Churches played a vital role in Minden’s history

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One of the most important Echoes of Our Past in Minden has been the role of our churches. The First United Methodist Church is the oldest in our town, being founded in 1839, so they will be celebrating 180 years in our community during 2019. By 1844, they had erected a building on a site donated by W. A. Drake. The church has occupied that property since that time, being one of the few churches in this region to be on the same site for 175 years. Later in 1844, on December 29, the Minden Baptist Church was organized. That congregation became the First Baptist Church of Minden in 1925.  While the impact of the churches in our community has been extremely significant, today’s column will examine how two of the early pastors of the Minden Baptist Church left their mark on not only Minden, but also other sections of our nation. This column will discuss the careers and legacies of George Washington Bains, pastor of the church from 1845 until 1850 and William Carey Crane, pastor during 1861-62. Both of these men became associated with the Minden Baptist Church through their connection to the Rehobeth Church at Mt. Lebanon and the Baptist college located in that Bienville Parish Community.

George Washington Bains was born near Raleigh, North Carolina, on December 29, 1809. He was third in a line of four generations of Baptist ministers. His parents moved the family to Georgia in 1817, and to a farm near Tuscaloosa, Alabama, in 1818. Despite a limited academic background Bains entered the University of Alabama, where he paid his expenses by cutting and rafting timber. He was forced to withdraw from school during his senior year  because of poor health. In 1834,  he was baptized at the Salem Baptist Church and later that year licensed to preach by the Philadelphia Baptist Church. Bains was ordained on August 7, 1836, by the Grant’s Creek Baptist Church. His father was among the signers of both the license to preach and the certificate of ordination. In 1837, in an effort to recover from his recurring dyspepsia, Bains moved to Carroll County, Arkansas. During his seven years in that state he organized three churches and baptized 150 people while serving as a missionary for the Baptist Home Mission Society of New York City. He was also a representative from Carroll County to the Fourth Legislature of Arkansas, from November 7, 1842, to February 4, 1843. 

Bains moved to Mount Lebanon, in July 1844, to serve the Rehobeth Church in that community. In January, 1845, shortly after the Minden Baptist Church was founded, Bains was called as the church’s first pastor. While pastoring at Mt. Lebanon and Minden, Bains also pastored the churches at Homer and Saline. The Minden church grew and prospered under Bains’ ministry. Even though it remained a quarter-time congregation (meeting only one Sunday out of four) the church built its first building. That structure was located on the modern-day corner of Broadway and Lee Streets and was used by the Minden Baptist Church until 1902. During his six-year residence in Louisiana, Bains also served as superintendent of schools in Bienville Parish and assisted John Bryce in organizing the First Baptist Church of Marshall, Texas.

In 1850, the Bains family moved to Huntsville, Texas, where he preached and began a lifelong friendship with Sam Houston. It was after crossing the Sabine River and becoming a Texan that he added the “e” to his last name, for reasons unknown. From that point forward he was known as George Washington Baines.  During his ministry in Texas he was the pastor of churches at Huntsville, Independence, Anderson, Fairfield, Springfield, Butler, Florence, and Salado. From 1855 to 1860, he was the first editor of the first Baptist newspaper in Texas, the Texas Baptist. Baines served as president of Baylor University in 1861-62. In the face of overwhelming financial obstacles during the Civil War, he kept the struggling school going at great sacrifice to his health. Baylor University conferred on him an honorary M.A. degree on July 27, 1861.

Baines married Melissa Ann Butler on October 20, 1840. When he left Baylor, he moved to a farm near Fairfield, where his wife and youngest son died. On June 13, 1865, he married a widow, Mrs. Cynthia W. Williams. In 1866, he traveled as field agent for the Baptist State Convention and in 1867, moved his family to Salado, where he was pastor of the First Baptist Church. In 1877, he became an agent for the Education Commission of the Baptist State Convention, but in 1881, the First Baptist Church of Salado insisted that he resume the pastorate there. After the death of his second wife in January 1882, Baines lived with his daughter Anna in Belton until he died, of malaria, on December 28, 1882. He was buried at Salado. One of the ten children of Baines and his first wife was Joseph Wilson Baines, who was born during his time in North Louisiana and became Texas Secretary of State. He was also the father of Rebekah Baines Johnson. Rebekah and her husband Sam Ealy Johnson had a son you might have heard something about, Lyndon Baines Johnson, the 36th President of the United States.

William Carey Crane was born in Richmond, Virginia, on March 17, 1816. After receiving lessons from private teachers he attended Mount Pleasant Classical Institute in Amherst, Massachusetts, and Richmond College. In 1833, he moved to New York and attended Hamilton Literary and Theological Institute and Colgate University. In 1834, he entered George Washington University, from which he received an A.B. degree in 1836 and an A.M. in 1839. Crane taught in Georgia from 1837 to 1839, and was ordained to the Baptist ministry in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1838. During this period he married Alcesta Flora Galusha of Rochester, who died in 1840. In March 1839, he accepted a pastorate at Montgomery, Alabama. In Alabama, Crane also met William Milton Tryon and James Huckins, who, together with Robert Emmett Bledsoe Baylor, later became the major organizers of Baylor University. Crane married Jane Louisa Wright, also of New York, in 1841. Three years after her death in 1842, he married Catharine Jane Shepherd of Mobile, Alabama.  

During the 1840s, Crane held pastorates in various communities in Mississippi, including Columbus, Vicksburg, and Yazoo City. He served as president of Mississippi Female College (1851-57), Semple Broaddus College in Mississippi (1859-60), and Mount Lebanon College in Louisiana (1860-63).  It was during his tenure at Mt. Lebanon that he served as pastor of the Minden congregation. While at Mount Lebanon he remained coeditor of the Mississippi Baptist, the state Baptist paper. He was the cofounder and vice president of the Mississippi State Historical Society and for two years was the general agent of the American Tract Society. He also served as secretary of the Southern Baptist Convention from 1851 to 1863 and as its vice-president four times in the 1870s and 1880s.

In 1863, Crane moved to Texas and at the urging of supporters of Baylor University he visited Baylor at Independence and was offered the presidency of the university, effective January 1, 1864. He served as Baylor’s president for twenty-two years until his death in 1885. Crane’s leadership and the expenditure of his own funds enabled Baylor to survive hard times during the Civil War and Reconstruction. Today there is a special preaching curriculum at Baylor known as the William Carey Crane Program.

Crane served as pastor of the Independence Baptist Church for eighteen years and was active in the Texas Baptist State Convention. He was a prolific author and wrote a classic biography of Sam Houston. Crane was the first president of the Texas State Teachers Association and was chairman of the committee that recommended the founding of Sam Houston Normal Institute (now Sam Houston State University). He was a leader in the reorganization of the Texas public school system after Reconstruction. In 1866, he was invited to address the Texas legislature and urged it to establish a graduate and professional school at Austin, where graduates of existing universities could pursue higher learning. Eventually that school became the University of Texas.

Crane died on February 27, 1885; he was the first Baylor president to die in office. In the late 1880s, a college was founded at Independence and named William Carey Crane College; however, it was eventually absorbed by Baylor. He was originally buried in Independence, but in 1937, the Texas Centennial Commission had his body reinterred in the State Cemetery at Austin. Crane County in southwestern Texas is named in his honor.

Thus these two men who are part of the Echo of Our Past here in Minden, left impressive records in Texas, where they are regarded as pioneer leaders in religion and education. Most of the material in this article came from the Handbook of Texas. One interesting exception is the story of G. W. Bains’ name change, that story was not mentioned in the official record but was related by LBJ in a letter to late Minden resident Major DePingre. Even more significant than the impact on the history of Texas was the legacy of George Washington Baines, as his great-grandson became President of the United States, and Minden was a part of that heritage.

Webster Parish Historian John Agan’s column appears Tuesdays in the Minden Press-Herald.

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