Culberson County, Texas Genealogy & History

First Presbyterian Church, Van Horn, Texas

First Presbyterian Church of Van Horn

(c) Texas Historical Commission

Constructed between 1901 and 1902, the First Presbyterian Church of Van Horn is a large one-story, rectangular plan, church structure built of stuccoed adobe. The large, end-gable roof is wood-frame originally covered in wood shingles though it has now been replaced by asbestos shingles. A wood frame short spire-tower sits on the gable ridge at the east end of the roof over the entrance.

The eighteen inch stuccoed adobe brick walls rest on a shallow native stone foundation. Photographic evidence indicates that the wall surface of the original church was scored, painted, and penciled to simulate regular masonry or ashlar blocks. All evidence of this has, however, been obliterated.

The main building pile is oriented on an east/west axis with the door opening to the east and the altar end to the west. The north and south walls have three window openings each evenly spaced. The east, or entrance facade, has two windows with the entrance door on center. The west, or altar end, has a small original square plan addition on center which originally served as rooms for the minister though in later years it was opened to facilitate a choir loft behind the altar.

All windows were originally wood-frame, double-hung sash with six-over-six light sash. In the intervening years these have been replaced by wooden one-over-one light sash surrounded by small multicolored, squares of glass with a larger clear pane of glass in the middle.

Surmounting the stuccoed walls is a simple, wood entablature with a large, plain wooden soffit overhang below the gable roof. The end gables over the door and altar are ornamented with carved, wood shingles in alternating patterns. Early photographic evidence belies a "Carpenter Gothic" barge board at the peak of the gable-end on the east elevation. No evidence of this presently survives.

The small pyramidal spire sits on a square base covered in horizontal wooden siding. Louvered openings on each elevation of the square base are original. The spire was originally covered in wood shingles though it, like the roof, is now covered with asbestos shingles.)

The front (east) door was originally sheltered by a handsome wood frame porch structure built in a "Carpenter Gothic" style with a small gable roof attached to the main elevation by a small shed roof. Two turned wood columns and two turned wood pilasters supported the structure. Like the larger gable-ends, the small structure's gable end and shed roof-ends are ornamented with carved shingle detailing. In the intervening years this structure has been unceremoniously filled in to create a small narthex-like room much to the detriment of the overall appearance of the structure.

Between 1912 and 1913, the manse was built on an adjoining piece of property, In 1930 the square-plan, cinder block Sunday School addition was added to the southwest corner of the original structure.

On November 11, 1949 a fire broke out in the interior of the church damaging portions of the original interior. In the ensuing renovation, the original interior was heavily remodeled, the original windows were replaced, the porch was closed in, and the choir loft was created out of the original minister's quarters on the west elevation. New furniture was purchased with the installation of carpeting.

The First Presbyterian church of Van Horn stands today as the most prominent public building in Van Horn (the original County Courthouse having been razed in 1965). Its prominence in the social history of Van Horn and Culberson County should ensure its survival. The First Presbyterian Church is an excellent example of a vernacular interpretation of a church form found throughout the East coast transplanted to the Trans-Pecos Region of Texas. Its original (though largely destroyed) "Carpenter Gothic" details made it a building of great simple integrity in its day.

Constructed in 1902 on land donated by the Texas and Pacific Railroad, the First Presbyterian Church of Van Horn, Texas was the first permanent, Protestant religious structure in Culberson County.

Culberson County was originally organized out of the one-time larger El Paso County to the West, The organization papers of Culberson County and the selection of Van Horn as the County Seat were filed and approved in Austin, Texas on January 5, 1912. Named in honor of David B Culberson, Colonel in the Texas Infantry and the Confederate Army, Culberson County is the third largest county in Texas.

Van Horn, like so many West Texas cities, came into existence in the 1880s in direct response to railroad development. The Texas and Pacific Railroad dictated the settlement patterns of Culberson County as it and other railroads did in every West Texas County.

The First Presbyterian Church of Van Horn was organized in 1901 by a Dr. Finch and the present structure was complete by 1902. William Fairly served as the second pastor of the church after Dr. Finch. Succeeding ministers have included: Rev. Miller, Rev. Bidwell, Rev. Mc Murray, Rev. Galloway, Rev. Elder, and finally Rev. John Byrd.

The small annex to the rear of the church building originally served as temporary quarters for the resident minister until the present manse on an adjoining lot was built in 1913.

Traditionally, the First Presbyterian Church has served the community of Van Horn as a center for religious and social activities throughout this century, Functioning originally as an interdenominational church, the present structure has housed several other denominations before construction of their own houses of worship.

The scene of prominent Van Horn weddings, funerals, and seasonal social functions, the First Presbyterian Church of Van Horn served as a church until its recent desanctification, and transfer of ownership to the Culberson County Historical Survey Committee.

Local members of the Historical Survey Committee look forward to the physical restoration of the First Presbyterian Church of Van Horn and to the "restoration" of the structure to its place of prominence in the community as a scene of town meetings, lectures, community presentations, and museum displays on the history of Van Horn and greater Culberson County.

Location: Fannin and 3rd Sts., Van Horn

National Register of Historic Places