Val Verde County Historical Commission
Southwest Texas Junior College, Del Rio, Texas 78840
(830) 703-1554; email@example.com
One of the oldest congregations in Del Rio, Texas is that of the Methodist Church, now located in a chapel on Spring Street. Methodist ministers and missionaries visited the small San Felipe Del Rio community during the 1870s and early 1880s. Andrew Jackson Potter, visiting in 1872, may have been the first preacher in the village. In 1881, the community was placed under the supervision of San Antonio’s Methodist clergy. The origins of the congregation date back to September 23, 1882, before the creation of Val Verde County or the incorporation of the City of Del Rio, but just after the completion of the railroad link from San Antonio and the dramatic population growth of the town. The six members of record creating the congregation were Randolph Pafford, J. Lyman Bailey, William M. Bailey, Sarah Bailey, Rosalie Roberts, and William G. Hancock.1
Figure 1: The original wooden chapel faced the rising sun across Cemetery Street. Reordan, page 7.”
In the earliest days, church meetings were held in the homes of the gowning numbers of members. In 1883, Pafford donated a town lot and $500 for construction costs to the church, and in 1884, a wooden structure was erected on Cemetery Street (now Pecan Street) on the northern edge of town (now part of downtown). Membership numbers vary some; different pastors generally reported growth in the congregation during the 1880s, but some noted that some members lived far away from Del Rio and some across the Rio Grande in Mexico. Smallpox and measles outbreaks also reduced meeting attendance through the turn of the century.2
The first stone chapel was constructed by John Taini in 1903-1904. The stone was contributed by members George and Harriet Brown from Maverick County. While no longer occupied or own by the congregation, this building is still standing on Pecan Street across from the county courthouse square. (The parsonage, built 1901 just south of the stone chapel, has long disappeared.) The stone chapel served as a home for the congregation for a quarter-century.3
Figure 2: The old stone chapel is vacant but still standing on Pecan Street. Del Rio News-Herald.
During 1917, the congregation had grown to slightly greater than three hundred. Church members opened their homes to soldier trainees stationed at Del Rio’s Camp Michie. The chapel was also used for Episcopalian Church services, though the exact dates of shared use are unclear. Continued growth in the church prompted discussions of a new chapel. Action began in 1927. A tract on Spring Street, once a cemetery and located a few blocks north and east of the old rock chapel, was purchased. Graves were relocated, although it is said that some were never moved.4
The first Methodist services in the new, much larger facility were held May 31, 1931. (The Episcopal congregation continued to meet in the Pecan Street stone chapel into the 1940s.) The building is spectacular in size and trimmings, and very expensive. The $80,000 note was not paid off until 1942. But the larger size was very much needed, as the congregation had more than doubled to over seven hundred between the world wars. After the Second World War, the congregation bought adjacent properties to expand services: Education Building, Vacation Bible School facilities, a new parsonage, and expanded parking. With the growth of the city and the opening of Laughlin Air Force Base, the 1960s congregation grew into the nine hundreds.5
Figure 3: The Aleppo pine tree shown in this postcard image (and its mate on the other side of the main entrance) grew taller than the chapel half a century later. Author's collection.
In 1968, the Methodist Church and Evangelical United Brethren Church merged into the United Methodist Church. The church promoted missions and charitable work after Hurricane Camille and abroad in Mexico and Liberia. Locally, the Church provided services in the rural, Val Verde County community of Pandale, the Del Rio Nursing Home, and with the Spanish-language Methodist congregation, now named El Principe de Paz.6
The Church continues to be active in the community. The Church sponsors Boy Scout programs, presents cantatas during the Christmas and Easter seasons, and during the summer school break, Vacation Bible School. The Church hosts a pre-school, has been selected to participate in the Wesley Nurse Program, and hosts the Angel Food Ministries. Del Rio’s Methodists continue to support mission work locally and abroad.
One-hundred and twenty-five years have passed since the founding of the Methodist congregation in Del Rio. The First United Methodist Church and Val Verde County Historical Commission are ready to place a historical marker as the Church begins its second 125 years.
Morgann Berg, “Cemetery Street Methodist Church of Del Rio,” 2003. This is a research paper submitted for American History class. The information noted here is footnoted as John Foster (of the family noted in “Mason-Foster House” historical marker) to Berg, interview on October 27, 2003.
Noreen Davis, “Methodists Celebrate Century in Del Rio,” Del Rio Guide, September 1982, pages 30-32.
Jewel Dean Reordan, The History of First United Methodist Church, Del Rio, Texas, 1882-1982, privately published, 1982.
1 Noreen Davis, “Methodists Celebrate Century in Del Rio,” Del Rio Guide, September 1982, pages 30-31; Jewel Dean Reordan, The History of First United Methodist Church, Del Rio, Texas, 1882-1982, pages 3-4. A Mexican, Spanish-language Methodist congregation started in the Mexican neighborhood of San Felipe in 1878 and was the first organized congregation in the community. Its lay pastor came from Mexico and maintained ties to the Methodism from that country.
2 Reordan, pages 6, 8, 10, 14.
3 Reordan, pages 15,
4 Reordan, pages 18-20, 22, 25-26; Morgann Berg, “Cemetery Street Methodist Church of Del Rio.”
5 Reordan, pages 26, 32-39; Berg.
6 Reordan, pages 40-43.