History of Family, Church Interwoven

ELKHART -- The history of Elkhart is so interwoven with that of its first family and the first Protestant church in Texas as to be almost synonymous.

Pilgrims named Parker came from Crawford County, Illinois, in 1833, bringing with them their newly organized Pilgrim Regular Predestinarian Baptist Church.

The church met for the first time in Texas, in the home of Elder Daniel Parker, its organizer, Jan. 20, 1834. The family settled on farms around Elkhart. Elder Daniel's home was a short distance from the present Pilgrim Church and Cemetery, on Farm Road 861, which loops from Elkhart to Pilgrim and back.

Land on which the town of Elkhart was established was deeded to the International Railroad Company by a member of the Parker family when the railroad built through from Palestine to Houston in 1872-73.

Meanwhile, some of the Pilgrim founders crossed the then frontier and established a bold outpost, Fort Parker, beyond the Navasota River. Plains savages in 1836, sacked the fort, carrying off Rachel Plummer, Cynthia Ann Parker and others as captives, thereby precipitating a colorful chapter in Texas history. Cynthia Ann's half-Indian son became the great peace-giver, Chief Quanah Parker.

Set on relatively fiat, fertile soil 10 miles south of Palestine, Elkhart is located at the juncture of north-south U.S. 287-State 19 and east-west State Highway 294.

Always a produce marketing center, Elkhart now is the home of two large peanut processing and shipping facilities. The Elkhart Farmers Cooperative, with more than 3,000 grower- members, does an annual volume running into millions of dollars in fertilizer, seed, feed and peanuts. New plant facilities costing around $200,000, including a large feed mill, are under construction.

A church and school center, Elkhart has a modern municipal setup with an elective city council headed by Mayor Joe B. Burris.

Joe Bailey Parker, 73, president of the Elkhart State Bank, is a former mayor. He is a descendant of Elder Daniel Parker, the Pilgrim leader.

Joe Bailey Parker is the son of the late Ben J. Parker, who was the son of John Parker, who was the son of Dixon Parker, the son of Elder Daniel Parker. Joe Bailey Parker, the longtime "father" figure of today's Elkhart, began life on his father's farm four miles southeast of Elkhart and was reared on another farm 1 miles west of town. He graduated from Elkhart High School when only 10 grades were taught in the schools here.

On Jan. 1,1921, young Parker began his banking career with the Campbell State Bank in Palestine, which later became East Texas National. When he resigned, J. E. Angly, then president of the bank, wrote a letter of commendation profuse with expressions of high regard and trust in his resigning employee.

Parker on Jan. 1, 1925, began his tenure at Elkhart as "teller, janitor, and what have you." He became president in 1950 and now is a veteran of 55 years in banking.

His services and activities in the community have run the gamut from civic and religious to professional categories.

He is a man of quiet and inconspicuous manner and frugal living style. The bank he heads has been a backbone of the South County economy.

When Mayor Burris arranged for the 110-foot centrally located city water tower to be given a Bicentennial paint job, he asked former Mayor Parker how much the tower cost when it was built. "About $5,000," Parker replied. It cost $6,000 just to paint it the last time," Burris recalled. "That did include a little repair job on the inside."

John Parker, the Elkhart banker's grandfather, served in Hood's Texas Brigade during the Civil War and was with Lee at Appomattox. After the surrender, he walked every step of the way back to Elkhart, foraging for anything he could find to eat.

"Now we think we have it tough!" John's grandson says.

A stage stop, post office and store at Elkhart were mentioned in the 1850 U.S. Census of Anderson County, but the location was six miles south. Joseph Kennedy was postmaster.

When preparations for the building of the railroad through the present site of Elkhart were made in 1852, Isaac Parker gave the railroad 10 acres for the site of the depot and switching yards.

Another post office was at Prewitt's Tanyard on Tanyard Creek two miles north of Elkhart with Mrs. Ira Prewitt as postmaster.

Pilgrim School in a log cabin was located one mile east of Pilgrim Church and Cemetery.

The owner of Quarles Plantation built his large house in 1846, where the school at Elkhart stood later. In 1872, Quarles gave land for a school and church.

In November, 1878, a Methodist Elkhart Mission was established with the Rev. J. F. Henderson, Palestine District circuit rider, serving Elkhart, Parker's Chapel, Woodland Hall, Guiceland, Antrim, Silver Creek and Providence. Charter members were Mr. and Mrs. James Box, Mr. and Mrs. Roland Box, Mrs. Nancy Haltom, Mrs. Ann Hodges, J. W. Bridges, Henry Brown, S. B. Kyle and Mrs. Annie Kennedy.

In 1886, a Baptist Church was established. Charter members included Mr. and Mrs. J. W. Cromwell, Mrs. Allen Montgomery. Mrs. Sarah Wagner, a Mrs. Mavis and John Prewitt.

D. T. Davis and E. V. Douthit had the first store in Elkhart, which opened before the railroad came.

Elkhart around 1910 had a 10- grade school which graduated its first class in May, 1912. First settlers, in addition to the Parker family, included those of Evan Douthit, Miles Bennett and Dan Kennedy.

John Starr was born in Rowan County, North Carolina, Aug. 29, 1797. He married Susannah Parker, sister of Pilgrim Church organizer Daniel Parker.

In 1848, the Starr couple left their home in Illinois. They arrived in the vicinity of Tanyard Creek on Christmas Eve that winter during an ice storm. He had come seeking a warmer climate for his health. He survived until Nov. 18, 1872.

Starr acquired a homestead north of Tanyard Creek. The Prewitt tanyard and pest-office were located south of the creek. Later, Starr bought what now is known as Starr Hill south of the creek toward Elkhart. There the Starr family cemetery and the large two-story house John Starr built in 1856 are located.

The Starr house, still maintained in excellent condition, is one of the oldest homes in Anderson County, now owned by the heirs of the late Allen Starr. Mrs. Allen Starr, 85, is a resident of the Elkhart Nursing Home. There are six Starr children.

Joe Bailey Parker was honored in 1973 with a "This Is Your Life" testimonial. Mrs. Roy (Veda) Wherry was honored Sunday, Jan. 20, 1974, as Elkhart's "First Lady of the Year."

Before and after the turn of the century, the Elkhart

Mineral Wells located northeast of town brought health seekers and resort crowds in large numbers from Houston and other cities. The mineral water was touted as a cure-all, and a large hotel at the site did a thriving trade.

The elaborate two-story Driskell Hotel in Elkhart was an early day attraction and .... popular home-away-from- home.

Verl Foley, who had Neel's Drug Store in Elkhart at one time, was a veteran trouper with Harley Sadler and other tent shows. He also became a writer-producer of shows for the Hippodrome Theaters circuit.

Mrs. Dolly Rose is a distinguished Elkhart artist in oil and china painting. Last year, Mrs. Rose painted Elkhart fireplugs to resemble Revolutionary War militiamen in red, white and blue, for the Bicentennial celebration.

Mr. and Mrs. Richard Murphy came from Norway, Maine, six years ago and have established a nationwide business in Elkhart, manufacturing beautiful lamps and picture plate frames.


Four Generations

Joe Bailey Parker, Elkhart banker, former mayor, civic and church leader, with pictures of three of his ancestors. In the large painting by Osjetea Briggs, Elder Daniel Parker, founding Pilgrim, with: Lower left, John Parker, grandson of Daniel; lower right, John's son, Ben J. Parker, father of Joe Bailey Parker. (Staff Photo by Ernest Jones)

  Pilgrim Church

Pilgrim Church

A sideview of the Pilgrim Church replica, founded in 1833. A portion of the Pilgrim Cemetery is in the background.

Early Elkhart School

Early Elkhart School

This old one-room school is believed to have been in use in the first years of this century. (Photo courtesy of Joe Bailey Parker).