From "A Brief History of the Northside Church of Christ"
A paper prepared in June, 1982 by Don Vinzant
and updated and edited by Dennis Crawford in August, 1996
THE SOCIAL HISTORY OF THE HYDE PARK NEIGHBORHOOD
Before there was a dream for a Hyde Park neighborhood, there had been a lovely expanse of land where the State Agricultural Fair was held. This empty area was also used during the summers for mock battles between military units of the militia in post-Civil War days. The presence of the Austin State Hospital on the area's western edge gave additional significance to this territory.
Enter Monroe H. Shipe's dream. Shipe, a former resident of Kansas, moved to Austin. His first thought had been to create a railroad center in this area but then he resolved to develop Austin's first planned suburb and to call it "Hyde Park". This he did with extensive publicity. He arranged to create a trolley car system and also to extend Congress Avenue and call it Speedway.
Hyde Pak began in the "Gay Nineties". At first, the area of 38th Street to 45th Street, bounded by Gradalupe to the west and Duval to the east was the area Shipe was developing. Then, however, the area to the north up to 47th Street was called "Hyde Park Annex."
Long-time residents believed that in the 1920's Hyde Park was a most desirable area in which to live. Hyde Park was the "elite of the elite." The most impressive brick homes were built in Shadowlawn - built in a grander and more permanent-appearing style - using masonry construction. Into this area have moved some university professors and those of substantial means. As all of Hyde Park is divided into quadrants - Shadowlawn, would be in Quadrant IV - the area which has the least student density.
Hyde Park has become the Living Architectural museum. In the neighborhood you may see a variety of architectural styles and executed projects in a living Neighborhood. This is an architectural student's dream come true. Although the neighborhood was relatively complete by the 1940's, there has been some desire to keep later construction compatible with the earlier styles.
Within the neighborhood the more accessible-priced houses were built on Avenues A and B north and northeast of Baker School and nearest to Guadalupe and the State Hospital. By the 1920's and '30s, not only was the last area accessible to middle-income people, but some of the previously-built housing was becoming available to the popular market.
The closing of the decade of the 1930's saw Hyde Park at almost full-development. If this full development was not enough to close construction, the eruption of World War II with its subsequent freeze on housing materials would have stopped it. By this time, however, Hyde Park had been in existence about fifty years. Some neighborhoods do not flourish nearly that long. At that time Hyde Park was beginning to change as some home owners began to move out of the area and it began to be occupied more and more by tenants. The housing was getting older. Maintenance began to decline due to the absence of homeowners. The mood in America, and in Austin, was to move to the suburbs. The houses of Hyde Park did not have the suburban "ranch style" look which was popular in the years after World War II. Hyde Park had not yet "hit" as an area of prime student housing. In fact, longtime residents can remember when few students lived in the area.
Soon the neighborhood began to decay rapidly. The decade of the '60's was hard on Hyde Park as on the nation. But, Hyde Park, an area so desirable thirty years before, was now getting a "seedy" look in places. Older houses began to be torn down. Apartment houses for students began to go up. Due to the exodus of families with children, the age-sex distribution began to show in abnormal situation which began and then became exaggerated. The neighborhood was weak in families and over-balanced among he very old and those in their early 20's. About this time of maximum decline, the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association began. It helped begin to snstill pride and "fight" back into the Hyde Park psyche.
In 1982 (when this history was written) the tide was turning. House values shot back up and exceeded anything before (albeit, with inflation dollars). Homes were being restored and well-cared for. Genuine efforts wre made to build and restore homes so as to fit in comfortably with the "look of Hyde Park." What was being called "jurky" and "hippy" gave way to a well-cared for look in many areas of Hyde Park. The neighborhood was assured that it could keep its firehouse and its post office. Folks began to suggest ways that the Neighborhood Association could co-exist with the Hyde Park Baptist Church (an old Neighborhood Association sparring foe). People could then say, "Hyde Park has a future - as well as a part."
THE NORTHSIDE CHRUCH OF CHRIST: A SOCIAL HISTORY
A thriving city like Austin surely needed more than one congregation to represent the Church of Christ. The only congregation of substantial size was the University Avenue Church of Christ. This was the situation in 1926. The prosperous north side of Austin looked to be a good place to begin a new work. In favor of that part of the city was the factor of the trolley car which ran up Guadalupe, then over to Speedway and back winding to Guadalupe down 43rd Street and then, down Avenue B, etc. There was as building which had been used by the Methodists at the corner of 43rd and Avenue B which was secured for use.
About 21 persons formed the nucleus of the new congregation. The work started with an outdoor gospel meeting. The first preacher was Luther Norman and the first song leader was Dr. Albert Deveny. A few members at Northside (when this report was written in 1982) were either charter members or else came within the early days of the young congregations existence: Mrs. John Lyle, Bess Gray, Zilphia Davis, Louise Jennings, Erna Leigh and Nell Thomas. Some of these pioneer workers for the church have helped greatly in the preparation of this report.
Zilphia Davis observes that the church began with only 21 members, and wrote about the earliest days of the Northside Church: "Many hindrances, difficulties and obstacles beset us during the early months of our existence. The first year the membership numbered 79. We had grown to 130 by the close of the second year and to 174 by the end of the third year. During the first five years the building was bought and enlarged and equipped with new and comfortable pews, a commodious classroom building had been constructed in the rear of the meeting house, curbs and sidewalks had been laid and the grounds beautified."
The first elders of this congregation were: Dr. Albert Deveny, Oscar Eschberger, Luther Norman, Tom King and Russell L. Lewis.
Some of these leaders as well as some of the early members had come from the University Avenue congregation. Shortly after the establishment of Northside, the plan to establish an additional congregation in Austin on the south side was developed. University Avenue furnished some help for this endeavor and Northside furnished about 25 members to Southside. This set a pattern of congregational cooperation and goodwill which continued. It was especially visible in the 1950's when several congregations were begun in North Austin.
The period of the 1920's and early '30's saw the full development of Hyde Park as a residential section. The decline of the neighborhood had not begun. Hyde Park could be envisioned in those years as a section where there were owner-occupied residences. The age-sex distribution graphs would tend to have a normal configuration.
The early ministers of Northside lived in the neighborhood, as did many of the members, including elders and deacons. The fact that Northside was only established in 1926 when the Hyde Park neighborhood was over thirty years old, could indicate that Northside was not intended to be a "neighbor church." Another fact tended in this same direction is that the congregation was names "Northside", rather than "Hyde Park," as was designated the Presbyterian, Baptist and Christian churches. It would seem that the name "Northside" was chosen because the church was designed to serve Austin's north side as Southside was to serve the area south of the river.
The interest and behavior of the congregation would, doubtless, indicate much more of a church's attitude toward a neighborhood than the mere choice of a nametag. Northside had many opportunities to prove itself a genuine neighbor to its area of the city. Socially, economically, career-wise and in the compassion of the heart, Northside had no reason to be estranged from its community - nor was it. It "fit" in.
Some say that a congregation becomes the extended shadow of its minister or that a church takes on the personality of its minister. While some might find these statements to be exaggerations, nevertheless, the minister does have a pervasive effect as he preaches and labors week after week, year after year, among the people.
The first minister of the church was one of the charter members, Luther Norman. He lived near the church building. He set the tone in many ways for the congregation's expectations for a minister. He had a strong family life, was well-educated and his preaching was blessed with visible results of conversions and restorations to the church. One of his sons became an elder many years later. Norman preached during the early years of the church into the Depression years, when he was succeeded by a minister with another source of income other than preaching, Brother G. H. P. Showalter.
Showalter was owner and editor of the Firm Foundation, a national religious weekly distributed among members of the Church of Christ. He was a man of culture, well-traveled and well-read. Showalter is foundly remembered by the congregation. His was not as strong with the Hyde Park neighborhood as Norman's had been, but his warmth and humility endeared him to all. He had been active at the University Avenue congregation and, eventually returned there after a successful tenure at Northside.
Next minister of the church was Harry Payne, a young married student at the University of Texas. His first child was born while he was at Northside. He and his family lived in a little house just behind the church building. Money was extremely scarce in those closing days of the Depression. Families sometimes brought food to show their love and to be a encouragement to the Paynes in those economically trying days. Payne came in 1937 and moved in "43.
Following the Paynes was E. (Billy) Speck. He was dearly loved, but World War II cut short his ministry and he left for the war effort before the congregation was ready to five him up. Speck lived in the community and he and his wife were very well-received during the period from 1943-45.
Next to minister at Northside was Jess Hall, Sr. He was some years older than Speck. His experience and training would place him more in the category of a Luther Norman or Showalter. This is reflected in the impressive growth which the church enjoyed during his ministry in the middle years of World War II and in the years immediately following. It is not uncommon to find those still at Northside who will happily recall that they were baptized or "married" by Jess Hall, Sr. His brother, Foy, also worked with the church briefly while Jess, Sr. did the pulpit work. Foy was an outstanding song leader. While did not stay long at Northside, Jess' tenure was from 1945-1949.
Next came a period of numerical strength during the work of H. I. Taylor, pulpit minister from 1950-55. Neither the Delwood congregation nor Cameron Road had yet begun. These were probably the years of the largest attendance ever at Northside. Brother Taylor is still held in esteem and is invited back as of this time (1982) for special speaking engagements. While Northside was not directly involved, the Brentwood congregation, to the north, began in 1952 and effectively took away some growth Northside might have experienced.
A young minister R. H. (Tex) Williams came to Northside in the fall of 1955. He had just married a young lady from Boles Home for Children, a Christian home in Quinlan, Texas. "Tex" had been the choral director there prior to moving to Austin. He and his wife, Mary Jane, brought a great deal of vitality to the congregation. This was needed in view of the fact that the Delwood congregation was beginning just at the time "Tex" was coming to Northside. Several families from Northside had gone to this new work and this took a toll on attendance. His ministry lasted for some year and a half. He and his wife left to be missionaries in South Africa in the summer of 1957. He spent about twenty years there before returning to work with missionary training in the United States. Northside continues to provide partial support for his salary and he makes frequent visits back to Northside.
The next minister was James Dobbs who moved to Austin from Pasadena, Texas. He worked at this church from September, 1957, until the spring of 1961. He was a polished pulpit orator and late ran for statewide political office. He is remembered fondly and is invited back from time to time. During his tenure, the new congregation which came to be called "Cameron Road Church of Christ". Within a few months, 51 former members at Northside had cone to be with this new work. Northside helped "sponsor" the new beginning of Cameron Road and viewed those going to be members there in a favorable light. Since Cameron Road began, however, attendance has never regained the totals it had preciously.
Next to minister at Northside was Bobby Cheatham who worked with the congregation from 1961-1963. By this time the ministers were no longer living in the area near the church building. Some of the older housing patterns were on the verge of changing and the cohesiveness of the Northside membership largely living in the Hyde Park vicinity and near-by was due to change rather drastically. Cheatham was an energetic worker and is still well thought of in the Northside congregation where he returns for guest speaking engagements.
A short ministry was also served by F. F. Conley who came to Northside in July, 1963, and labored until April, 1966. His son, Darrell, worked with his father and was supported by the congregation as an associate minister. Conley was also assisted for a while by Maurice Weed, Jr., who continued to preach in the interim period after Conley's resignation and before another permanent minister was secured.
Tommy Stone came to Northside on September 11, 1966, and stayed until August 29, 1971. Stone brought a great deal of energy and excitement to the work and serious consideration was given to adding a new auditorium to the north of the present auditorium and making the older auditorium over into a classroom building. It was decided to retain the old auditorium and build on a fellowship hall with second floor to accommodate more classes.
Davis Lusk moved to Austin in September, 1971. During his tenure, a daily television program was begun. Also an extensive bus ministry was started which brought in more than 100 children from other parts of Austin. Lusk was an energetic and active worker quite interested in outreach. A vital program of visitation was inaugurated along with a stepped-up program of fellowship time for members to spend with each other. Lusk ended his work on August 8, 1976.
Don Vinzant, moved to Northside on August 29, 1976. He was joined by a fulltime co-minister, David Mickey, in July, 1977. These men were called co-minister. Their salary and rank were equal. Mickey worked more in administration and education - Vinzant more in pulpit and promotional work. A new degree of attention was paid to the educational program; a renewed emphasis on an upgraded youth program and a grand new program of every-member-involvement got underway. A new program for concern for senior Christians was begun. The programs of internal ministry were considerably strengthened. The foreign mission program of the church was put upon a more solid footing. Contributions increased dramatically. Attendance figures went down, however.
Northside was now in a neighborhood which had changed so dramatically that the childrens' enrollment for Sunday School fell off. The enthusiasm for the bus program which had been "artificially" propping up the Sunday School diminished. The congregation was now effectively ringed by congregations to the south, to the west, to the west and to the north at the very time it needed to grow by transferring members.
To bring this history up to date (as of June 1982) requires some degree of objectivity and insight into the current strengths and weaknesses. A brief effort to do this kind of assessment will be make below.
As this chapter closes on the social history of the Northside Church of Christ, the church has had its impact upon many lives of those residing in Austin especially in Hyde Park. It is also fair to say that the surge and shift in populations and in age-sex distribution in Hyde Park has bad a major effect upon the congregation as well. How could it be otherwise? In a neighborhood which loses all its children and replaces them with a bright college-age and counterculture group it follows that new methods and ministries must be found. The challenge of the 1980's for Northside will be to find these new approaches and implement them.