Union African Methodist Episcopal Church

 City: Mt. Holly, County: Union
 Location: 1491 Old Camden Road

1950 church of local African-American congregation.
Listed in Arkansas Register of Historic Places on 08/07/2019

 

SUMMARY

The Union AME Church in Mt. Holly, Arkansas, Union County, is being nominated to the Arkansas Register of Historic Places under Criterion A, with local significance, for its association with the religious life and historical development of the African American community of Mt. Holly and the surrounding area.Although the installation of the synthetic siding precludes the building from being eligible for listing on the National Register, it still possesses significance and is eligible for listing on the Arkansas Register.The property is also being nominated under Criteria Consideration A as a religious property.

 

HISTORY OF THE PROPERTY

Most historical accounts of the land that became Union County, Arkansas, begin in November 1541, when, according to local legends, famed Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto, accompanied by more than 500 men, marched into the area and established camp on a hill not far from what is now El Dorado.It was not until 1803 that the United States purchased Louisiana from the French, subsequently dividing it into two territories, Orleans and Louisiana.In 1812, the Louisiana Territory was reorganized as the Territory of Missouri of which what is now Arkansas was a part.The United States Congress named Arkansas a territory in 1819, and ten years later, in 1829, Union County was formed.The county’s boundaries were vastly larger than the current ones, which were defined in 1852.[1]

 

Settlement in the area of Mt. Holly began in the 1840s when “In 1843, Maj. E. W. Wright and family came from Georgia and settled in the northwest part of Union County.The next year, 1844, Col. C. M. McRae also made a settlement near there.These families formed the nucleus of what was soon to be a prosperous, thriving and highly moral community, known as Mount. Holly.”When the area was settled in the 1840s, it was a barren wilderness, and it was reported that the “nearest neighbor on the west being forty miles away.Camden was their nearest post-office, while the surrounding country was an almost unbroken wilderness.”[2]

 

By the mid-1840s other settlers had arrived in the Mt. Holly area including a Mr. Hawly, who had come from Connecticut and a Mr. Chapman, and they opened the first store in the community in 1846.Mr. Chapman also became the first postmaster when the post office was established about the same time, and the mail was delivered to Mt. Holly once a week.Prior to the Civil War, there was little commercial activity in Mt. Holly.By the 1880s, Goodspeed noted that “Business was revived in 1885, by John M. McRae, C. L. McRae and John Watts.In 1869 Morgan & McRae started the largest business that has ever been done in Mount Holly; the firm is still doing business, under the firm name of W. E. McRae & Co.They also own a large cotton gin, which has turned out as many as 800 bales during the season.Other business interests are Edward Young, merchant; physician, Dr. Charles Chester; postmaster, Mr. Freeman.”[3]

 

From the very beginning of its history and development, moral character and religion were important traits in Mt. Holly, and this is brought out in Goodspeed’s information on the community.It is noted:

 

…The early settlers of this section were mostly men of religious views and education, so early recognized the advantages of schools and churches.A Presbyterian Church had been organized in 1846, and in 1847 Maj. Wright with Col. McRae, secured a charter for a school to be known as the Mount Holly Academy.The provisions of this charter precluded the sale of intoxicating liquors within three miles of the school.The citizens erected a good hewed log building, and secured the services of Rev. J. M. Hog, as principal.…His aim seems to have been to improve and elevate the morals of his pupils, as well as to expand and develop their intellect.

The high moral tone of the people of Mount Holly is justly instanced as the example, strictly followed, which such pioneers as Maj. Wright and Col. McRae stamped upon the settlement at its birth.They legislated liquor from their midst, by a provision in the charter of their school.That these precepts are alive today and bearing fruit, is a living monument to the memory of those who sowed the seed.[4]

 

The importance of morals and religion in Union County and in the Mt. Holly area also applied to the area’s African-American population.Union church records confirm it was organized in the spring of 1846, and that the congregation consisted of people from the surrounding communities of Lisbon, Stephens, and El Dorado. They would find a remote section of the woods to meet, sing, and pray.Few congregations of any faith in the early days of settlement in Union County had a building beyond a simple log or frame structure, and it would have been no different for the congregation of Union AME Church.So, it is likely the congregation of Union met in brush arbors during pleasant weather in the early years of its existence.Benches for early outdoor churches were made by splitting logs, shaping the seat with an axe, then sanding the seat with a sandstone rubbing rock. These temporary structures were later converted to outdoor churches.[5]

 

Prior to 1865, it is most likely that all members were slaves.Research reveals that slaveholders were often conflicted, and the religious experience of slaves varied.One source notes most slaves' owners forbid the education of slaves.The biggest fear was centered on the slaves' ability to read; if slaves could read the Bible and became Christians, they might interpret the teachings of Jesus Christ as being in favor of freedom and equality.In contrast some slave masters encouraged religion among their slaves, because they believed it would make them more docile and obedient.

 

The few settlers around the original Union Church decided to keep the name Union as a memorial landmark.In 1909, Union became a member of the African Methodist Episcopal Church community under the leadership of Pastor W. A. Hardin.Union was in a mission church with New-Union A.M.E. Church of Stephens and New Home A.M.E. Church.Services were held every third Sunday at Union A.M.E.New Home left the mission and Union and New Union became a two-part circuit with Union A.M.E. meeting on the first and third Sundays of the month.The trustees were listed as follows:Brothers Henson Norful, Lim Wiley, Jordan Tooks, Shelby Matthews, Tony Lawson, and Bradford Crayton, and Sisters E. Jones, and Clara Tooks.[6]

 

In rural areas, it is common practice for several congregations to collaboratively contract and share a preacher.In the Methodist church, congregations do not "call" (or employ) a pastor of their own choice.Instead, a bishop "appoints" or assigns a pastor to a congregation or a group of congregations; neither the pastor nor congregation have a choice in the appointment.In the early days, as communities grew and the population developed, Methodist preachers were appointed to circuits wherever people lived.[7]

 

As families grew, conditions changed, and it became increasingly hard to travel to the church.A group of men decided to build another church about two to three miles away from Union which was also closer to their homes.They started St. Luke Christian Methodist Episcopal Church.[8]Harvey Utsey, and Gabriel Crayton, along with Julius Wilson, Sr., and Will Revels, Sr., built St Luke’s church on land that was granted to them by William Walker.It was decided the church should legally record a deed to the land.So, they collected and paid the hefty sum of $6.00 to record an heir property deed on February 17, 1902.Recording the deed as heir property meant the land would be held within the family and passed down from generation to generation.On Sunday, September 7, 2003, St. Luke’s celebrated its 100 plus year anniversary.In honor and tribute to her grandfather, Harvey Utsey, and the church founders, Ruby Nell Utsey shared the history of St. Luke with the congregation.[9]

 

In 1949, Union AME Church moved to its present location on the same land under the leadership of Rev. W. C. Burks.He served as pastor of the congregation for twelve years.In June 1950, the brothers of King Edward Lodge 242 of Mt. Holly under the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Arkansas erected the current building and set the cornerstone.To better serve the needs of the congregation, the Fellowship Hall was added to the building and completed in 1966, and the Pastor’s Study was enlarged by Rev. Wilbert Gray.In 2000, under the leadership of Rev. Pete King, aluminum siding was added to the building. [10]

 

SIGNIFICANCE OF THE PROPERTY

From the time of its completion in 1950, the Union AME Church has been one of the centers of the area’s African-American community.The Union AME Church has likely not only been a significant part of African-American life when it comes to religion, but has also likely been an important part of the community's social life.As with schools, churches were often an important part of the community not just during the week, but on the weekends as well.Even today, the building is an important part of the community.As a result, the Union AME Church is being nominated to the Arkansas Register of Historic Places under Criterion A with local significance for its association with the religious life and historical development of the African American community of Mt. Holly and the surrounding area.Although the changes to the exterior of the building preclude its listing on the National Register, the building still reflects what makes it significant and it can be listed on the Arkansas Register.The property is also being nominated under Criteria Consideration A as a religious property.

 

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

 

Baobab Tree, Journal of the African American Genealogical Society of Northern California, Inc.Fall 2012.ISSN 1543-4125.

 

Biographical and Historical Memoirs of Southern Arkansas.Chicago:The Goodspeed Publishing Company, 1890.

 

Information in the Union AME Church files.

 

Taylor Smith, Sandra.“El Dorado Commercial Historic District, El Dorado, Union County, Arkansas.”National Register of Historic Places Registration Form.From the files of the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, 2003.

 



[1] Taylor Smith, Sandra.“ El Dorado Commercial Historic District, El Dorado, Union County, Arkansas.”National Register of Historic Places Registration Form.From the files of the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, 2003.

[2] Biographical and Historical Memoirs of Southern Arkansas.Chicago:The Goodspeed Publishing Company, 1890, p. 829.

[3] Biographical and Historical Memoirs of Southern Arkansas.Chicago:The Goodspeed Publishing Company, 1890, p. 829.

[4] Biographical and Historical Memoirs of Southern Arkansas.Chicago:The Goodspeed Publishing Company, 1890, p. 829.

[5] Information in the Union AME Church files.

[6] Information in the Union AME Church files.

[7] The procedure for Pastor appointments is recorded in the Book of Discipline of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.

[8] The St. Luke CME Church Building is located at 2179 Old Camden Road, and was most recently used by Jehovah-Jireh “The Lord Will Provide” Church Ministries.

[9] Research on the history of Union AME Church was conducted by State Representative David Fields, District 5 (a member), Vernester Bates Sheeler and Doris J. Smith through conducting interviews, examining records in the Union County courthouse. and searching file cabinets.Doris is the great-great-granddaughter and Vernester is the great-great-great-grand daughter of Essex Crayton.The result of work by Smith and Sheeler is printed in the Baobab Tree, Journal of the African American Genealogical Society of Northern California, Inc./Fall 2012/ ISSN 1543-4125.Representative Fielding’s wife has been a member for her entire life.A copy of the original deed is in the possession of Doris Smith, former member residing in California.

[10] Church Anniversary programs include information regarding improvements to the physical structure and who the pastor was at that time. Old programs are in the files in the church.Forty record books dating back to the early 1900s were found stored in an old file cabinet in one of the church offices at Union AME. Efforts to preserve these records for future generations of the family and the Mt Holly community at large are underway.


Go Back