First Christian Orange marked by history
First Christian Church in Orange goes back 122 years with history rich enough to earn it a Texas Historical Marker. The marker was dedicated with a service and ceremony in December. The church, affiliated with the Disciples of Christ denomination, is now at 611 Ninth St. at the corner of Cypress Street in a building dedicated in 1954. But the first meeting of the church congregation did not have a permanent building and the Sabine River was used as a baptistery. The church’s history, compiled by Helen Bass in 1985, reports that the congregation started in 1885 with 10 members, some of whom were baptized in the river by the Rev. D.A. Leak. During the next nine years, the church met in different places, including homes of members. The Rev. J.C. Mason formally organized the congregation in November 1894 with the first meeting at the Orange County Courthouse. Also that year, the Rev. and Mrs. A.J. Bush came to Orange to conduct a revival meeting. They were the first superintendent and manager of the Juliet Fowler Home for orphans in Dallas, which is a prominent charitable institution of the Disciples of Christ, Mrs. Bass reported. In December 1894, James B. Seargent and his wife, Sallie, bought property on Ninth and Main streets so First Christian of Orange could have a permanent home. Deed records show the Seargents bought Lot No. 7, Block 23 in the city of Orange from Annette J. Hucker and husband H.C. Hucker. First Christian built a small, wood-frame building on the corner lot with the door facing the corner, Mrs. Bass wrote. Captain and Mrs. I.H. Bettis, pioneer members of the church, bought the bell and the first organ. Captain Bettis, a retired steamboat captain, purchased the bell on one of his last trips to St. Louis, according to Mrs. Bass. A two-story parsonage was built in the back of the church in 1919, and the church was remodeled in 1922 with the entrance opening from a porch on the north side. The same block of land is now being used by the First Church of God in Orange. Besides the Bettises and the Seargents, other pioneer members included Mr. and Mrs. Dawson with daughters Zelma and Flora, and Mrs. A.E. Smith and daughter Elizabeth. Elizabeth Smith married. W.A. Black and their son, William Arthur Black, ran Black’s floral shop in Orange for many years. In the 1940s, the church bought lots on Main Street from George Bancroft to be used for expansion of the Sunday school building. The Rev. John O’Keefe was pastor of the church from 1943 to 1946. But the congregation was growing and members began to plan to build a new church. Land was bought from Mr. and Mrs. V.H. Stark at the corner of Ninth and Cypress. However, Rev. O’Keefe died in 1946 and the drive for a new church building stalled. Still, for several years, the Christian Women’s Missionary Society held many gumbo dinners and spaghetti suppers to raise money for the new building. Mrs. Allie Lock sold her famous pies. Men of the church and the youth also had projects to raise money. The Rev. Ben Turpin became pastor in 1952 and the building drive took off. The building committee included F.L. Butcher as chair, along with R.R. Allen, W.R. Callahan, George D. Craft, and Mrs. C.J. Rollins. The architectural firm of Goleman & Rolfe designed the building and G. Sarge was the construction contractor, Mrs. Bass reported. The new sanctuary was dedicated on March 28, 1954, with Texas Attorney General John Ben Shepherd, a member of University Christian Church in Austin, as one of the speakers. The large window in the sanctuary of Jesus with his arms reaching out was donated by Mr. and Mrs. George Craft. Etta Mae Craft told the story that she announced to her husband that they would donate the window, which cost a $1,000, a lot of money at the time. George agreed and they used all their savings for the window. The church added an education building, which was dedicated Dec. 18, 1960. Adjoining property was bought in 1973 for a fellowship hall, which was dedicated in 1974 and named Keown Hall in honor of Mr. and Mrs. Alvin Keown. The hall was destroyed by fire in January 1981, and rebuilt and rededicated nine months later. More recently, local artist and church member Tom Windham painted murals on the walls of the Sunday school room featuring biblical scenes. Dr. Tim Griffin is the current pastor of the church. During the historical marker ceremony, members Helen Bass, Shirley Burney and Ginger Tubbleville unveiled the marker.