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. But it isn’t our neighborhood 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 near White Rock Lake in 1844. By the 1930s, the town boasted a population of 50, two general stores, a drugstore, a bank, a post office, a railroad stop (of sorts), a host of small family farms in the surrounding countryside, and a Baptist church.
Then, it disappeared.
Where did it go, this sleepy little town where Mrs. Cox played as a child and grew to be a woman? And what, if anything, is left?
Today, Mrs. Cox lives in an assisted-care facility, and she shows visitors 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 of nine children.
“That’s what’s sad,” she says.
But in point of fact, Mrs. Cox still lives in Fisher, Texas.
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 and the farms that housed dairy operations.
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 tall, along with Mrs. Cox and a handful of others. And together, they tell a story about our neighborhood and its beginnings, a story most of us have never heard.
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. 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 is credited with the first Baptist witness in Dallas, 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. During those early days, First Baptist meetings were held in numerous places, from a church member’s home to the Masonic Lodge Downtown. Church records are sketchy until February 1863, when church minutes record a meeting in a white, one-room Fisher community schoolhouse once located on current church property.
It was then that First Baptist disbanded for the last time. These same church leaders founded Pleasant View Baptist Church the next day, but it would be some years before their permanent church home was built on this same site.
The new Pleasant View Baptist Church in Fisher ministered less to the people of Dallas and more to the majority of its members, primarily farmers from the surrounding area.
Still here / The new church was nothing special when compared with more affluent congregations elsewhere, but it was the congregation’s first permanent church home. Perched on a lovely site overlooking a nearby creek, it quickly became popular, drawing people from all parts of the country.
Mrs. Cox wasn’t born in 1893 when the congregation purchased the property from her maternal grandfather, W.W. Browder.
By sharing the cost, $6.38, the church was able to own the land, and the church members built on it. The women helped by catering dinners for the men, who started early in the morning and worked long into the night. During this period, Pleasant View Baptist Church met under a large tent across from Cox Cemetery, which is located on Dalgreen, between Lawther and Fisher.
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 a church meeting the night before the fire, the congregation voted to repair the chimney flue. But the fire happened the next night, and the congregation proceeded to build a new church, just as the previous generation had 25 years before.
By the time Rev. Horner 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 became a member in 1940, feels the same way about Pleasant View Baptist Church.
“We had the most wonderful revivals. It was nothin’ for Brother Fisher to have two or three hundred people getting’ baptized in the lake.”
A former dairyman, Fisher was a charismatic and passionate preacher during the 1940s and ’50s. Young families new to the area wanted a Christian school for their children. Pleasant View Baptist Church responded by adding a two-story addition to the rear of the church for classrooms and provided daycare and elementary education, grades K-6.
As though recalling a recent event, Mrs. Looney tells the story about 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 daddies 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 sanctuary’s Amen Corner.
“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, Mrs. Looney says.
“I knew Brother Fisher as Uncle Homer because he had nieces and nephews my age, so I just started calling him Uncle Homer, too.
“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 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 the church fostered lifelong connection with its neighborhood.
Recuperating from a physical setback, Mrs. Looney says 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.”