Black church founded in 1884 gets historical marker

Monday, October 9th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

ADDISON – Frances Forward has been a member of White Rock Chapel Independent Methodist Church all her life, as has her mother, Minnie Moody.

Even her grandparents were members of the church, which was founded on the banks of White Rock Creek in Addison in 1884.

The church, the only one in Addison and believed by historians to be the oldest continuously operating black church in Dallas County, dedicated a Texas State Historical Commission marker Sunday. It is the second historical marker in Addison.

"We've enjoyed being down here," said Mrs. Forward, whose husband, Billy Joe Forward Sr., has been White Rock Chapel's pastor for almost 20 years. "We are a small church in number, but we have a big heart. We have supported Addison and our neighbors, and they have supported us."

The tiny sanctuary at Celestial and Winnwood roads is nestled among large, expensive homes in a small neighborhood. The land that it sits on was given to the congregation in about 1920 by one of the large landowners in the area, S.S. Noell. His grandson, Leslie Noell, attended the ceremony Sunday.

"I'm prouder of this gift to the church than anything he did," said Mr. Noell, who lives in Richardson. "He had a lot of friends in the community – friends who were members of the church."

He said his grandfather owned more than 2,000 acres in the area and attended services at White Rock Chapel. Mrs. Forward's grandfather, Alec Thomas, was his "right-hand man," Mr. Noell said.

On Sunday, officials from the Dallas County Historical Commission and Addison joined members of the church and community residents to unveil the marker.

Remembering the past

Addison Mayor Scott Wheeler said the church is important because it helps link people with the past.

"Addison developed so quickly over the past couple decades from what it was to what it is, we don't want to lose the sense of what we were," Mr. Wheeler said. "This is the only church to be here before, and it will be the only one after we're gone."

Andy Eads, Addison's historian, has been working to preserve the town's links to the past. He is writing a book about early Addison and is working with the county historical commission to get three more historical markers – one for the town hall, one for the town and one for Addison School.

To get the marker for the chapel, he contacted the county commission, which helped him assemble a history of the church. An application went to the Texas State Historical Commission about a year and a half ago, and it was eventually approved.

Rough start

Cited on the marker are reminders of the positive moments in White Rock Chapel's history and the tragedies.

Because the congregation first met just off the creek's banks, flooding occurred frequently. In 1918, a family drowned after leaving services, so the group decided to meet on higher ground.

In 1960, the church burned down, forcing the members to meet in a tiny building on their property with no running water, no heating and no air conditioning. They met there until the current building opened in 1981.

In 1969, a company claimed a plot that had a small cemetery on it. White Rock Chapel and several other churches in North Dallas began a legal battle that would end up at the Texas Supreme Court. The chapel and its members won the fight, sold some of the land and used the money to pay for the new church building.

Elbert Winn, whose aunt was a member of the church, said it was those battles that make the chapel more special. Receiving the historical designation recognizes that, he said.

'Here to stay'

Mr. Forward said the dedication was a long time in coming.

"It's something we've been waiting for for a great while," he said. "[The marker] says nobody can move you out – we're here to stay. I'm thanking God it happened."