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Tow First Baptist Church celebrating 160th anniversary

JARED FIELDS • PICAYUNE STAFF

This painting hangs inside one wing of First Baptist Church Tow depicting the arch built in 1940 with the congregation and Sunday school classes behind it. Established in 1854, the church is celebrating its 160th anniversary Oct. 18-19. Staff photo by Jared Fields

This painting hangs inside one wing of First Baptist Church Tow depicting the arch built in 1940 with the congregation and Sunday school classes behind it. Established in 1854, the church is celebrating its 160th anniversary Oct. 18-19. Staff photo by Jared Fields

TOW — As the country — and then state — of Texas was formed, early settlers on the Colorado River began holding worship services.

Some records say that could have started as early as the 1830s. One family record from the time says worship services were held in the 1840s.

Officially, however, Tow Baptist Church was established in 1854. On Oct. 18-19, First Baptist Church Tow will celebrate 160 years.

“It’s the oldest church in the Burnet-Llano Baptist Association,” said Lois Laxson, chair of the celebration.

The members of the church have endured many trials in its 160 years. One former pastor said the people are what have led to it lasting as long as it has.

“It’s the blessing of having so many core people in the church; the gift of faithfulness,” said Stanley Nixon, who was pastor of First Baptist Church Tow from 1980 to 1990. “They hang in there and keep on keeping on. I think the Lord blesses that kind of faithfulness.”

These old photos show (LEFT) Ed and Emma Green, who owned the land where Tow Baptist Church was built on the east side of the Colorado River in 1920; and (RIGHT) Eula Bragg, Winnie Cornelius, Letha Cornelius and Vesta Cowan standing on the Tow Bridge in the early 20th century.

These old photos show (LEFT) Ed and Emma Green, who owned the land where Tow Baptist Church was built on the east side of the Colorado River in 1920; and (RIGHT) Eula Bragg, Winnie Cornelius, Letha Cornelius and Vesta Cowan standing on the Tow Bridge in the early 20th century.

The name for the community came from a couple, William and Mary Tow, who moved to the area in 1853. Somehow, with no objections, the area was named “Tow Valley.”

The early history of the church involved scuffles with Native Americans. Meetings were first held on the west side of the river in the “Old School House.”

For many years, worshipers gathered in a simple brush arbor on the east side of the river until a building was constructed in 1920. Members, if they had to, would ford the Colorado just to attend church.

During the brush arbor days, up to 30 families would travel by horse and buggy to camp along the banks for days at a time.

A bridge across the river was built and connected those on both sides of the river. However, a 30-inch rain in 1936 washed out the bridge and covered the church grounds.

In 1938, Sunday school classes were organized again and a tabernacle was built in 1939. A new church was built in 1940, at a cost of $1,740.71 for the sanctuary, arch and fixtures. The money for the new church came from the sale of the 1920 building on the east side of the river. Services in the church began on the first Sunday in December 1940.

The 1940 building, with additions made since then, is now the church’s fellowship hall.

A new sanctuary was built in 1967; a new parsonage was built in 1972; and a new Sunday school wing was added in 1976.

Nixon saw a great deal of growth occur at the church in the 1980s. An addition was constructed on the rock building; the present sanctuary was built in 1982; a children’s Sunday school wing was built in 1984; and the fellowship hall addition was built in 1986.

Nixon said the new sanctuary design came from a church in Austin that he and another member saw and liked.

“He took a measurement or two, and we started in, and all the folks pitched in. Even people in the community who didn’t belong to the church were interested enough to participate,” Nixon said.

Without a bridge, Tow is literally at the end of the road. Someone doesn’t simply “pass through” Tow on their way to anywhere other than Tow.

Because of that isolation, the community there is small, yet tight-knit.

“It meant the church could play such a large role in the community,” Nixon said.

So whatever happened in the church, happened in Tow.

The 160th anniversary celebration gets under way Oct. 18 at 5 p.m. with a sandwich dinner, music and an introduction of past pastors. Cake and punch, door prizes and a quilt raffle also will be held. An anniversary church service is Oct. 19 at 11 a.m.

jared@thepicayune.com

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