Willow Springs, once considered the “hub of the East Texas oil field”, originated from a community settlement located at the intersection of Pine Tree Road and U.S. Highway 80 called Awalt. The community was named in 1847 after the Reverend Solomon Awalt, founder and organizer of Cumberland Presbyterian Church. Awalt lost the election for county seat to nearby Longview in 1873. The Texas and Pacific Railroad was built through Awalt in 1873, resulting in the platting of the townsite and renamed Willow Springs.
In the early 1900”s, members of a small farming community were holding summer revival meetings in a brush arbor owned by Mr. Thomas B. Harris, Sr. Persons of all faiths attended these services. In 1910, an evangelist named Terrell encouraged the people to build a church that could be used year round. Fundraising began, construction plans were made and a site selected. On * September 22, 1910 T.B. Harris deeded land for Center Point Church to be built for the sum of one dollar. The actual location is off Old Highway 80, about midway to White Oak.
Not all of those helping to build the Center Point Church were Methodists, nor did they attend the church when it was completed. But they were willing to give their time and talents to add a church to the community. The building was a 40’ x 60’ wood frame structure. All in the community were welcome. Funding was always a struggle and there are stories of Mrs.McQuary riding in a buggy pulled by a mule, going from house to house, collecting money to pay the minister and other church expenses.
There was one preacher whose wife also served as pianist but was very ill. They placed a cot behind the piano where she would rest between playing.
To be more centrally located and more accessible to the majority of people, the congregation of Center Point agreed to move to town, against the wishes of the closest neighbors of the community it served.
On February 7, 1932 the first services at Willow Springs were held in an old movie theater owned by Claude Barnes. There were many businesses, some oil related and some not, with theaters, hotels, and even an airport. Three theaters existed at different times but all burned, a wide spread tragedy during that time.
Mrs. G.H. Jones donated land to be used for religious services. If services ceased, the land would revert back to the original owner. Efforts at funding for the construction of the church were lead by Mrs. Jones. Robert Reynolds owned a lumber company nearby and was instrumental in providing both materials and labor for both building and repairs of the structure through the years. Many church members were involved in the construction of the building.
A house was purchased and relocated to an adjacent lot for use as a parsonage. Accommodations for a full time pastor had to be made.
Jones Memorial Methodist Church
On July 17, 1932 a dedication service was held for the new church named Jones Memorial on land donated by “Mother” Jones. Willow Springs School, grades one through three, was located next door and apparently church and school shared facilities.
Meanwhile, back in the Center Point location, Sunday Schools were led by Leonard Whatley and Mary Jones every Sunday morning. Occasional Sunday afternoon worship services were held in the previous location.
The first individual count of church membership was 161 members in 1934 under the leadership of Rev. Marvin Vance.
With the necessity of a U.S. Post Office, it was discovered that there was already a town called Willow Spring in South Texas. So the name chosen was Greggton. Sources differ but the change came about sometime between 1929 or 1935. The thriving community was noted in Ripley’s Believe it or Not as the only town in the United States that had a volunteer fire department and fire station but no fire truck or water system.
In the 1930’s Greggton thrived. There were cafes, dry goods stores, barber shops, news stands, lumber company, drug stores, hotels, theaters, and of course, many oilfield supply businesses. There was also an airport, later converted to a golf course. The train fare to Longview was 25 cents.
Sometime in January of 1941 the official name became Greggton Methodist Church. In the spring of 1941, a telephone was installed in the parsonage for $1.50 with monthly rate of $2.92.
On April 4, 1947 a conference was called for an official motion to relocate the church building to property purchased on Hwy. 80 for $3,100 or less. By April 22, 1947, the land purchase was completed for the relocation of Jones Memorial to Hwy. 80 property.
Greggton Methodist Church
In late 1947, while preparing to move the Jones Memorial Church Building to the newly purchased property on Hwy 80, the roof was removed. It then rained for at least two weeks causing severe water damage to the structure and all the contents. Members struggled to make repairs with Reverend Waltman doing many of the extensive repairs himself. According to Margaret Travis, the rebuilding and reconstruction of the church was one of many contributions Roy Travis made through his very capable carpentry skills. She remembers the entire Travis family working late into the evenings with the sanding and staining of the altar rails.
In November of 1949 the pastor proudly included in his report that there had been no deaths in this congregation for the entire four years he served as pastor.
Rapid growth caused serious space problems with SS classes meeting in the church kitchen, corners of the sanctuary, Brown’s Radio Shop and in an unused barbershop near by. Due to the huge increase in membership, an ambitious Building Fund Campaign was launched in September of 1950. In December 31, 1950, additional land surrounding the Hwy. 80 location was approved for purchase to accommodate growing needs of congregation and pastors.
By March 9, 1956, the Building Committee was made aware of an opportunity to purchase approximately 12 acres of land located on Pine Tree Road. Dr. Spalding lived only a block away from the property and made the committee aware of the availability of the land. With this time sensitive opportunity, church leaders made the unanimous decision. By April 5, 1956, the purchase of land on Pine Tree Road was completed.
Connie Welmaker remembers this time as a frantic week or so, with N.C.Welmaker, Rev. Elton Elrod, Howard Edelman, and others, making a flying road trip to Houston in order to get conference approval for the purchase.
On July 9, 1956 the first event held at new Pine Tree Road property was a barbecue sponsored by the Methodist Men. Many other meetings and cookouts were held on the property before any building began.
Meanwhile, the church on Highway 80 had to make do with the current facility. During the summer of 1956, with stifling heat once again, an air conditioner was purchased for use in the nursery. Suddenly the nursery became the most popular room in the entire building. Superintendent of Pine Tree School, Mr. James T. Ogg, loaned the church the use of school fans until the school term began.
In the fall of 1956, two separate Sunday services were begun, at 8:30 and at 10:55 to accommodate rapid growth in membership.
Following discussions begun almost two years before, in January, 1957, Architect Preston M. Geren presented plans and estimate of cost for the construction of a new church complex.
On December 13, 1959, following much effort at fundraising and planning, the Ground Breaking Service was held for a new church facility of classrooms, fellowship hall, and kitchen. The plans were pared down to focus on the needs of church education (Sunday School and youth) with the sanctuary left to be built at a later date. Services were to be held in the fellowship hall.
On October 23, 1960 following the completion of the building, a Service of Consecration held in new church on Pine Tree Road.
Greggton United Methodist Church
Following merger of Methodist and Evangelical United Brethren churches, on April 23, 1968, the church became Greggton United Methodist Church.
On June 13, 1973 records show the authorization for the construction of a sanctuary, administrative offices, and landscaping. By November 25, 1973 the Dedication and Groundbreaking Service for the new sanctuary was held. And on September 1, 1974 the first service was held in the brand new church sanctuary and by October 6 1974, the Sanctuary Consecration Service was held.
Growth in membership and attendance dictated either two services or building expansion by mid year and September. 7, 1980 was the first Sunday that two separate services were held.
By 1985 Greggton church members were participating in many local community missions including Meals on Wheels, Longview Community Ministries and Food Box. An idea for a preschool or Mothers Day out program was initiated becoming New Horizons PreSchool, an ministry for both children and mothers in the community.
United Methodist Women continued their efforts toward improving church facilities through many bazaars, bake sales, and dinners.
In the spring of 2000, in line with the historic dedication the church membership has always had toward children and youth, GUMC purchased Kids Station, a tremendous indoor playground facility with potential for reaching community youth through programs that would be impossible elsewhere. Under the leadership of Youth Director George Ragsdale, the GYM Project and KidsTime were launched in order to reach un-churched youth and children. Church youth enjoyed new space and a unique setting for activities and worship.
On September 19, 2010, Greggton United Methodist Church celebrated 100 years of spreading God’s word and shepherding God’s children.
We are blessed to continue the work of these great saints.