Three: Stained Glass Memories

As the design for the new church became more detailed it included plans for three large sanctuary windows. Memorial gifts would underwrite the cost of these windows. O. B. and Viola Holt knew they wanted one of these windows to honor the memory of their daughter, Cornelia, lost at such a young age. That window would illuminate worship for over five decades and become a treasured artifact of First Methodist enduring to the present day.

 In May 1906, at the Quarterly Conference, members of Midland Methodist Episcopal Church, South elected a building committee and launched their first capital campaign. They felt they had outgrown the original church of the congregation. This small wood frame building had been constructed with funds loaned by the Methodist Board of Church extension. Midland was rapidly changing as well, with brick building rising along Main and Wall Streets. It was time for a larger, more permanent edifice.

On May 15, members drew up a statement pledging to fund construction of a building of stone or brick, costing no less than $10,000. The largest contributors, promised $1000 each and signed the original typed pledge sheet—John Scharbauer, W. H. Brunson, Sunday school superintendent E. R. Bryan, and cattlewoman Marie Riggs.On five carbon copy pages of the pledge, other church members signed their names and wrote down their pledges. $500 pledges included C. A. Taylor, F. E. Rankin, Phillip Scharbauer and Dr. J. F. Haley. Pastor Nat Read pledged $100, along with the First National Bank and former church trustees M. M. Pitman who had moved to Cleburne, Texas. O. B. Holt pledged $250, as did J. T. Blair and E. C. Good “and wife.” The names and commitments continued in smaller amounts—church steward Charley Gibbs and newspaperman C. C. Watson, $50; Burton Lingo Lumber Company, $50; Henry Rohlfing, $25; Ned Watson, $10. Each pledged what he or she could, down to $5, but all 65 firmly added their names to the list. With pledges in hand, the stewards began work on turning their vision into a brick and stone reality.

 Architect S. P. Herbert of Waco worked with church officials. He located W. P. Nugent and DeFord, General Contractors and Builders from Stephenville, Texas. The firm proposed to construct the new church according to plans and specifications for $10,750. Herbert promised E. R. Bryan, “While your building may not cost as much as the Baptist, I think your people will like it much better.”

Work began in summer 1906. What the contractors could not buy in Midland was shipped in by rail. Nugent and DeFord attempted to use available local labor, if they were “sober and reliable.”

While materials and manpower were being acquired, trustees ordered furniture for the new church. The Texas Seating Company delivered 31 oak pews for the sanctuary, an oak pulpit, and three oak chairs trimmed in black leather for the pulpit area, as well as 30 oak opera chairs and 42 book racks.

Trustees formed a separate contract with Dallas Art-Glass Company for the church windows. The vestibule entrance would have two windows. The twelve windows in the Sunday school room were to contain emblems, three of them being the Epworth League design and motto, “All For Christ.” The Sanctuary would have 18 windows, each measuring 32 x 34 inches. Eight transoms above the doors would correspond in design and workmanship.

Three larger sanctuary windows contained memorials. The south window depicting The Annunciation was in memory of Irene Wood Taylor. The north window depicted Christ Blessing the Children honored Hattie Belle Goldsmith. The west window, entitled Rock of Ages was in memory of Cornelia Holt, daughter of O. B. and Viola Holt, who died from a childhood illness in 1902 at the age of 10. Each memorial window included a name plate with the memorial details. All the windows were to be made from “the best pearlescent glass, interspersed with jewels” at a cost of $1.00 per square foot.

On Thanksgiving Day, November 28th, 1907 the local Masonic lodge led the ceremony to lay the cornerstone for the new building. Freemasons have historically performed a special ceremony at the laying of cornerstones for new buildings, especially churches and public buildings. At three o’clock in the afternoon, a procession began at the Masonic Hall, located in the First National Bank, on South Abilene Street.

Arriving at the church, the Midland Orchestra performed a music selection. Masons then performed the cornerstone ceremony. The stone was checked to be certain it was square, plumb, and level to ensure the building would stand strongly on a solid foundation. The cornerstone was consecrated and symbolically tapped in place with a gavel. Judge E. R. Bryan gave an address on “Freemasonry,” followed by a Pastor Nat Read. The ceremony concluded with a prayer for the new church.

Once the church was finished, the new stained glass church windows glowed at night with illumination provided by tantalum electric lights installed by the Midland Light and Ice Company.

The window chosen by the Holt family, depicted a young woman clinging to a stone cross as storm waters swirl around her.With her other hand she holds tightly to a second girl caught in the water below her.

From 1907, until the early 1940s, this window shed its light onto Abilene Street, proclaiming the message that the solid rock of Christ provides hope, shelter and strength for all. But it also provided an apt image for the little church itself.

When a new, larger sanctuary was begun in the early 1940’s, the brick church was removed to make way for the new place of worship. Several pieces of the stained glass, including Cornelia’s window, were saved and placed at the front of the church, behind the chancel area. They remained there until that church building also gave way to a new facility in the 1960s.

Cornelia’s window was stored until the completion of the Mabel Holt Glass Memorial Chapel (named in honor of Cornelia’s younger sister) in 1976. A special lighted display featuring the window was given an honored place in the entrance to the chapel, where it still remains, sharing its beautiful message of memory and faith and love to all who enter.


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