In 1852, Archibald Willingham and his family moved from their double log cabin at Salado Springs to an area several miles west of Salado that became known as Willingham Springs. Willingham was the first Anglo-American settler in Salado, and members of his family lived there or at Willingham Springs continuously from 1850 to 1966. Over the years a small community, probably never more than seventy-five to 100 persons, evolved at Willingham Springs. Its centerpiece was a small wooden Baptist church with a high-pitched roof, built between 1911 and 1914 on land donated by ranch owner Wilson Willingham, a grandson of Archibald Willingham. The church is on Farm Road 2843 in southern Bell County. Brother Cullam of the Prairie Dell Methodist Church helped the people of Willingham Springs organize the church in 1911. Mrs. Willie "Grandma" Myers drove the first nail. She had been instrumental in organizing the church and lived to celebrate her eighty-fifth birthday there in 1936. Pastors included Joe Dugger of Salado, Isum Story, and Boyd Turner (in the early 1930s); Jack Pearce, from Izora, was pastor when the church closed in 1941. It was said that "You could hear him [preaching] across the road and even down the hollows apiece." During the Great Depression he was paid $35 a year. A descendant of Mrs. Myers says that Pearce "was doing it for the Lord, mostly." In 1914 church members let the building be used as a one-room school, which in its heyday enrolled about twenty students. In 1918 residents of Willingham Springs successfully petitioned the Bell County School Board for the formation of the Willingham Springs Common School District. In 1929 the district was consolidated with the Salado Independent School District. By 1937 the school was closed, and students went to Salado schools or elsewhere. In 1941 the Willingham Springs Baptist Church closed its doors, partly because young people had left to work or fight in World War II. In 1950 an effort began to revitalize the church. Tommy Lankford, who had taken care of the building while it was closed, was the first pastor of the revived church. Attendance began to dwindle again, however, and by 1957 the congregation was at low ebb, in spite of a tabernacle built in 1956 for open-air meetings. Since then, though it has been a struggle, the church has continued to function, and plans for restoring it have been made. The community of Willingham Springs, however, has ceased to exist for all practical purposes.
Adapted from the official Handbook of Texas, a state encyclopedia developed by the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA). It is an authoritative source of trusted historical records.
Douglas B. Willingham | © Texas State Historical Association
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