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Memories from the Museum

January 6th, 2009 by

In 2007 another grand old structure of Monticello and Drew County has reached its centennial milestone. The present Wood Avenue Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church sanctuary celebrated its 100th birthday.

The building we see today was begun in August, 1907, and was designed as a variation on the “Akron Plan” for church buildings. The Akron plan basically called for a sanctuary with classrooms surrounding it. (For more on the Akron Plan, see the 2008 Drew County Historical Journal.)

Before we go further it should be noted here that this building was not the first A.R.P. church to occupy the present site. It is actually the third building.

Let’s examine the history of the Associate Reformed Presbyterians in Monticello. To do this, we must look back to 1853.

In 1853 Dr. R. B. Harper, Hugh Wilson, Richard Wright and Samuel Dickson, along with their families, came to Drew County from Salem Church in Tipton County, Tennessee. Their pastor from Tennessee, Rev. John Wilson, visited in the winter of 1854-1855 and organized what became the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church of Monticello. (Rev. Wilson was the grandfather of Walter, Minnie, Pattie and Wells Moffatt of Monticello. This was the first A. R. P. church in southeast Arkansas.)

Soon the small congregation was deeded a lot on April 12, 1855, and the summer of 1856 saw a church erected on the site followed by a house for the pastor’s use.

A minister, Rev. James N. Moore, had arrived in July, 1855, but he was ill and died without preaching a sermon. The following September Rev. J. A. Sloan was appointed, but he stayed only a short time.

The next few years saw a bevy of ministers come to the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church who stayed only briefly. The church also saw three other churches formed in Drew County as its offshoots. The churches were located in the extinct communities of Saline (west of Monticello), Ebenezer, and the first and best known, Mount Zion Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church in northern Drew County.

The Civil War brought more tumultuous times to young church. However the return of their respected Rev. John Wilson from Tennessee in 1867 foretold of better times for the church. At that time there were 29 members of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church. By 1874 the membership had increased to 38. Rev. Wilson faithfully served until 1880.

In 1881 Rev. J. L. Young was appointed to preach at the Monticello church twice monthly. He was also in charge of the other aforementioned churches. By 1883 the Monticello ARP Church had 37 members.

Missing records leave the events of the church in the next few years unknown. However, records pick back up in 1889 when a new church building was completed for a sum of $1415.00. A manse was built west of the church in 1895 for $1000.00. Other improvements on the lot totaled $100.00. An organ was introduced into the church in 1899.

The A. R. P. church grew under Rev. Young’s leadership, but he passed away in 1904.

He was followed by the short tenure of a Rev. J. A. Smith. Then, in October of 1906 the church gained the leadership of Rev. S. J. Patterson.

Rev. Patterson’s guidance built the A. R. P. church building we see today. Begun in 1907, it was completed in 1908 at a cost of $7,047. The cost of furniture raised the total outlay to $8800.00

Rev. Patterson left the Monticello field in 1915 to accept work in Colorado.

After his departure several ministers came and went until 1924 when Rev. J. R. Edwards took the position and stayed until 1945 – a total of 21 years. During his tenure the 1907 church underwent various renovations and improvements.

In 1940 the manse was repaired, the aging church tower was removed, an educational and recreational annex was built and a tennis court was constructed. (The tennis courts are gone, but the annex remains.) These improvements cost nearly $8,000. The annex was a gift to the church from Mr. and Mrs. W.H. McQuiston.

When Rev. Edwards left in 1945, he was followed by Rev. J. Calvin Smith. In 1948 under Rev. Smith’s direction the church demolished the 1895 manse and built a modern brick home at a cost of $15, 685.00. It is still in use today.

The 1895 organ was replaced in 1949 by the beautiful organ in the present church building.

Rev. Smith left Monticello’s A. R. P. Church in 1950 and several pastors served for short periods in the next few years, including Rev. W. F. Mitchell and Rev. G. I. Williamson.

In 1955 the church celebrated its Centennial with a day long program. Rev. J. Calvin Smith returned to deliver a sermon and lunch was held in the W. C. Whaley Elementary School cafeteria across the street. Over two hundred members, former members and pastors attended the event.

Later that year Rev. Williamson left and was replaced by Rev. W. W. Parkinson who served until his sudden death in July, 1957.

In the spring of 1958the church had no pastor but was holding meetings conducted by the Synod evangelist, Rev. Jack Heinshon, when strong winds of tornado force hit the building breaking most of the stained glass windows on the south and west sides of the building. Considerable other damage was done to the building.
(Members in the church at that time included Miss Pattie Moffatt who well remembers “ducking” down in the pews and later continuing the service using candles.)

Rev. Thomas G. Morris assumed the pastorate in 1959 and was replaced by Rev. William J. McCauley in 1961.

A new sound system was donated to the church in 1965 by Mrs. Una Stubblefield.

In 1966 Rev. Stubblefield left to be replaced by Rev. Mark Grier (1967-1973). During his pastorate a Homecoming celebration was held in 1970 with over 100 in attendance.

Rev. Grier was followed by Rev. William B. Everett in 1973. Later that year the Board of Deacons requested that the name of the church be changed from A. R. P. Church to Wood Avenue Presbyterian Church.

The congregation discussed the pros and cons of the matter before voting to approve the name change.

The historic church has been named the Wood Avenue Presbyterian Church since then, but locals still call it the A. R. P. Church. Several more ministers came and went until Rev. Mike Garvey located here. He has served long and faithfully.

After 152 years, the Wood Avenue Presbyterian Church today has a small, but devout congregation who holds to its tenets and plans to keep it going strong through this 21st century and beyond.

(Much of the material herein comes from a history of the Wood Avenue A. R. P. Church written by the late Walter A. Moffatt, Sr., father of Walter, Minnie, Pattie and Wells Moffatt of Monticello.)

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