A History of Faith - First United Methodist Church
The History of the Methodist Church in Augusta, Arkansas
By Anne Eldridge
History of the Augusta Methodist Church by Mrs. John B. Kittrell, Sr.
Woodruff County Historical Society – Mrs. John B. Kittrell, Sr.
The Louisiana Purchase of 1803 opened new territory and settlers slowly began moving into Arkansas. In 1820, the first white man by the name of Hamilton landed at Chickasaw Crossing. A couple of years later, Rollo Gray arrived with his family. (His five sons started a sawmill at The Point (Gregory). Other settlers soon arrived: The Gray family, John Dennis, George Hatch, Samuel Taylor (Taylor’s Bay) Major John Roddy, and John Teague who married an Indian maiden of the Chickasaw tribe.
Another one of the permanent residents to the area became the Founding Father of Augusta. Thomas Hough was attracted to the area and purchase several plots of land. As the trading post grew, it was he that laid out the streets and blocks. In 1848, Augusta was established and officially became a town -- named for his favorite niece, Augusta Cald of Virginia. To entice his wife to leave her Maryland home, Thomas Hough had to promise her two things: a place of worship and a school.
Hough was instrumental in the history of the Methodist Church in Augusta. Early in the 1850’s, Mr. Hough built a two-story frame edifice at a cost of about $6,000 and donated it to religious denominations. The Masonic fraternity and the Knights and the Ladies of Honor used the upper floor as a lodge hall. The lower story was to be used for a church.
In 1854, the church was dedicated for religious services by Reverend Joshua F. Green, a Presbyterian minister in Little Rock. The denominations that occupied it were the Methodists and the Presbyterians. Over time, the Methodists became the sole owners. During the month of July 1889, the upper story was removed, the lower floor was elevated, and the entire building was remolded. This Methodist church was the first church building in what is now Woodruff County.
In 1909 the Methodist Church built a new building on the same site at a cost of $12,000. The stained-glass windows were gifts from church members or church organizations: The triple window was in memory of B. B. and Eliza Conner. On the south were two windows donated by the Penn and E.H Conner families. On the east side was the Hamlet window. The bell of the church is very old and has a long history. It was a gift of Mr. Thomas Hough for the very 1st Methodist church and has been kept in use ever since. The bell is said to contain the silver from 250 silver dollars that were thrown into the molten metal while at the factory. All the furnishings were paid by the Ladies’ Aid organization led by Mrs. Laura Conner. The organ was a gift of Mrs. Minnie Bonner in memory of her brother, J.L. Conner.
On February 11, 1934, a fire started during the Sunday School Hour. There was a faint odor of smoke, and word was quickly passed that there was a fire in the basement. The children were marched out rapidly. The basement was so full of smoke, it was impossible to tell where the fire started. At 11:00 a.m., a blaze broke out in the vaulting of the church. The fire grew greater and greater. A beautiful stained-glass window was smashed with bricks to let the fire hose inside, but it was useless. The Methodist Church was lost. In a circle around the fire stood six or eight hundred people grieving at the city’s loss. The roaring flames inside the church lit up the beautiful stained-glass windows so that they could see them for the last time. Faces turned away as the glass cracked and crumbled and crashed to the ground. Finally, the roof caved in and then walls tumbled with thundering crash. When it was over, all that was left was the belfry tower and a jagged portion of the wall.
On February 18, 1934, the Board of Trustees passed a resolution to initiate plans for a new church. It was dedicated on September 12, 1937. The first service was held on January 20, 1935, eighteen months before it was dedicated. This church still stands. In the early 1960s, an addition to the church was built to accommodate the growing Children’s Sunday School classes.
The History of the Methodist Church began in the 1850’s. It is our hope that its history will never reach finality.