Stephen F. Austin State University

Prairie Grove Missionary Baptist Church (January 2012)

Prairie Grove Missionary Baptist Church
By Elaine Bay

The first African-American church organized in Rains County was Prairie Grove Baptist Church in the early 1800s. It's location of about 3.5 miles northwest of the town Simon Villa, off of today's Highway 69. The church membership met in a log structure and was organized under the Poke Ivy Family.

Many families traveled to join in the services in horses and buggies, or wagons pulled by their farm horses, or simply on horseback. People would come for miles from the Richland Community, near Point, Rains County, Texas and from the Jacksonville community, about five miles north of Emory, Rains County, Texas. They would prepare lunches for their families to enjoy on Sunday as well as take care of their horses by putting their food in an old tub on Saturday nights for the next day.

With the congregation growing, they soon outgrew that log structure at Simon Villa. So plan were me to move from Simon Villa to Pine Tree Hill; another log structure was built to accommodate the congregation. This home of the second church building was the site of the old lodge hall. When the congregation again outgrew their second church building, the church building was used as a school for many years under the leadership of Professor Will Mandelt.

The third pastor of Prairie Grove Baptist Church was Rev. Cicero Commodore Chambers. As a slave, Cicero had been brought from Virginia to Texas in 1856. Cicero's ambition was to free himself from slavery. Soon after arriving in Texas, Cicero bought a young woman for $1500.00 and they were married. His plan was to work overtime for his slave master in order to earn enough money to achieve his ambition; although he worked long and hard, the saving for his freedom was slow. In order to accomplish earning his and his wife's ambition of freedom, Cicero had to follow a new plan that was difficult for him. His wife consented for her husband to sell her to a nearby plantation, with the privilege of redeeming her at a later date. Cicero proceeded to save in order to free himself with the money he got from the sale of his wife. He soon worked and saved enough to buy his wife's freedom as well. As a free man, Rev. Chambers was also Moderator of the Cypress Baptist Association for 22 years, 1873 - 1895.

The congregation moved a third time to its present site, about three miles west from Emory, Rains County, Texas in the Sand Flat community. Logs to build the sanctuary were bought from Mr. H.M. Murray. Later the structure was changed to a salt box building, built by P.W. Upshaw with the assistance of the men of the church.

In 1925, just before the Great Depression hit the country, the box building was torn down and a larger building was built by Rev. L.W. Fuller and the men of the church. This building was able to accommodate the many people who were attending the church at this time.

In 1954, the fourth church building was torn down and a fifth church building was built by McDavid Lumber Company under the leadership of Rev. David Griffin. Two years later in 1956, Rev. Cleveland Alexander became the pastor of the Prairie Grove Missionary Baptist Church. Under his leadership in 1964 a dining room and new classrooms were built on the north side of the building by McDaniel Lumber Company. Two years later in 1968 central air and heat were installed.

Fourteen years later in 1982 the present building was remodeled with two rooms added to the entrance alongside the new foyer. The building was also bricked at this time. The concrete work was done by Troy McMillan and the reconstruction was done by Robert Ainsworth. The masonry work was done by Swopes Interior; exterior painting was done by Lorenzo Robinson and Son; and the electrical work was done by Fannon Garrett. Rev. Cleveland Alexander, who lead in the growth of the congregation and the remodeling of the current building, was pastor of Prairie Grove Missionary Baptist Church for 28 years, until 1985.

Other changes were made to the building in the 1990s, including converting the old kitchen into a small parsonage; the addition of a fellowship hall was built onto the south side of the existing building; the baptistery was installed; choir pews were installed; two bathrooms were added to the front of the building; the parsonage was renovated; classrooms were recarpeted; and a new heating system with ceiling fans replaced the old heating system installed in 1968.

Pastors from the 1850's to the present:


The Prairie Grove Cemetery is just east of the current church building. The oldest tombstone markers are: Hobs, Mark, buried July 14, 1888 Reed, infant daughter of Henry & Lena Reed, born & died May 20, 1899 unknown, Johney L., 3 months old, buried April 1891

Prairie Grove Missionary Baptist Church : One Hundred Twenty - First Church Anniversary, 7 May 2000