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Did You Know: Pelham, Texas – A Tribute To African-American Greatness In Navarro County

Pelham is a small community of about 50 people and spreads over approximately 5,000 acres in Navarro County.

Pelham is on Farm Road 744 just east of the Hill county line, one mile northwest of Navarro Mills Lake and twenty-five miles west of Corsicana in west central Navarro County. It was settled by newly freed slaves in 1866, when it was called Forks of the Creek.

It is rich in history and residents have worked diligently to share with others how it originated and, even more intriguing, how it continues.


The Texas slaves did not hear about the Emancipation Proclamation, issued on Jan. 1, 1863, until after the Civil War ended in April 1865. Two months later, a regiment of Union soldiers landed at Galveston. Its leader, Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger, issued the order that freed an estimated 250,000 slaves in Texas. It was June 19, 1865, commemorated every year in Juneteenth celebrations.

The freed slaves, newly emancipated after the Civil War, made their way to this arc of land fed by three creeks on the western edge of Navarro County. They not only survived — they thrived, building schools, churches and a nurturing community under Jim Crow segregation.

In 1878 the Wesley United Methodist Church was founded. It housed the first school in

the town. The post office opened in 1900 but closed in 1908. Postmaster Lewis Richie’s wife renamed the town Pelham for her hometown in Alabama. Pelham flourished during the Navarro County oil boom from 1894 to the 1920s. Its population peaked at 350 in 1926 and declined to twenty-five by 1936. From 1966 to 1990 the population was estimated at seventy-five. Maps of the 1980s indicated a school, a church, and businesses at the site.

Preserving History

The Pelham History Museum has artifacts to demonstrate its beginnings and give acclaim to the ancestors who at one time lived in the community. It will also share the lineage of families who remain in the community and those who return to keep the heritage alive.

The museum, originally built in 1890, served as the school. About 1922 or 1923 it was moved and became the community and lodge hall.

According to records, people invested in remodeling the old school and performed approximately $40,000 in renovations into keeping history alive and going.”

The building has been beautifully restored and was dedicated as The Pelham Community History Museum. Residents hope people will come and share artifacts, photographs and other items from the past and continue to educate the future generations.

Local historians report a rich history filled with stories about being raised and taught by former slaves during a time when there was no radio or television. Much of the teaching was done by the older folks in the community through talking and sharing.

Learning was an ongoing process in Pelham. Wesley United Methodist Church was founded in 1878 and housed the very first school in the community.

Before being named Pelham, the area was called Forks of the Creek and was settled by black families after 1866. As more people came, other churches also began to develop.

In addition to the already established Methodist church, Brown’s Chapel A.M.E. was also formed in 1905 and Union Baptist in 1916. Today the three churches are still active and services are alternated from one church to the other.

Additional first settlers in the community included the Caruthers family.

“Henry Caruthers founded our community,” according to the report from Joan Younger Davis, who served as a secretary of the museum committee at the time. According to Davis at the time, Caruthers was just about everybody’s “great, great, great, great-grandfather.”

Also, his son, John Caruthers son was the first school teacher in Pelham, according to Davis.

In 1975 Pelham was recognized by the state and was awarded a historical marker. It was the first black community to be awarded a historical marker in Navarro County.

In addition to that marker, another marker was placed at Wesley United Methodist Church in 1995 in memory of Elmer O. Porter.

According to historical records, the small Black community grew and a post office was granted in 1898. Eventually the town was renamed by postmaster Louis Richie’s wife for her home in Pelham, Ala. By 1926 the population in the Navarro County community had peaked at about 350 residents.

In time, several businesses were started in the community and there were many firsts that took place. In some of the history recorded by Catherine Porter, the community was the starting place for a variety of opportunities.

One of the opportunities was a loan from Farmers Home Administration, given to Mr. and Mrs. Elmer Porter to build a new home.

Some of the businesses that operated out of Pelham included various grocery stores, a cafe and gas station. The Pelham Telephone System and the Pelham Gin were also part of the community businesses.

In the late 1920s families who had telephones were serviced by one wire that ran along the county road. Often times the line was fastened onto tree limbs and fence posts. It was a party line service with all of the residents on one line. Besides the telephone system a cotton gin was built in 1920 and employed six workers. It burned in 1931.

Education was a way of life in the area and there were several who became teachers.

Since education had always been an important factor in the community the High School Alumni Association, who also started the historical committee, decided the best way to preserve the history of Pelham and those who lived and died there was through a museum.

The community would like to see others share artifacts in the museum and help to preserve a special time in history.

Information for Story from the Texas State Historical Association, U.S. GenWeb Project and Barbara Forman, May, 16, 2002, Corsicana Daily Sun

Submitted by: Darwin Campbell

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Did You Know: Pelham, Texas – A Tribute To African-American Greatness In Navarro County