The Oldest Standing One-Room Schoolhouse in Chambers County
By Kevin Ladd
The 1869 Wallisville Schoolhouse, which is part of the Wallisville Heritage Park in Chambers County, has served this community in many different capacities. These include: a school, a church, as a temporary Courthouse (after the burning of the Chambers County Courthouse in December 1875), in the late 1890s as the office of "The Age," the first newspaper ever published in Chambers County, and a post office in the 1920s. The building survived the historic hurricanes of 1875, 1900 and 1915. The structure was enlarged in 1885 with the addition of the stage; and in 1913, Louis Holmes made other improvements to the building. Funerals, dances, weddings, plays and other social events of the community have all been held within its walls. In more recent times, it has served as the headquarters of the Wallisville Heritage Park from 1979 to 1983, when the present headquarters was constructed. The church also met in the schoolhouse in 2004 while the existing church was being remodeled. Our focus, however, is on its role as the Methodist church for the Wallisville community.
The schoolhouse served as the Methodist church until 1895, when a beautiful church was built here through the dedicated fundraising efforts of the Ladies Aid Society. After a tornado destroyed that building in 1919, the schoolhouse once more served the congregation.
Rev. Hal T. Cunningham, Jr. came onto the scene in November 1934, when he was assigned as the pastor for the local circuit. He was then 29 years old and quickly became popular with the locals. The newspaper wrote: "Rev. Cunningham is a dynamic speaker with a radiant personality. . . The Methodist church at Wallisville will henceforth have regular church services. Rev. Cunningham has made his initial trip to Wallisville, holding services there on Monday night [Nov. 11] at the school house, with about forty persons in attendance. Plans were formulated Monday night for services to be held there bi-monthly, each Friday night after the first and third Mondays."
The congregation held numerous fundraisers over the next few months, including an oyster supper on November 24, 1934. Mrs. Dale "Annie" LaFour extended an invitation to everyone to enjoy the feast. A play was presented on March 15, 1935. The cast included Carrie Grubenham Silva, Mary Emma Scales Speights, Eddie Munger, Willard Silva, Son Mayes and Rev. Cunningham. Miss Bertie Gatlin was the director and was also in the play. Evelyn Mayes joined the church in 1941 while Rev. M.M. Davis was pastor. She is our oldest living member. Frankie Stephenson and Frank Mayes built pews for the building in the early 1940s. One of these old pews was recently donated to the church by Virginia Mayes Loya of Wallisville.
Although services were only held twice a month during this time period, Sunday School took place every Sunday morning. One of the early teachers was Tabitha Mayes Chambliss. Gloria Gordon Appling was one of her students in the 1930s. The teachers in the 1940s and 1950s were Mary Emma Speights, who taught the Primary class; Elva Stephenson, Intermediate class; Nina Mayes, Junior class; and Tavia LaFour, the Adult class.
The Primary class was held on the stage, and the dark green lined velvet curtain, made by Margie Mayes, was pulled during the lessons. On the front two pews on the Gospel side, the Intermediate class was held. On the back two pews on that same side of the church, the Junior class met. On the Epistle side of the building, the Adult class was taught. The building which seems small today easily accommodated all four of these classes.
All of the children of Wallisville attended Sunday School. Those we remember the most were: Mary Louise Mayes, Iris Rasberry, Vida Mae Stephenson, Dalton LaFour, Naomi LaFour, Buddy LaFour, Punk LaFour, Tavia Rae LaFour, Sylvia Crain, Billy LaFour, Emma Lou LaFour, Booster Stephenson, Wayne LaFour, George Mayes, Marsha Mayes, Patricia LaFour, Reita LaFour, Sharon LaFour, and Donny, Jimmy and Caroline Munson. Dave and John Middleton attended while visiting on weekends with their grandparents, Archie and Effie Middleton, at Wallisville. In the summer Gayle and Bill Cutshall of Houston, grandchildren of Nez and Bertha Dunman, also took part in our Sunday School. Margie Mayes, a talented musician, always played the piano for the church and Sunday School also.
This school, the oldest such facility still standing in Chambers County today, is a wonderful link to our past. Once all is completely restored in Wallisville, it is our hope that we can occasionally hold services in this sacred place.