Pelham History
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The Pelham Community
By L. L. Wilkes
Originally published in "The Navarro County Scroll", 1966
Reprinted with permission of the Navarro County Historical Society

Pelham, the largest of the three all-Negro communities treated in this historical account, [see also Babylon & Antioch] is located in the extreme western portion of Navarro County.  It is twenty-five miles west of Corsicana, the county seat, and ten miles north of Hubbard, five miles east of Malone, and four miles south of Irene, in adjoining Hill County.

The center of Pelham's community life is less that one mile from the Hill-Navarro county line, and a portion of the territory included in this rural settlement is in the first-named county.  Approximately 5,500 acres of land are included in the community area.  At one time its population was 350 inhabitants.

The first settlers in the area -- the Westbrook family -- arrived in 1866, and founded a community south of Pelham, known as "Forks of the Creek."  A second family, the Sneeds, located a settlement there the following year.

Both of these families were Methodists, and were followed by a Methodist minister, Rev. Holmes, in 1870.  Henry Carruthers also arrived during that year.  The first child born in the community was Willie Carruthers, the father of the late Rev. J. M. Carruthers.

Other early arrivals included William Walker and Moses Stanford (1873), Dave Henry (1881), Tom Cook (1890), Jake Thomas (1896), Jasper Glass (1897), and Andrew Bell in 1899.

The Movement to Pelham

"Forks of the Creek" was a short distance southeast of the later and permanent settlement at Pelham.  The first location was in the Ash Creek bottomlands where wood, water, and tillable soil were available.  But cultivation of the soil was hampered by frequent overflows from the creek channels.

Undoubtedly, this condition was an important factor in causing the establishment of a settlement on the higher ground in the Pelham area.  The decision to abandon the "Forks of the Creek" section and move to the new location was also influenced by the development of farm implements that made possible the cultivation on the heavier and more fertile soil in the Blackland Prairie around Pelham.

Pelham Gets a Post Office

The new settlement developed rapidly at the turn of the century.  The Richie brothers, Less and Levi, had already opened a grocery store in the area, in 1896.  Two years later a post office was approved for the community.  It and the village were named by Lewis R. Ritchie, whose wife came from Pelham, Alabama.

Mail came to the Emmett post office, a few miles east of the village, and was brought to the Pelham office by Jeff Carruthers.  Luther Bell was the second mail carrier and transported the mail by horse and buggy from Irene, a neighboring town in eastern Hill County.  When the rural free delivery mail service was inaugurated by the Post Office Department in 1903, the post office at Pelham was discontinued.  Since that date mail has been delivered by a carrier from the post office at Hubbard in Hill County.

Business Houses

In 1895, Mr. A. Lockhard opened a store on the Quince Henry farm and named it "Need More."  Other grocery stores were established at the new townsite by George Carruthers and L. B. Porter.  At various times, cafes were operated by Quince Henry, Luther Bell, Jim Swinney, Calvin Dotson and Dave Henry.

Lewis and Bruce martin opened a grocery store in 1923, and a combination grocery store and market was operated by Harold Hawkins.   Bertha Porter had a grocery store that was in operation until 1949.

A millinery shop was opened in the Odd Fellow's Hall and was operated by Luch Martin, in conjunction with Levi Richie's store.  A telephone exchange and office were opened in 1918 by Lewis and Laura Richie.  John Henry had a blacksmith ship that began operations in 1894.

Charlie Ross and Jake Thomas built a gin, and all the cotton raised in the immediate area was ginned there.  It was hauled to the gin in horse-and-mule-drawn wagons during most of the time it was in operation.

The first automobile appeared in Pelham in 1911, and was owned by Dolph Martin.  It was a Velie which had the steering wheel on the right side of the car.

The coming of the automobile and the building of good roads brought about the decline of Pelham as a trade center.  Residents in the area were attracted to the better marketing facilities in the surrounding towns.    Today Pelham has only two business establishments -- the Lois Bell Grocery store and the Carruthers Filling Station.

Pelham's Churches

Methodist

The first Methodist Episcopal Church was organized in the late 1870's by Rev. Gabriel Wilson.  The building in which the congregation met was a combination log church and schoolhouse, which was located on the John Carruther's farm.  Later it was moved near the cemetery, and a building was constructed out of lumber.  Subsequently the church and school were separated.   The first school teacher to use the combination building was John Carruthers.

In 1911, during the pastorate of Rev. Daniels, the church was moved to its present site.  It was destroyed by fire in 1931, but was rebuilt in 1933.  Rev. J. B. Phoenix was the pastor at the time.

The oldest member of the church is Viola Smith.   Next in order of age is Mr. O. E. Ross. The third oldest member is Mrs. J. P. Martin, who has served as church organist, has taught Sunday School Classes, and has worked with the Epworth League.  Mrs. Martin is still an active member, although she has lost her eyesight.

Brown Chapel, A. M. E.

Tom Cook gave land for a building site for this church.  The fist pastor was Rev. G. R. Pearson, and the first Sunday School Superintendent was Pat Cook.  Rev. Carver was the second pastor.  The church was named for Mr. Pompey Brown, the oldest member and the father-in-law of Tom Cook.   Other senior members of the congregation were Mrs. Ann Blair and Mr. John Cook.

Brown's Chapel was organized in 1905.  It was on the Blooming Grove Circuit in the Waxahachie District.  The district was composed of the St. Andrews, Richland, Blooming Grove and Brown's Chapel congregations.  The church was destroyed by fire in 1937, and was rebuilt the following year.

Union Baptist Church

This church was organized in 1916 by Rev. W. M. Thornton.  A brush arbor served as the first meeting place.  The church was destroyed by a storm in 1937, but was rebuilt in 1954.  Mrs. Alice Bell is the oldest member and is very active in working with the young people in the congregation.

The Pelham School

The fist school in the Pelham community was housed in a church building.  Like many of the white schools, it was probably operated on a subscription and tuition basis for several years.  John Carruthers was the fist teacher.

When a public school was established in 1899, it was named the Ash Creek Independent School District.  The school building was located on its present site, and on land purchased from Dolph Martin.  Money to construct the building was contributed by the Rosenwald Foundation and local families.

Professor T. J. Douglas was the first principal and served in that capacity for twenty-four years.  Mr. Z.W. Carroll followed Professor Douglas as principal, and served until 1943, when he was succeeded by W. P. Davenport.

For many years the school operated as a twelve-grade system that included an accredited high school.  It had a well-rounded program of studies, and its graduates were permitted to enter college upon graduation from the school.  Many of the students took advantage of this opportunity.

Pelham claims to be the first school in this area to operate on an integrated basis.  This was begun in 1950 when a Spanish family, with five children of school age, moved into the area.  Permission to enroll in the Pelham school was given by the district's trustees.  A happy working relationship existed between the two racial groups.

At the present time the school operates as an eight grade system.  Miss Adolphus Marie Martin serves as superintendent, principal and teacher in the district.  A teacher aid provides assistance to Miss martin.   Her sister, Buena Martin, who is a Pelham school graduate, teaches in the neighboring Malone school system.

[ Schools Index ]

Pelham -- A Farming Community

From the time of its establishment the economy of the Pelham community has been supported primarily by revenue derived from the tilling of its fertile farmland.  It is in the heart of the Blackland Belt that traverses a considerable portion of Navarro County.  Some of the most productive land in Texas is located in this area.

There are several large landowners in the section.   Lewis Martin has 897 acres in the community.  Elmer Porter owns approximately 2,000 acres within and outside the Pelham territory.  Other residents are owners of smaller, but no less fertile tracts.  Some of the acreage is leased to white tenants.

The businesslike and efficient manner in which these people have operated their farms has made it possible for them to construct attractive and well-furnished homes (some built with brick and Austin stone); to send many of their children to institutions of higher learning; and to establish good credit ratings with banks and merchants in the surrounding towns.  Many members of the younger generations have become doctors, teachers, ministers, and members of other worth-while professions.

There have been some efforts to discover oil on their farms.  Test wells have been drilled on the Himmie Carruthers, Dovie Cook, Elmer Porter, and Lewis Martin tracts.  Although there have been no producing wells, the owners of the farms have derived a considerable amount of revenue from leasing operations in the area.

Much of the acreage formerly devoted to row-crop farming in the section is being converted to pasture, as cattle raising has become a profitable business in this portion of the state.  This use of land in the Pelham community will lift its economy to a higher and stronger level.

Pelham -- A Model Community

In Summary, it can be said that Pelham is an example of what can be accomplished by a group of hard-working and industrious people, regardless of their racial background.  The people who established and developed this community have been law-abiding and respected citizens of this county.  They have made a worthy contribution to the development of the section in which they located, and to the county of which it is an integral part.

 


Navarro County TXGenWeb
Copyright March, 2009
Edward L. Williams & Barbara Knox