The Bell With A Past

Church Bell, Port Lavaca United Methodist Church

Church Bell, Port Lavaca United Methodist Church

The bell sitting on a brick platform next to the United Methodist church building in Port Lavaca has a colorful past. Originally, it belonged to the Indianola Methodist Church about nine miles down the coast from Port Lavaca, but a hurricane in 1875 destroyed much of the thriving seaport and most of the church buildings. Although Indianola continued as a port city, the Methodists never rebuilt. In 1886 another horrible storm and subsequent fire turned Indianola into a ghost town.

That 1886 storm also caused major damage forty miles inland to the Victoria Methodist Church. After the congregation completed repairs to their building, they sent a group of men down to Indianola to retrieve “the finest bell in Texas” from the wrecked Methodist Church.

Melinda Harris, a tiny black woman, the only surviving member of the destroyed church still living in the abandoned town, met the men and told them that the bell belonged to her and they couldn’t have it. They returned to Victoria empty-handed.

Meantime, Melinda Harris moved up the coast to Port Lavaca and when the Methodists built a new building, she gave the old Indianola bell to the congregation. Old timers remembered her as Aunt Malindy, owner of a white boarding house. She went about town wearing a starched white apron and sat on the back row at the Methodist church every Sunday morning.

The Frontier Times reprinted a story written in 1925 by Rev. M.A. Dunn in which he says that when he arrived to serve the Port Lavaca church in 1901, a little black woman named Malinda Harris came to him wanting to pay to have the church painted. When the work was completed and he went to collect the payment, Aunt Malindy drew thirteen ten-dollar bills from an old Bible. He said the money was so stiff that he thought of Noah’s Ark. Then, he realized that those bills had been gathered from the floodwater after the Indianola storm and pressed dry because they stood up like cardboards.

When Malinda Harris died in 1914 she left her property consisting of one-half lot worth two-hundred-fifty dollars and personal property worth twenty-five to the church.

The bell story continues: The Methodist congregation outgrew its site and moved in 1958 to a new location. The sales agreement called for the congregation to take the church bell. However, the new facility didn’t have a sanctuary, only a fellowship hall and classrooms. The bell was left behind and forgotten.

L.E. Gross did not forget. He said he was a country boy and never got to enjoy a church bell until he had moved to Port Lavaca. He nagged his men’s Sunday school class until they raised the money to hire a crane and move the bell to the new church site where it was placed on the ground and covered with a tarpaulin.

In 1975, when the church built a sanctuary L.E. Gross remembered that bell. Again, he nagged his men’s class until they raised the money to repair the old bell and build a brick stand on which to mount it. Until his death, L.E. Gross rang that church bell before every worship service.

Rev. Dunn wrote in his article: “Today, if you are in Port Lavaca, and hear the Methodist Church bell ring, you will hear the bell that survived the storms of Indianola both 1875 and 1886. It will tell you that the workmen are buried, but the Church of God still survives.”

TEXAS’ LADY CANNONEER

I call it being organized–juggling several things at the same time.  However, like a circus clown trying to toss one too many bowling pins, I’ve dropped the whole passel.  Expecting Friday to be especially busy, I wrote my blog, even added all the photos and went to bed knowing at the appointed hour on Friday I could press “publish” and poof, it would post.

Then, I woke with a start.  Why did Angelina Eberly, the subject of the blog, already appear in the category list?  At 1:30 a.m., my husband, who patiently put up with my flaying and fretting over forgetting, suggested I get up and forage through my folder of files.  I did.

Over the years I’ve written historical markers and articles about the markers, and books about the stories on the markers and even given lectures about the stories on the markers and in the books.  You can understand how I might forget if a story appeared on a marker or in an article or in a book.

My middle-of-the-night search revealed I published a post about  Angelina Eberly February 23–of this year–not six or eight years ago. Last Monday night I told her story again during a lecture.  Folks liked it well enough to inspire me to tell it again in this Friday’s blog.  I’m confessing this confusion because I assume you, as a faithful reader, may remember the February version.  I’m calling the version below The Second Iteration:

Texans love stories of pioneer settlers and heroes.  Angelina Eberly fits the bill.  Born in Tennessee in 1798, Mrs. Eberly married her first cousin, made the journey to Matagorda Bay on the Texas coast in 1822 and finally, with the help of several slaves, opened an inn and tavern in the new village of San Felipe de Austin on the Brazos River.

After her husband died, Mrs. Eberly continued operating the hotel until Texans burned the town in 1836 to prevent it from falling into General Santa Anna’s hands during the Texas War for Independence from Mexico.

After the war she married again and moved with her new husband in 1839 to the new Texas capital of Austin where they opened the Eberly House.

History reveals Texas’ politics as contentious during the days of the republic as they are today.  The constitution of the new republic allowed the president to serve only one, two-year term, which meant Sam Houston, first president and hero of the war for independence, stepped down to allow the election of his successor and nemesis Mirabeau B. Lamar.

Immediately Lamar appointed a site-selection commission that moved the capital of the republic from ole Sam’s namesake city of Houston to a little village in the wilderness of Central Texas and named the place “Austin,” after the father of early Texas settlement.

The legislature met in a frame house on Congress Avenue and other offices occupied different structures along the dirt street. Because of Austin’s vulnerability to attacks by Indians and Mexican troops, the new government provided the residents with a six-pounder cannon, loaded with grapeshot.

Despite primitive conditions, President Lamar and his cabinet dined at the Eberly House.  When Sam Houston won reelection two years later, he moved into the Eberly House rather than occupy the house Mirabeau Lamar designated for the president.

Since Sam Houston and his supporters disapproved of the capital’s location on the western frontier, they jumped at the opportunity to move the Congress to Washington, a tiny village on the Brazos River when Mexican troops captured San Antonio on March 5, 1842.

Determined to keep the last symbol of the capital in their town, Austin residents demanded the national archives, which consisted of diplomatic, financial, land, and military-service records, remain in Austin.

When Mexicans invaded San Antonio again in December 1842, Sam Houston found his excuse for action.  He instructed two army officers to take eighteen men and two wagons to Austin in the middle of the night and quietly remove the archives from the General Land Office.

No one ever explained what Angelina Eberly was doing outside in the middle of the night, but when she saw the wagons leaving with the archives, she ran to the loaded cannon and fired it to warn the citizens of the robbery.

The military men traveled about twenty miles that first day to Kenney Fort located near present Round Rock. The next morning, when the officers rose to continue their journey, they discovered the citizens of Austin circling the fort with their cannon aimed toward the enclosure.  Without further ado, the military men returned the files to the Austin citizens, thus ending what has been dubbed both “The Archives War” and “The Bloodless War.”

With most of the republic’s business handled in Washington, Austin struggled for several years, the population dropping below 200 and its buildings deteriorating.  Finally, in 1845 a constitutional convention approved Texas’ annexation to the United States and named Austin as the new state capital.  In 1850 Texas residents finally voted to officially designate Austin as the state’s capital.

Angelina Eberly moved in 1846 to Lavaca (present Port Lavaca) where she leased Edward Clegg’s Tavern House while the surveyed the area for the best location for her business. Upon seeing nearby Indianola becoming a thriving seaport, she moved down the coast and opened a hotel.  At the time of her death in 1860, her estate appraised at $50,000, making Mrs. Angelina Eberly the wealthiest citizen of Calhoun County.

Today, Austin residents honor their cannoneer with a larger-than-life-size bronze sculpture at the corner of Congress and 7th Street.

Bell With a Past

The bell sitting on a stand next to the Methodist Church in Port Lavaca, Texas, boasts a colorful past.  Originally, it belonged to the Indianola Methodist Church about nine miles down the coast from Port Lavaca, but a hurricane in 1875 destroyed much of the thriving seaport and most of the church buildings.  Although Indianola continued as a port city, the Methodists never rebuilt.  In 1886 another horrible storm and subsequent fire turned Indianola into a ghost town.

That 1886 storm also caused major damage forty miles inland to the Victoria Methodist Church.  After the congregation completed repairs to their building, they sent a group of men down to Indianola to retrieve “the finest bell in Texas” off the wrecked Methodist Church.

Malinda Harris, a tiny black woman, the only surviving member of the destroyed church, met the men and told them the bell was hers and they couldn’t have it.  They returned to Victoria empty-handed.

Meantime, Malinda Harris moved up the coast to Port Lavaca and when the Methodists built a new building, she gave the old Indianola bell to the congregation.  Old timers remembered her as Aunt Malindy, owner of a white boarding house.  She went about town wearing a starched white apron and sat on the back row at the Methodist church every Sunday morning.

The Frontier Times reprinted a story written in 1925 by Rev. M.A. Dunn in which he says when he arrived to serve the Port Lavaca church in 1901, a little black woman named Malinda Harris came to him wanting to pay to have the church painted.  When the work was completed and he went to collect the payment, Aunt Malindy drew thirteen $10 bills from an old Bible.  He said the money was so stiff that he thought of Noah’s Ark.  Then, he realized that those bills had been gathered from the floodwater of the Indianola storm and pressed because they stood up like cardboards.

When Malinda Harris died in 1914 she left her property consisting of one-half lot worth $250 and personal property worth $25 to the church.

The bell story does not end here.  The Methodist congregation outgrew its site and moved in 1958 to a new location.  The sales agreement of the old property called for the congregation to take the church bell.  The new facility didn’t have a sanctuary, only a fellowship hall and classrooms so the bell was forgotten.  Almost.  One man, L.E. Gross, did not forget.  He said he was a country boy and never got to enjoy a church bell until he moved to Port Lavaca.  He nagged his men’s class until they raised the money to hire a crane and move the bell to the new church site where it was placed on the ground and covered with a tarpaulin.  In 1975, when the church built a sanctuary L.E. Gross had not forgotten that bell.  Again, he nagged his men’s class until they raised the money to repair the old bell and mount it on a brick stand.

L.E. Gross was assigned to ring that bell before every worship service until his death.

Rev. Dunn, in his article said: “Today, if you are in Port Lavaca, and hear the Methodist Church bell ring, you will hear the bell that survived the storms of Indianola both 1875 and 1886.  It will tell you that the workmen are buried, but the Church of God still survives.”