Dinner on the grounds at Roosevelt Missionary Baptist Church in the 1920s
The Roosevelt community is a small strip of land bounded by Fourteen Mile Creek on the west, Independence County on the north, Ten Mile Creek on the east, which gently blends with Holly Springs community on the south. Arkansas State Highway 157 parts the community with county roads leading east and west like strands of hair. The entire area is in White County.
The land is fierce and unforgiving, consisting mostly of hills and rocks. Making a living here has always meant hard work, but the early settlers loved it and survived. Many of their descendants still live here. However, most newcomers who come "to tell old-timers a thing or two" are soon gone.
This area was settled for the same reasons as were most communities in the middle 1800s. Stories about land in other places like Texas or gold in California prompted westward travel. Many people stopped along the way. Land was available and granted to homesteaders for various reasons. Sometimes it was given to men for their service in wars. Most of the old deeds show a 160-acre land grant. Then came timber companies aiding in the settlement of the area.
This area was well settled before Roosevelt was granted a post office in 1903. It was previously considered a part of Pleasant Plains, which was called Fairview in those days. The church and school were outgrowths from there. Some names of those early settlers were T.J. Malone, James Polk Meacham, Noah Ellis, Hal March, Henry McAdams, C.W. Beaver, George Sims, M.A. Freeman, Allen Collins, Phillip House, William and Joe Hammond, Henry Walker, Melvin Martin, Edward Irvin, and later John Bell, the Hillburns, the Campbells and the Pratts.
The lives and work of those families were as diversified then as they are today. For instance, Henry McAdams drove a freight wagon drawn by two yoke of oxen. His route was from Little Red to Pleasant Plains, then on to Bradford. Jesse McAdams told about accompanying his father as a child. At night the oxen were tied together, fitted with a bell, and allowed to graze. Mr. McAdams prepared food and unrolled bedding for sleeping, Jesse said sometimes freezing and thawing would make it impossible to get the wagons through. How soon we forget the importance of all-weather roads. Jesse said he and his wife Betty raised six children. "We did it by working hard," he said. Jesse was still working at 87 years of age.
The Melvin Martin family consisted of seven boys and one girl. Noah Martin at age 90 related the story of early life in Roosevelt. "We only had enough to get by and that’s all we ever had," he said. "With seven robust and rowdy boys we quickly learned to ‘holp’ out." Mr. Melvin Martin kept hunting dogs and hunted all game for meat and hides. They ate most all kinds of meat, even ground hog. Nuts and wild fruits were gathered and used. Mr. Martin grew cane and made sorghum and had gardens.
This was a new life for the Martins. This was his first settled home. The elder Martins were timber men and just went wherever the trees grew. Melvin married Calista Ann Roberson and to them were born William, Thomas, Alfred Lee, Noah, Jesse, John, Gertie and Samuel.
Noah said his father was a reader who practiced reading from the Bible. He noted the things he had hoped to live to see came to pass, like "chariots going forth without horses." Noah, who settled in the Union Grove community, went to school in Roosevelt, and recalled some of his teachers’ names: Neil Wright, Ester Finley, Elmer Collins, Noah Ellis and Robert Hammond. The first school was built of logs on Jim Meacham’s land. Many of the students were almost as old as the teachers. They just kept going to school. There was little else to do. Many Martin descendents still live in Roosevelt.
Edward and Nancy Irvin lived on the hill behind the Martin farm. There was a spring that flowed two and a half gallons per minute year-around and still does. Public activities were planned around the spring. Such events as the "Great Debates," cattle dippings, camp meetings and revivals were held annually. Today, the water is used in homes and for irrigation. Uncle Ed and Aunt Nancy Irvin met on the boat bringing them to America and were married by the captain. They joined a wagon train and came here. This couple was well liked by everyone. Since they had no children, when Uncle Ed’s health began to fail William and Nancy Hammond built a lean-to on their home and moved them in to care for them. People helped people in those days.
We have noted how varied family life was then. The Hammond families were still another type. They were social minded. They gave land for school buildings, started up church services, and held singing schools and band instructions. Most of the Hammond children taught school.
People came to Roosevelt in many ways. Mr. Henry Walker swam the Cumberland River with his clothes strapped to his back. He was a teenager walking the trails alone. He married the Hammond boys’ sister and became a very fine blacksmith while working in the shop for Mr. Collins.
James Polk Meacham moved his family across the creek from Denmark. He was a fine, outgoing man, usually serving as Justice of the Peace. Many people told us about his advising young men while they were growing up. The Meacham children were Luttie, Lenora, Viola, Golden and Charlie.
The George Sims family came by covered wagon in the winter. They settled on Fourteen Mile Creek. Robert, Alfred, Tenny, Betty, Will and Tom were their children. The Sims family was very active in community affairs. Tom married Amanda Bell and continued to live in Roosevelt, as do their descendents.
We have referred to Mr. Collins several times. He represents business and commercial life in early Roosevelt. Alfred E. Collins was born 9 March 1855 in Georgia. His family joined a wagon train in migration to Indian Territory in Oklahoma. They stopped along the way to earn a living. They arrived in Pleasant Plains around 1865. His mother died en route. Captain McCauley (of the Civil War) took Al into his home to work for him. When the Collins family moved on to Oklahoma, Al decided to remain in Pleasant Plains. In 1879, he married Susan P. Middleton and they had three children – Monroe, Elmer and Evia.
The Collins family moved to their homestead across the highway from the Roosevelt Church and Cemetery. He began to build his businesses and to hire men of the community to work for him. He opened a grist mill, a blacksmith shop, a sawmill, a cotton gin and a general store. More crops were grown than people could take care of by themselves, thus the cotton gin. He also owned what he called a grain separator or a threshing machine. In 1900, Al got his left arm caught in the machine. Two doctors from Floral amputated his arm above the elbow. He had not heard from his family since he was 11 years old and stood on a stump as they left for the Indian Territory in Oklahoma. Somehow, two of his brothers heard of the accident and came to see him.
Allen and Susan gave land and lumber to build a church building at the cemetery site. Until that time, church services were held in the schoolhouse. The new church was named Macedonia (1902). The cemetery was then called Bagley (1848). Both are known as Roosevelt now.
Al Collins left memories in every family in Roosevelt. The family of C.W. and Sarah Beaver is a good example. Representing still another way of early life, this family came from the Netherlands and received their land as a grant for services rendered in the Civil War. They had three sons – Wesley, Jacob Alexander Monroe, and Milo Benjamin Franklin. Notice the names of the boys. The Beavers were so proud to be Americans. Sometimes Mr. and Mrs. Beaver would speak the Dutch language, but the children were allowed to speak only English. Mr. Beaver had learned to be a fine horticulturist, so there were orchards, vineyards, and fruit and vegetable patches all around the house. They would gather the produce and Mr. Beaver would walk into Pleasant Plains to sell it. People there came to depend upon his fresh and dried fruits and vegetables. He always picked up the mail for everyone and doled it out on his way home.
Someone told him President Teddy Roosevelt was going to grant a post office for the area. He idolized Teddy, possibly being the first President for which he had ever worked. Also, he prided himself on being an outdoorsman. Mr. Beaver brought the news back to Allen Collins’ store and asked that the post office be named Roosevelt. It was decided that it would be in the store and that Mrs. Susan Collins would be the first postmistress. This was in 1903. Twice the post office was robbed and burned. It was kept in homes sometimes. Some of the postmasters were John Campbell, John Hillburn, John Bell (for many years), Winnie Stephens, Haward Nabors and Audrey Shook, who kept it until it closed in 1959. Our community is a lovely place to live. It has been home to many families. Some of those family names were McFadden, Sturch, Runyan, Lindsey, Stephens and Allen. Some of the family names of those living here now are King, Beaver, Shook, Kee, Sample, Bell and Lunceford. Many are retired, others go into towns to work and a few have poultry or cattle farms. Presently, there are no stores or businesses in the community. There are three churches – Church of God, Church of Christ and Baptist. On the first Saturday in August, a homecoming is held at the cemetery with dinner on the grounds. Come to see us and our fine community!
In the late 1800s people were moving around and settling in new areas for various reasons. The government was granting people land for services rendered during the Civil War. News of the discovery of gold was calling some people to head west and some families would stop along the way. The areas along Fourteen Mile Creek and Ten Mile Creek offered good places to make homes. Also, there were several excellent springs of water that afforded good places to live. This area was becoming a new settlement of very nice families. A school was established for the children. Will and Joe Hammond were very interested in schools and they gave land and helped to build the school building.
As was the custom of the day, church services were held in the school building in the early 1890s. In 1898, a church was organized at Pleasant Plains (then known as Fairview). This was the nearest settled community, about four miles to the north. The church there extended an arm and helped to organize the new church. Bro. Robert Middleton did the preaching and Bro. S.D. Vick assisted in the organization service. The church was named "The Missionary Baptist Church" at that time. It continued, however, to meet in the schoolhouse until 1902.
Mr. Al Collins had been left by his father in the care of Captain McCauley of Pleasant Plains after the death of his mother while their tribe was on the "Trail of Tears." After he had grown up and married, Al and his family moved into this area. He had a sawmill, cotton gin, blacksmith shop, grist mill and a country store. In 1902, he donated land for the churchyard and a cemetery. He also gave material to build a church building on the present site. The following year the community was granted a United States Post Office. It was named "Roosevelt" in honor of Teddy Roosevelt, who was President at that time.
In October, 1951 the church, in regular conference, changed its name to "The Roosevelt Missionary Baptist Church." Ernest Beaver and Frank Babb served as Deacons for many years. Dwight Stephens and Reggie Heidelberg are the active Deacons at year-end 1998. Frank Babb died several years ago. Ernest Beaver, however, is still involved in the church but is no longer an active Deacon due to health reasons.
The first church building was unique. It had two front doors. The pulpit was between the doors as worshipers entered the church. The congregation faced the big road and the preacher faced the west. In 1948, a new building was built. In 1961, major improvements were made – including a new concrete floor, wall paneling, gas space heaters and an acoustic tile ceiling. A foyer and classroom area were added later. In 1997, the auditorium and classrooms were redecorated with new carpeting and drapes. The following year, a fellowship hall was added. These improvements were done by members of our church.
Our pastor at year-end 1998 is Bro. Sammy Bennett, and this year we have received 26 new members, 16 by baptism and 10 by letter or statement. Attendance is good. Following are our former pastors: Preacher Bryant, Don Hook, Bro. Blanton, Joe Shultz, Conrad Smith, Jerry Hensley, Charley Perry, Leroy Goodson, Jimmy Jack Waire, Alvis Wood, Jerry Miller, Clyde Sterling, Charles Sellers, Johnny Sloate, Bro. Wilkerson, Bill Covington, Leslie Rae, Daryl Harris, Carrel Heidelberg, Sanders Payne Ernest McCain, Bobby Joe Maddox, John Swann, Leon Jarry.
This account by Averil Beaver, read before the church in regular conference December 27, 1998, is adopted by the church, "The Roosevelt Missionary Baptist," as its historical record is hereby filed with the church secretary for future reference.
Averil Beaver may be contacted through the White County Historical Society, P.O. Box 537, Searcy, AR 72145.