Many times I have wondered, and been asked, about the lovely, unique building sitting at the corner of North Main and Wood Avenue. For most of its tenure in Monticello it was home of the First Church of Christ, Scientist and more familiarly known locally as the Christian Science Church.
The Christian Science religion had its beginnings in 1866 by a lady named Mary Baker Eddy of Boston, Massachusetts. In that year she almost immediately recovered from an injury after reading an account of healing from Matthew 9:1-8. From this event she founded the religious sect based on spiritual, rather than medical, healing. As I understand it, Christian Scientists believe that reading/studying the scriptures can cure our physical illnesses and problems.
Christian Science churches had no pastors, but held services conducted by two readers; one to read from the Bible and another to read lessons from their church literature called Science and Health.
Although Mary Baker Eddy died in 1910, and some believe the religious sect experienced its greatest growth in the first third of the 20th century, the “denomination” is still found in the U.S. and many other countries today.
The Christian Science faith was introduced to Monticello in February, 1905, when a Mr. and Mrs. Frank Colby of Detroit, Michigan, moved to town to begin a business and brought their religion with them. They began to talk with their new friends about their religion and soon a small group of interested people began to meet in private homes to discuss their beliefs. The first people to open their homes to the group were Mr. and Mrs. E. A. Allen who lived on East Oakland. In May of 1905 Mrs. Willie Slemmons Duke opened her home to the body of believers.
Soon the group became too large for private homes so they sought a larger meeting place. They rented Curry Hall in the old Drew County Courthouse on the Square and began to meet there in the spring of 1906. The first “lecture” given in the courthouse was given by reader Bicknell Young in November of 1906. Soon Mrs. Theodore Dickson of Little Rock was invited to locate here as a reader and under her leadership the group thrived and decided to organize as the Christian Science Society.
Their first formal meeting was held on July 12, 1906, in Curry Hall with a Mrs. Anna Robinson of Little Rock coming to Monticello to formally organize the society. At that time there were 12 members of the Christian Science Society with such prominent surnames as Slemmons, Duke, Bailey, Farley, Hall, Remley, Allen and Johnson. They held services, started a Sunday School and opened a Christian Science Reading Room.
Within a few short years the group decided to build a church of their own. Member Henry Bailey owned two lots on North Main; one he built his residence on and the other he offered to sell to the group for a church building. In June 1907 a building committee was formed and Mr. Bailey was directed to visit local architect Mr. Hotchkiss about building the structure. Other members of the building committee were Mr. F. W. Johnson, Mr. W. L. Morgan, a Mrs. Dickson and Mrs. Anna Hall.
In 1908 the lot was purchased for $875.00 and construction began. The concrete structure was completed in early 1910. It contained an auditorium that held 200 people, a balcony, First and Second Reader rooms, a Sunday School and a public Reading Room. The first service in the beautiful new building was held in April, 1910. It was noted in the May, 1910, issue of the Christian Science Sentinel that this was the first Christian Science Church built in Arkansas.
On August 15, 1915, the group known as the Christian Science Society disbanded and was reorganized as the First Church of Christ, Scientist, and a branch of the mother church in Boston. However, since a Christian Science church building cannot be “dedicated” until it is debt-free, the structure was not dedicated until Thanksgiving, November 27, 1924.
Local names I have heard connected with the church other than those already mentioned include Mrs. Maggie Owens and the Brooks sisters.
In 1975 lightening damaged the dome of the building and caused an estimated $5,250.00 worth of damage. With only 12 members, this was a major financial burden to the waning congregation. However, the mother church in Boston contributed $2,500 and the rest was raised by the time the work was finished.
Since then, time has taken most, if not all, of the membership and the church as an entity in Drew County has fallen by the wayside. In 1980 they were only four Sunday School members attending. I believe meetings may have been held until about 1985.
Sometime later, the building was sold and served as a private residence for a short time. Today I believe it again houses a church congregation.
If you can add to this brief history of the building, please let me know.
At this time please allow me to make this assurance to you. Although I will be extremely busy in my new job as your state representative, I will not be giving up this column. Writing these columns the past few years has been a joy. It has not been a job or a chore; I have received no pay, but have done it for the pure joy of sharing these stories of bygone days, events and/or people. I have been blessed to have made some memorable and great friends along the way. I just hope you all enjoy reading my material as much as I enjoy sharing with you. We’ve only just begun. Thank you.