The College Avenue Story
The following story is written by a former elder and member who has long passed on. He lived through these events and thus, gives a great perspective in what happened. We are proud of our past and thank those who came before us and their great vision. It has set us on a godly trajectory for the future.
“Who We Are”
n the early part of the nineteenth century the movement to restore New Testament Christianity spread through Kentucky and into Arkansas as a part of the western movement of the American pioneers, a few years ahead of the 1849 gold rush to California. It was the work of devoted gospel preachers. A.S. Hayden wrote in 1875,
“With love in their hearts, northing in their pocketbooks, and with little on their backs they recognized no discouragements, glorified in their weaknesses and called the people out of spiritual Babylon.”
In Arkansas the area around Nashville was a radiating point for the preaching of the gospel. By 1830 the Corinth church near Nashville was teaching that all believers could be members of the church of Christ just as they were in New Testament times. Fifty miles to the south, in 1842 Tolbert Fanning baptized a man at Troy (near Stephens), where a church was established. Meetings were held in log school houses until log church buildings could be erected or, in many cases, they met under brush arbors.
As the movement spread men riding horseback came south, equipped with a King James Bible in their saddle pockets. Missionaries also came up the Ouachita River by steamboat, as did the Breedlove family who settled near Crossett. The Breedlove influence was felt in Union County where four churches were organized. West of El Dorado near Wyatt was Antioch; north of El Dorado was Quinn; east was Soul’s Chapel, and near Strong was New London. Revivals were held in the summertime as a convenient season for people to be baptized in nearby streams and ponds.
Union County remained a rural area during the nineteenth century. The population of El Dorado in 1890 was only 455. With the discovery of oil on January 10, 1921, the town became a city almost overnight.
In July 1923, J. B. Priddy, a brother Shirey, and C. P. Walker met to organize a church on Hawthorne Street, a block south of East Hillsboro Street. They, along with others, constructed a small frame building for worship.
Approximately a dozen or more members continued there until 1928 when Brother Walker objected to Sunday School classes. He and some of his associates moved to Spring Street (on the south side of town) where they constructed a house of worship. The Hawthorne building was sold to another religious body. In 1953, the Spring Street church moved to its present location on East Faulkner.
In August 1928, J. B. Priddy led the organizing of a church to meet in the Courtroom on the newly constructed City Hall. The charter members were Mr. & Mrs. J. B. Priddy, Mr. & Mrs. F. D. McNutt, Mr. & Mrs. T. A. Perry, Emma Harris and Henry Hogg.
In 1930 a lot was purchased at Block and Hardy streets where a frame building was erected. The monthly payments of $45 were difficult to make, but the Lord provided the way. You have heard the expression “totally committed to the Lord” – such describes the efforts of sister T. A. Perry. Her husband worked at a service station at a low salary. She did a man’s laundry for one dollar per week and gave it all to the church. Remember, there were no washing machines, yet she built a fire under the wash pot to boil clothes and to heat the irons to iron his shirts. Brother Perry picked up scrap wood from the stores for fuel since most merchandise was packed in wood rather than cardboard.
What was it like the first full year at Block & Hardy? On a Sunday in May of 1931 there were 34 present for Sunday school. Among that number were two visitors. A total of 88 chapters had been read in the Bible during the previous week by those present. The collection amounted to $1.68. The weather was fair. The Sunday School lesson was taken from Elam’s Notes and was entitled “Jesus Enters Jerusalem as King.”
The membership of Block & Hardy was increased by the arrival of the families of: J. C. Davis, I. L. Herrin, W. R. Risinger, Harry Ware, Sr., Frank White, Scott Ware and others. They served as elders and leaders in the Block & Hardy church.
The Great Depression of the Thirties was not the best of times, yet the difficulties encountered seemed to draw people together. There was no welfare plan operated by the government. Instead, there was caring and sharing in the church as originally practiced in the Jerusalem church. I recall the remarkable sense of humor that was shown by the people without money. It was commonly said that we would know when the depression was over when only four people chased the same rabbit.
In the fall of 1954 the elders of Block & Hardy decided on a plan for the growth of the church in El Dorado. Having completed the building of a church building in Junction City, they considered several possible locations.
An acre of land was bought from Tom Harrell on College Avenue in El Dorado.
Leonard Stanley was in charge of the building construction. The Block & Hardy property was mortgaged for a total of $46,000 to the First National Bank and First Federal Bank of El Dorado. Sixty-six members (almost half of the Block & Hardy membership) moved to College Avenue for the dedication on August 21, 1955. The members of the College Avenue church owe a debt of gratitude to Block & Hardy (which later became the Hillsboro congregation) for mortgaging their property after losing sixty-six members and sponsoring us at our new location. It took a lot of faith and courage on Block & Hardy’s part to make that sacrifice. We at College Avenue continue to thank them, for without their help, it is doubtful that the move could have been made.
In summary, during the last one hundred years, the establishment of New Testament churches in South Arkansas is a continuing story of success along with some failures. From eight members to the present number of members in El Dorado gives you an idea of which has been dominant.
-Henry T. Hogg