Tioga First Baptist Church Online-
Tuesday, June 18, 2024
Trusting Jesus, Building Relationships, Carrying the Message


A Brief Sketch of Tioga First Baptist Beginnings



History is a powerful teacher. George Santayana wrote, "Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Perhaps Santayana himself remembered these words of Scripture as he wrote:

"Ask the former generations
and find out what their fathers learned,
for we were born only yesterday and know nothing,
and our days on earth are but a shadow.
Will they not instruct you and tell you?
Will they not bring forth words from their understanding?"
                                                       (Job 8:8-9, NIV)

The history of Tioga First Baptist Church is valuable not only for remembering the past, but as instruction for the future. As you read the history, ask yourself what instruction and understanding you are learning.

Trees and Trains. In the middle of the nineteenth century, a little village sprang up around new grist and saw mills on the Iron Mountain Railroad approximately six miles north of Alexandria, Louisiana. Nestled in what was a massive long leaf yellow pine forest, one of the mill owners named the village Levin. Settlers spoke of squirrels, opossums, raccoons, and rabbits in abundance. The screeching of owls mingled with the screams of panthers who roamed the forests after dark. From dawn to dusk, birds of every color and species sang from lofty perches in white oak, pin oak, red gum, and beech trees. Many of the trees that sprouted along the banks of fish-filled creeks grew over 100 feet tall. By 1897, Levin village boasted a depot, saw mill, post office, grocery store, saw mill houses, one licensed saloon, a few residences, and a school.

As the twentieth century neared, Tioga Lumber Company, one in a succession of area lumber mills, became the central industry in Levin. In 1899, some of the mill families contacted Isaiah Watson, missionary from Big Creek Baptist Association, concerning a matter close to their hearts--the establishment of a Southern Baptist Church at Levin. While the exact day, month, and place are not known, by 1899 an active church met at Levin. A May 1900 item from The Baptist Chronicle notes the church at Levin had already outgrown her meeting place, Levin School. At the 1900 Big Creek Baptist Association Annual Meeting, Deacon James Perkins Croom presented a letter from Levin Baptist Church "which was read, and on being found orthodox, received a hand of fellowship extended their delegate." Big Creek Missionary and Levin Baptist Church Pastor Isaiah Watson reported that the church purchased one acre of land to build a house of worship. By 1901, Baptist historical records list the church at Levin as "Tioga," and by 1902, Tioga Baptist Church gained admission to Big Creek Baptist Association and the Louisiana Baptist Convention.

Progress and Problems. In 1901, the church constructed an eighteen by thirty foot building with perpendicular wooden boards and a shingle roof on her one acre tract of land. Two rows of slat pews faced the pulpit. Set in a grove of beautiful oak trees this humble edifice was the center of life for much of the community, but there were hindrances to the development of the church. Most of the early pastors served only quarter-time or half-time. Salaries were low and travel was limited to railroad or horse and buggy. Church attendance was low and lay leaders often had inadequate training. The result was slow church growth and discouraged pastors who stayed with the church only a few months or, at best, a year or two.

An observation concerning Tioga appeared in the November 10, 1902 edition of the Alexandria Daily Town Talk, " A good Sunday School as well as a literary school would be a great benefit to Tioga." Tioga Baptist Church began just such a good Sunday School. Classes for children and young people met in 1905-06 on Sunday afternoons. Preschool and younger children were members of the "card class." They were given a card each week with a picture and Bible verse. Soon the Sunday School included adult units. By 1915, the Sunday School was the heart of the church evangelism program.

Church reports printed in The Baptist Chronicle note both progress and problems. Pastor H. M. Michael stated in 1905, "Our work at Tioga is bringing forth fruit very slowly (total membership 20). I found that they pulled through Christmas like men of God. We are trying to work at Tioga in a good heart expecting the blessing to come. Our congregation gave better evidence of interest Sunday than in a long time. We have in Tioga people who are 'so good' that they anoint their converts with machine oil. My Lord and Master! When will such gross darkness give way to the true light of God's precious truth." Four months later, he said that several young people had "stood for prayer" and he was still "hoping the change would come." He resigned without his hopes being realized.

Stability. 1906 brought happier times for the flock at Tioga. Carey L. O'Bryan, of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Alexandria, and an employee of The Baptist Chronicle, felt the call of God to preach the Gospel and was invited to pastor the church at Tioga. O'Bryan became the first full-time pastor. However, two months later O'Bryan decided to share two Sundays a month with Woodworth Baptist Church. Enthusiastic accounts of Tioga Baptist Church’s new vitality appeared in the Chronicle. J. T. Merritt, the church’s Sunday School Superintendent, wrote that the church was having prayer meetings on Thursday nights and Sunday School at 3:30 Sunday afternoon. A marked increase in baptisms and membership gave evidence of a church at work for the Lord.

In 1907, the Chronicle noted the influence of the church in the community, "Tioga is one of the best mill towns not withstanding. They have one licensed saloon–though we feel like its days are through. Tioga has had a hard pull but thank God she is on the forward move now." The church reported a membership of 134 on September 30, 1907 and such a good revival that "the house was too small to accommodate the people."

"Cut Outs." Tioga had a "roller coaster" economy from the start. When the lumber mills "cut out," or closed down, the community experienced a loss of families, often including some of the strong leadership in the church. The mill closures left vacant houses in the village and empty pews in the church. Offerings rose and fell in proportion to the local community economy. The number of Sunday School classes also mirrored the ebb and flow of the community. However, some Tioga residents kept their homes and found jobs in Alexandria or Pineville when there was a mill shut down. This remnant became the nucleus and strength of the church and the community.

The railroad, school, mill pond, and roads to Alexandria, Pineville, and Pollock made Tioga an ideal mill town. Great excitement blossomed when a new mill began operation, as in 1914-15. Phenomenal growth came. There was no vacancy at the mill company’s hotel, and the company’s commissary business boomed. After 1903, the community pressed The Woodmen of the World building on Second Street into service as a school. It overflowed with children. The lumber mill doctor was busy, and Tioga Baptist Church recorded the largest number of additions in her history. Pastor D. Angus Youngblood baptized 105 persons, and the church received 65 new members by transfer of membership letter.

To accommodate the growth, the church constructed a new building in 1915. The large building, known as "the tabernacle," had a wood shingle roof, sawdust floors, and wooden windows that were propped open with sticks in the summertime. Four rows of slat pews faced the pulpit and a pot bellied, wood-burning stove provided winter heat. The baptistry was underneath the floor behind the pulpit. Due to lack of water pressure from the saw mill lines, the baptistry faucet was turned on during the first day of a revival to insure enough water would trickle through to baptize all the converts by the end of the week.

Some members recall cold church members huddled by the pot bellied stove at the beginning of services in the winter. As the fire got too hot, they moved away from the stove. Before the service ended, as the fire died down, they hurriedly huddled around the stove once again. "Air conditioning" consisted of cardboard fans imprinted with advertisements from the local funeral home. Handkerchiefs were carried in pockets and purses to wipe perspiring faces. Babies squirmed in mothers' laps or slept on pallets in the aisles. Pastors used loud voices to be heard above crying and fretting children, and some even occasionally called out the names of young people who whispered to each other during the sermon.

World War I and Beyond. World War I brought soldiers from Camp Beauregard into the church. Sunday School enrollment swelled to 122. Pastor J. L. Railey was "a favorite with the boys in khaki." Shortly after the war, in 1930, enrollment dropped to 79. By 1931, the 350 seat tabernacle was in need of repair or replacement. Pastor A. N. Murray talked with the members about a new building, but, due to economics, it was deemed impossible to build. The Masons graciously let the church meet in the downstairs area of their lodge for part of 1933 and 1934. Soon, a nearby abandoned church building was discovered by the building committee. A motion to buy the church resulted in one member, who did laundry for a living, donating fifty cents–all the money she had, to help buy the building. Others followed her example so that by 1934, church members met in a new church building.

A baptistry in the new building put an end to the groups of Christians who walked or rode in wagons and buggies to Flagon Creek and Swift Water for the baptismal services on Sunday afternoons. Voices singing the grand old hymns of God's saving grace rang through the surrounding woods and tears of happiness were shed as new believers in Christ were put under the water to symbolize their new union with Christ. "Buried with Him in baptism, raised to walk in newness of life."

The church incorporated in 1945 with the trustees acting to purchase additional property adjoining existing property. Seven small houses were sold and the land cleared. Separate education space was added to the church building to house additional classes.

World War II and Beyond. World War II saw many of the young men of the church entering the armed forces of their country. After the war, returning servicemen married their hometown sweethearts or brought wives they had met and married while in the service. Children born of these marriages made educational space a priority. Some $20,000 was spent in additional Sunday School rooms in the immediate post war period. The church then felt the need to build an auditorium and use the existing building for educational purposes exclusively. The church dedicated this beautiful facility, still serving as the church worship center, on May 23, 1954. Three additional brick educational units were completed and dedicated in 1965.

Lessons. The history of Tioga First Baptist Church teaches that GOD IS FAITHFUL. "God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful." (1 Cor. 1:9, NIV)

Great is Thy faithfulness, O God, my Father
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not;
As Thou hast been, Thou forever wilt be
Great is Thy faithfulness! Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed, Thy hand hath provided;
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!
                                    –Thomas O. Chisholm