San Augustine, Texas
Heritage Landmark of The United Methodist Church
Just over the border from Louisiana stands McMahan Chapel, the oldest Protestant church with a continuous history in Texas. In 1831, when Samuel Doak McMahan (1789-1854) emigrated to Texas from Tennessee, that area was the San Augustine Municipality of the Mexican Government, and Protestant preaching was illegal.
The following year, Methodist preacher James P. Stevenson was appointed to the Sabine Circuit in Louisiana, a few miles east of McMahan's home. Stevenson was asked by some Texans to come over the border and preach for them; after being assured of his safety from possible arrest, Stevenson came and held services. McMahan attended the services and then invited Stevenson to come and preach in his home, too.
Stevenson preached at McMahan's home several times; he also held a camp meeting on McMahan's property. In September, 1833, Stevenson organized a "religious society" since it was illegal to organize a church.
The Society had at least twenty charter members, including McMahan and his wife and four of their children and spouses. McMahan was named class leader and in 1837 was licensed as a local preacher.
After the Texas War of Independence in 1836, Protestant preaching was no longer illegal, and the little congregation grew as more and more white settlers moved to Texas. In December, 1837, Littleton Fowler (1802-1846) was sent as a Methodist missionary to Texas. He was named Presiding Elder (now District Superintendent) of the Texas Mission District and built his home (and district headquarters) near Samuel McMahan's house.
Some months later, the McMahan congregation built its first house of worship, a pine log chapel forty by thirty feet. Littleton Fowler served as the church's first pastor. He died in 1846 and was buried beneath the pulpit, as he had requested.
The log chapel was replaced by a frame church in 1872, which was in turn replaced by a new building in 1900. The present structure, a brick church, was built in 1949 and is the fourth building on the site.
The nearby cemetery contains the remains of Samuel D. McMahan and other early Texas Methodists.
Points of interest at this Heritage Landmark: McMahan Chapel is on a fifteen acre site. The present chapel is the fourth on the same location and is notable for its stained glass windows and the furnishings, all of which memorialize early Texas Methodists. Littleton Fowler's tombstone can be seen in the pulpit area.
In 2002, the Jack & Charlsie Maund Museum/Events Center was dedicated. The museum commemorates Methodism's first presence in Texas and honors the clergy and laity who have served McMahan Chapel. The Events Center is a popular place for confirmation classes, wedding receptions, family reunions, etc.
Littleton Fowler State Park is across the road, and next to the park is McMahan Chapel Cemetery which dates from before 1833 and is on the Old Spanish Trail (El Camino Real-The King's Highway). The cemetery has been charted and mapped with a guide to graves available just inside the gate into the cemetery.
Contributions to McMahan Chapel United Methodist Church can be made by contacting Sharron Mills (see address below). Worship services are held every 1st and 3rd Sunday at 1:30 p.m.
Special events: McMahan Chapel Day is celebrated each year on the second Saturday in October. Beginning at 10:30 a.m., it is a day-long event with hymn sings and preaching, and is followed by a covered dish dinner in the Events Center.
Area attractions: Close by are the Sabine and Angelina National Forests. Shreveport, Louisiana, is to the north, and Beaumont and Houston, Texas are to the south.
To visit: The Chapel is open daily from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.(later in the summer months). Restrooms and parking are available. If a guide is desired, contact Sharron Mills (see address below).
Location: Within the boundaries of the Texas Annual Conference in Sabine County.
Food and lodging: There are several restaurants and two motels in San Augustine.
Directions: From Interstate 10 at Beaumont, Texas, go north on U.S. 69/96 through Jasper to San Augustine, east on S H 21 for 12 miles, right on Spur 35 for 2 miles.
From Interstate 20 at Shreveport, Louisiana, travel west to Greenwood, LA; proceed south on U.S. 79 to Carthage, TX; then south on U.S. 59 to Tenaha, TX; then south on U.S. 96 through Center, TX to San Augustine, TX.
Once in San Augustine, travel east on US 21 for 11 miles; then right on Spur 35 for 2 miles.
For further information, contact: Sharron Mills, 7619 State Hwy 21 East, San Augustine, TX 75972; 936 275-6843; E-mail: email@example.com or Lufkin District Office of the United Methodist Church, 120 B East Lufkin Ave., Lufkin, TX 75901; 936-699-2213.
To learn more about United Methodist church history in this area:
Texas Conference Archivist, William C. Hardt, 10375 New Wehdem Road, Brenham, TX 77833, 979-830-0136; 979-830-5210; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Virgie Worsham Scurlock, History of McMahan's Chapel: Oldest Protestant Church in Texas with a Continuous Record of Service since 1833 (Texas(?): V.W. Scurlock, 1979).
Cleo Aubrey West, Texas Conference Methodism, 1814-1960 (n.p.: Parthenon Press, 1960).