Monday, August 3, 2009

Kelsey, Texas: A Mormon Colony

John Edgar had joined the Mormon Church in 1890 in Andalusia, Alabama, but soon moved to join the Saints in Mesa, Arizona. It was a long way from his old home. In 1897, after having been back to Alabama, John was passing through Texas on his return trip to Mesa. As luck would have it, he was running so low on supplies and money, that he decided to stop and rent a farm for a year to make enough money to return. He did so well that year that he decided to move his family there. He even convinced his brother Jim Edgar to moved from Alabama to Texas. They purchased land very near the present site of Kelsey. Soon other friends and relatives joined them.

Then in 1900, a couple of Mormon Elders hear about a Mormon Settlement nearby. They contacted the Edgar families and organized a conference among the Saints who had gathered there. Somehow a suggestion was conceived that this community would be a great place for the Saints being persecuted in the southern states to gather. The Southwestern States Mission President, James G. Duffin, obviously agreed and submitted the idea to Church Authorities.

First a Sunday School was created. Then, in 1901, a Branch was organized and a small chapel built. [As of 1976, the building was still standing.] In 1902, Apostle A O Woodruff was sent to assist in the establishment of a townsite. A post office with the name Kelsey was registered in Washington D. C. The name came from the creek on which the settlement was built. The creek was named after Dr. W. H. Kelsey, one of the earliest settlers Upshur county.

Mormon families from Tennessee came too. Jones/Motes, Amonett/Means, Bryant/Church, and many others I haven't identified yet.

There after, missionaries in various parts of the South urged the Saints to gather in Kelsey. By 1904 there were about 400 Members living there. At its peak in 1923, the population was at 750. But the railroad stopped running to Kelsey leaving the farmers no easy way to sell their crops. Other problems such as crop failure, depression and the war effort also took their toll. Even so in 1953, the Kelsey Ward was organized as part of the Dallas Stake. Emmons Church Bryant was the first Bishop.

In 1958, continuing population decline led to a combination of the Kelsey Ward and two nearby branches, Enoch and Gilmer, into a new ward as part of the Shreveport Stake.

[Most of the information was provided by an upublished history of Mormonism in East Texas in my posession. Thank You, Val]

29 comments:

J. Stapley said...

I can't remember if this was the city or not, but there was some great discussion of a Mormon colony in Texas at a MHA Session this year. Mark Brown, Chris Jones and Ed Jeter all had papers on missionaries in the South. It was excellent

Bruce in Montana said...

Thanks Bruce,
My Dad was born in 1908 and his family converted to the Church and moved to Kelsey, from St. Louis, around 1915. That was the beginning of Mormonism in our family. I've been there. There's an old brick school house and a historical marker and a few locals are decendants of the original people. Gilmer, TX is not far away and is the stake center now.
We never think of East Texas as a gathering place for early saints but it really was. Thanks for posting about that.

BruceCrow said...

J.Stapley,
I really wish I could have arranged to go to MHA this year. I saw there were so many sessions on Church hisotry in the South. Maybe next year I'll get to go.

Bruce,
Kelsey wasn't the only colony outside of Utah, but it probably was the last. We do need to remember them.

Edje said...

Mark Brown discussed three colonies/groupings, including Kelsey.

My paper focused on southeastern Texas, particularly the groups at Little Utah/Joyze, Williamson, and Odomville.

Besides the obvious fact of its existence and its Mormon school and Mormon-style grid streets, etc., Kelsey played a prominent role in regional church history in that many of the members in East and Central Texas spent time in Kelsey, came from Kelsey, went to Kelsey for training, and so on. "Local" missionaries from Kelsey served throughout the mission.

President Duffin's diaries are available online at BYU's Mormon Missionary Diaries site. He doesn't talk about it as much as one would like, but he does say a pretty good deal.

Around this same time Pres. Duffin was exploring the possibility of formal colonies in, IIRC, Kansas and Oklahoma. (All of this, of course, marrying one of the sister missionaries polygamously, traveling the mission and to visit his first family, and negotiating the purchase of land in Independence, including part of the temple lot. Busy guy.)

I'm interested in the unpublished history, if you wouldn't mind sending me a copy (assuming the author is okay with it). Also, IIRC, there are a couple of MA theses dealing with Kelsey, some at BYU some from Texas schools.

BruceCrow said...

Edge, I'd be happy to send you a copy of the Texas LDS History. I'll ask the person who sent it to me first, but I'm sure he would be alright with it. email me directly with the best way you want me to get it to you. bruce_crow at yahoo dot com.

Chez des Tombe said...

I came upon your blog while doing a little research of my own on Kelsey.
My family is from there and many still live there. I'm a Lindsey, and am also related to the Dixon's, both of which were populous throughout Kelsey's history. The Kelsey graveyard is filled with my kin, and some cousins have gathered extensive biographies, and history. I am interested in the MA thesus' one of your readers referenced, and I'd love to be of help, if needed.
Thanks for the post.

BruceCrow said...

Edje is a perma-blogger over at http://www.juvenileinstructor.org/ I don't have a person email contact yet, but when I get it I'll pass along yours if you send it. bruce_crow at yahoo dot com

KingGeorge said...

This was a definite gathering place for the Saints. I left the church for a number of years and came back. I Pastor went to a Baptist Seminary in Jacksonville, TX and Pastored in Longview at a non-pentecostal Church of God. A number of the older congregants gave me a tour of what is left in the area in 1990. Wish I had taken pics. I am back in the Church and proud of my heritage. I am so thankful to have learned and visited this place of gathering for the Saints. The older church of God people said the Mormons of Kelsey were the best Christian neighbors they had.

BruceCrow said...

Wow, what a story. In many ways it is still a gathering place. Many families in the area trace their lineage to Kelsey even if it was not viable as a town without easy access to the railroad, the people who left didn;t go far.

Jake said...

Howdy all! I've been wanting to find some more-detailed information on the Kelsey, Texas Colony, and there isn't much to be found on the web. This little blog post is one of the best articles I've been able to find. Can anyone recommend a book on the topic or someone to contact who might know more about it if there isn't a book available? For some reason, as a native Texan and convert to The Church, this topic really interests me and I'd like to explore documenting and possibly publishing some of the history if it hasn't been done. Thank you so much for the article!

BruceCrow said...

Sorry Jake, your comment got caught in the spam filter. I just noticed and cleared it.

There is a Facebook group for the children of Kelsey. They are collecting a good deal of photos and the like. http://www.facebook.com/#!/groups/293559731906

Also take a look at a self published book by Jennings D. Means called "Kelsey: Zion of the South."
http://www.meansweb.com/BookStore.htm

Sherry Edgar in South Alabama said...

John & Jim (James) Edgar are my great-grand uncles. James and his wife are actually buried in Kelsey.
While I am not Mormon, I am very proud of my heritage and thank you for this story.

Anonymous said...

I visited the old red brick school house today and frankly I think the Morman church is letting a rare valuable piece of their history decay. A beautiful old lady of the Morman faith is single handedly trying to maintain the grounds. More attention should be given to a beautiful artifact of history of the Morman church and I am not even Morman.

Chris Johnson said...

I was out at the old red brick school house on the 10th of January with my cousin. His mother and my grandmother were twin sisters and granddaughters of James Edgar. My cousin has lived in Kelsey / Gilmer the majority of his life and is a mason by trade. He's aware of some of the loose bricks and told me that he watches over the school house and plans to repair the loose brick. He stated that vandalism is a problem from time to time. A neat part of Mormon and Gilmer / Kelsey history. FYI there is still a lot of family from the original Edgars who still live in the area. Some of us are close by in Dallas too! We would love to hear other stories of folks that are either from that line or who were part of the settling families there.

Good to hear the comments on here.

James "Chris" Johnson (grandson of Talmadge Johnson and Ova Edgar)

Jason Engemann said...

My name is Jason Engemann. I grew up in Kelsey and my grandfather (Byron Wade) and his parents came to Kelsey by train around 1913. His parents were converted there and this is where we trace our lineage to.

BruceCrow said...

Good to hear from you Jason. I wasn't aware there were people who joined the LDS Church after they moved to Kelsey.

Ed Bonebrake said...

Hello my mother owns the old school house in Kelsey and has opened a museum in it. Trying to keep the history alive, she is 84 years old and the school has been in our family ever since I can remember. most of my family are members of the church, I wish the church would take interest in the school and the history. I am afraid that when my mom passes the school and museum and the history will be lost. My mother has worked most of her life to history of Kelsey she went to the school in first grade before it closed. I know she would not ask, but she would like it if that history could continue. My brothers and sisters including myself are not able to. I just found this site and thought I should post. Thank you My mother is Fayrene Bonebrake you can contact her at 903*725*5207

deslindseya said...

Hi Ed. so I guess we are cousins. I met your mom on a visit there a couple of years ago. I did not get to see the schoolhouse, but hope I can visit it and her soon. I plan to pass through that area in June.
It's a shame no one is able to take her place as Kelsey historian, but there are others there who do some.

big mouth bass said...

The information and pictures at the Kelsey Academy Museum are currently being scanned in order to be placed on the internet at some point. It is a long and slow process. The local ward and stake have taken an interest and are helping with this. Part of the problem with this is the collation of this and how it all relates together. My mother (Effie Fayrene Hamberlin Hardman Bonebrake) can tell how this all fits together. Most of this information is in her head. She keeps meticulous notes on the microfilm, diaries, audio recordings, missionary journals, etc. What we really need are extensive recordings of what she knows of all this yet she has to have the time available to do this. It is a wonderful treasury and legacy that she would like to make available to the public. Greg Lindsey built a house recently on the site of the original church and kept the foundation stones in place in the yard. Tony Denton recently remodeled the old brick Kelsey church that originally had a Delco Electrification Plant for power. Most of the old houses are gone now. I have the oldest house (1909) currently standing and did a ground up restoration last year. You can still see the foundation of the gin mill and the steps to one of the cannery's. The museum is open every Monday and you can call call 903-725-5207 for viewing at other times. Ron Hardman 903-841-1784

bob said...

My Mom (Ruth Lynette McKnight "Tootie")was raised & schooled in Gilmer. (She now lives in Phoenix, is 84 yo).
My Grampa farmed in Gilmer-- sweet potatos & cotton. My Gramma, Ethel Burnett, did the missionary's laundry each week in a tub with a scrub board.

Virginia said...

I just found this information about Kelsey. My grandfather,Manasseh Julius Blackburn, was a missionary in that area 1902-1904. I have a picture of 1902 Sunday School. One of his missionary journals was donated to the Church History Library by a cousin. At the end of it he said he walked over 4,000 miles (I don't have it right before me). Grandpa Blackburn said he and his companion surveyed Kelsey and got a post office established.

magicktree said...

I just found this article James Edgar is my 2nd great grandfather,
I am currently trying to find out if anyone knows where his first
wife was buried Her name was Martha McKinney she died in Thatcher,AR
Thanks for writing this article it fills in some of the blanks
for me.
Please feel free to contact me at livefreeordie33 (at) yahoo dot com
This is the second article I have read on them... always wondered
why they went to Arizona and Texas now I know
Marty

Anonymous said...

My grandmother was born in Kelsey and is a historian herself. There is a great Facebook group with lots of pictures and information.

https://m.facebook.com/groups/293559731906?tsid=0.9057927571702749&source=typeahead

Lawrence Bryant said...

Great post about Mormon history in Texas. My parents, Lawrence Bryant and Genevieve Green, were both raised in Kelsey and Emmons Church Bryant is my great uncle.

Lawrence Bryant said...
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Lawrence Bryant said...
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Kristine Haslam said...

So excited to find this page! My Great Grandparents are the Hunter family and the Yeaman family, both from Kelsey. Interestingly enough, Bro. Duffin taught them the Gospel and converted them in 1901. 83 years later, Bro. Duffin's grandson or great grandson, Max Duffin, sealed my husband and I in the Salt Lake Temple!! I just figured this out a few months ago. My husband always asked me why I could remember the name of the man who sealed us all of those years ago. Now I know. I would love to go to Kelsey and see the museum and the area!

BruceCrow said...

Glad you could find what you were looking for. I've not been to Kelsey, but I would love to visit. If you go before I do, let me know about what you see.

Julie Kingsbury said...

Could you put me in contact with Fayrene Bonebreak's son. I have a diary of my grandmother Earley Belle Bryant it list students from 1921-1924. My email is juliekingsbury@msn.com