Members of the Pelham
community gather around the old school, which now serves as a
museum documenting the history of the Navarro County black
community founded in the 1800s. Daily Sun photo/BARBARA FORMAN
By BARBARA FORMAN/Daily Sun Staff
Pelham is a small community of about 50 people
and spreads over approximately 5,000 acres in Navarro County. It is rich
in history and residents have worked diligently to share with others how
it originated and, even more intriguing, how it continues.
The Pelham History Museum will have artifacts to
demonstrate its beginnings and give acclaim to the ancestors who at one
time lived in the community. It will also share the lineage of families
who remain in the community and those who return to keep the heritage
The museum, originally built in 1890, served as
the school. About 1922 or 1923 it was moved and became the community and
"We started the project last year in
November and began remodeling (the old school) in January," said
Alfred Martin, president of the museum. "We have invested
approximately $40,000 in renovations and into keeping everything
The building has been beautifully restored and
was dedicated as The Pelham Community History Museum. Residents hope
people will come and share artifacts, photographs and other items from the
past and continue to educate the future generations.
Martin said he was reared in a house with slaves.
"There was no radio or television, but the
old folks talked and I learned," he said.
Learning was an ongoing process in Pelham. Wesley
United Methodist Church was founded in 1878 and housed the very first
school in the community.
Before being named Pelham, the area was called
Forks of the Creek and was settled by black families after 1866. As more
people came, other churches also began to develop.
In addition to the already established Methodist
church, Brown's Chapel A.M.E. was also formed in 1905 and Union Baptist in
1916. Today the three churches are still active and services are
alternated from one church to the other.
Additional first settlers in the community
included the Caruthers family.
"Henry Caruthers founded our
community," said Joan Younger Davis, secretary of the museum
committee. "He was just about everybody's great, great, great,
great-grandfather. John Caruthers son was the first school teacher in
In 1975 Pelham was recognized by the state and
was awarded a historical marker. It was the first black community to be
awarded a historical marker in Navarro County. In addition to that marker,
another marker was placed at Wesley United Methodist Church in 1995 in
memory of Elmer O. Porter.
The community grew and a post office was granted
in 1898. Eventually the town was renamed by postmaster Louis Richie's wife
for her home in Pelham, Ala. By 1926 the population in the Navarro County
community had peaked at about 350 residents.
In time, several businesses were started in the
community and there were many firsts that took place. In some of the
history recorded by Catherine Porter, the community was the starting place
for a variety of opportunities.
One of the opportunities was a loan from Farmers
Home Administration, given to Mr. and Mrs. Elmer Porter to build a new
Some of the businesses that operated out of
Pelham included various grocery stores, a cafe and gas station. The Pelham
Telephone System and the Pelham Gin were also part of the community
In the late 1920s families who had telephones
were serviced by one wire that ran along the county road. Often times the
line was fastened onto tree limbs and fence posts. It was a party line
service with all of the residents on one line. Besides the telephone
system a cotton gin was built in 1920 and employed six workers. It burned
Education was a way of life in the area and there
were several who became teachers.
Since education had always been an important
factor in the community the High School Alumni Association, who also
started the historical committee, decided the best way to preserve the
history of Pelham and those who lived and died there was through a museum.
The community would like to see others share
artifacts in the museum and help to preserve a special time in history.
Barbara Forman may be contacted via e-mail at
Pelham History Museum will present a Memorial Day
program at 10:30 a.m. May 25. After the program a show-and-tell party will
be presented from 1 to 4 p.m. The community encourages others to bring
artifacts that would represent the time period and be a part of the
11/6/2001 BILL YOUNG: Pelham
an excellent example of community preservation
Archeologists work diligently to preserve sites for the future when
methods have improved so that excavation work may be better understood and
historians strive to preserve oral and written history but there are other
groups doing their best to preserve the environment or something from the
past. The citizens of the small farming community of Pelham in far western
Navarro County are not only trying to preserve their family histories,
they are trying to save the existence of their community.
Every town is dealing with the same problem of trying to maintain a
population that will allow the town to continue. Every year, the younger
generations graduate from their local high schools and venture forth to
attend a college or enter the job force in a larger city. Most never come
back to the small communities except for short visits but a few do return
to the towns where they were raised. As the older generation in each small
town passes away, the populations of each community are reduced slowly but
surely until many of the towns are gone forever.
There isn't a town in Navarro County that doesn't realize this
problem. Corsicana's population peaked around 1940 and has never achieved
this higher number since then. Looking at my 1901 map of Navarro County, I
note that there were a number of towns that are gone today. Some like
Wadeville, Re and Pisgah were relocated nearer to the new railroads. The
names were changed to become Kerens, Navarro and Richland respectively.
Other towns also moved to be near the railroads but retained their
For the past few weeks my wife, Bobbie Jean, and I have been going
around looking at historical markers. The Texas Historical Commission has
wanted each local county historical commission to check each and every
marker within their county as to the condition of each marker, the
physical location according to the directions given and the accessibility
to each marker. Catherine Porter of Pelham is one of Navarro County's
commission members but she is recovering from serious back surgery so
Bobbie Jean and I decided to check the markers in her area. I haven't been
through the Pelham area in many, many years. In fact, probably the last
time I traveled this far west on Farm-to-Market Road 744 was to go to
Malone to eat fried catfish and sip on something other than a coke. I must
confess that was over 40 years ago! Pelham has changed from what I
remember but I was impressed with the small community that remains today.
The citizens are working to save their settlement.
According to "Memories of Pelham," a book published by the
Pelham Community Organization in September of 1999, Pelham is a community
that is trying to keep their town from becoming another abandoned
"spot in the road." The original settlement was comprised of
freed blacks just after the end of the Civil War. Several of the original
settlers acquired farm land in between the "Forks of the Creek"
and the first name of the settlement was Forks of the Creek. When Navarro
Mills Lake was built part of the town was forced to move to higher ground
but through all of the adversity, the town is still going.
The Pelham Community Organization not only has published a booklet
with grant funds, they hold several meetings annually to get some of the
younger family members to come back and take an interest in the town where
they were raised plus the organization has several ongoing fund-raisers.
Currently, the town has two historical markers, one for the community and
the other, for Wesley Chapel Methodist Church. Two other churches still
have an active congregation also in the settlement. The Pelham Community
marker is in a small roadside park along the side of FM 744 that is well
maintained by the local citizens. They have also placed small stone
markers for many of their townspeople in the small park.
I am impressed with what the Pelham group is and has accomplished,
not only with what they are trying to do to save their heritage and their
community, but how well the town is maintained. All of the churches are
neat and painted and the general appearance of the community shows a lot
of pride. My hat is off to the families of Pelham in trying to preserve
their past. By the way, they are a nice group to visit with also.
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