Val Verde County Historical Commission

Val Verde County Historical Commission

First Baptist Church of Del Rio

Doug Braudaway
Southwest Texas Junior College, 207 Wildcat, Del Rio, Texas 78840
(830) 775-1803, douglas.braudaway@swtjc.cc.tx.us

The first Baptist congregation in Del Rio appears to have been organized in 1887. While there were no pastors or clerks, the eleven members were known to the Rio Grande Association of Baptist General Convention of Texas.1 "Between 1887 and 1890 there were a few Baptists in Del Rio who held religious meetings occasionally."2 But little is recorded about those meetings.

The history of First Baptist Church itself begins in 1896 with the "Railway Chapel Car" which was "sponsored by the American Baptist Sunday School Publication Society of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania."3 Del Rio was a Division Headquarters for the Southern Pacific Railroad and had ample space in the railroad reserve. The Chapel Car, named "Goodwill," was parked somewhere in the yard and attended by Rev. and Mrs. Edwin S. Stucker, who performed missionary work among the railroad men and their families. Local services were held in the car, beginning in May 1896.4

In that same month, on the twentieth, a newly ordained pastor, Frank Marrs, arrived in Del Rio from the Southern Baptist Seminary. Together, Marrs and Stucker organized the first regular services, and Marrs preached his first sermon on May 24, 1896. The church was formally organized with a six charter members, and the Baptists have maintained a regular presence in Del Rio since.5

A 1900 source notes Rev. Marrs and the First Baptist Church held services on first, second, and fourth Sundays only.6 Other Del Rio churches sometimes loaned pastors or priests to nearby rural communities on a monthly basis. First Baptist may have sent Rev. Marrs to Comstock, Langtry, or other small, outlying Val Verde towns on the third Sundays.

The "Goodwill" car must have moved on because the First Baptist history notes that services were held for a time in the county courthouse and in a two-story building on the 500 block of South Main Street (west side) until the Greenwoods (for whom Del Rio's Greenwood Park is named) donated land on the southwest comer of Garfield and Pecan Streets. The Church built an adobe structure on this lot, and used the site until 1917. Sanbom Fire Insurance maps show the structure in 1905 (but not 1900), 1909, and 1917. (The 1917 map shows the structure but without the "Baptist Church" label that appears on the earlier maps.) A Tabernacle was built on nearby Spring Street and used for a time before the congregation returned to the Garfield location in 1925, laying a cornerstone on February 17. The two-story (with full basement), brick and stone structure must have been built at that time. It does not appear on the 1924 map but does on the 1930. The structure at that location remained home to First Baptist until 1960.7

Baptist chapel on Garfield

In 1958 the congregation bought a larger property on Avenue G between First and Second Streets, outside of the old downtown area, in order to construct a new sanctuary.8 While the loss of the old building, which was razed, was a loss of wonderful architecture, "Our present church plant was constructed for a town of 10,000 population and today seeks to serve a city of 25,000 population." Furthermore, the old building was not ADA-handicapped accessible.

"Some of our older members find the steps too steep, therefore, cannot attend .... " Getting caskets out ofthe building was another difficulty during funerals. The Church had purchased two nearby buildings for Sunday school classes, but even so, the facilities were overloaded. Construction at the new site continued through 1959 and was completed in 1960, at which time, First Baptist left for their new home. The congregation continued to grow, and an additional building, on the east side of the new site, was completed in 1975.9

First Baptist reached out to found two other Baptist congregations. In 1946 a missionary effort to the Hispanic neighborhood of Chihuahua (on Ware Street) led to the creation of El Buen Pastor Baptist Church, Old Army barracks from Laughlin Army Air Field were used until a permanent structure was completed in 1954. First Baptist continued its supervision until 1968 when the finances and facilities ownership passed to the new, independent body. In 1979 First Baptist bought five acres of land in the northern reaches of Del Rio on Amistad Boulevard and constructed a new sanctuary, and in 1982 the first services were held. This site became a separate congregation in 1986 as Northside Baptist Church.10

Back on Avenue G, First Baptist continues to serve the Del Rio community. Weddings and funerals, banquets and elder events, and a large, open-air, live-actor Christmas pageant are all staples of Church service. Travelers often worship at First Baptist, pulling off of nearby US Highway 90 on their travels across Texas. In 1996, First Baptist celebrated its centennial, but not all events were so upbeat. Two arson fires have damaged the facilities. One destroyed the construction site of the 1975 addition; this was reparable and repaired. The other tire was started in church offices, and many of the church records were destroyed. As a result, many details of First Baptist history have been lost.11

Nevertheless, the First Baptist Church of Del Rio continues to serve Del Rio, and will continue to do so.

Only one Del Rio church, one Val Verde County church, has been the recipient of a historical marker even though several are more than one-hundred years old. Becky Taylor, of the First Baptist congregation, has wanted to record the history for some time. She got her husband to retrieve and save the cornerstone from the old sanctuary as it was being demolished. That cornerstone is preserved at the new site, but the story behind it and First Baptist has not been presented. It is time to correct that oversight. Members of First Baptist are excited and looking forward to the marker dedication, and the Val Verde County Historical Commission is ready to make it happen.

 

Bibliography-
Pam Benson, "100th Anniversary of the Del Rio-Uvalde Baptist Association, 1903-2003," Del Rio-Uvalde Baptist Association, 1995.
"Brief History of the First Baptist Church, Del Rio, Texas," 100 Years of Faith, flyer for the Centennial services held May 19, 1996. Found in a folder of Mrs. Jerral Taylor of Del Rio. A draft copy of this, also found in the folder, notes that the Church Minutes are the original source material.
"Dedication Service," First Baptist Church, October 30, 1960, meeting agenda. "for God: Today and Tomorrow," a pamphlet dating to the fundraising project to build the Avenue G chapel in about 1960.
H. Muenzenberger, Del Rio, Val Verde County, Texas, privately published by author, 1900.
Sanborn Fire Insurance maps for Del Rio, Texas, 1900, 1905, 1909, 1917, 1924, 1930.
Becky Taylor to DLB, interview on January 2, 2004.
Diana Zertuche, Spirit of Val Verde, privately published, 1985, page 33.

 

Footnotes-
1 Pam Benson, "100th Anniversary of the Del Rio-Uvalde Baptist Association, 1903-2003," Del Rio-Uvalde Baptist Association, 1995, page 70. The Del Rio-Uvalde Baptist Association is the successor to the Ric Grande Association.
2 Draft copy of "Brief History of the First Baptist Church, Del Rio, Texas," 100 Years of Faith, flyer for the Centennial services held May 19, 1996.
3 Draft copy of "Brief History of the First Baptist Church, Del Rio, Texas," 100 Years of Faith.
4 "Brief History of the First Baptist Church, Del Rio, Texas," 100 Years of Faith.
5 "Brief History of the First Baptist Church, Del Rio, Texas," 100 Years of Faith.
6 H. Muenzenberger, Del Rio, Val Verde County, Texas, privately published by author, 1900.
7 "Brief History of the First Baptist Church, Del Rio, Texas," 100 Years of Faith.
"Dedication Service," First Baptist Church, October 30, 1960, meeting agenda; Sanbom Fire Insurance maps for Del Rio, Texas, 1900, 1905, 1909, 1917, 1924, 1930. The "Brief History" draft copy only notes the Main Street location for the two-story building.
8 "for God: Today and Tomorrow," a pamphlet dating to the fundraising project to build the Avenue G chapel in about 1960.
9 "Brief History of the First Baptist Church, Del Rio, Texas," 100 Years of Faith; Becky Taylor to Doug L. Braudaway, interview on January 2, 2004.
10 "Brief History of the First Baptist Church, Del Rio, Texas," 100 Years of Faith. Diana Zertuche, Spirit of Val Verde, privately published, 1985, page 33.
11 Becky Taylor to Doug L. Braudaway, interview on January 2, 2004.

 

Illustrations-
Sanborn Fire Insurance maps from 1900, 1905, 1909, 1917, 1924, and 1930.
Copy of picture postcard ofthe First Baptist Church building at Garfield and Pecan Streets. The photograph probably dates to the 1940s.
Page showing line drawings of church buildings. Taken from "for God: Today and Tomorrow," a pamphlet dating to the fundraising project to build the Avenue G chapel in about 1960.
Two pages showing line drawing ofthe church buildings. Taken from "Together We Build," a pamphlet dating to and for the fundraising project to build the auxiliary (Northside) chapel between 1979 and 1982.

 

Appendix - First Baptist Church of Del Rio Pastors
Rev. Frank Marrs served as pastor from First Baptistís beginnings in 1896 to 1900.
Other pastors have continued to serve Del Rio through the present day:
Rev. Winter Green1900-1911;
Rev. [?] Jenkins1911-1912;
Rev. Winter Green1912-1916;
Rev. IB. Holt1916-1919;
Rev. Thornton Payne1919 (Aug. to Oct.);
Rev. J.M. Jones1919-1922;
Rev. J.T. King1922-1925;
Rev. J.M. Garner1925-1927;
Rev. EE. Dawson1927-1930;
Rev. ].C. Burkett1930-1932;
Rev. L.B. Gilbert1932-1937;
Rev. H.O. Morris1938-1951;
Rev. E.M. Skinner1951-1955;
Rev. C.A. Kennedy1955-1956;
Rev. Milton Bradford1956-1962;
Rev. Joe Watts, Jr.1962-1968;
Rev. Fred M. Wiesen1968-1973;
Rev. Joe Watts, Jr.1973-1986;
Rev. Dudley Bragg1986-1992;
Rev. Robert Michael Eklund1992-1995;
Rev. Earl Dunna retired pastor from San Angelo, served as an interim pastor during the 1996 centennial;
Rev. Michael Freeman1996-present.