And Now You Know Orange’s Oldest Baptist Church organized in 1857

Published 2:26 pm Saturday, October 19, 2019

Mike Louviere

Orange became a settlement about 1852. When early frontier towns were settled usually the establishment of churches were among the first organizations in the new towns. Orange was no exception. 

A group of people of like mind regarding a religious denomination would find a meeting site and as time went by a church would be established.

According to history, the first meeting of Baptists in Orange was “under a clump of trees” that stood near the location that became the municipal airport. Today, that location is near the Madison Lodge of the Masons.

In 1857, a man named Dave Foreman who resided in Big Woods near Edgerly, Louisiana, about 45 miles from Orange, came to Madison, as the town was then named, and served as moderator of the congregation that organized what is now known as Old First Orange Baptist Church.

Unfortunately, the records of those early years prior to 1912 were destroyed in a house fire. 

Someone with foresight wrote in church minutes of January 21, 1912, that the church was organized under the name of First Baptist Church of Madison.

Organizational records listed the charter members as: Brother and Sister Hollingsworth, Brother and Sister Harvey Finch, Brother Josh Harman (or Harmon?), Brother Aion Ashworth, Brother Henry Humble, and Brother F.A. Burton.

Early names of the church included: First Orange Missionary Baptist Church, First Baptist Church of Orange, First Missionary Baptist Church, First Orange Baptist Church, and Old First Orange Baptist Church.

No explanation exists for the name changes. 

Minutes of the church for March 7, 1926, are headed “The First Baptist Church”. 

One month later the heading is: “Old First Orange Baptist Church”. The records make no mention of the change of the name or why it was changed.

Because of the loss of the records destroyed when the home of Brother and Mrs. Joe Harmon burned, it is difficult to ascertain how many locations the church has had over the years.

The “clump of trees” where the church first met was also called “an island” since it was a grove of trees in a salt grass prairie. 

Later, the church moved to a location known as “Old Aunt Jennie Jett Island”. That location was near the crossing of the railroad on Old Highway 90, near the site today of J.B.’s Barbeque.

The church then moved to its present location on the south side of Interstate 10, near the intersection with Highway 62, about 1882. 

The first acquisition of land was when Joshua Cole deeded to the church one acre of land for one dollar in October 1892.

In April 1905, Frank Brown gave the church two acres of land. Mrs. Denease Peveto sold the church .257 acres on February 4, 1959, and on January 22, 1964, the church purchased .5 acres from the Sabine River Authority.

As a gift to the church, Newman and Dollie Peveto deeded two tracts of land to the church on January 22, 1964, and later another small tract in 1974.

In 1976, the church bought land from the SRA that included the old rice canal. The same year the church bought 12 acres from Newton Harmon. This last purchase brought the land the church-owned to 18 acres.

An announcement in the Texas Baptist paper on October 7, 1857, was a plea for a pastor to serve the church. Reverend D.D. Foreman, who had helped organize the church, promised to preach once a month until a pastor could be called to serve the church.

Early records do not clearly define the list of pastors who served the church. Until 1931, the records are sketchy at best. Baptist Associational records show that there have been about 17 pastors of the church.

The Reverend F.A. Burton was born in England and settled in year lifespan, what was then called “Green’s Bluff” after he came to Texas, he became a charter member of the church and was a member for 61 years. Rev. Burton served as a pastor for 70 years of his 88-year lifespan.

His tenure as pastor of Old First Orange Baptist Church included the years 1869-1871, 1880-1887, and the years 1911, 1912, 1914.

Another long-time pastor serving the church in the early years was the Reverend Marion Stephenson, a noted Baptist pastor, missionary, and evangelist. He served the church from 1894 to 1905, a total of 12 years.

The church has had the ups and downs of most churches throughout its history and remains an active church today, proud of being part of Orange County history.

“And now you know.”