For more than 117 years, the Mount Pilgrim Baptist Church has served as a cornerstone in this community of Smithville, Texas. This landmark church was founded on June 22, 1900 when the trustees of the Missionary Baptist Church purchased the property from E. H. Eagleston. The church, located at the corner of S.W. 4th and Walker streets got its name from Deacon Jordan White.
Shortly afterward, Pastor L. W. Mackey oversaw the building of a church house. According to the church’s historical records, the work was done “under the hands of the deacons, Brother L. Weston, Brother William Hall and Brother J. R. Price.” The total cost of construction to build the first church was $75, according to the records.
Today, a bell tower, which was recently put back into use, dominates the classic white, wood-framed church. As the bell rings through the neighborhood on Sunday mornings, as the congregation enters the sanctuary they are bathed in a radiant light from the large stained-glass windows.
Church records tell the story of a new church under construction in 1904 under the Rev. P. R. McGriff and Secretary Nellie Noland.
The church members held many fundraisers at that time, making a variety of homemade pies, fried chicken and other dishes to raise funds for the construction, which took 10 years.
“After many years of faithful service, the first building had served its purpose; a new building was erected in 1914.
The new church building costs was $1,800 and was paid to C. H. Turney, lumberman and builder, in 24 notes at $475 per year with interest at 10 percent.
Today, when visitors enter through the foyer under the bell tower, they view the sanctuary at an angle that draws them down toward the center, focusing attention on the pulpit.
This unique vantage point is due to the foundation of the church, which was built almost 100 years ago. The builders used handcrafted brick columns, which were stacked and shaved at an angle and then framed with 4×6 inch lumber. By using this method, they created a floor with a slope that gives everyone in the congregation a clear view of the pulpit – a classic theater-style seating arrangement.
By Aug. 2, 1920, all notes and interest had been paid in full, “and with satisfaction, with no lien or judgment against this property.”
A quote from the church’s history said, “The members felt they must have been led by the guiding hand of God and realized that God does all things well.”
A church annex, including a pastor’s study, two restrooms, kitchen and dining area, were added on June 2, 1957. Major renovations to the sanctuary were also made at that time, adding a baptistery, pulpit furniture, communion table, central heating, air conditioning and theatre seating. The work was done under the leadership of Rev. R. L. Elder and “an able deacon board, missionary sisters, the Sunday school and other auxiliaries of the church.
Mount Pilgrim’s role in the community can be seen in the Smithville Community Gardens program, which has grown to become a role model for a successful community project and it was started at this church.
The late municipal judge Clarence Culberson, a long-time member of the church was replaced by Ronald Jones as the new chairman, they talked about how they could not only benefit the church, but everyone in the community.
The Deacons came up with this idea of putting up a garden. People could come and pick vegetables and it would be free. If you have the need, come and pick what you need.
The men took the idea to the congregation. The response was positive and the church gave the men $300 as seed money. Sis. Inez Green, a member of the congregation, donated a lot across from the church to build the garden.
We are very excited about what the community has done here. We’ve brought people together, north and south, black and white. It’s really a gift from God.
Since the seed was first planted, eight additional gardens have been planted, and a board of directors has been established.
Besides its very long history, the church has provided a stabilizing force in the community. The church has long been a gathering place and has provided a place for larger gatherings and funerals because of its size. It is important to our community.
In July 2011 Pastor Ronnie L. Holt Jr. was elected the Pastor of the Mt. Pilgrim Baptist Church. Under his leadership, the church congregation has grown tremendously, spiritually as well as physically. This growth is the result of sound biblical principles and expository preaching-teaching based upon connecting the community to Christ, through the word of God. Deacon Kirk Martin painted the baptismal pool and designed a youth center for future growth. The deacon purchased the lot behind the church in 2016 to prepare for the future.