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Arkansas Properties on the National Register of Historic Places: Houston Methodist Episcopal Church, South, Houston, Perry County

Arkansas Historic Preservation Program - Thursday, February 05, 2015

The Houston Methodist Episcopal Church, South, at Houston in Perry County was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on May 20, 1994. You can read this and other Arkansas National Register nominations at http://www.arkansaspreservation.com/historic-properties/national-register/search.aspx.

Summary

The Houston Methodist Episcopal Church, South, in Perry County is being nominated under Criterion C with local significance as the best example of a Colonial Revival-style church in Houston.

Elaboration

Although the area surrounding the present town of Houston was settled before the Civil War, sufficient population to warrant a post office was not attained until 1878. The name “Jamesville” was first selected, however, due to another post office by that name in Arkansas, the name “Houston” was substituted instead. According to oral tradition, the name is in honor of Sam Houston, who is said to have stayed in the area during his travels. Interestingly, Goodspeed calls the town “Huston” and, in a different section, mentions a John L. Huston, who operated the first ferry across the nearby Fourche LaFave River in 1847.

The community around Houston never really prospered and disappeared into memory as “Old Houston” in 1900 with the completion of the Choctaw, Oklahoma, and Gulf Railroad two miles to the south. The new town became a center for shipping logs, crossties, cattle, and cotton produced in the surrounding area. The town grew quickly, as most railroad towns did, and contained the usual assortment of businesses including a bank, several general stores, a couple of saloons, hotel, blacksmith shop, sawmill, and a cotton gin. Additionally, the town could offer to its populace the Houston Weekly newspaper, a brick kiln, and a grist mill. The town was incorporated in 1908.

Houston could also boast daily passenger train stops, a feature unusual for a town its size, in addition to the regular freight schedule. Margaret Long, who donated the land for the townsite, received credit for obtaining this service by stipulating the daily stops in her contract with the railroad. A fine of $25 was imposed on the railroad, payable to the Houston Public Schools, for each day the passenger train failed to stop. Passenger train services following these conditions were continued for thirty-five years until the town was made a flagstop.

Margaret Long was also responsible for donating the land for the fist Methodist Church in the Houston area. In 1893, approximately seven years before the arrival of the railroad, Long donated one-and-a-half acres for the construction of the Bethel Methodist Episcopal Church, South. The name of the church was changed to the Houston Methodist Episcopal Church, South in 1902 to reflect the presence of the new railroad town that now encompassed the building. By 1912, the congregation had outgrown the existing facility, and the current structure was erected on the same site. In 1968, the name was changed to the Houston United Methodist Church when the Evangelical United Brethren Church joined with the Methodist Episcopal Church. The building is no longer used for church services, except for the occasional funeral, as only two members of the congregation remain. Nevertheless, the building is well maintained and has been little altered since its construction.

The Houston Methodist Episcopal Church, South is an excellent example of the single-room, wood-frame, gable-roof church form used throughout rural Arkansas in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Although these buildings are basically Plain Traditional in style, local congregations sometimes applied various architectural style elements – most commonly Gothic Revival windows – to the basic form. This church, however, exhibits the less frequently employed Colonial Revival-style influences that consist of a dignified frieze and cornice treatment and unusual arched windows with purely decorative keystones. As it is the best example of this type of church form and style in Houston and the surrounding area, the Houston Methodist Episcopal Church, South is being nominated under Criterion C with local significance.

BIBLIOGRAPHY
Kemper, George. You Can Go Home Again: A History of Houston, Arkansas. 1982 (bound and on file at the Arkansas History Commission).

The Goodspeed Biographical and Historical Memoirs of Central Arkansas. Chicago, Nashville, and St. Louis: The Goodspeed Publishing Co., 1889.



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