Dallas' Oldest Church
The congregation known as the Pearl and Bryan Streets Church of Christ has had a most unusual history. Beginning in 1855, the first members of the congregation consisted of the Shephard, Cole, Miller, Peak, and Heard families, with perhaps a few others not remembered. This little group moved into the courthouse for their regular meetings in 1857, and were known as the "First Christian Church." Many of the churches of the brotherhood in these early days were known by the term "Christian Church" although their faith and worship were identical with New Testament teaching. The "Christian Church" of our present day is neither apostolic nor similar to those who wore that name a century ago.
The first gospel preaching known to have been done in this section was sometime prior to 1855. Brother N. H. 0. Polly, who spent a year traveling with Walter Scott, conducted a meeting here in a log cabin when Dallas was only a village.
About the year 1861 brother Charles Carlton came to Dallas. He was a graduate of Bethany College. He began teaching school in a log house south of the courthouse. One Friday he announced that on the next Sunday morning he would begin a Lord's day school in the log house. The brethren who had been meeting in the courthouse came to the services, and for several years the church continued to meet regularly in this primitive structure.
In May, 1866, Dr. Isaac Van Zandt came to Dallas. In a letter dated October 14, 1925, Dr. Van Zandt stated:
"When I went to Dallas in May, 1866, I found a few meeting in an 'upper chamber.' They had a Bible lesson and then attended to the Supper. About June or July of 1866, General R. M. Gano, who had lived near Grapevine, came along and held a short meeting.
"In the summer of 1867, Dr. B. F. Hall, a man pretty well along in years, held a meeting in which my wife made the confession.
"In the fall of 1867, we built a small meeting house about two blocks north and one block east of the courthouse."
The meeting house here referred to was the first church building of any kind in the city of Dallas. It was built on what was then known as Carondelet Street (named in honor of Baron Carondelet, one of the most famous colonial governors of Louisiana). The name of the street was later changed to Ross Avenue; the house was in the 700 block. Dallas then had a population of about 3,000. On December 4, 1938, members of various Dallas churches, in cooperation, with the Dallas County Historical Society, gathered on Ross Avenue on the site of this first church building to unveil a marker to perpetuate the memory of Dallas' first church building. The marker, a bronze plaque, was embedded in the wall of a two-story brick building, now occupied by the Southwest Equipment Company, once used as a city police station and jail. Inscription on the plaque reads:
"Site of Christian Church. Built 1867. This was the first church building erected in Dallas."
Commerce Street Church — 1877 The tragic division in the body of Christ caused by the introduction of instrumental music and Missionary Societies brought about internal strife within the congregation. This led, in 1877, to a formal and open rupture within the congregation, with a new group, favorable to both the innovations, organizing on August 24 of that year as the "Commerce Street Church." Dallas' present Central Christian Church is the successor to that old Commerce Street congregation.
J. T. Toof began as preacher for the Commerce Street Church in 1888. In 1890 he prepared a directory for that congregation, and in it gave some interesting comment on the split. He wrote:
"In 1876-77 a divergence of opinion respecting certain matters of expediency sprang up in the congregation, and it led finally to a harmonious
agreement as to the organization of this (Commerce Street) congregation. Both memberships were composed of persons who had been with the church in Dallas since its birth. Those remaining chose the old property, located a little north and west of Market Street and Ross Avenue, as their future home. The desirable property now occupied by our brethren on the corner of Pearl and Bryan Streets was not procured by them until several years after the separation. Those forming the new body chose the property now owned by the Commerce Street Church. Both churches were subject to certain folly satisfactory pecuniary conditions not necessary here to record. All were free either to go with the new body or to stay with those who should worship in the old house. In thus separating from our beloved associates in Christian work our cup was embittered with regret that it was necessary.
"The Commerce Street Church was organized on August 24, 1877. There were thirty-six members. "The negotiations made about January, 1880, to reunite the two congregations into one fellowship proved a failure. This effort was earnestly renewed in 1899 by a few brethren in both churches who were deeply interested in its achievement; but the endeavors proved ineffectual."
These historical facts and records substantiate the claim of the Pearl and Bryan Church of Christ to be the oldest church in Dallas. The Central Christian Church is successor to the Commerce Street Church, which was a group that went out from the original body that met at the old Ross Avenue location. The Pearl and Bryan Streets congregation is a successor to the church which formerly met on Ross Avenue.
Move To Present Location
The church sold the old property on Ross Avenue in 1880; and in 1881 purchased a portion of ground on Pearl and Bryan Streets for the amount of $1,250.00. This property was 100 feet by 215 feet, the 100 feet facing Pearl Street and the 215 feet facing Bryan. In the following year a piece of this land, 100 feet by 115, was sold for $750.00 The first church building to be constructed on this site was a brick structure built in 1881. It was replaced with a larger building in 1902, which was enlarged into the present house of worship in 1924, at a cost of $50,000.00. Brother A. 0. Colley was minister at this time.
The first preacher to remain over a period of time long enough to be considered the regular preacher was brother A. Alsup, one of Texas' pioneer gospel preachers. He began his work in about 1896, at which time brothers R. M. Gano, William Lipscomb, and A. T. Seitz were serving as elders. All three of these men were also capable gospel preachers. Brother Alsup was succeeded by brother G. A. Dunn, who came as a young man from Nashville, Tennessee, to Dallas. He came at the close of 1898 and remained about six months, until July, 1899.
Murder Of William Lipscomb
Brother James S. Dunn (older brother of G. A. Dunn) began preaching for the congregation in July, 1899, and remained until 1901. Brother Dunn began his work with a gospel meeting, and it was during this meeting that brother William Lipscomb was fatally shot in the meeting house. He served as principal of the old Dallas Central High school, now Crozier Technical High school. One of the janitors of the school, John T. Carlisle, had been dismissed by the board of trustees, and he felt that brother Lipscomb had prompted the board to dismiss him. Brooding over the matter, Carlisle developed a bitter grudge against Lipscomb, and determined to kill him. On Monday evening, July 10, 1899, at the close of the sermon, as the congregation was singing the invitation song, "Why Do You Wait Dear Brother?", (led by T. J. Lynn, father of Moore Lynn), Carlisle was seen coming into the side door of the building. He walked slowly down the aisle leading toward the preacher. Brother and sister Lipscomb, who had been seated on the front row of seats, were standing with the rest of the congregation during the singing of the song. When Carlisle came within a few steps of brother Lipscomb, he drew a revolver and fired several shots into Lipscomb's body. Lipscomb was carried to the hospital, but died two days later.
Brother James S. Dunn left his work with Pearl and Bryan early in 1901, and brother Joe S. Warlick preached periodically (almost every Sunday) for the remainder of that year. On January 1, 1902, brother Jesse P. Sewell began his work with the congregation, remaining until May 1905. He was followed by A. B. Barrett, who preached from May, 1905, til December, 1905; L. S. White, who preached from January, 1906, to June, 1917; A. 0. Colley, from August, 1917, to March, 1925; J. B. Nelson, March, 1925, to June, 1928; C. M. Pullias, September, 1928, to June, 1935; Flavil L. Colley, June, 1935 to May, 1942; Coleman Overby, August, 1942, to September, 1950.
Present preacher of the congregation is Melvin J. Wise, who began his work with a gospel meeting January 7, 1951.
Starts Other Churches
Inasmuch as this is the oldest church in Dallas, and also being a downtown congregation, it has naturally contributed members to all the other churches of Christ in the city. In the more than forty congregations within the city limits, there are members who formerly worshipped at Pearl and Bryan; many of these brethren are now serving as elders or deacons in sister congregations. Furthermore, the Pearl and Bryan congregation has had a vital part in establishing new congregations in various parts of the city. Those churches started under the direct efforts of this congregation are: Center and Llewellyn (now Tenth and Van Buren); Garrett Avenue (now Sears and Summitt); Hamilton and Lagow; Peak and Main (now Peak and Eastside); Trinity Heights; Love Field (now Thurston and Anson); Hampton Place; Cockrell Hill; Bailey Heights, and Sylvan Avenue._