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COALVILLE UNITED METHODIST CHURCH


In the early 1800s, families settled what was called Coalville - the name coming from their means of livelihood.  The pioneers who settled near the Biloxi River began turning the ancient pine forests into coal.  The resin by-product preserved boat ropes and the charcoal, mostly used for cooking, was shipped to New Orleans and Mobile by schooners because the sparsely populated South Mississippi panhandle didn’t have need for it all.  It was here that coal was burned to make fuel for the area.  When the major business became wool and not coal, the community became known as Woolmarket.  


Millard Fillmore was the 13th President of the United States.  In his rise from a log cabin to wealth and the White House, Millard Fillmore demonstrated that through methodical industry and some competence an uninspiring man could make the American dream come true.


Born in the Finger Lakes country of New York in 1800, Fillmore as a youth endured the privations of frontier life. He worked on his father's farm, and at 15 was apprenticed to a cloth dresser. He attended one-room schools, and fell in love with the redheaded teacher, Abigail Powers, who later became his wife.


In 1823, he was admitted to the bar; seven years later he moved his law practice to Buffalo. As an associate of the Whig politician Thurlow Weed, Fillmore held state office and for eight years was a member of the House of Representatives. In 1848, while Comptroller of New York, he was elected Vice President.


Fillmore presided over the Senate during the months of nerve-wracking debates over the Compromise of 1850. He made no public comment on the merits of the compromise proposals, but a few days before President Taylor's death, he intimated to him that if there should be a tie vote on Henry Clay's bill, he would vote in favor of it.


Thus the sudden accession of Fillmore to the Presidency in July 1850 brought an abrupt political shift in the administration. Taylor's Cabinet resigned and President Fillmore at once appointed Daniel Webster to be Secretary of State, thus proclaiming his alliance with the moderate Whigs who favored the Compromise.


A bill to admit California still aroused all the violent arguments for and against the extension of slavery, without any progress toward settling the major issues.


  1. Admit California as a free state.

  2. Settle the Texas boundary and compensate her.

  3. Grant territorial status to New Mexico.

  4. Place Federal officers at the disposal of slaveholders seeking fugitives.

  5. Abolish the slave trade in the District of Columbia.


Some of the more militant northern Whigs remained irreconcilable, refusing to forgive Fillmore for having signed the Fugitive Slave Act. They helped deprive him of the Presidential nomination in 1852.




Early records of the area are almost nonexistent before 1852.  Coalville church was formed in the spring of 1852, and was located on the hilltop east of the Big Biloxi River in a community of charcoal burning industries where the present cemetery is located.


In 1852, when the dark clouds of political dissension caused by slavery spread over the nation, a group of these charcoal burners met to consider a house of worship.  Franklin Pierce was elected President of the United States and Henry S. Foote was governor of the state.  A group of people in a charcoal burning industry center near the present location of the church, met to consider the erection of a house of worship.  The records show that as a result of this meeting, Samuel and Hudley Mitchell donated two acres of land to build a one room school and church house combination. A small one-room building was constructed where the present Coalville Cemetery is located.  This building was a small room with a lean-to where slaves cared for the children and listened to the sermon.  The building was called "old rough and ready," because of its appearance of roughly hewn logs and readiness to serve.  


A cemetery was laid out around the building.  On Sundays, families would bring their lunches and spread it on blankets amongst the grave sites.  The grave of the first person to be buried in the cemetery is unmarked, but it is believed to be the grave of a young woman from the Handsboro community named Finnee.  


In 1860, shortly after John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry, the church was changed to Augusta Charge, and John Boytes was minister.  In 1861, it was transferred to Flint Creek Charge.  


After the building was completed, the named Coalville was added to the Biloxi Charge.  The first pastor was George T. Vickers.  The church changed charges several times over the years.  In 1861, Pastor Michael Cox prayed a blessing on the men of the Community who were leaving to fight in the Civil War.  The chalice used with our silver communion set is engraved – “In memory of the Soldiers of the Battle of Chickamauga.”  The members of Coalville suffered a number of years of demoralization of their homes and fortunes.


During the Reconstruction Days, they picked up their old weapons of faith and courage to survive.  In 1869, the one room school/church was burned by a brush fire.

The new church was a fine building erected across the road where the present Sanctuary is located.  This building seated over 100 people and was valued at $100.  The building was a neat structure with recessed porch and slender columns.  


Money was scarce in those days, but the men gave freely of their time, talents, and resources.  All materials and labor were donated.  Donors were from the King, Fritz, Stewart, Richards, and Stiglet families.


In the 1890s, the steeple with the old bell was erected.  It tolled for many years when a funeral procession was entering the church grounds.


Records show in 1896, the Conference notified all members that they would have to pay $1 per year to the Church.  


In 1899, Coalville became a member of the Whittington Charge – included with Whittington Chapel, Steep Hollow, Poplar Head, and Whittington Church.  The pastor was paid $43.50 per quarter, and the presiding Elder received $22.


In the early 1900s, Uncle Louis Fayard (grandfather of  members Christine Armstrong Ryers, Burdonne Fayard Young, Alva Mae Fayard Fischer Lee Fayard, founded a French mission on Wolf River and traveled on a spring buggy with his horse, Bess, covering most of the present three southern most counties baptizing children, visiting sick and spreading the gospel.  Rev. Louis and others served Coalville as a pastor during his time.


According to the Tract Book of Original Entries, Book 1, page 63, Records of Harrison County, Mississippi, the first legal title to the land on which Coalville United Methodist Church stands was granted to Ok La Ho Tub, a Choctaw Indian.  The final official transaction, which gave the trustees of the Church a clear title to the land, was when John Read and Willie E. Read donated the land to build the Woolmarket School, thus separating the school and church.

In 1862, the church was affiliated with the Handsboro Charge with Rev. Cox still serving as pastor.  The small band continued to hold meetings and as they spread basket dinners under the trees.  By 1865, Abraham Lincoln had already served four years as president as the country became entrenched in the Civil War. While meeting, perhaps they discussed Lincoln’s inauguration of his second term; African Americans participated in the Inaugural parade for the first time.   Following a bout of typhoid, Vice President Andrew Johnson consumed a few drinks before the inaugural ceremonies in an effort to feel better. But by the time Johnson delivered his speech, he was intoxicated and incoherent. One senator called Johnson's performance "the most unfortunate thing that has occurred in our history."  (George Eastman House/Getty Images)

Perhaps they talked about the fall of Vicksburg, Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, and the Battle of Chickamauga.  The church continued to grow slowly and brought comfort through faith to its members during those trying years of war.  In 1864, the church was transferred to Black Creek Charge and David Merchant became the pastor.  In 1865, Michael Cox returned and the church was transferred again, this time to the Red Creek Charge.  William L. Sharkey was governor of Mississippi at that time; Lincoln was shot in Washington; Lee surrendered at Appomattox, and the members of Coalville church were to face a number of years of utter demoralization of their homes and fortunes.


They picked up their old weapons of faith and courage, however, and the church carried on through the years of reconstruction and in 1867, it was listed in the White Plains Charge with Wallace W. Graves as pastor.  In 1869, it was again in Handsboro Charge with John J. Clark pastor.  In this same year of 1869, a golden spike was driven at Ogden, Utah, marking the junction of Central Pacific and Union Pacific Railroads, completing the first continental railroad in the United States.  


If money was scarce in those days, men at least gave freely of their time and talents.  Bill King is credited with giving the lumber for the building and Louis Fritz acted as foreman of the carpenter crew.  Among his crew was Jim Avant.  William C. Stewart is credited with building the pews that were just removed from our present Sanctuary.  The J.M. Stiglets family was among those credited with making generous contributions to the erection of the building.


In 1880, the church returned to the Handsboro Charge and in 1881, it became a unit of the Whittington Charge.  The records of 1886 show that the conference adopted a resolution that each member in the charge be notified that he would be expected to pay one dollar a year to the church.  Pastors were urging the conference leaders to devote themselves to earnest prayers for the church membership "some of whom were Godly, while others were worldly and half dead in sin while their names remained on the church rolls."


The church remained in the Whittington Charge until 1899, when it became a part of the Coalville Charge which included Whiting Chapel, Steep Hollow, Poplar Head, Whittington Church, and Coalville Church.  At this time, the pastor was being paid an average of $43.50 per quarter and the presiding Elder received $22.  The steeple was added to the church in 1890.  The bell tolled as funerals approached the cemetery.  

Many of the members remember an Uncle Louis Fayard (grandfather of members Burdonne Fayard Young, Alva Mae Fayard Felsher, Lee Fayard and Christine Armstrong Ayers) who established a French Mission on Wolf River early in 1900.  He rode in a spring buggy and driving his horse, Bess, covering most of the present three southern counties, baptizing children (both white and colored), visiting sick and spreading the gospel.  


During the Spanish-American War, Coalville was developing as a leader among rural churches.  In 1906, Mr. Yelverton deeded to Coalville Church five acres of land on which Coalville church and cemetery now stand.  Coalville church lost two of its members during the Spanish-American War: Homer Cowart and Ellis E. Walker.  After World War I, with the deep faith and constant prayer and the work of the Church was carried on.  In 1907, C.Y. Noble, a blind minister, served as pastor for one year.


In October 1923, J.W. Read and wife gave the land on which the parsonage was built.  The first parsonage was located one mile above the church.  That property was sold, and a new six room frame house was built on five acres donated by Mr. and Mrs. John Read.  Coalville grew during the latter part of the 19th century and the early part of the 20th century.


.Coalville became one of the largest, if not the largest, rural churches in the State.  In 1930, through the efforts of the Ladies Missionary Society, Mr. C. O. Emmerich, a Woolmarket Vocational School teacher, his students and the men of the Community remodeled the church by enlarging the Sanctuary, adding a choir loft and four Sunday school rooms.  


During World War II, Coalville lost two of its members:  David Fayard and Harry H. Ross.


Our beautiful Hammond Organ was purchased in 1953.  Mrs. Juanita Ryan played the organ until her illness in the early 1990s.  She was a dedicated Christian and provided music at Coalville as well as Palmer Creek Campgrounds.


Coalville members were continuing to grow.  In 1954, the brick fellowship- hall with a modern kitchen was built much through the efforts of C. M. Plummer, Jr.  Bricks were 10 cents each and everyone was encouraged “to buy a brick today.”  The building was completed in 1955 and put to good use with lots of "dinners on the ground," fundraising meals, etc.  The Rev. James Wolfe served as our pastor and his widow, Mrs. Ada Wolfe, worships with us today.


The brick education building was constructed in 1959, the first of a three stage building program.  In November 1959, the Thanksgiving Community service began at Coalville with Rev. C. L. Miller serving as Pastor and the guest church was Woolmarket Baptist.  This has continued since that date, adding St. Mary’s Catholic Church in 1968.  On July 31, 1961, property was received as a donation from L.N. Dantzler Lumber Co., including all mineral rights.  In 1961, six Sunday School rooms were added to the education building.  In the 1960s, the Gulf Coast began to grow and moved in the direction of Woolmarket.  With the expansion of the area, farsighted men and women of the Church began to prepare for this growth.  With new subdivisions all around our Church was facing the brightest hour in its history.  They realized that if the Church was to serve the growth of the area, it must have a new sanctuary.  On March 29, 1965, property was purchased from James O. Lyle.  


In 1967, the old building was torn down with much regret by people who realized a new sanctuary was mandatory if the church's mission was to be fulfilled.  It had served long and well and was torn down by those who had loved it and respected it through the years.  However, these same people realized that a new sanctuary was badly needed if Coalville was to fulfill its mission in the community.  Godly men and women saw the future as bright and rich for Coalville and ventured forth into the unknown bravely and courageously.  On Homecoming Day in 1967, ground was broken for the  new building, but actual construction did not begin until August 1967.  On March 10, 1968, retired Bishop Edward J. Pendergrass consecrated the new sanctuary in the presence of God and a capacity crowd of 435.  C.M. Plummer was the contractor and T.R. Fletcher, Jr. was minister.


One of the features in the sanctuary is a wooded cross, handmade by Albert Felsher of lumber from the old church.  The cross hangs on the wall behind the choir loft and is eight feet tall and three feet wide.  Also made from the lumber from the old church were several gavels, one of which was presented to Bishop Pendergrass.


In early 1977, the old wood frame parsonage (six rooms in all) was sold and moved approximately one mile south of the church.  A new four bedroom home was constructed by C.M. Plummer and Rev. Billy Ray Stonestreet and wife Madeline moved into the new home in September 1977.  In 1982, four new Sunday school rooms, a pastor's study, and a secretary's office were added on the south side of the fellowship hall.  Coalville was still a growing body of faith.


On August 30, 1994, another piece of property was purchased from Webb Lee.  Faith appeared strong again in 1994 when we embarked on another building program across the street next to the parsonage.  The entire Seashore District has enjoyed our new Christian Life Center.  The youth really enjoyed the basketball goals, pool table, and other games.  Rev. Hiram Coker, Bobby Grimes, Ray Yutzy, Dorsey Tompkins, Ren Nalley, Bobbie Mimms, Stephanie Nalley, Ty and Ann Harrison, and so many more worked Saturdays (and are still working) to make the addition a part of our proud heritage.  Mildred Cruthirds added various paintings and murals in the Christian Life Center.  The church office was later moved to the new Christian Life Center.


One sees Coalville standing as a monument to the courage and determination of people in a Christian community, standing through good times and bad, poverty and prosperity, war, peace, reconstruction, flood and hurricane while stirring events of early American history ebbed and flowed through the church and lives of its members.  


In 2002, Rev. Danny Speed was serving as pastor of Coalville when it celebrated its Homecoming.  Rev. Speed informed the reporter of Sun Herald at that time: “I think one of the unique things about this churches that it is both an old country-family church as well as one that has opened its arms to the new people who are moving into this areas as Gulfport and Biloxi expand.”  “Not every long-established church welcomes leadership roles of its new members.  This church is special.”  He further stated: “I believe that Christ called us to be a community of faith that supports, encourages and holds accountable one another.  At the heart of who we are, we have to be grace-oriented people.    Grace is being able to receive that which we do not deserve, but by the generosity of others, we are blessed.  When you’ve been graced, it saves you from being a dictator or a judge in attitude.”


As Mittie Husley stated to the reporter at that time: “I’ve been going to Coalville Methodist for 68 years, and what makes it special is the community of people.  They’re there if someone has sorrow or sickness in the family, or if someone dies, they all come up with food.”


Odeal Holley, who for years sang  in the choir and was church secretary-treasurer said: “Our church is just different.  Maybe most of the old timers are gone, but that special feeling remains.”


In 2010, the Christian Life Center was renovated with new flooring due to a leak from the air conditioner.  A new interactive Sunday school program was also added.  Thanks to the help of many members, the Fellowship Hall was renovated to appear as the time in which Jesus walked consisting of a Tabernacle, Marketplace, Cinema, and Workshop.  This program appears to be working well.  One shepherd is provided with each class, and she follows her class to each room where a teacher provides the children with information about the life and times of Jesus Christ.  The classes involved in this program begin from Kindergarten to sixth grade.  There are also separate Sunday Schools for children age three to Kindergarten, Youth and College students, as well as two adult classes.


As we moved from Rev. Joe Reynolds serving Coalville for so many years, we will welcome a new preacher in June.  Our Parsonage was completely renovated this year and we are ready.


We thank Rev. Pat Thompson for serving as our Interim Pastor since November 2012, and we wish him well in his move to another church.


In the last few years, we have lost so many of the members who taught us faith in Christ and provided me with information to include in the History.  


I would like to thank all of the members who contributed to this on-going project entitled “The History of Coalville.”


This History was written and edited from information provided to me by the members of Coalville since 2002, when I was serving as church secretary.  I have also researched the web about the area of Coalville/Woolmarket, and the State of Mississippi, to further provide a feeling of what it was like to live in the area during the time the Church was formed.


I love this church and its members and because of that love and my love for God and History, I will continue as Historian as long as God leads me in that direction.  More information will follow as it becomes available.  


Rita F. Smith, Certified PLS, Historian.  This the 15th day of May, 2013.  God Bless Coalville and God Bless America!





To be continued…..

Subpages (1): Ministers of Coalville
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