For years it was supposed that Brownwood’s first African-American congregation, Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church, was built originally on Dale St. near the current Howard Payne University football practice field.
But Brown County resident David Stevens — who shared his findings on a possible unmarked cemetery last week — believes he has found an even older example of a black church in Brownwood.
In December 1912, Brown County leaders sold parcels of land to the Gulf, Colorado & Santa Fe Railway Company. What had once been a row of structures near modern-day Tannehill St. was paved over and turned into railroad land, including a turntable for trains. In a document recorded in Galveston in January 1913, two tracts were described for sale.
The second said this: “Lot Number Four (4) in Block Number Six (6) situated in Tannehills Second Addition to the City of Brownwood, Texas … beginning at the South corner of a lot heretofore sold to the Baptist Church (colored).”
It goes on to describe how one Mary Smith, “a widow,” had conveyed the property to the state in October of 1912.
A June 1915 map shows the Mt. Zion church on its Dale St. location, but that map was made two years after the sale. The Mt. Zion congregation may have moved there after the railroad took over its original property.
And because of the date of the sale, it’s possible that the Baptist church described in the document dates to the late 19th century, the first of its kind in Brownwood.
Today, there are still clear signs on the property of its pre-railroad condition. An old iron fence surrounds some parts of the property, and Stevens believes it may have been associated with the church. And in one rill, where rainwater has worn away a path to Tannehill St., some broken stone pottery is clearly visible.
Again, anyone with information on this congregation is encouraged to contact the Pecan Valley Genealogical Society at 213 S. Broadway St. or call 325-646-6006.