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Wesley Tabernacle United Methodist Church - Galveston, TX
Posted by: Groundspeak Premium Member jhuoni
N 29° 17.956 W 094° 47.879
15R E 325368 N 3242483
Quick Description: The Reverend Peter Cavanaugh organized the church in 1869 as an independent congregation. On Sunday December 16, 2018 the congregation will celebrate their 150th Anniversary.
Location: Texas, United States
Date Posted: 12/9/2018 1:34:25 PM
Waymark Code: WMZNQ1
Published By: Groundspeak Regular Member Mark1962
Views: 1

Long Description:
1881 Wesley Tabernacle United Methodist Church
2006 by Alecya Gallaway, GCHC Chairperson
Narrative for RTHL application

I. Context

Prior to the Civil War, three Methodist congregations now in the city of Galveston existed as one church. The original was a slave church organized in 1848 by the Methodist Episcopal Church – South, of Galveston. That same year, Gail Borden granted a deed to property on Broadway to the M.E. Church for a slave church. The congregation met in an open meeting area until 1863 when they were able buy the materials to construct a building for themselves. White ministers led the slave congregation. After the Civil War, dissention formed in the church because of the controversy between the M.E. Church – North and the M.E. Church - South. The M.E. Church – North wanted to control the M.E. Church – South, but the slave churches wanted to be in control of their own congregations. The M.E. Church South agreed with the M.E. Slave Churches who chose to become a part of the African Methodist Episcopal Connection. The M.E. Church – South wanted to allow the ex-slave congregations to establish their own A.M.E. churches and filed lawsuits across the southern states. The suits were finally settled in 1866 with the ruling for the M. E. Church – South, and in 1866, the property on Broadway was deeded over to the African Methodist Episcopal Church. In 1867, Houston Reedy was appointed pastor, and the church became known as Reedy Chapel A.M.E., the mother church of the African Methodist Episcopal in Texas. This was also the year that Norris Wright Cuney (1846-1898) settled in Galveston.

Galveston was in the midst of change. Emancipation had completely altered the economic structure of the South. The dawning of Reconstruction brought Federal troops to Galveston to insure the rights of the newly freed slaves. Some African Americans in the Galveston ex-slave M. E. Church – South didn’t feel the need to change over to the Philadelphia based African Methodist Episcopal denomination. Due to the turmoil resulting from the change from Methodist Episcopal to African Methodist Episcopal in 1866, a portion of the congregation separated to organize their own M.E. Church. The new congregation became the St Paul Methodist Episcopal Church. The African American population in Galveston grew steadily after Emancipation and in 1868, the St Paul M.E. congregation split and a small group of worshippers left to form a new M.E. Church-South.

II. Overview

The new congregation formerly organized in late 1868, and secured property on Broadway between 38th and 39th streets. A one-room house was placed on the site to serve as the first church building. On January 21, 1869 the M.E. Texas Conference, in regular session in Austin, with Bishop M. Simpson presiding, appointed Reverend Peter Cavanaugh as pastor to the newly named Wesley Tabernacle Methodist Episcopal Church. The congregation began with only a handful of members including Irvin Claborn, Abe Woods, John McClean, Mrs. Elsie Mosely, Mrs. Esther Ashe, Mrs. Lydia Striltman, Mrs. Louise Valentine, Mrs. Louvenia Cavanaugh, and Mrs. Mary Bland.

In 1870, Galveston was the principal city of Texas with a population of 13,818. African Americans were enjoying the beginnings of a free society. Jobs for African Americans were plentiful and the new Wesley Tabernacle M.E. congregation expanded as the community experienced economic growth. Rev. George Terry succeeded Rev. Cavanaugh, and during his pastorate, the property on the corner of Avenue I (Sealy) and 28th Street was purchased for twelve hundred dollars ($1,200) by trustees including George Ashe, George Terry, Matt McKinney and Wash Green. The one-room house was moved to the new location. As the church grew, more room was needed and in the mid 1870s Trustee George Ashe negotiated the purchase of the 1841 white Presbyterian Church building on 14th Street and had it moved to the Ave I – 28th St. property.

The year 1877 saw the end of Reconstruction in the South, but business and political powers in Galveston still respected and supported Norris Wright Cuney and he was able to hold on to his position as Inspector in the Customs House. The church was under the leadership of Rev. V.M. Cole. During 1879 tragedy struck Wesley Tabernacle when the 1841 church building that had been moved to Ave I, and the new parsonage burned to the ground. Rev. Cole held services under an arbor of brush and saw a foundation poured for a new building before his term ended. Rev. Peter Morgan was assigned to the congregation in 1881.

On November 1, 1881, Trustee E. M. Russel secured a lien from Norris Wright Cuney on the church property (Lot No. one, Block No. 207 in Galveston, Galveston County, Texas) to build a new church building. The cornerstone for the church built in 1881 reads: “Wesley Tabernacle Church laid by Norris W. Cuney, [P.C.M.] Masons Sept 19 AD. 1881, Rev. V.M. Cole, Pastor.” This building is described in the 1889-1894 Sanborn Maps of Galveston as being a one story structure measuring twenty-four feet to the eaves with a sixty-five foot tower, a wood frame building with a wood shingle roof located on Ave. I (Sealy). A wooden one-story parsonage was located next door between the church building and the alley.

The Great Storm of 1900 left the 1881 church structure severely damaged. John Tankersley, a skilled African American builder from Brazoria County was hired to restore the church. Tankersley used all African American carpenters and was the builder of choice for the prosperous African American middleclass in Galveston. As much of the old structure as possible was restored. The repairs were finished in 1901, and in the 1899 – 1906 Sanborn Map of Galveston, the structure is described as being a one-story wooden structure, sixteen feet to the eaves with a forty-foot tower and a shingle roof. The cottage-style church had maintained the same footprint but now had an additional side entrance on 28th Street. The new cornerstone was inscribed on the reverse side of the 1881 cornerstone. It reads: “Wesley Tabernacle M.E. Church, Rev. Wm. Bartley, Pastor, 1901, Trustees, H.D. Hill Chairman, J.E. Washington, T.J. Dyhes, A. Jones, Rev. E. Lee, P.E.”

The period immediately after the 1900 Storm was difficult for African Americans in Galveston. They lost all political influence as oppression steadily grew not only locally, but also across the state of Texas and the South where Jim Crow laws were rampant. In 1905, a city ordinance was passed to segregate the streetcars. There were no public places in Galveston where African Americans could sit next to whites. The growing prejudice did not halt the growth of economic progress in the African American community. Cotton was the driving force of economic growth in the White and African American communities and many of the members of the Wesley Tabernacle congregation were also members of the Cotton Jammer’s Association, the Screwmen’s Benevolent Association No. 2 organized by Norris Wright Cuney.

The liens for the renovations from the 1900 Storm damage were paid in 1907 and the church was rededicated. In 1909, the City Times, the first African American newspaper in Galveston listed the following demographics for the African American community: annual income in salaries, $332,514, over one thousand black men employed at the wharves, seventy-five black-owned businesses, four physicians, four attorneys, twenty-three teachers and administrators and sixteen clergymen. As bigotry and prejudice grew around the state, the lynching of black men became more common. In 1914, the members of Wesley Tabernacle Church organized the first Anti-lynching Society in Texas. African American churches had become the safe harbor for black political growth.

Wesley Tabernacle had become the head of political and cultural events in Galveston. Professor Charles Alexander of Boston was invited to present his poetry lecture, “An Hour with Paul Lawrence Dunbar,” The Order of the Knights and Daughters of Tabor conducted their 28th anniversary Thanksgiving Service at Wesley Tabernacle. The NAACP’s battle against D.W. Griffith’s inflammatory motion picture “Birth of a Nation” that glorified the Klu Klux Klan spread the word about the organization’s fight against discrimination in the South. In 1919, when the NAACP publication, Thirty Years of Lynching in the United States: 1889-1918, was published the Wesley Tabernacle church leadership and members of the congregation had already been involved in promoting the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in Galveston.

The invention of the high-density cotton compress in 1910 began the decline for the need of cotton screwmen, and by the end of World War I, the men coming back from the war had to look to other jobs to maintain their financial stability. Even through the changing times, the prominent congregation at Wesley Tabernacle continued as leaders in the community. In 1922, the pastor, Rev. E.W. Kelly and several church trustees were on the roster when the NAACP had a rally at the Loyal Knights of Progress Hall. One of the main topics was the Dyer anti-lynching bill.

By 1924, the raising of the city after the 1900 Storm reached the Factory District where Wesley Tabernacle M.E. Church was located on the corner of Ave I (Sealy) and 28th Street. The Church was mortgaged and money was raised from the prominent middle and working-class congregation to fund the raising of the building, and to hire the Houston architecture firm of Stowe and Stowe to enlarge the structure and completely redesign the exterior. Henry H. Ladsen was hired as the builder. A ground floor was added changing the building from a one-story cottage-style structure to a two-story church with a basement. The changes were noted in the Sanborn Map of Galveston 1912 - 1964. The building is a larger two-story wood frame brick veneer structure with a basement, and a slate roof. It measures 40’ to the eaves, with a 52’ north bell tower and a 46’ south tower, and the building now has a west orientation. The building’s exterior orientation was changed so that it now faced 28th Street with two entrances. The major alterations to the building were on the first floor and included creating Sunday school classrooms, a kitchen, pastor’s study and new restrooms. On the second floor a larger church nave and chancel (sanctuary) was built with a third floor balcony. The stained glass windows were completely new, all with donor inscriptions inserted in the bottom panels. These stained glass inscription windows unique to Wesley Tabernacle M.E. Church were placed throughout the building with a stained glass picture window placed high in the wall behind the altar with the date (1924) and the name of the pastor, Rev. W.E. Kelly.

After WWII the membership of Wesley Tabernacle M.E. Church increased as more African Americans moved their families to Galveston County where jobs were plentiful in the growing industrial complex at Texas City. The Church grew and prospered as the African American community in Galveston grew with Galveston County’s economy. In 1950, under the leadership of Rev. Adam D. Phelps, Wesley Tabernacle M.E. Church became the third church in Texas to install a Model 10, Baldwin Electric Organ.

The council of Methodist Episcopal Churches underwent changes after World War II, and in 1951 they participated in the formation of the World Methodist Council. In 1960 the Methodist Episcopal and the Evangelical United Brethren joined with seven other Protestant denominations to form the Consultation on Church Union. The churches felt a growing uneasiness about the problems of racism both in the nation and the church. After the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964, many Methodists were disturbed by the manner in which racial segregation was built into the fabric of their denominational structure and by 1968, plans to abolish the Central Jurisdiction were agreed upon and the United Methodist Church was created. The African American and White churches were now joined under one Conference. Shortly after this change in the denomination, in the early 1970s, the Wesley Tabernacle United Methodist Church building interior was repainted, the stained glass windows re-cemented, and air conditioning added.

Since the 1970s, the number of members of the Wesley Tabernacle United Methodist Church congregation have dwindled, but their ministry in the Galveston community has continued as they committed themselves to many programs including help for the economically depressed, leadership for youth as they sponsored Boy Scout troops, and the feeding of the elderly and shut-in population. The congregation has remained strong in their ministries and their determination to keep the exterior of the church building in its original historic condition. Despite the hardship of raising thousands of dollars, in 2004, two new solid mahogany doors, exact replicas of the original 1924 doors, with their stained glass windows refurbished, were built and installed by Pearl Stained Glass & Door Company. Unfortunately the 1924, two-story parsonage on the lot between the church and the alley was declared too deteriorated to restore and was torn down in 2006.

III. Significance

Wesley Tabernacle United Methodist Church was born from the strengths of early freedom. The church located at 902 28th Street in Galveston, Texas, stands as it was originally remodeled during the last grade raising in Galveston after the 1900 Storm. It is one of the most distinctive architectural landmarks of the Factory District. It stands out by virtue of its bracketed corner tower cap and twin, bracketed porch canopies facing 28th St. According to Galveston Historical Foundation architectural historians, “these elements give the building a unique combination of the Craftsman style porches that contrast with the traditional Gothic Revival peaks and flourishes on the church’s roofline”. But to see the true glory of the church, one must take a look at the interior. The unique structural hand-hewn truss work in the ceiling remains as it was renovated after the 1900 Storm. It is oriented east to west and perpendicular to the altar rather than parallel. parallel. The collection of pews and altar furniture that dates back to 1881 gives you a glimpse back in time to see the sanctuary in all of its glory before and after the 1900 Storm. The Wesley Tabernacle UMC is a monument to 157 years of African American Histpry in Galveston.

Active church?: Yes

Year Built: 1924

Service times: Not listed

Website: Not listed

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