Monday, June 5, 2017

Walton Cemetery Annual Day

At the invitation of Dan Ross, chairman of the Walton Cemetery Association, I drove to Ebenezer Methodist Church in rural Panola County on Sunday, June 4. Across the road from the church is the lovingly maintained Walton Cemetery, and nearby was the Walton School, which no longer stands. The occasion was the Walton Cemetery Annual Day, and I had been asked to deliver a program about the origins of the church and cemetery.

Settlers began arriving in the wilderness of Panola District in the 1830s. The only two settlements were Pulaski and Grand Bluff. Both were log cabin villages and ferry crossings on the Sabine River, and Pulaski served as the seat of Panola District and of newly-organized Harrison County. Panola County finally was organized in 1846, and in that year Carthage was platted to be the county seat in the center of the county.

Before Panola County was organized, before the Republic of Texas became the 28th state in the Union in 1846, two congregations were formed in the rural area a few miles west of the site of Carthage. Shortly after Texas broke away from Mexico - and the requisite Catholicism - the Methodist denomination sent three volunteer missionaries to the Lone Star Republic. One of these men, Littleton Fowler, organized the first Methodist church in Texas, near San Augustine. Fowler acquired a farm in Sabine County, took a bride, and had a daughter and a son, who would become a prominent Methodist minister. All the while Reverend Fowler was organizing Methodist congregations, including a band of believers at the rural neighborhood of Macedonia, in 1843. (Sadly, Fowler died only three years later, at the age of 43.)

Two years after a Methodist congregation was established in Panola County, Baptist missionaries Isaac Reed and Lemuel Herrin organized a sister congregation at Macedonia, in 1845.   

The two congregations erected a log church, while conducting Methodist and Baptist services on alternate Sundays. During the week, for a few months each year, a field school was held for neighborhood children. When the church/school burned in 1880, the Baptists moved a few miles east, toward Carthage, and built Macedonia Baptist Church. In 1872 John Ross, great-grandfather of Dan Ross, donated 3.6 acres for a Methodist church and adjacent cemetery. Following the fire of 1880, Ebenezer Methodist Church was erected, and Walton Cemetery (named after a nearby family) and Walton School were opened.  Meanwhile, at Old Macedonia the cemetery became neglected and overgrown. A few years ago, as State Historian, I spoke at the dedication of the reclaimed Old Macedonia Cemetery.
Eddie Pride singing to the congregation

On Sunday, June 4, the Ebenezer Church auditorium was packed with more than 100 people. Cemetery Association Secretary-Treasurer Karen Bagley, a former student of mine at Panola College, read the minutes. Dan Ross approved the minutes and conducted a brief business meeting. Dan next introduced Eddie Pride, who sang and played two songs, with the accompaniment of a bass guitarist. Next I spoke for half an hour, describing the history of the church, and remarking upon the legacy that was handed down by the church's pioneers. Afterward we enjoyed a delicious "dinner on the grounds," and I wondered how many congregational meals had been held on these grounds in the last century and a half.

With Dan Ross

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