It was in the Old Spring Hill School House some time in the year 1891 that religious services were first held. Rev. W. M. Allen was one of the early ministers to preach in this school house. A Sunday School was also held in these beginning years in the school house. The Pine Tree Cumberland Presbyterian Church sponsored these services. For a number of years the Pastor of the Pine Tree Church, when he would come to fill his monthly appointment, would preach in the afternoon at this school house. Slowly but surely this school house came to be the religious center of the community, even though most of the church members of the community belonged to the Pine Tree Church. Following is some of the minutes of the Pine Tree Church:
February, 14, 1894. Collection taken at Spring Hill for Home Missions amounted to $2.60.
May 6, 1894. Collection taken at Spring Hill School House for Education of Young Ministers amounted to $1.80.
The Pine Tree Church Session met at Spring Hill on the first Sunday in April 1895 at two o'clock. (The subject under discussion was the church members who had been dancing.) The members agreed to see all of the members of the church who had been dancing by next regular appointment.
Collection taken up at Spring Hill for Foreign Missions on the second Sunday in October 1895 amounted to $3.25.
Pine Tree Session, July 5, 1895. On motion there was
a Revival Meeting appointed to held at Spring Hill commencing
Friday before the third Sabbath in July. (Ministers to be asked to hold this meeting were Bro. E. H. Keasler and Dr. Henrick of
Pine Tree Session, October 28, 1897, met in home of Bun E. Rodden. The purpose of this meeting was to separate Pine Tree and Spring Hill and make two distinct churches and to change the name of Spring Hill to Elmira Chapel, a division agreed upon by the elders, distance between the churches about 3 ½ miles.
The above paragraph gives us the first step in the organization of Elmira Chapel Church, but it was not until the spring of 1898 that the church was officially organized and duly constituted as a Cumberland Presbyterian Church. (for the procedure of organizing a church, one should read the "Confession of Faith," page 87.)
From the minutes of the Marshall Presbytery of July 1-2, 1898, is the following statement:
The organization of Elmira Chapel congregation, ordered at the last Presbytery, was reported, and its representative, Elder J.A. Callaway, appeared and took his seat.
Thus far, it has been impossible to locate the minutes of the Spring meeting of Marshall Presbytery for April 1898, which would no doubt help us to establish the date. We do, however, have a letter from the first pastor of Elmira Chapel written last year, shortly after he and wife celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary at Manitou Beach, Winslow, Washington.
We give to you in the following paragraphs the portion of the letter of Rev. J. M.Robinson which throws light on the beginning of the church.
"I took charge of the Pine
Tree Church the first of September, 1896. The Spring Hill
Community was conducting a Sunday
School under the leadership of J. W. Lawrence, who asked me to assist by teaching the Bible Class, and preaching a short sermon each Sunday. We met at three p m each Sunday. About the middle of October we started a prayer meeting which grew very rapidly. The Spring Hill building was terribly dilapidated. So we began to talk about better quarters. The Public school was conducted in this building. Elder James Castleberry gave the lumber and nails, and the community did the work, in the spring of 1897.
"The purpose of the building was two-fold; the first floor was for church purposes, the second for the public school. We finished the building and moved in the First of September, 1897. Then came the agitation for separation from Pine Tree and the Session Meeting at the home of Bun E. Rodden. But for some reason we postponed action. There was no friction.
"But here comes another story. Mr. James Castleberry and I were driving to Moss Lake. I told him of my coming marriage the third of November 1897. His answer was "you will need a place to live". He then said, "there are 33 acres plus between my place and John Callaway's. I'll deed that to the church and furnish the lumber and nails for a 5-room manse", which he did. We moved into the manse the last of March 1898. Mrs. Elmira Castleberry passed away, and I suggested that we call the church Elmira Chapel as a memorial to her, which was adopted. Mr. James Castleberry told the people that he was ready to make out the deed for the property but there was no organization. I called a meeting the next Sunday for the purpose of organizing Elmira Chapel Church. Quite a number entered into the organization and we elected the following elders: James Castleberry, John Callaway, Richard Castleberry, and Ollie Callaway, who was elected session clerk. Up to the time of the organization we were under the Pine Tree session. Sorry that I cannot give you the exact date of the organization.
We shall always treasure the happy days of remembrance of the good people of Elmira Chapel. May all of you enjoy the Christian wealth, as recorded by Paul. Read I Cor. 3:21, 23. Our prayers are that God will make you a power for good in your individual and collective life.
J. M. Robinson
From the best information which can be secured, it seems that Elmira Chapel Church was organized with about forty-five charter members. At the end of the first year the report which appears in the General Assembly Minutes of 1899 gives the number of members as 61 and the number in Sunday School as 42. The value of the church property was listed at $1,000.00 and the amount paid to the pastor for the year was $205.00.
The Church was named Elmira Chapel in honor of Mrs. Elmira Castleberry, the mother of two of the first elders, Mr. R. W. Castleberry and Mr. J. R. Castleberry. Mrs. Elmira Castleberry was a charter member of the Pine Tree Church when it was organized on October 10, 1847, and her name is signed to the Constitution of the Pine Tree Church.
Throughout the years Elmira Chapel has had its ups and downs. There have been periods of indifference on the part of the members to the work of the church. There have been great revivals in the spiritual life and new zeal and enthusiasm in the work of the church.
Probably the lowest ebb in the life of the church occurred in the years from 1905 to 1910 when the Cumberland Presbyterian Denomination as a whole was suffering from the disturbance of an attempted union with the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. It was very difficult to secure ministers in these years. The result was that for more than five years there was no regular pastor. For about two years during this period Rev. W. A. Boone, the pastor of the Marshall Church, would come over and preach on one Thursday night out of the month. There were the faithful few in the church who would hold prayer meetings and carry on the work of the Sunday School.
Beginning with the ministry of Rev. W. R. Harber in 1910 the church made a new start and a new spirit of growth manifested itself. The most rapid growth in the history of the church got underway with the coming of hundreds of new people into the Spring Hill Community as a result of the discovery of oil. The first oil well was brought in on the church property on March 13, 1931. This, in fact, was about the fourth or fifth well to be brought into production in Gregg County.
The church during the past 17 years has had many people to join the church who in a few years would be transferred to other areas by the oil company for which they work.
The present membership of the church is about three hundred. The different departments of the church are well-organized and with the many possibilities of leadership in the membership offer great opportunities for continued growth.
What will the next fifty years in the history of Elmira Chapel be? The members of the church have the answer in the type of church for which they strive. May we be able to say:
"This is the church for which I strive;
The church of the warm heart, of the open
mind, of the adventurous spirit;
The church that cares, that heals hurt lives;
That comforts old people;
That challenges youth;
That knows no division of culture or class,
No frontiers, geographical or social;
The church of the people, high
High as the ideals of Jesus,
Low as the humblest human; a working church,
A worshiping church, a church that
Interprets truth in terms of truth;
That inspires courage for this life
And hope for the life to come;
The church of the living God!"
John Fisher, Mrs. Mollie Fisher, Mrs. Lottie Hunter, Robert McKinley, Miss Kittie McKinley, John T. McKinley, Joe McKinley, Acie Castleberry, Mrs. Willie Castleberry, Mrs. J. R. Castleberry, Mrs. Ida Castleberry, Sanders Callaway, Mrs. Carrie Callaway, Charles McKinley, Mrs. Dumphie McKinley, Ed Fisher, Mrs. Pearl Fisher, Mrs. Belle Rodden, Mrs. James Rodden, James Morris, Mrs. Ada Callaway, Alice Davis, Mrs. Mary Hye, Bessie Hye, Tull Magrill, Mrs. Maggie Magrill, James Bridges, James L. McKinley, Mrs. Annie McKinley, Mrs. Carrie Robinson, Charles Smith, Mrs. Minnie Briggs, Mrs. Mollie Castleberry, Mrs. Elmira Magrill, Mrs. Mary Morris, Mrs. Cora Denson, M. G. B. Morris, Mrs. Annie Fisher, Mrs. Annie Eliza Lee, Mrs. Alice Magrill, H. D. Magrill, Tom Briggs, Mrs. Ivy Briggs, Mrs. Evie Walker, Claude Walker, Mrs. Susan Graham, William Broadway, Elizabeth Darthula Rodden, Fannie Elizabeth Broadway, Warren Eleazar Hunter, Collie Alexander Magrill, Mary Castleberry, Ottie Hye, Etta Hunter, and Ike Denson. The four elders elected who were charter members of the church were: R. W. Castleberry, J. A. Callaway, J. R. Castleberry and Ollie Callaway. (In all probability the record handed down of the charter members in incomplete.)
"The preaching of the word being an institution of God for the salvation of man, great attention should be paid to the manner of performing it. Each minister ought to give diligent application to it, and endeavor to prove himself a workman that needeth not be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth."--Confession of Faith, Page 148.
The following men have served as ministers of the preached word:
"Ruling elders, the immediate representatives of the people, are chosen by them, that, in conjunction with the ministers, they may exercise government and discipline, and take the oversight of the spiritual interests of the particular church, and also of the Church generally . . . Those who fill this office ought to be blameless in life and sound in the faith; they should be men of wisdom and discretion, and by the holiness of their work and conversation should be examples to the flock." Confession of Faith, Page 91.
The following are the names and the dates of the ordination of the elders who have served this church:
R. W. Castleberry (Ordained at Pine Tree) 1872
J. A. Callaway (Ordained at Pine Tree) 1888
J. R. Castleberry (Ordained at Pine Tree) 1888
Ollie Callaway August 28, 1898
C. W. Simpson July 1910
J. H. Alexander July 1910
W. I. Denson May 1912
Ernest Holland May 1912
G. A. Castleberry May 1912
Dennis Magrill June 30, 1918
Bob McKinley June 30, 1918
S. C. Rundell Dec 21, 1930
R. K. Johnson May 7, 1933
Minos B. Harley Feb 21, 1943
Louie L. Williamson May 19, 1946
Walter C. McGrede May 19, 1946
(The last nine men listed constitute the present board of elders with the exception of Mr. McKinley, who is now an elder in the Marshall church.)
The following men have served as deacons in this church:
R. K. Johnson
(There is now no board of deacons and the elders carry forward the work of the deacons in looking after the financial and material affairs of the church.)
The following elders have served as clerk of the church session:
Ollie Callaway 1896 - 1906
J. H. Alexander 1910 - 1930
G. A. Castleberry (has served as clerk since 1930)
The Sunday School has played an important part in the growth of the church. Here has been laid the foundation for 90 per cent of the church membership.
Since the organization of the church the following men have served as Superintendent of the Sunday School:
Ollie Callaway, R. W. Castleberry, Will Lamb, J. H. Alexander, Dennis Magrill, W. L. Bussy, S. C. Rundell,and Minos Harley.
There may be others whose names we do not have.
Mrs. Minos Harley is the present Superintendent and the total Sunday School enrollment is 220.
The Ladies' Missionary Society was organized with five members on October 13, 1900. During the years the missionary society has provided instruction in the great work of foreign missions, as well as directing the efforts of the women of this congregation in the support of our denominational work. There are 34 members of the missionary society at present with Mrs. Horace Rogers as the president.
Elmira Chapel has three young people's societies which are providing instruction and training for the church workers of the future. Three age groups take care of our children, intermediates and young people. The leaders of these groups are Mrs. Kelsie Matthews, Mrs. Johnnie McGaha and Mr. and Mrs. Willie Pritchett.
Last year, for the seventh year, the church sponsored a Vacation Bible School. One hundred twenty-eight boys and girls were enrolled. More than forty young people and adult workers helped to make this school a great success. Mrs. L. L. Thomas was the Superintendent of this school.
With the building of the Educational Building in 1933, the Elmira Chapel increased its facilities for instruction and fellowship. Since this time the church has provided many means by which people have enjoyed Christian Fellowship. This building has been the scene of many happy evenings, as many groups have enjoyed an evening of pleasant fellowship--games, dinners, and socials. The church has endeavored to enrich socially the lives of those who receive the benefits of its ministry. To a large degree the social life of the community has centered in this Educational Building.
Many people are so temperamentally constructed the the Ministry of Music is the most stimulating influence in their religious lives. This ministry has, no doubt, led to a greater spiritual development. Many individuals have used their musical talents in ways that have been a blessing to the congregation. When the new brick church was built in 1931, its large auditorium made it possible for the accommodation of the Gregg County Singing Convention. For many years this Convention has held its fall and spring session in the church auditorium. The musical equipment of the church consists of a Hammond Organ, a small Field Organ, a Grand Piano, and two Upright Pianos.
There are hundreds of persons who can testify to the ministry of this church to their needs and the needs of others. The ministry has been both spiritual and material.
With the oil revenue from the ten wells on the church property, it has been possible for the church to render great financial aid to many churches in their building programs. Churches and manses have been built in many areas through the generosity of Elmira Chapel. Even churches of other denominations have received material support in their building program. The different Boards and Agencies of the denomination have been strengthened through the liberal gifts of the church.
The story of the helping hand is revealed through the church records in money given to aid old ministers, to educate young ministers, to promote young peoples' encampments, Boy Scout work, Red Cross work and many other types of Christian work.
The Men's Bible Class has for more than ten years sponsored the Spring Hill Boy Scout Troup. This class sponsored the building on the two Boy Scout cabins. One cabin is now located in the "Big Woods," seven miles from the church. The other cabin is on the church grounds and is used weekly by the scouts in their meetings. The cabin on the church property is also used for social and religious purposes by religious and educational groups. Many boys have been helped by the Scout program. Mr. L. L. Hodges is the Scoutmaster, and has served faithfully in this capacity for the past four years.
For the past two years our church has led the Denomination in the amount given to the Denominational Budget. This support has come from the individual gifts of members of the congregation and not from oil revenue.
No one can fully understand or properly evaluate the helping hand of the church.
Church Directory. c1974
Church Directory. 1976 [2 copies]
Church Directory. 1984.
"Celebrating the Past in the Present Looking to the Future." 1996
No Session Records on deposit.