So, where did we get started?
This Texas Historical Marker indicates an official record of when the first Church of Christ congregation in Hill County was founded. It is on the grounds of what is now the present-day Prairie Valley Baptist Church and the cemetery across the street from it.
It all started when…
The first Church of Christ in the Hill County area of Texas was founded in 1857 by a collection of settlers in the area around Prairie Valley. Early records are sparse, but the first recorded members of the church were W.J. Rape and his wife, who moved to the area around Whitney in 1898. Will Nuckols and his family would move into the area shortly thereafter. The church met in a one-room school building and the early documents indicate that Mr. Rape led the first services as well as songleading. It is also indicated that a local schoolteacher named P.J. Sherman was the church’s first secretary and Bible class teacher.
The ‘towash building’
This photograph, taken before 1968, is one of the few photographs remaining of the building that was on the grounds prior to the one that stands today. This building would be dismantled and taken out of town on trailers to a field outside of town.
In 1903, the church purchased the building and property of the Presbyterian Church in the city of Whitney and moved the church there, where it remains to this day. The building in Prairie Valley was sold to the Missionary Baptist Church and the physical location has now become the Prairie Valley Baptist Church. The story of how this move came to be is a fascinating read.
And examination of court papers and deeds filed from 1879 to 1910 indicate that the property was under some sort of lien due to a lawsuit that was filed by the Texas Central Railway Company. A house was built on the land, and a lien for materials were taken out in 1880 and the matter was adjudicated for the amount $279. The lot was sold to the church to satisfy the lien. The house on the property would eventually be demolished and replaced by a much larger structure around 1912. At the time of the filing in 1910, the elders listed were Sherman, Nuckols, and a third man named W.J. Roper.
The first contribution taken in the new church in the city of Whitney was twenty dollars. The church could not afford to buy communion bread at that time and the ladies of the church learned how to bake their own. In 1918, Tom Weeks and his family moved to the area and four years later, Mr. Weeks obeyed the Gospel and was baptized, eventually becoming the song leader and a Bible teacher in 1927.
According to a deed filed at the Hill County Courthouse in 1946, part of the current property was sold to the church by the Harris family, the signatories to the sale of the property being P.J. Sherman and Tom Weeks. The more interesting part of this purchase seems to indicate that the witness to the deed being signed was Lt. Cdr Charles Loeb, USNR, the executive officer of the USS Anacostia (AO-94), a US Navy replenishment oiler while the vessel was at sea, some two weeks after the surrender of Japanese forces!
In 1969, the old building was removed from the property and taken to a location outside of town where it stayed for years. A new building was planned and construction began in 1969 and work was completed in 1970. One of the most modern and advanced buildings in the town at that time, the congregation met in the cafeteria of the elementary school while work was underway. That elementary school is now the site of the current Whitney ISD Intermediate School.
Joe & CLona Blakeney
This photograph, taken in 2002, is of Joe and Clona Blakeney. Joe was the pulpit minister from 1968-1984.
Shortly before the construction of the building now in use today, the church hired Joe Blakeney as the pulpit minister in 1968. Joe, and his wife, Clona, moved here from Pennsylvania and he began his ministry here. Shortly after arriving, the church opened Iron Springs Christian Camp on the banks of the Brazos River. The church fully funded the camp’s operations for many years, and in 1984, Joe became the full-time director of Iron Springs. The camp’s doors closed in 1995, but before it did, it served the needs of thousands of young Christians from across the state of Texas. In 1984, the church employed Charles Horn as the pulpit minister, who stayed until 1992.
In 1992, the church hired a young minister named Bruce Martin out of the Galveston area. Bruce’s ministry is still going strong today as he continues to serve the Lord as a pulpit minister here in Whitney. Shortly after his arrival, the church began the long-standing clothing benefit that still exists today. Also during that time, foreign missions to Honduras, India, and Thailand were begun. The former library next to the building was purchased by the church. The church also began to help the Monterrey School of Preaching during the 90s.
A major refit and remodel of the interior of the sanctuary was begun in 2018 and completed within a year. New pews, carpet, and paneling were installed, updating the functionality of the building. A library was also added at that time.
The church continues to make new inroads in its ministry here at this lakeside community, living up to its history as a vibrant, working congregation of the Kingdom of God.