Its membership numbers six thousand. Its building has been called “Fort Worth’s Notre Dame.” But the genesis of First United Methodist Church was humble: In the 1850s a handful of church-goers without a permanent building or a permanent pastor heard the Word as many early church-goers did: in borrowed places from a circuit rider—a preacher who was assigned to travel from frontier town to frontier town with a Bible in his saddlebag.
W. Erskine Williams, in his A Brief History of Fort Worth Methodism, says a circuit rider aptly named “John Wesley Chalk” claimed to have been the first Methodist preacher to deliver a sermon in Fort Worth. Chalk was assigned to Fort Worth in 1854, just after the Army had abandoned the fort.
The October 26, 1867 Dallas Weekly Herald listed Chalk as the circuit rider for the Dallas district, which included Fort Worth.
By 1874 Fort Worth’s population was five hundred. It was a big year for the little town’s Methodists: Until 1874 the congregation had worshiped in the courthouse, in lodge halls, etc., served by various circuit riders such as Chalk. But in 1873 local Methodists bought a lot at the corner of Jones and 4th streets and the next year built a one-room wooden church building. J. C. Terrell, William Jesse Boaz, and Stephen Holland Mulkey were among those who contributed $100 each. Mulkey’s younger brother, George, did not have $100 but instead donated his labor—he worked at a planing mill and planed and tongue-and-grooved the lumber for the building.
Now the congregation had a home. And it had a name: Fourth Street Methodist Church.
And it had a permanent pastor: Circuit rider John Wesley Chalk took off his boots, hung up his stirrups, and stayed a while. He was assigned to step down from the saddle and into the pulpit of the new church.
D. D. Morse’s bird’s-eye-view map of 1876 shows Fourth Street Methodist Church (upper left, labeled “2”). One of the smaller nearby buildings was probably the parsonage. The courthouse (bottom, labeled “11”) would burn that year.
In 1876 Reverend M. D. Fly took over the pulpit. The 1877 city directory indicates that the church had a parsonage at the same address. But according to B. B. Paddock, in 1878 Fly resigned, claiming he could not live on what the church paid him: $275 a year ($6,800 today).
Note that the church was called “South.” In 1844 the Methodist Episcopal church had split over the issue of slavery, much as the nation would split in 1861. Per their names, the pro-slavery Methodist Episcopal Church, South was organized mostly in southern states, the abolitionist Methodist Episcopal Church, North mostly in northern states.
In 1877 Fort Worth was still small enough that there was no need for the Daily Fort Worth Standard to publish addresses for the few churches in town. There also was no need for the list of churches to specify which Methodist or which Baptist church—each denomination had only one church. (Father Thomas Loughrey was the first priest of the Catholic church when the parish was formed in 1876. The church was named for Polish Jesuit saint Stanislaus Kostka. Not until 1892 would St. Patrick’s Cathedral be built.)
By 1883 the pastor of Fourth Street Methodist Church was Horace Bishop. In the January 14 Fort Worth Gazette he thanked the women of the church for sprucing up the parsonage.
This 1886 bird’s-eye-view map by Henry Wellge shows the 1874 Fourth Street Methodist Church building, labeled “G.”
In 1887 the congregation moved the 1874 wooden church building to the rear of the lot and built a fine brick-and-stone building with two stepped spires. On June 9, 1887 the Gazette reported that the new $18,000 ($460,000 today) building was almost completed. Note the mention of gambler Jake Johnson, who earlier that year had been the only witness to the Short-Courtright shooting and who would be a South Side neighbor and business associate of E. E. Chase.
Photographer D. H. Swartz featured the 1887 church building in his Photographs of Fort Worth. Behind the main building was a vestry (below blue arrow). The 1889 Sanborn map also shows the vestry. We’ll come back to that vestry when we reach the twentieth century.
The church as shown in 1889. The vestry is partially shown on the left.
In 1890 Fourth Street Methodist Church changed its name to “First Methodist Church.” By 1891, as this American Publishing Company bird’s-eye-view map shows, Fort Worth had filled in many of the wide open spaces of Morse’s 1876 map. First Methodist Church, with its two stepped spires, was surrounded by buildings.
By the new century Fort Worth’s population was twenty-six thousand, and each of the several denominations had multiple churches. On July 28, 1901 the Fort Worth Register printed a census of city churches, finding Methodists most numerous, slightly outnumbering Baptists. First Methodist Church had a membership of 510.
Over its long history First Methodist Church has been the mother church of at least three offspring: Missouri Avenue Methodist, Mulkey Memorial Methodist (built on St. Louis Street by George Mulkey to honor his parents), and Weatherford Street Methodist churches.
In 1907 the congregation began construction of a new building at 7th and Taylor streets.
Also in 1907 the church’s first pastor, the circuit rider John Wesley Chalk, died. Clip is from the October 11 Fort Worth Telegram.
The Telegram devoted almost a full page to the new building on March 6, 1908. The building cost $100,000 ($2.5 million today).
Fast-forward to 1929. First Methodist Church announced plans for a $750,000 ($10.3 million today) building at West 5th and Macon streets designed by church member Wiley G. Clarkson. The Star-Telegram included these images in a feature on building projects by local churches. I am not sure that the Clarkson-designed Broadway Baptist Church auditorium (bottom image) was built. A Hedrick-designed auditorium was built in 1952.
Groundbreaking was announced for October 29, 1929.
If that date sounds familiar, it was Black Tuesday on Wall Street. These headlines are from the Star-Telegram and Dallas Morning News.
On September 4, 1930 the Morning News announced that First Methodist Church would absorb St. Paul’s Methodist Episcopal Church, by then located at 10th and Burnet streets. This merger was significant because St. Paul’s Methodist Episcopal was a Methodist North church. Nine years after these two South and North churches merged, the North and South branches of Methodism would merge to become the Methodist Church. In 1968 the denomination would become the United Methodist Church.
This is the earlier home of St. Paul’s Methodist Episcopal Church, North. This building was located on Lamar at West 7th Street and demolished in the 1920s. The Hollywood Theater/Electric Building would be built on the site. (Photo from Greater Fort Worth.)
On October 5, 1930 the cornerstone was laid. Principal speaker was U.S. Representative Fritz G. Lanham (yes, the Fritz G. Lanham for whom the federal office building is named).
On February 8, 1931 a congregation of 1,200 watched solemnly as E. J. White, chairman of the board of trustees, locked the door of the old building.
The first morning service in the new auditorium was held in June 1931.
In 1949 this Star-Telegram ad for First Methodist Church recounted its beginnings.
That brings the history of this church’s four buildings up to date. Almost. What about the 1887 church building at 4th and Jones streets? Soon after its congregation moved to a new home at 7th and Taylor streets in 1908, the 1887 church building took on a new role that might have amused—or bemused—the old circuit-riding preacher John Wesley Chalk.
The church became a livery stable. This 1911 Sanborn map clearly shows the footprint of the church (and vestry), with its big and small square spires along Jones Street.
To confirm that the church building became a livery stable, I checked city directories of the time but found no livery stable listed at 503 Jones Street. Ah, but checking for 400 East 4th Street, I did find City Sale Stable. H. P. McKee was a horse dealer. The address of the building had changed, possibly because the building entrance had been moved from Jones to East 4th. Clips are from the 1909 city directory and January 17, 1910 Star-Telegram.
Fast-forward to 1926. That year the Fort Worth Press built its new building at Jones and 5th streets, adjacent to the site of the 1887 church. This 1926 Sanborn map shows that the main building of the church was gone, replaced by a building that housed two electrical businesses. Clip is from the 1926 city directory. In the Sanborn map, see the rectangular building marked “PAPER STGE”? That’s the 1887 vestry. Note the door between the Press building and the vestry. The Press stored newsprint in the old vestry.
This aerial photo shows that by 1952 the building that replaced the 1887 church building had expanded, enclosing the vestry. But apparently the top of the pitched roof of the vestry remained uncovered above the flat roof of the enclosing building.
During renovation of the north end of downtown late in the twentieth century, the building housing the two electrical companies and enclosing the vestry was demolished. This recent photo shows that the north wall of the Press building actually overhangs the south wall of the 1887 church building. The windows of the 1887 wall have been bricked over. My guess is that the 1887 church building was demolished when the Press building was built in 1926. Perhaps the adjacent electrical building was built at the same time.
Today the Press building houses the police department’s Central Division headquarters. And where the 1887 church building once stood now stands a police department parking lot.
If you stand on that parking lot today, instead of hearing a squad car radio dispatching officers to a code 2 or a code 10, you can almost hear a nineteenth-century congregation singing “Blest Be the Tie That Binds” or “Shall We Gather at the River?” Or, more fitting after 130 years, “I Shall Not Be Moved.” Because with demolition of the electrical building came, at last, the revelation: After decades of obscurity the 1887 vestry was revealed. It was later restored by the Bass family.
First United Methodist Church (Part 2): A Beatitude in Brick
Truly enjoyed this article. I have been searching for more information on the Reverend John Wesley Chalk. If you have any insight I would love to hear how to read more about him.
Thanks. The Williams booklet might have more. I once found it online but could not the last time I looked for it.
Hi there- I used a lot of this article for a quick story. (Instagram, nothing fancy or published.)
I’d love to site you, and where you got your information from, as to not steal your words, and hard work!
Also, I’d love to maybe collaborate sometime. I have been photographing Fort Worth’s historical gems for a while now, but lack the eloquence to bring the story to life.
No need to cite me, Taylor. Glad to help. As I recall I used A Brief History of Fort Worth Methodism and probably the church’s website, and, of course, local newspapers and city directories.
I always hear “For All the Saints” in my head when I see a Protestant church ruin. Because it’s a hymn about dead Protestants and it’s glorious. I guess I’m a cultural Presbyterian.
Rev. John Wesley Chalk was my great grandfather. I truly enjoyed reading about this article. Thank you!
Thank you, Betty. A fascinating part of Fort Worth history.