Saturday, March 14, 2009

A matter of history

By TOMIE LUNSFORD
Telegram Staff Writer

For more than a century, it's been a house of worship.
And today, the County Line Baptist Church in Rogers will become a state landmark. In a special ceremony, the Texas State Historical Commission plans to designate the site as one of historical significance with one of its familiar roadside markers.
'It's got such a rich history,' said Nancy Kelsey of Belton, the Bell County Historical Commission chair of historical markers. 'And recognition such as this keeps the area's legacy alive.'
County Line Baptist Church celebrated its sesquicentennial, or 150th anniversary, in June of 2006.
'So that makes us about 152 going on 153 this year,' said Ray Tharp, a longtime member of the church who served as interim pastor in 2005. Tharp and his wife, Dixie, prepared the application and essay for the state marker. The retired educators started their research in 2006 and took about a year to complete it.
'Final approval for the marker came at the end of last year,' Tharp said. 'We would have had the dedication ceremony earlier, but we wanted to wait for warmer weather.'
He plans to speak at today's program alongside representatives from the state and county historical commissions.
'One of the most interesting things about the church is how it started,' Tharp said.
Early meetings took place on the property of John Robert Craddock, an area man who fought in the Texas Battle of San Jacinto. That area is at the intersection of County Line Road and FM 2184, about five miles southwest of Rogers.
'Craddock is one of 10 San Jacinto veterans buried in Bell County,' said Stephanie Turnham, curator of the Bell County Museum.
In his life, Craddock was very influential, Tharp said in his essay, because of his station in the Republic of Texas Army and his position in society.
'He was married to Amanda Childers,' he said. 'She was the daughter of Goldsby Childers - the man who's known for settling the Bell/Milam County territory.'
According to church records, that territory, which became the property of Craddock and Childers' daughter, was on the bank of Littler River, downstream at its lowest point on the present-day county line between Bell and Milam Counties.
Scholar George Tyler verifies these claims in his 1936 book 'The History of Bell County.'
Craddock's marriage to Miss Childers took place in 1840. Informal meetings of County Line Baptist Church started taking place on the couple's property that year as well, though then it was under the name of Eanon church.
'Eanon is a Greek word that means 'spring' or 'near water,'' Mrs. Tharp said. 'And since they were by Little River, it fit.'
Official church organization didn't take place until 1856. Its name changed to County Line in 1868 after the Civil War took place and new leadership came into play.
Craddock was involved in much of the church's early life. He served as a delegate from the Eanon church to the Little River Baptist Association's annual meetings in 1856 and 1857, and County Line met on Craddock's property until 1897, six years after his death. His wife died in 1900.
In 1897, County Line relocated to its present site in the Joe Lee community, near the Reed and McLean cemeteries. The land was donated by Will and Tilda Hunt.
'And that's not too far away from the Craddock place,' Tharp said. 'The site of the Craddock ranch is about two miles southeast of the present site.'
The original structure of County Line Baptist Church no longer exists. Fire destroyed it and several of the buildings that followed. The current structure is more than 20 years old, though several portions of it have been replaced and remodeled.
'So as the church gets its marker, it will be set off as something very special,' Ms. Turnham said. 'And from this point on, we will all be able to appreciate its heritage and history.'
The small County Line congregation of 35 knows this, even though it lacks a full-time, permanent pastor.
'We're reaching an important milestone,' said member Mavis Salladay. 'We're one of the oldest churches around.'

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