The West Fork Christian Church is probably the oldest organization of the followers of the teachings of Alexander Campbell in Washington County. It was organized in 1837, with the following officers and members: Elders, William Robinson, Stephen Strickland and Alfred Arrington; deacons, Levi Combs and Shelby Conner, and members, Mrs. S. Strickland, Mrs. A. Arrington, Mrs. Shelby Conner, Thomas Wilson and wife, Mrs. W. Robinson, Benjamin Miller and wife, Samuel Alexandel and wife, Daniel Conner, Eli Bloyd and wife, John Wilson, Joseph Lewis, Betsy Conner, Christopher Harness and wife, Joseph Miller, Sr., and wife. They were first organized under an elm tree, and held services there until soon after the ruling elders built a church of hewed logs. Elder Stephen Strickland seems to have been the first pastor, and among others who held services there afterward were Rev. John Robinson, the well-known Rev. Robert Graham, Rev. Elijah Northam and Rev. Eli Baker. The present membership numbers about thirty persons.
The Fayetteville Christian Church is not only one of the oldest and largest churches in Washington County, but is probably the largest Christian Church in Arkansas. This is largely due to the character of its founder, Rev. John T. Johnson, its pioneer educator, Robert Graham, and its present pastor, Rev. N. M. Ragland. Rev. Johnson, a brother of Vice-President Richard M. Johnson, became a convert to the teachings of Alexander Campbell, and giving up his seat in Congress, took the water route to Little Rock, Van Buren and other points in the Southwest, to spread the new teachings, whose followers here became known in popular terms as “The Campbellites,” “Stoneites” and “New Lights,” as well as “Christians” and “Disciples.” The following extract from a letter explains itself:
VAN BUREN, March 7, 1848.
Beloved Brother Campbell: I am here, in good health, about 1,500 miles from home, laboring in the cause of the reformation, for which you have sacrificed so much, and nobly struggled for a quarter of a century. The success has been far beyond the expectation of the most sanguine. Thank the Lord that your writings ever fell in my way! I shall ever feel the debt of gratitude that you taught me how to read the biblethe book of the Lord. It imparts to me a happiness that no language can tell. [Here he speaks of visiting Little Rock and Van Buren.]
3. I visited Fayetteville, fifty-two miles north, and labored twelve days with great success. We had about thirty-five additions, and organized a church fifty strong, with elders and deacons. We have four able lawyers, an able physician, and a distinguished preacher of the Cumberland Presbyterians in the congregation. I left rejoicing! [He then speaks of other matters, and closes with the following]:
This is a great country. The success of this precious cause is the only motive that could induce me to make such immense sacrifices of domestic happiness.
J. T. JOHNSON.
From the date of the above letter we see that the church was organized about February, 1848, and we also see that there was a settlement of probably fifteen adherents of this faith already there, among whom were Dr. and Mrs. Pollard, and a Mrs. Onstott, probably the first three members of the congregation. Among the ministers who preached before Johnson’s organization was a Rev. Stirman. After the organization Rev. Robert Graham, a man of great natural and scholarly ability, was their next pastor, and he it was who founded Arkansas College, which, although a private school, was a powerful agent in the growth and character of the church. He was both president of the college and pastor of the church during a considerable period, until he was succeeded, in both positions, by another able and scholarly man, Rev. William Baxter, whose period of service covered the remaining time before the war. With three so able men as these in succession, the rapid growth of the new church is not surprising.
Among those that followed Rev. Baxter were Revs. A. B. Murphy during the war, Kirk Baxter, S. K. Hallam, a Mr. Rice, J. M. Shepherd and a Mr. Floyd, who were editors of The Faithful Witness, a religious journal, Gay Waters, James Elliot and the present pastor, Rev. N. M. Ragland. The increase in membership and the extension of church work has been greater under Rev. Ragland, probably, than under the guidance of any of his predecessors. The membership is about 300. A mission at Farmington, a frame building costing about $1,500, was dedicated May 27, 1888, and now has a flourishing Sunday-school. A mission chapel in the southeastern part of Fayetteville has lately been built, and is used for Sabbath-school purposes, chiefly. It is a frame structure, valued at $1,000. Another flourishing mission is held in a school-house about two miles north of Fayetteville. The following annual financial report for the year ending November 15, 1887, will illustrate the extent of their work:
To amount paid out by church for incidental expenses and improvements, $353.63; to amount paid out for various missions. $130.11; to amount paid by C. P. S. Club, $73.95; to amount paid by Dorcas Society, $97.35; to amount paid by Sunday-school, $84.09; to amount paid by mission school, $12.60; to amount paid on minister’s salary, $900; total, $1,651.73. By regular and special collection, $417.64; by collection on subscription, $900; by collection from Dorcas Society, $138; by collection from C. P. S. Club, $73.94; by collection from C. W. B. M., $27.75; by collection from Young People’s Mission, $12.45; by collection from Sunday-school, $173.56; by collection from mission school, $12.62; total, $1,755.97. To amount on hand. $104.24. T. J. Conner, church treasurer.
They have also a Ladies’ Missionary Society, which meets once a month.
The first church building of the denomination was built on the site of the Tremont House, but that was, with many other buildings, burned during the war. The old Masonic Hall was their next church house, until the present brick structure on College Avenue was completed, about 1871.
The Christian Church, unlike many others, was not broken up or disturbed by political issues during the great conflict.
The Christian Church, on the middle fork of White River. was organized in 1840 by Rev. S. Strickland, with Elders Samuel Hanna and Bracken Lewis, Matilda Lewis, Francis Hanna, Owen Ramey and wife, William Chandler and wife, Eleazer Lancaster and wife, F. Lancaster and William Hunt as members. After the war Rev. John S. Robertson, an evangelist, reorganized the church, with Elders Owen Ramey, E. Hanna and S. Hanna, Deacons W. Kelley and W. Chandler, and Clerk W. H. Campbell as officers, and over 100 members. It then took the name Union Church, and at one time reached a membership of 300. A frame church building was erected in 1854, at a cost of about $1,000, but it was destroyed by fire in 1882. A new frame was begun in 1884, which, when finished, will equal the first in value. On account of branch churches forming from this congregation the present membership is but eighty-three. These branches are Black Oak Grove, the elders of which are Andrew Hobbs, James Mahon and James Dockery, and Clifton Church, two miles west of the old church, whose pastor is Rev. F. A. Hobbs. The pastors have been as follows: Revs. Stephen Strickland, John S. Robertson, A. B. Murphy, E. Baker, Isaac Tellis, S. R. Beaman, William McDonnell and C. H. O’Bryan, the present incumbent.
Pleasant View Christian Church was organized in the spring of 1867, by Rev. Elder James W. Garrett, Elder John Read, William Russell, N. McIlroy, William Cranby, Caroline Read, O. A. Russell, Malissa Garrett, Malinda English, J. English and S. English, the original members.
The society has a membership of sixty, and before branch churches were organized from it at Antioch and at Cherryvale in the Indian Territory they numbered about 100. Their neat frame building, erected in 1883 at a cost of $500, is situated in Vineyard Township. Rev. Elder J. W. Garrett has been in charge from the first, but occasionally services have been held by the following ministers: Revs. Gage, Baker, Beaman, McDonnell, Williams, Allison, Ferguson, Elliot, Moore, Ragland, Geddens and others.
Evening Shade Christian Church is a young society, organized the first month in 1888 by Rev. John Williams. The officers chosen were Elders James Privett, R. R. Falin, W. J. Malone, S. W. Passick, and Deacons A. C. Males, W. Pearson and John Phelan. The other members were Lidie Males, R. E. Malone, S. C. Brown, Mary Hall, Mollie Webb, John and Sarah Malone and Z. Rutherford. The society have met in the school house of District No. 137. Their pastors have been Revs. John Williams and H. C. Crowell. Thirty persons constitute their membership, most of whom are from Greenland and West Fork congregations.
Black Oak Church of Christ began its separate existence in 1880, with the following officers: Elders, J. J. Dockery, J. S. Mahone and L. A. Hobbs; deacons, E. T. Dockery and Robert Skelton, and thirty-six members. They built a hewn log house in 1878, as a community, for a school-house which is now used as a church, but the society contemplates the early erection of a larger structure, 34×46 feet. They have a membership of 105 persons. Rev. Daniel Chich, the pastor who organized the society, was succeeded in his pastoral duties by Revs. J. S. Mahon, C. H. O’Bryan and the present minister, Rev. L. A. Hobbs.
The Christian Church, situated five miles east of Prairie Grove, was organized in 1884 by Rev. C. Sperry. They have thirty members at present. They have a weather-boarded ceiled building, 24×36 feet, erected in 1884 at a cost of $400.
The Church of Christ at Mountain View dates its organization from 1886, when it was effected by Revs. M. N. West and B. M. Curtis. The elders were Eli Winn and J. H. McDonald, and J. W. Fitts, Sr. and Jr., were deacons. The church began with ten members, and have now increased their number to thirty-seven, who meet in the school-house of District No. 92. Revs. H. C. Crowell and B. M. Curtis have been the pastors.
The Christian Church of Prairie Grove was organized some time in July, 1885, by Dr. William Judd. It began with between forty and fifty members, and the following year was able to build a neat frame church, valued at about $700. Rev. H. C. Crowell has been its pastor from the beginning, and now counts their membership at about fifty persons.
The Church of Christ at Springdale was reorganized in 1887, by Elder Evan Thompson, with the few members scattered about that place. At the present writing the foundation of a tasteful frame structure, about 30×40 feet, is in progress. The society numbers twenty-five members.
Back to: Washington County, Arkansas History
Source: History of Benton, Washington, Carroll, Madison, Crawford, Franklin, and Sebastian Counties, Arkansas. Chicago, IL, USA: Goodspeed Publishing Co., 1889.