 640 acrs to Robert Rankin, an American Revolutionary officer and an ancestor of our old families. This acreage included the site of Coldspring.
Frederick Rankin, a son of Robert and one of Austin’s “300”, was a personal friend and Indian agent of Sam Houston. He and his wife, Elizabeth, were also pioneer Methodists. In 1848, they gave 3.25 acres for the establishment of Coldspring Methodist Church. This gift of land predates the actual settlement of Cold Springs (old spelling), which did not begin until about 1850. In 1948, there existed only a trading post called “Coonskin”, later “Fireman’s Hill” nearby. The Rankin’s gift included some houses already on the property. Likely, the houses were the first meeting place for the small congregation.
The sanctuary, which is still used today, was erected in 1858. No significant structural changes were made, though at various times, there were such additions as a two-story Sunday School Annex, built in 1939, a partial brick facade and siding. The pulpit was modernized and the central partition separating slaves and the white congregation was removed.
According to the Quarterly Conference Minutes of the Coldspring Circuit, the charge included Waverly, Hickory Grove (now Evergreen), Shocklee’s Chapel (near what later became Oakhurst), Mount Zion (later Stephens Creek) and Coldspring. This was a formidable distance for a pastor to cover and truly in the tradition of John Wesley. Quarterly Conferences were not the relaxed meetings of today, but most had been rather inquisitorial with sixteen questions such as: “How many were received?”, “How many expelled?”.
The Civil War and its effect are recorded in these Minutes also. The January, 1862 report notes that Bro. C. H. Brooks left to serve as Chaplain of Elmore’s Regiment. In May, 1863, the church’s spiritual condition was reported to be “tolerable”.
The bell, which still calls us to worship every Sunday, is believed to be original to the 1858 building.
A Union Sunday School was organized shortly after 1878 “owing to the commencement of a Sunday School by the Baptists”. Also, in 1878, an organ was placed in the Church. There was some disgruntlement of some members, but on September 22, 1878, Mrs. India Grace played “Jesus, Lover Of My Soul”, as the first hymn. In 1897, the first Women’s Missionary Society of the Church was organized. The President was Mrs. G. I. Turnley. Other charter members were Nora West, Lou Johnson, Erma McClanahan, Annie Haden and Clara Hansbro.
Coldspring had developed into a bustling county seat town by 1915, but disaster struck March 30, 1915 when the wooden courthouse burned, thus removing the economic foundation of the town. Plans for the present courthouse were made (finished in 1918) and the townspeople moved their buildings near the new courthouse. The Church and its parsonages were moved on rollers in 1916. M. D. Trapp, Sr., was one who lent his strong, young back to the task.
Through the years the sanctuary served as a community meeting place. In 1927, gubernatorial candidate Pat M. Neff addressed a capacity crowd there, graduating exercises were held there and a homecoming was held there in 1954.
During the 1960’s, it became glaringly apparent that the Sunday School Annex was totally inadequate, if not actually dangerous, because of its one narrow staircase. The church building would need considerable work as well. A building committee attacked the problem, working long and hard. Once again, as over the organ issue of 1878, the congregation split. Restore or build “a nice modern brick facility?” … that was the question. At one voting, the modernists prevailed by a narrow margin. Fortunately, a procedural error was discovered at the District level. A second vote had to be taken. The church would be restored. Fund raising began in earnest. Billie Trapp succeeded in securing $30,000 from the Moody Foundation. A very rare thing because the Moody Foundation did not, as a rule, fund churches. The sanctuary was restored under the professional guidance of an architect and the present education wing was constructed. The attractive decorated glass pattern on the front was made from glass, which had, at one time, been placed into the sanctuary windows. On restoration, clear glass was more appropriate to the 1870’s to which year the restoration was adapted. Dedication ceremonies were held in early 1974 with an overflow standing room only crowd in attendance. “To God Be The Glory”, an old favorite, was the anthem. Some few years later, the congregation was able to burn its paid off promissory note to the local bank for the balance of the restoration and construction costs.
It was in he late 1980’s when the need for more space became apparent due to church growth and numerous outreach programs. A long range planning committee was established and a three acre tract across Byrd Avenue was purchased in 1989. A building committee evolved and a three-phase building plan was designed; Phase 1 being a fellowship hall to include office space and temporary classrooms. Ground breaking for a 7,188 sq ft building was held in the fall of 1993. “Together We Build” was the theme and that truly expressed the attitude of members. Special fund raising and special gifts from numerous supporters allowed the $450,000 building to be paid for in a total of five years. Many years have passed since then. The church rolls reflect growth as new members join the descendants of those pioneers who were the founding fathers of this church. Once again, we face the need to expand our facility. Whenever final plans are made, once again, we will follow in unity, as we have in the past.
We, the members of this Church, in no way feel that our history is now completed. To those past members who left for us such a rich heritage, we strive to build on it for those who follow us.
by Billie Trapp and Hilde Faulkner