Volume 9 , Number 6 , Winter 1987
The 75 year old Branson Presbyterian Church building has been nominated for inclusion in the National Registry of Historic Sites following approval by the Missouri Historical Preservation Committee of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. A history and photographs of the stone Gothic style edifice now used as an adult center and by the Christian Action Ministries, a community food distribution group, have been filed in Washington.
Mrs. Ben Barton, head of a committee appointed by the church session, said the project already had the approval of the White River Historical Society.
Research by members of the committee which prepared the history with the approval of the John Calvin Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church, revealed that the old stone church was not only Bran-son s first church but also was the towns first stone building.
Early interest in a church for the new community of Branson, which had replaced the settlement of Lucia, followed a minor boom brought on by the building of a rail line through the Ozarks. At that time the village, which had sprung up with the coming of the Missouri Pacific and Iron Mountain Railroad in 1903, by 1905 had three general merchandise stores, a meat market, two hotels, a barbershop, photography gallery, two doctors, a livery stable, blacksmith shop, a newspaper and plans for a school building. The town still lacked a church building.
One of the towns doctors was former Pennsylvanian Elizabeth McIntyre. According to Mrs. Barton "Miss McIntyre, wearing high topped shoes and swishing her long skirts, walked the dusty or muddy streets of the village circulating a petition requesting permission to hold Sunday school in the school building then under construction. Nearly everyone in the small town signed the petition and ultimately Sunday school was held in the new schoolhouse. Itinerant ministers preached there on Sunday mornings and evenings. These services were open to everyone.
Revivalists, identified by the Branson Echo as Reverends Ross and Phend, began asking for subscriptions to build a church. Meanwhile, a committee of Presbyterian ministers and laymen seeking to locate and later supervising the construction and opening in 1907 of a work school came to Branson by train, and then went by hack to Forsyth to the site recommended for the school. This project had started on the recommendation of Rev. James F. Forsythe, a Presbyterian missionary to the area. Sometimes the committeemen stayed at a Branson hotel and here learned of the towns interest in a church building. They agreed to help with such a project.
Following the construction of The School of the Ozarks on a hilltop above Forsyth in 1907, Rev. A. Y. Beatie of Springfield and the schools first superintendent, spent a great deal of time helping with the Bran-son Church project toward which each the Presbyterian Church and the townspeople pledged $800.
"In order to meet the towns obligation, Bransons young people and adults held pie suppers, ice cream socials, taffy pulls and gave literary programs," said Mrs. Barton. "Seldom did one project net more than $10.,
Among the workers was I. M. Thompson, now 88, who has lived in Branson longer than any other resident. Recently he recalled that as a boy he roamed nearby fields picking wild blackberries and dew-berries for sale to raise money for the church.
In March, 1907 Reverend Beatie and Lynn F. Ross of Lamar conducted a three-day meeting in Branson and this resulted in 26 professions of faith. A Presbyterian Church Society was formed on Easter Sunday, March 31, 1907.
When A. Y. Beatie became ill his father Rev. W. E. Beatie, took over the church work and was installed as pastor on Sunday, January 25, 1908.
The Branson Townsite Company donated lots for the church; J. E. Booth contracted to build it using largely volunteer labor. The limestone blocks were cut from a nearby hillside. Frosted glass windows, heavy solid wood doors and narrow planiced hardwood floors were made by the Maxwell Lumber Company of Aurora. The cornerstone of the church was furnished by Dr. McIntyre who had it quarried from her farm south of Hollister.
When the campaign to raise funds to complete the church faltered and there was no money to pay a minister, Rev. W. E. Beatie resigned. As the church was a mission venture, Rev. John Crockett, a young evangelist who later became associated with The School of the Ozarks, held a revival and as new members joined the church the building fund in-creased, and The edifice was completed at a cost of $3,500 of which the Presbytery contributed $2,300 and the Branson people, especially members of the Christian (Disciples) Church paid $1200 with the understanding that at certain times other denominations could use the building for services. In addition, the Branson people contributed $500 to cover the cost of the oak pews.
The church was dedicated April 2, 1911, at which time Dr. E. C. Gordon, the Presbyterian Synods secretary-treasurer, and Reverend Crocket conducted the services.
During World War I representatives of the church met the trains that carried the flag-draped caskets of casualties from the battlefields of Europe or victims of the influenza epidemic in the army camps. The church ladies wrapped bandages and knitted sweaters for the soldiers.
In 1966 the congregation moved to a new brick church, and the old stone bulding was converted into a recreation center.
Because the Branson Presbyterian Church was Bransons first stone structure it was considered ahead of its time as other buildings in the town were small and most were constructed of wood. Its service to the entire community is considered unique because of its infuence on the development of the town. Bran-sons first high school graduating classes and baccalaureate services were held in the building. Also the towns first kindergarten and the Boy and Girl Scouts met there and special community programs were presented. Organization of other Branson churches began within its walls. The idea for the Taneyhills Library was conceived by a young womens Sunday school class and a youth group raised money toward "The Bells of the Ozarks" a project later taken over by Willc Hyer who had a carillon installed in the chapel of the Church of The School of the Ozarks.
A parsonage was built just west of the church, but it burned several years ago. Many of the church records were lost in that fire.
Today the building serves not only as the Community Adult Center and is the home of the Christian Action Ministry. It is also the meeting place of Young Life, a Christian youth group.
Among these with special memories of the old church building is Lyle Owen, a retired college professor who lives in west Branson. Lyle, a 1923 graduate of the Branson High School, recalls how he earned school money by stoking the churchs cast iron furnace, polishing the oak pews and dust mopping the hardwood floors that sloped down toward the carved pulpit and baptismal. He rang the bell for church services. On July 4, 1976, the year of the nations Bicentennial, Lyle could not resist ringing the old bell again which he did with much zeal. When he was nearly exhausted he threw the bell rope high into the belfry "so no truly little boy could come along and cause a disturbance by ringing the bell."
The bell has been silent since then but activity in the sturdy old building is believed to make the landmark a valid addition to the National Registry of Historic Sites.
Copyright Ó White River Valley Historical Quarterly
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