Phena Fincher interviewed Mr. Clarence L. Miller and his wife, Jessie Moody Miller on October 17, 1984 about the Midway Methodist Church.
The interview goes as follows...
Phena: Please tell us first of all, Mr. Miller, where the present church is located so we can establish that.
Clarence: It is located just a quarter of a mile from Miller Station down Hwy 24, (now Hwy 371), towards Blevins, just one quarter of a mile.
Phena: How far would that be out of Prescott?
Clarence: It would be about 4 1/4 miles northwest of Prescott on Hwy 24, (Hwy 371).
Phena: Do you know when this church was founded?
Phena: 1861. So it has been around a long time. Was it on the present site at that time?
Clarence: Now let me tell you a little story about that. When I came here it was on the same site. But the first - they built a old log house. I used to talk to Mr. Nelson, old Uncle Jim Nelson; when he went to school down there in a big old log house. Now I was talking to him the other day. At that time the church was about 100 yards north of where this church is, but it wasn't right on the church grounds - where Allens live at the present time. There was some of the old logs there when I came here, just a few of them, you know, that hadn't been destroyed.
Phena: So the first structure was a log...
Clarence: ...was a log hourse. They used it for a schoolhouse and a church. They used to talk to us boys and told us all that, you know.
Phena: That was common practice to use the church for a school and a church.
Clarence: Then when I came here there was an old box church, no Sunday school room, just a church - a big wood heater sat right in the middle of it, went right up through the roof. And when they had Sunday and all that, why they'd be one in every corner. It was about in, well it was one year before I married, 1916. I talked to him the other day and I said, "now some of 'em have it 19, (1919?), but the church was built the year before me and my wife married". This here church that we tore down when we built the brick church in 1964 - we called it the drop-sidin'(?) church, you know. That was when the church was built. I helped build that church, me and ole Uncle Bob Wake, at the time - they hired us and we worked all the time, but the other people come in and helped when they could. Okay, when they got that old church tore down, then we built a church but still didn't put no Sunday School rooms. We left it just a plain open church. Okay, in 1934, Mr. Carl Stewart and Garvin Coates, they got them to come in there, and they put a Sunday school room on each side, made two rooms on each side, elled it off, you know. That was in 1934. So that church stayed there until 1964. Then I helped them again. We tore down that church. I put in full-time down there - that was free labor. We got a man by the name of Kirkham, that lives over by Delight. They wanted me to take the responsibility in building it. I says, "no, I don't want to do that". I says, "somebody might say ,well, he didn't do it like I thought he ought to", so I told them to get somebody else and I'd work all the way through and helped build this one in 1964. And when I came here, there was little old houses rotted down down in behind the church. That was where they used to have the campground. Used to be a campground between the church and the old spring back there. There's a big spring about, I'd say 200 yards down on the bluff down there just before you get to McDonald's (?) line. So you could see where they had rotted down and some of the old lumber was lying around, and some of the topsoil cleaned over, I can recollect it. The first place I ever went to when I came down here, to show you that I played all over that down there in the old hill where the spring was, were the Gordons, Wesley Gordon. That was the first place I ever went to. Do you know Nonie Gordon here in Prescott?
Phena: No sir.
Clarence: She goes by Nonie
Phena: Oh yes, I know her.
Clarence: Okay. Now Nonie is 2 years older than I and she was raised just down behind the church. So that's the reason I was telling you this - when I came here that's the way it was. So I'm kindly going to tell you the story of how everything looked. When I came here there wasn't a bridge nowhere on none of these creeks. No bridges nowhere, for they went horseback and in a wagon and at that time, you hardly ever seen a buggy. They was scarce as cars was in the '20s. So along when I was about 18, along in there. So they got buggies and they still didn't have no bridges - we forded all those creeks. They had those creeks built where there was shoals, there'd be shoals on the creek where they'd go across. So then after that along about 1921, they began to build a few bridges here. Now I'm getting a little ahead of myself there, but there wasn't any bridges built until after 19. They began to widen this road here, and was going to make this road a little wider and gravel it in '19, but when they did that, they put in bridges down here. They put in bridges on this road. But then they began to put in these other bridges on account of these little Ford cars, there's lots of them and they couldn't cross, especially after a pretty good rain. So all of that went along and no ditches on the road, just flat roads that come back through the woods, plumb on to Prescott, none of that, it's just level ground straight out, and if you got a rut here, you had to go and cut another one. I laugh now a whole lot of times and tell my grandkids; I say, "How many men is in this country now that came here in a covered wagon, helping drive a cow?"
Phena: Is that how you came?
Clarence: I came in a covered wagon with my grandmother and step-granddaddy from North Arkansas. You take back in that time, everybody was heading west, they was hunting better land. I had some aunts that had married and they went plumb on into Texas. Well, but before I came here, my daddy... (tape gap) so when I was about 2 years old, my daddy, he decided he'd go to Texas.
Jessie: Well, Clarence, she wants to know about the church!
Clarence: I know, but she wants to get in here where I come from.
Phena: That's right. I surely do.
Clarence: Okay, he went to Texas. When my brother was borned in 1899, my mother died. And see, then when I switched back to my grandmother in the northern part of the state, then in 1900, I come here with her. Come right through the streets of Little Rock driving 3 cows and had an extra horse tied behind the wagon. And they wasn't any bridges on these creeks, nothing on the Arkansas River - all those big creeks and Cadron Creek in around Conway and all through that, they forded them all. When they got to the Cadron Creek on the other side of Conway, why it was up a little bit. Well, I jumped up on what we called the feed trough on the back of the wagon, swung up on there and was gonna ride it across, of course, I got dipped. Enough of that. There was just a few wagon and horsebacks on the streets of Little Rock when I got to the Main Street. And when I got out on that bridge, out a little piece, and I looked through on this little lumber bridge, and I saw that water running, and I froze. They had to pick me up and put me back on the wagon. You think about a 6 year-old boy, you know, he couldn't stand it.
Now then, go back and ask me anything about the church.
Phena: Well, one thing I picked up when you were talking about the first time you rebuilt the church in 1934, what was the reason that you decided to rebuild?
Clarence: Well, the old church was just an old plain box church, no ceiling, no nothing. Just a plain box church. The old church was just kind of going down. That was 1916 when we built a new one to replace the one we tore down. It stood until 1964. But during 1916 to 1964, they put those extra Sunday School rooms in. That was in 1934.
Phena: How many families would you say were originally attending that church when you came here?
Clarence: When I came here and was growing up, up until I was married, when I was 23 years old, why, I have seen as many as better than 100 people come in wagons. Used to when we'd have a meeting down there they'd build a big arbor out there and they'd have the meeting out under the arbor. The men and the women would separate. The men would go down in the woods on one side and the women back on the other side and you'd hear those men praying for a quarter of a mile when they'd have a big meeting going on. That was along in 1915 when they really had the big meetings. When we got that new church built, they'd hold it in that once in a while, but they still had the arbor.
Phena: Do you know who some of the original pastors were?
Clarence: I studied and studied. They got me kind of mixed up on that. They don't have on record. Old Preacher Avery preached, but he died in 1905, 5 years after I came here. After that, they don't have any record of the preachers until 1917, the year they built this drop-sided church after they tore down the old box church. I asked them here the other day. I said, "where's the records from 1917 back to 1900 even?" You see the church was only 33 years old when I came here. No, I take that back, the church is from 1861 to 1900 which'd be 39 years. But the Sunday School, the first Sunday School Superintendent down there was old W.T. Anderson. He organized the Sunday School in 1867 and his picture is still down in the church, him and Old Preacher Avery, hanging up in one of the Sunday School rooms. But I don't understand - you take a boy growing up like me - there's some things that stuck with me, but after they got all these others; I told my wife the other night, I says, "Do you recollect any of them preachers that preached back there?" But it rally don't seem like it come in there. You know at one time this was Midway Circuit, way back yonder. But seems like after 1917 they got to keeping the records. They didn't keep a real record of preachers that preached there, but it wasn't run just like it is now. It was probably way off. The old circuit riders, the only way they had to come was on horseback or in the buggy. I studied and studied, and I told them it's going to dawn on me some of these days some of them old preachers. I can recollect those superintendents.
Phena: Well sir, do you want to tell us their names?
Clarence: Really the first one I recollect plainly was T.W. Stephenson, Tom Stephenson. He married Miss Lizzie Bowles at the time. And he was Sunday School superintendent there for years. Then after he died, Miss Lizzie was superintendent for a good long while. Then after that Pink Honey, now there was 2 Honeys that lived over there. Why, he was Sunday School superintendent there for several years. Then after that Mr. Frankhein(?) come along. He come along 'round the twenties, 1924 or 1925, somewhere along there. After that, then, there was a lady who lived up here on the Prairie and I can't think of here name offhand - Miss Lessler(?). She came on in and she taught as Sunday School teacher for a good while, then Mr. Will Rowe, you've heard of him, he came on. Long about the time Mr. Will Rowe gave up that - it seems like there is one more in between that I can't remember, and then Mr. Charlie Grimes, he finally come from the church over yonder, you know on Hwy 19, you know that little church? It is Pleasant Hill? Mr. Ralph Barnes used to go there all the time.
Phena: Fairview. Right now it's a little but off of 19, but anyhow...
Clarence: So he came from over there to over here and I laughed a lot. I'm going to tell you this little story. I was always used to always getting down on your knees bowed down to pray. When Mr. Charlie came here, he kind of let us stand up and rest a little while.
Phena: So that's when you remember you could stand up for a little while instean of bowing or kneeling down.
Clarence: He'd let us stand up and they'd all pray. Now most of the time they stand up.
Phena: Do you know how the church got its name?
Clarence: There was a church up here close to Washington, but I can't exactly call the name of it now, and old Moscow down here. And they named this Midway between those 2 places. You see, this used ot be an old stagecoach line. At this big spring down here behind this church, that's where they would stop a lot and then they'd go on and they named this Midway between those 2 places.
Phena: That's the way so many old places got their names, by the location or name of a family or something.
Clarence: Well, Old Preacher Avery, I'm gonna put this in, he used to preach up here at Washington under a big oak tree, unless it's been blowed down or something happened to it in the last few years, it's still standing. And that's where he'd preach, by that big oak tree. Now that's the only preacher that I've really got in my mind that preached as a regular between 1900 and 1917. There's a gap there I can't place.
Phena: What years would you say the membership has been the strongest or the greatest at this church since you've been here?
Clarence: I'd say along about 1920-1925 and it held pretty well. When we tore down this church here in 1964 we had attendance the average of 95, but I've seen lots over 100. There's families on every 40 and every 80 acres of land around here and back then you didn't see your neighbor every hour or two or you didn't see him passing and everybody would go to church to get to see his neighbor and find out what was going on. And so they'd bring 'em all. I tell them back then there was form 5 to 10 in a family.
Phena: Much larger than our families ordinarily are today.
Clarence: I was talking the other day, and then the other night. Jerry Westmoreland was asking how many families had as many as 5 in a family - only 2 in this country.
Phena: How would you say the services have changed over the years?
Clarence: They don't preach as hard. They don't preach as plain. They don't make it as plain. Now Bro. Callicutt preaached here last night and I told him you liked to get back like you use to preach.
Phena: I heard that you had Bro. Arnold back here on Sunday night and he kind of preached the old time preaching.
Jessie: He really preached a sermon. I just thougt it was grand!
Clarence: I tell you, Bro. Callicutt can preach.
Phena: Was he your pastor at one time?
Clarence: Yes ma'am.
Phena: I was thinking that he was. How do you feel about the change that has taken place?
Clarence: I'll tell you, the way I see it, I really don't think the young preachers expresses the differences of the two places hard enough.
Phena: You're talking about heaven and hell?
Clarence: That's right. They don't make it plain enough - if you miss heaven, you've missed it all. They don't get it on their mind enough, the way I see it. Like back then, them ole preachers would preach there's two places that you had a choice of going.
Phena: They'd make that hell-place pretty vivid, too, wouldn't they?
Clarence: That's right.
Jessie: My daddy was always taking for his subject, heaven. Well one night dudring the revival and he pictured heaven the best he could, then one night he preached on hell and he explained what hell was. But they don't do that now. Bro. Callicutt mentioned hell during this revival. First time I've heard a preacher mention hell in I don't know whenever.
Phena: And I think one is just a real as the other, don't you?
Clarence: I really do. Like I told them the other night, those old people back there, your Sunday School teachers had alot to do with it. Of course, my daddy always told us to go to Sunday School, go to preaching. He went. I tell them I had the advantage. I lived down there and I was a quarter and a half from Midway, I was a mile from Old Northern Star. I had two Methodist churches there and they preached the same. I can't understand why there was 2 churches there.
Jessie: Well, they consolidated later.
Clarence: They consolidated in about 1935, I believe.
Phena: Morning Star and Midway?
Clarence: Yeah, the M.E. and the Protestant went together, you see. At that time they was an M.E. church up at Jessie Jones', I mean Protestant, at the county line. The old church used to sit over here on what we called the old Bolls place, and so they tore that old church down and built over there. I was lucky enough to help build the parsonage for what we called the Northern Star Church, that's what we called it.
Phena: You've done a lot of carpentering around here on the churches and parsonages.
Clarence: I sure have. I'm proud of it. I'm proud I got to help 'em.
Phena: I started to say, it must be very dear to your heart to think about the things that you've been able to do in a way that you can see and a way that lasts for along time. Of course, I'm sure, both of you, that your lives have been the testimony that is most important, but it's still nice to be able to contribute in that sort of way.
Clarence: That's right. I could talk and talk and talk about things that happened. Some of them said the young people are meaner really, but I don't think so. They was mischievious, they wasn't really mean, but there was alwyas something going on.
Phena: Today's young people just have so many more opportunities to do things we didn't have maybe, and ...
Clarence: They have so much more territory they can cover. When I grew up around here, I thought Blevins, Prescott and Emmet was about the end of the world. That was about as fur as I could ride a horse and back in 4 hours - that's the end of the world. I recollect back having a big meeting down there in about 1921 or 1922, just before I was married and they waas all there in wagons and a dog had followed a man down there that night and there's some boy, never did find out who it was. Some of the boys had brought some high-life there and they put some high-life on this dog on the outside and hee'd been passing the church door backards and forwards wanting to come in, but when they put that on him, of course he come to his master ral quick, you know. He came in that house and run all over that church and everybody up on the benches, they didn't know what was the matter with him. It kind of broke up the service there for a while. Then about the second night after that the Ku Klux Klan came down and they come to the door and the preacher just quit preaching and asked them to come in and they come up there, about 10 or 12 of them dressed in white. And one of them got up and made a little talk and says, "well, I understand we're having some discussions here" and we just come down now to tell them we don't want no more of that and if we do, we'll have to see the fellow about it, just like they really knew who it was. I think they did. It all quieted down and no more of that.
Phena: Tell me some more.
Clarence: These things happened along there. They wasn't bad boys back then, it's just boys have got to have something to do. They'd play these pranks - there wasn't nothing bad about them, didn't hurt anybody. I don't know what has happened to people, making them have so many heart attacks, unless it's nerve tension. Everything they go to do, or go anywhere, their nerves is on edge. You know, when you start back to town, you see a car coming ... (Tape turned over.)
Phena: Mrs. Miller, can you think of things that made an impression on you, some special services or anything that impressed you as a child?
Jessie: I don't know of any certain one, I don't guess.
Phena: Did they used to shout in the church out thered?
Jessie: Yes, they'd shout and have
Clarence: And her sister was one of the worst. Anytime plumb on up to when she died, why, when they had a meeting at Midway, Edna was gonna shout some time during that meeting. One more preacher in this country, he was a Protestant preacher and he was preaching at the old Morning Star, and he made a big impression on me even if he was a Protestant. I'd go to both churches, you know. He would preach, his name was George Mauser, and that was along after I married, about 1921, '22, and '23. I'd go up there to preaching and he was the friend of anybody, didn't matter what it was. All of us younger fellows would come up and we'd want to go fishing, back then we could go when we was ready. And he was ready to go fishing anytime we was. And he got out here, he made his crops just like the rest of us, and if got caught up and somebody else behind, he'd hire out and help them and he preached, too. He'd read the scripture, lay his Bible down and when he quit preaching, he might be at the front door out there. He would just walk the aisle and preach and he would tell you all about it. We have had 2 or 3 preachers here at Midway that way. Whenever you get to walking the floor and preaching, and lay that Bible down and just whatever the Good Lord puts on your mind was said, you're gonna stir somebody up. Now there's some people that can't preach without he's go it noted down, but I just like them kind that throw the Bible down and start preaching. That way I think he's not preaching himself, just what the Lord ...
Phena: Being used as an instrument of the Lord, then.
Clarence: That's right. This country has changed so much so It don't really look like itself. The roads, timber has been cut up. Even in 1918 when I bought this 47 acres here, it was all in solid woods. That over there was in woods, up to the
Phena: It's amazing. Both of you have such remarkable memories to recall all this, and those dates, I couldn't do it now.
Clarence: There's one thing I know, if there's anything wrong with my memory or mind, and nobody's told me.
Phena: And you both still go to church?
Clarence: Yes, ma'am.
Phena: You talk like you went last night during the revival? Do you have services every Sunday?
Clarence: Every Sunday morning at 9:30.
Jessie: Bro. Jerry Westmoreland is our preacher now.
Phena: Does he preach for you just 2 Sundays a month?
Clarence: Every Sunday. This is a full-time church. Then we have Sunday School after church.
Phena: And then he goes on - he's on the circuit? He has some other charges?
Clarence: Down below Prescott. He goes down there. He did have Sweet Home and he left one off and he's just got 2. He preachaes here at 9:30AM, goes down there and preaches at 11:00. Of all theses preachaers that's been there from 1917 on up to today, our oldest boy, Calvin, stayed there longer than any preacher, nearly 6 years. Preached at his home church 6 years.
Phena: That itself means a lot doesn't it? Because you know, they didn't even want Jesus to stay in His own community there one time when he came back home. You know, they said ...
Clarence: This church, when Calvin come here to preach - he preached at Horatio when he first started preaching, stayed up there a little over 2 years, I think. But the first preaching he went to was up at Nashville, then he went to Horatio, then Midway. When he came back here to Midway to preach, Midway was in a little division. Would it be proper for me to tell you what that division was?
Phena: If you want to.
Clarence: I don't see where there'd be any harm in it. Anyway, that division come up over 2 pictures being in the main church over Old Preacher Avery and T.W. Anderson. There was some of them didn't want the picture hanging in the main church. And some did. So there's a little division there.
Jessie: Not a little division, a big division! It was a big mess.
Clarence: I might not ought to tell the whole story, might hurt somebody's feelings.
Phena: Maybe that's enough said.
Clarence: Anyway he came and ge got them back together.
Phena: And you were privileged during that time to be in attendance while your son was your pastor. Wasn't that wonderful? How long was Bro. Calvin's ministry, about?
Clarence: About 16 years. He preached about 16 years and his health got too bad, he had to quit.
Phena: He is still missed and he made a big impression on many lives that touched, I know that.
Jessie: Just before he started to preaching, he was pronounced with leukemia and he was given 2 weeks to live, and he lived 17 years.
Phena: That's sort of like the old saying that we see around today some, "God isn't finished with me yet". He had a lot for Bro. Calvin to do.
Clarence: That's right. I've always tried to treat the other fellow like I'd want him to treat me. I tell my grandkids this - I'm not bragging, but I'm 90 years old, I've never been arrested in my life, I've never been a witness agin' a man in my life, I've never been on a jury agin' a man in my life. I could have been. I've been checked and they seen I wasn't going their way and they discarded me. I haven't always done just what I shoulda' done. I've made mistakes, but I tried to correct them. I never did harm anybody, that I know of, but I was still alittle rowdy along there before I married and did things that probably didn't look good, but I think the Good Lord has left me here for some purpose and I've always been a man that liked to help somebody else.
Phena: I'm sure there's a lot of people along the way who would say you've certainly done that, too.
Clarence: I'll put in this little story here. In 1924, my wife ran it (their store) 45 years while I was out driving nails and building houses. In 1977, I quit building houses for the public. I came in one night and I told her, "When I get this house finished, I believe I'll quit and come home and help you." And she said, "What's the trouble?" And I said, "Well, I got up under the house today (and I could always get up on the house, I could go anywhere.) Something has come over me and I couldn't get up and walk and I decided to quit." I never built anymore houses then 'til I was 88 and my youngest grandson, Keith Miller, that little brick house up yonder. He came home one day and says, "Pop, how much would it cost me to get a house built?" I said, "Well, it'd cost you a good lot." He worked around and worked around and the house like he wanted was about $35,000. I told him, "Tell you what you do - get somebody to help me and we'll build you a house." So he got Mr. Bobby Breszki and they built the house up there and it's beautiful. We built the house in 37 days. Instead of costing $35,000, it cost him $22,000.
Phena: There's not many grandsons that can say their grandfather built them a house when he was 88 years old.
Clarence: I'll say this in the windup. When I come to this country, the first sschool that I ever went to, my son owns the land here and there's a hogbarn on it. I went there 'til I was 12 years old. I went there 6 years. They took the schoolhouse from here, carried it down yonder by the church just across the road on down where the Allens live now and built a little schoolhouse there and I finished up there, so I have a lot of fun with my grandchildren, especially this oldest girl up town, I say, "Honey, how long is it going to take you to graduate?" She says, "Pop, maybe I'll make it by the time I'm 18." I say, "I got ahead of you." She says, "Why?" "I graduated when I was 14, I says, and I'd go to school 2 months in the summer and 4 months in the winter; 6 months in the year. I started when I was 6 years old and quit when I was 14." What I'm a'leading up to is this, then when I got out of school and when I was 17 years old, we lived in an old box house down ynder, with a big old hall between it. No screens, no nothin' like that. In the summertime, we wasn't afraid to go out there and go to sleep on a pallet. When I was 17, I said, "Dad, I want to build you a new house." He said, "Son, you can't build me a house." I said, "Well, I studied that for years. I'm a'gonna make a carpenter someday and I'd as soon start with you." So finally he says, "Who's 'gonna help you?" And I says, "Can't you drive a nail?" I finally got him in the notion to build a house. That was my first house. He says, "Whatcha 'gonna do when you get to the rafters?" I said, "I've got a man I'm going to." So Old Uncle Bob Wake, the man I was telling you help built the church, ... on about houses he has built.
Phena: Is there any advice you'd like to give for someone 100 years from now?
Clarence: I'd say this, I think the first thing a feller needs is to think before he says what he'd 'gonna say. I think f feller can speak too quick before he thinks how it's 'gonna sound to the other man. I think that's the big trouble 'cause we don't think before we speak and we don't think, "how would you feel?" ...
Phena: I think that's wonderful advice. I think our tongues get us in trouble a lot of times.
Most of the rest has been left out because it is more in the nature of personal reminescing and not about the Midway Church.
An original copy of this interview can be found at the Prescott/Nevada County Depot Mueseum, Prescott, AR.