bits from bob....

History of the American Restoration Movement, McAlester, Oklahoma

by Bob Young
[permission is given to reprint with credit noted]

The history of the American Restoration Movement in McAlester, and specifically of the churches of Christ, dates back to 1908, the year after Oklahoma became a state. Henry Rains and his family came in a covered wagon from Kentucky, by way of Texas, to do mission work among the Indians. The success of Rains' work among the Indians was not recorded, but it is known that he found several church members in McAlester and they started meeting regularly in various homes--a record of the first congregation among the Restorers in McAlester. No record of earlier meetings is known.

When Argolis Anderson returned from World War I, a group was meeting at Mary (Anderson) Wood's grandparents' home in North Town. As the church continued to grow, the Odd Fellow's Hall in North McAlester served as the regular meeting place. The church was allowed to use the building in return for cleaning up any trash that was left on the premises from Saturday night activities. For another period of time, the church met in a millinery shop in North Town. Later they met in the old Methodist building on West Grand Avenue. Then a meeting place was built in 1924, a brick building near the American Legion building on South Third Street. Brother Harbert Hooker was one of the preachers during the 1920s.

The oldest existing membership list was apparently compiled when the congregation moved into the new building on South Third Street. There were, as of June 22, 1924, 68 members listed. Brethren J. W. Case, B. M. Strother, and D. B. Killebrew were serving as elders, and brethren Argolis Anderson, A. C. Grimes, and H. C. Marshall were deacons. What followed was a period of amazing growth. The new building, after only 8 or 9 years, was already too small, so arrangements had to be made for a different meeting place.

As a result of the vision of those few hardy souls that were part of the church in that day, the church bought the Busby Opera Building at Second and Washington in 1932. The purchase price for the Opera House which had been sitting idle for several years was $2500. The building was massive, standing as high as a five-story building. It has been built in 1907 at a cost of $175,000 and was known in its day as one of the finest opera houses ins the South. It had perfect acoustics and one of the largest stages and seating capacities of any theater around.

The church worshiped in the balcony until the auditorium was remodeled and suitable for use. There were many long nights and long days that the members worked on the Busby Theater during which the children would go up on the third floor to play. In 1935 an article appeared in several gospel papers entitled "From Comedy to Christ." The article read in part, "In the city of McAlester, Oklahoma, there is an imposing theater structure, located on a downtown corner....It was built after the style of a few years ago for stage plays and comedies....It has main floor, first and second balconies, fully equipped. Abandoned for the lack of patronage sufficient to make it a paying investment in this day of the modern in theatrical performance, this imposing edifice stood for a number of years as a tax burden to its owners. The sequel to it is that the McAlester church negotiated for its purchase and obtained it at a surprising nominal figure. It has been remodeled into one of the best church buildings owned by any church of Christ in the state of Oklahoma." It took the members three years after the purchase for the building to be ready for use--walls were scraped and painted, a rostrum and baptistry were built, and classrooms were prepared. When the first gospel meeting was held in the building, 30 were baptized and 12 restored. Among those baptized at that meeting were Mary (Wood) Bridgwater and Kenneth and Ruby Hudelson. In 1933 the membership numbered 217.

Brother Ramsey Wright followed Brother Hooker and served as the preacher in 1932 and 1933. He had come to McAlester from Locust Grove (OK) on a freight train for the purpose of attending a preachers' meeting. He made a short talk and was hired to preach for $20 per week. He returned to Locust Grove, bought a Model T for $75, and brought his wife to McAlester. He and his wife often entertained the young people.

The Second and Washington church continued to meet in the downtown location for almost half a century, undergoing several major remodeling projects. The building had an auditorium seating 850, 23 classrooms, a library, nursery, kitchen, fellowship-work room, and offices. Despite various internal difficulties, including a court case on the majority-rule question in 1936 and a disturbance concerning the children's homes and cooperation question in 1956, the church continued to be a great power for the cause of Christ in southeastern Oklahoma and around the world.

In 1943, several church members who lived in North McAlester desired to work with strengthening the church's presence in that area, and the Second and Washington church supported the work, helping them obtain their first meeting place, helping in the preaching of the gospel, and helping in various early building remodeling and addition projects. These efforts were the beginning of what is today the North Town congregation. The difficulties mentioned above and the establishment of another congregation in McAlester took their toll on the attendance numbers at Second and Washington. In 1942 Bible school attendance averaged 130, but by 1947 was up to about 200 despite the beginning of the North McAlester congregation. In the mid-1960s, the Second and Washington church reached its highest attendance with around 400 present regularly for worship. The congregation was also instrumental in developing congregations at Crowder, Canadian, Indianola, Haileyville, and Wilburton.

In 1979 the Second and Washington congregation thought it best to move to a new location and new facilities, and a building was built on property on South Main at the corner of Oklahoma Avenue. A membership of slightly over 250 moved to the new facility. In the 1990s a Family Life Annex was added to provide space for classes and church activities, as well as for community events. Currently, McAlester Christian Academy is housed in the Annex. During the first 25 years at the Main and Oklahoma location, attendance was generally stable. In 2002 average attendance was about 230. In 2005-2006, another difficulty arose at Main and Oklahoma, resulting in the loss of numerous members to the North Town congregation. Attendance declined by about 75, to around 150. As a result, the North Town congregation attendance increased and the congregation entered into a building project to provide more classroom and office space.

As these two mainline churches associated with the Restoration Plea enter a second century of history, they maintain a reasonable level of numerical and spiritual strength. The Main and Oklahoma congregation and the North Town congregation have both suffered from the typical cultural patterns of aging populations and a declining number of young people remaining in smaller communities. The two congregations have a combined attendance of over 400. They share together an annual Area-Wide Worship service on the first Sunday of each New Year. Both are seeking more active community outreach. Both churches are also involved in mission work around the world--especially in Latin America.

[Note: Thanks to Edna Capers and Mary Louise Wood who graciously provided information that has been formatted and rewritten here. Some information was taken from previous church directories. Billy Coop provided information concerning the North Town church.]

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Last updated March 25, 2011