Organizers of the annual Hello Neighbor Tour of Clay County put on another successful event Thursday with 37 participating.
The tour, guided by Jerry Payne, and sponsored by the Texas AgriLife Extension Office and the Leadership Advisory Board, focused on Precinct 4 in southeast Clay County.
The first stop was a tour of the old Newport Church, which served equally the Baptist, Methodist and Presbyterian congregations until 1955, when the Newport Baptist Church was constructed.
Since that time, the building has been used sporadically for community gatherings and weddings, but has fallen into disrepair. Water leaks have been the building’s number one enemy, said W.C. Gilbert of the Newport Cemetery Association. Gilbert said that three to five years ago, the community came together and raised $15,000 to replace the shingle roof with metal.
The church is now in the possession of the Newport Cemetery Association, which received a sizeable donation about six months ago to make repairs. The association is in the process of refurbishing the exterior of the building, and will later do the inside.
The tour also stopped at the old three-room schoolhouse at Newport, which now serves as the Newport Community Center.
Gilbert said the school was built as a WPA project in 1939 to replace an earlier wooden school building that burned in 1937. The rock structure stands just a few hundred yards from the church. Gilbert said both were the center of the community when he was a child.
The school housed students from first to sixth grade. High School students at Newport attended at Bowie. One teacher, Mrs. Jeffries, taught all six grades. Newport consolidated with Bowie in 1950.
The tour continued to Vashti, and a walk-through of the new Vashti Volunteer Fire Department facilities, led by VVFD member Tyler Garrison. Participants also looked over the Vashti Tabernacle, a permanently constructed arbor built in 1905 for use as a meeting place during revivals. The Tabernacle is located behind the First Baptist Church of Vashti.
From Vashti, the tour group moved north to the First Baptist Church of Bellevue. The church has recently completed a full renovation of its sanctuary after a lightning bolt set one of the bell towers ablaze May 1, 2011. Pastor Robert Slayton said the church was blessed in the design of the bell tower, the thick metal floor of which prevented the fire from spreading into the attic. The interior of the church was damaged by smoke and water.
Contractors removed paneling, sheet rocked the walls, laid new carpet and restored the original pressed metal ceiling.
Women of the church provided the tour with a turkey and dressing dinner before the group headed west to the Frienship Cemetery.
At Frienship, Ed Bitz of the Clay County Historical Society demonstrated grave dowsing, using two brass rods to locate unmarked graves. Bitz held the two L-shaped rods parallel in front of him. When he crossed a grave, the rods crossed. Bitz then held one rod above his head to determine if the burial was of a man or woman. The rod began to twirl, indicating a woman.
Next year’s tour will be of Precinct 1, located in northeast Clay County.