The first official record of sending a preacher to Jefferson was in 1844. The East Texas Conference sent the Rev. James Baldridge to Jefferson. By the next year, 1845, the conference recognized the fact that a number of churches had sprung up in the country surrounding Jefferson. As a result, the Jefferson circuit, with the town as the principal church, was organized that year. Thus Jefferson became one of the early established Methodist churches in the independent country, The Republic of Texas.
There is no official account of the Church buildings which existed before 1860. According to the church marker, the first church building was of logs and was later replaced by the “most imposing brick church west of the Mississippi River.” In that year a new brick building was erected on the site of the former church. Much of the work on the building was done by slaves. Mrs. Mamie Tullis recalls hearing one of her family’s former slaves tell how weary he became when her father made him wheel brick and mortar. He said, however, “it was a great honor to work on the Methodist Church.” Considered one of the finest in the State, the church, when completed was a large and commodious brick edifice. It was 90′ x 60′. The height from floor to ceiling was 25′. With an end gallery, capable of holding 150 people, the structure had a seating capacity of between 700 and 800 people. In the elegant steeple, 60 ft. high above the combing in the roof, was the famous bell, still found today in the present sanctuary. The cost of the building and its appointments was $14,000.
The first title to the property on which to build a church was granted in 1848 after Texas was made a state of The United States of America. In 1848, Allen Urquhart sold to the trustees of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, Lot 10 Block 47, on which the present church stands. The sum of money was $100, which was contributed by Mr. Urquhart. Since the Methodist church is recorded in many city records as having been the first in town, construction must have begun on the property shortly after the sale.
Up to 1866 the church only owned lot 10 in Block 47 and owned no parsonage. The charge having recently been erected into a regular station, a parsonage was needed. F.A. Schluter, who owned Lot 11, made the proposition that, if the balance of the membership would raise money enough and purchase Lot 12, the residence of Mrs. Samuel Rocks, to serve as the parsonage, he would make the church a gift of Lot 11 and thus make the church the owner of the entire quarter of Block 47. W.J. Clark, John Penman and others, taking Broth Schluter at his word, went to work and within a week raised the amount of $1,800, purchased the Rooks property, and had their deed on record. Brother Schluter, in pursuance of his own understanding, then executed a deed to Lot 11, vesting the title to the Trustees of the Church.
The most unusual feature of the church was the bell that hung in its steeple. In the year 1854, the Manneley Bell Foundry of Troy, New York, was asked to make for the Methodist Church the first church bell to be used in Jefferson. To secure a silvery tone, the members raised fifteen hundred Mexican silver coins to be melted down and cast in to the bell. J.C. Murphy, a member of the trustees, was selected to carry the dollars on a steamer to New Orleans for shipment to New York. A committee accompanied the cargo in order to be sure that all the silver would be put into the bell. After the foundry had completed its assignment, the bell was brought by water down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to New Orleans, then back to the Mississippi and Red Rivers to Shreveport, LA, and through Caddo Lake and the Big Cypress Bayou to Jefferson. The same bell still hangs above the sanctuary today.
The membership of FUMC Jefferson was diverse from the beginning, with a policy specifically allowing slaves to join the church, even prior to and during the Civil War.
The First Annual Conference of The Methodist Episcopal Church South was in Jefferson in the fall of 1860. This was an exciting time politically, since it was the year of the National Presidential Campaign. The consensus of opinion was that if Lincoln was elected, there would be national division and war. The announcement of his election reached Texas during the Conference. The Conference listed 89 traveling preachers, 241 preachers, and 15,881 members. This conference was noteworthy, as it was held in Jefferson’s fine new church building. The antique presider’s chairs currently used each Sunday morning in our current facility were originally built for use by the Bishop, Assistant, and Secretary of the Annual Conference.
After the Reconstruction Period in 1877, the Methodists in Jefferson were faced with a problem that grew more serious each year. The defects in the church building, which had first caused alarm in 1873 became more and more apparent until they assumed a dangerous and threatening aspect. So great was the deterioration of the building that, in 1883, it was declared to be too dangerous for use. It was necessary to take immediate steps to construct a new building. The old building soon disappeared, and the present structure rose upon the ruins of the old church that year.
The facility built in 1883 has gone through renovations and additions at various times. The present sanctuary is built of cypress wood. The belfry was first crowned by a slender Gothic spire. Some members did not care for the steeple, and their desire for a change was realized after a severe hailstorm in 1917. They replaced the steeple with a dome, which drew more criticism. World War I was in progress, and some members said the dome resembled the German Kaiser’s helmet. In 1970 the dome was replaced with the present spiral steeple.
The interior walls and ceilings are pine. The original windows were plain glass, but in early 1920’s the colored leaded art glass of purple, gold, and green was added. Protective Plexiglas sheets have now been added on the outside to protect the windows. Oak pews are arranged in the best way to afford a good view of the altar. Each row forms a modified semicircle. There is a light downward slant of the floor toward the altar.
On October 22, 1944, the Jefferson Church, which had gone by the name First Methodist since the merger of the Methodist Episcopal Church North, the Methodist Episcopal Church South, and the Methodist Protestant Church in 1939, had its Centennial Celebration. It was an impressive centennial ceremony with Rev. L.W. Nichols, District Superintendent, as the featured speaker.