Mildred Cooley Cox was carried to church “in my mother’s arms,” she says, “when I was just three weeks old. So many of my memories are tied to the church. I still see it the way it was.” She pulls a tissue from her sleeve to wipe away a few tears. It isn’t East Dallas or Lake Highlands that Mrs. Cox sees outside her window today. It’s Fisher, Texas.
The town that lives on in Mrs. Cox’s heart first put down roots in 1844, and by the 1930s boasted a population of 50, two general stores, a drugstore, a bank, a post office, a railroad stop (of sorts) and a Baptist church.
Then it disappeared.
Where did it go, this sleepy little town where she played as a child and grew to be a woman? And what, if anything, is left?
Mrs. Cox welcomes the Advocate into her home, an assisted-care facility, with the genteel manners and warm hospitality of a southern belle. Photographs are everywhere, and before she sits in her favorite chair, she boasts on her loved ones, and comments that she is the last one left of nine children. “That’s what’s sad,” she says.
But, in point of fact, Mrs. Cox is still here. The bank and the post office are gone; the name of the town changed once to Calhoun and then was lost. Trains no longer pick up passengers sporting overalls, straw baskets in tow. The sounds of Dallas traffic have replaced braying donkeys … the houses we live in today long ago swallowed the open prairie where buffalo once grazed.
Like so many small communities near large cities, Fisher fell into the urban maw, for better or worse. But, if you look closely, you’ll see a memory or two. One is the Baptist church — it still stands alongside Mrs. Cox and a handful of other long-lived members. And, together, they have a story to tell.
Here come the Baptists
On the wings of promising talk and government flyers, gutsy pioneers headed south toward Texas, chasing stories of deep rich soil and great farmland . . . with a climate of mild winters and a long growing season. When towns such as Dallas, Farmers Branch, Carrollton, and Oak Cliff started springing up from their Texas bootstraps, mainstream religions were all over them like ducks on a June bug.
Methodist and Presbyterian churches made a strong showing in Dallas County during the mid-to late 1800s. The Baptist church, however, was a little slower coming along. Rev. David Myers, who presided at the funeral of a child in Dallas in 1846, is credited with this first Baptist witness in Dallas. History records him playing an important role in the First Baptist Church of Dallas organizing in 1853 and again in 1857.
As a circuit preacher, Myers’ ministry was anywhere and everywhere, from the woods to a log cabin or arbor. A spirit-filled preacher, he gained a powerful reputation as word spread about an unusual event that took place in 1846. While preaching in the woods near Grapevine, a dove lighted upon his shoulder and remained there for several minutes. Lone Dove Baptist Church, located on the edge of Tarrant County, resulted and is still in existence today.
During those early days, FBCD meetings were held in numerous places, from a church member’s home to the Masonic Lodge in downtown Dallas. Church records are sketchy until February 1863 when church minutes record a meeting taking place in the white, one-room Fisher community schoolhouse (once located on current church property). It was then that FBCD disbanded for the last time. These same church leaders founded Pleasant View Baptist Church the next day; however, it would be some years before their permanent church home was built on this same site.
PVBC in Fisher now ministered less to the people of Dallas and more to the majority of its members who were farmers. Church attendance suffered when weather or roads were bad. By making it easier for farming families to attend services, it ultimately became a very important church to the rural communities dotting the northeastern landscape of Texas.
From the church entrance, the view remains quite pleasant. No longer is there an expanse of pasture with cows lazily grazing or a field of prairie grass stretching toward the horizon, but despite the city’s encroachment, there are lots of trees, and the creek meanders down the hill as always.
The new church was nothing special when compared to more affluent congregations starting up elsewhere, but it was the congregation’s first permanent church home. Perched on a lovely site with the nearby creek, perfect “for baptizing and bringin’ the sinner into the fold,” it quickly became a popular church, drawing people from all parts of the county.
Mrs. Cox wasn’t born yet when the congregation purchased the property from her maternal grandfather, W. W. Browder, in 1893, but she remembers her mother and grandmother talking about how everyone came together to build the church.
It was seven years from the time the land was deeded to the church and another two years for the congregation to build the church, but these Baptists were stalwart in their mission. By sharing the cost, $638, the church was able to own the land and the church on it when they moved in. The women helped by catering dinners for the men who worked long into the night, even though their days started early. During this period, PVBC met under a large tent across from Cox Cemetery, which is located on Dalgreen, between Lawther and Fisher.
When thinking back to those early days and how the families of Fisher struggled and sacrificed to build their church, a visitor’s eye naturally gravitates to the large 19th century picture that hangs in the center of the wall in Mrs. Cox’s room. The photograph was taken and framed with great care. The photographs surrounding it now represent more than 100 years of family. The love Mrs. Cox has for her parents can still be seen in her eyes as she talks about James Madison Cooley and Etta Mae Browder, looking as though she might have inherited her father’s dark eyes and dark hair. Even at the age of 84, her black hair still mixes with white.
The struggle didn’t end with the completion of the church building. Although she was only nine years old, Mrs. Cox remembers the church fire of 1926 as if it were yesterday.
“I remember walkin’ with my mama and grandma. We were goin’ to see the church, what was left of it,” she says. “It burnt completely to the ground. We could’ve been in the church that night, but Wednesday evenin’ services had been canceled because of the flue.”
At the church meeting, the night before the fire, it was agreed and voted upon that the necessary repairs would be made to the chimney flue. The fire happened the next night. Although the building was destroyed, the congregation was spared. They thanked God and proceeded to build a new church, just as the previous generation had 25 years before.
With the evangelical movement crisscrossing the United States, and under the leadership of such ministers as H. E. Calahan, G. W. Butler, Josiah F. Pinson, and W. B. Long, the little church in the country continued to grow. By the time Rev. Homer L. Fisher — a relative of Tom Fisher, the first resident of the area — began to lead the flock, it was already known as a “spirit-filled” church.
Ties That Bind
Marie Wooten Looney, who joined the church in 1940, feels the same way about PVBC as Mrs. Cox; she, too, loves the little church.
“We had the most wonderful revivals. It was nothin’ for Brother Fisher to have two or three hundred people gettin’ baptized in the lake.”
A former dairyman, Fisher was a charismatic and passionate preacher during the 1940s and ’50s. Young families were moving to the surrounding area, and many wanted a Christian school and daycare for their children. PVBC responded by adding a two-story addition to the rear of the church for classrooms and provided daycare and elementary education, grades K to 6.
As though she was recalling a recent event, Mrs. Looney remembers a special treat that became a favorite church memory. “All us kids would go over to Grandma and Grandpa Browder’s farm, directly behind the church, for fresh milk and cookies. I can still see us all on the front porch after Sunday service.
“And, so many times, the donkey across the road on the Williamson farm would bray during service, and us kids would all giggle.
“We had wonderful Fourth of July celebrations, too. We would all meet at someone’s farm where tables were set up, and we all played baseball, the daddy’s against the daughters, the boys against the mothers, then the parents against each other. People brought quilts to sit on. And us kids, we ran around having a big time.”
Mrs. Looney still laughs when she talks about the Amen Corner of the sanctuary. “This was where all the old men would sit on folding chairs, usually fast asleep and snoring, but every once in awhile during his sermon, Uncle Homer would shout: Can I hear an amen back there?”
Dutifully, the Amen Corner responded, only to quickly fall back to sleep.
“I knew Brother Fisher as Uncle Homer because he had nieces and nephews my age, so I just started calling him Uncle Homer too,” Mrs. Looney says. “I was 11 when I joined the church, and I remember cryin’ and carryin’ on when it came to their baptizin’ me in the lake. Then, Uncle Homer says: We’ll baptize Marie back at the baptistery.
I was scared of water, still am.”
Listening to all the stories, it’s easy to believe that, in a way, Fisher never really disappeared. The community and the church were pretty much one and the same during its first 100 years, and this was a church that fostered lifelong connection.
Recuperating from a physical setback, Mrs. Looney says that she talks with another long-time church member, Helen Taylor, every day. “We get to thinkin’ back, and it’s really somethin,’ the things we’ll remember. We have been good friends since we were young girls. And we married young. I was 18. Helen was 17 … .
“I tell everyone who comes to see me that I’ll walk down that church aisle again.”
Traces of Fisher
Fisher, Texas, also known as Calhoun, was centered around the intersection of Fisher Road and the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railroad in northeastern Dallas County; White Rock Lake is just to the east.
The community was on the original land grants of D. A. Murdock to the northeast and D. Murray to the southwest. The area was first settled in 1844 when Tom Fisher built a home in the area, reportedly one of the first houses in Dallas County. Fisher was a rural agricultural community characterized by a number of small farms and was almost certainly named after this early pioneer.
At some point, Fisher became known as Calhoun. The change of name may have occurred simultaneously with the construction of the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railroad through the community in 1886. However, it is most likely that Calhoun was the name of the post office, which was established in Fisher in 1888 and remained until 1906.
By the 1930s, the site of the community was in the Dallas city limits.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Ed Ellsworth Bartholomew, The Encyclopedia of Texas Ghost Towns (Fort Davis, Texas, 1982). David S. Switzer, It’s Our Dallas County (Dallas: Switzer, 1954).