ZEPHYR — In the aftermath of Zephyr’s most terrifying moment — the May 29, 1909, Zephyr Cyclone — the community pulled together to complete construction of its new Presbyterian church.
The building was about half-finished on the night that the storm killed three dozen Zephyr residents and destroyed its Baptist and Methodist churches, the tabernacle and the entire downtown area.
The 100th anniversary of the opening of that structure, which served Presbyterians in the Zephyr area until the congregation disbanded in 1944, was celebrated Saturday as part of the Zephyr homecoming. The building now serves the area as a community center.
Pauline Glass Hochhalter, 93, one of only a handful of known surviving former members of the church, took her audience back almost a century in time during the centennial program.
“The elementary children were right here in this corner, and the teenagers over there,” Hochhalter said, pointing to areas of the building where five separate Sunday school classes were taught Bible lessons. “The floor was slanted… the pulpit was there, and the piano was there.”
She brought with her the New Testament and Bible she was awarded in 1925 and 1926 for being an outstanding Sunday school student.
Using information published in a Zephyr history book she helped research and publish in the 1980s, Hochhalter frequently deviated from that script to offer personal recollections and stories related to Zephyr’s history and the place the church has in it. The book remains available at the genealogy library across the street from the courthouse.
The Zephyr area was settled in 1863, Hochhalter said, and a post office was established in 1879. Businesses, the post office and homes relocated to be near the railroad when it came through in 1885.
Zephyr Presbyterians were probably meeting in homes by 1881, but the first record of the Zephyr Cumberland Presbyterian Church appeared in 1890 in presbytery minutes.
Zephyr’s population was about 1,000 in 1909, when the congregation started work on their building.
For most of its history, the congregation shared its pastor with the Presbyterian church in Blanket, Hochhalter said. A major fund-raiser for the church was ice cream socials in the summer.
“In the 1930s, membership declined,” Hochhalter said. “People moved their memberships to the Baptist or Methodist churches. In 1944, there were 10 people still on the membership roll.”
They moved to the Austin Avenue Presbyterian Church in Brownwood, which later joined with First Presbyterian to form the current Union Presbyterian Church.
The building was donated by C.R. Boast to serve as a community center in 1948, and a Texas Historical Marker was placed there in 1992.
“I wish to congratulate the Zephyr Historical Society and the volunteers who have spent so many hours working,” Hochhalter said. Their most recent endeavors restoring a former post office and school buildings were on display at the community center complex.
While a handful of residents remember being in the community center when it was a church, others have different — but no less pleasant memories.
“They held my wedding shower in this building,” Carolyn Pennington told Hochhalter after the ceremony concluded.