A Brief History of the Elba United Methodist Church
compiled by Lamar S. Rainer, Jr.
for the Homecoming Celebration
|Although there was no
permanent white settlement where Elba is located until about 1840, just
prior to the creation of Coffee County out of the western portion of
Dale, Methodism officially entered the area in 1826, with the establishment
of the Pea River Mission by the Tallahassee, Florida, District of the
South Carolina Conference. The Mission became a Circuit in 1830.
One of the earliest preachers in this area was Zacheus Dowling who rode the territory in the 1830's. It is almost certain that this was the same Zacheus Dowling assigned to the Elba Circuit in 1856 as its fourth minister. His permanent residence was at Daleville at that time and it is known that he married his second wife in Santa Rosa, Florida, in July of 1856. He was 64 at the time. Zacheus Dowling lived for 92 years and is buried in Mt. Liberty Cemetery west of Greenville Alabama.
A nephew of Zacheus, Angus Dowling, was the Circuit's 20th minister, serving from 1888 through 1892. The Christian Advocate credits him with over 2,000 conversions during his ministry!
It is not known exactly where or when the first Methodist church in Elba was established but the conference records show that Robert Shaw Rabb was appointed to the Elba Circuit on December 15, 1853. It is logical to assume that a church existed here prior to that time under another name since the name of the town was changed from Bentonville to Elba just prior to its selection as the county seat in late 1852; however, a search of the Conference Archives failed to disclose anything prior to the 1853 date.
A complete list of all the names of the ministers who have served the church for the past 120 years is found at the end of this history.
An interesting fact disclosed by the list is that one, William C. Robinson, served the early church three times: two years from 1858 to 1860, a one year term in 1867, and for two years again from 1870 to 1872.
The Elba church was originally in the Camden District and subsequently in the Lowndesboro, Orion and Union Springs Districts. From 1875 through 1881, the church was not listed in the conference records which means that is was not the main church on the circuit, and unfortunately, the conference minutes do not indicate the circuit on which the church was located.
With the re-establishment of the Elba Circuit in 1882, it was placed in the Marianna, Florida District. Subsequently the church was transferred back into the Union Springs District and then in succession was in the Troy, Dothan, Troy (again), and Andalusia Districts.
The September 3, 1884, Christian Advocate contains a note on page three from S. H. Nettles saying that Elba's new church was dedicated last Sunday. Samuel Hazelwood Nettles was appointed to the pastorate of the Elba Circuit in 1883.
This church was located at what was then the foot of Simmons Street on the bluff which formed the east bank of Beaverdam Creek. Simmons Street did not cross the creek at that time and the church was located on a spot approximately between and behind the Mullins and Clark homes. (Note: the Mullins home is the peach colored house across from the State Farm office on Adkinson Street that occupies the old Clark home). It was a white frame building with a small steeple. The auditorium occupied the entire building. It is presumed that Sunday School was help in the various corners. A row of large pews was located down the center of the building and short rows of smaller pews occupied the sides.
Whether a church building previous to this one dedicated in 1884 occupied the same site is unknown and Probate records do not indicate any prior site by the name Methodist Church or any variation thereof. The probability is that it is indexed in the name of one of the Trustees. But the facts concerning the location of and the description of the 1884 church has been verified by Judge J. O. English, C. O. Allred, and several ladies whose names shall remain unknown!
The Church served the congregation -- and others (Judge English tells of attending services there while the building was loaned the members of the Church of Christ for services performed by a visiting minister since they did not have a church during his boyhood) -- until early in 1911 when the present building was completed. The lot had been purchased two years before from the Knight family for $750.00. The parsonage lot was purchased on June 24, 1898, from the E. E. Beard Estate for a consideration of $50.00.
An article from The Elba Clipper, dated Tuesday, February 14, 1911, gives a good description of the then new building.
Twelve of the 55 ministers assigned to the Elba circuit are still living: Albert Earl Shafer (1917), Elza Bland Paul (1927-28), William Jennings Hughes (1935-37), John Clinton Vickers (1938), Charles Herman Seibert (1939-40), Fred Leland Davis (1948-52), Elvin Theo Edgar (1953-55), Ralph Rush Hendricks (1956-60), Robert Irving Lawrence (1961-62), David Worthington Carter (1963-65), Thomas Summerfield Harris (1966-69), and Edwin Riley Sells (1970-present).
I wish to acknowledge the help of the Reverend Franklin S. Moseley of the Alabama - West Florida Conference Commission on Archives and history. Mr. Moseley spent about two days researching the list of pastors. I am grateful to Martin Easters, Alabama Department of Archives and History, for his help. The following residents gave help and assistance: C. O. Allred, Mrs. Oswald Dowling, Judge J. O. English, Miss Fannie Harper, Miss Zadie Rowe, and Mrs. Sue Lowery.
Lamar S. Rainer, Jr.
Interesting Facts about Alabama Methodism
Entrance of Methodism
Alabama Conference, Methodist
Alabama Conference, Methodist
Episcopal Church in America
Alabama Conference, The
Methodist Episcopal Church
Alabama Conference, The
Name Changed to Alabama
- West Florida Conference