Sunset Church & Community
Sunset Church & Community
The geographical location of Sunset Community lies roughly between FM Road 228 and FM Road 227 east of Grapeland, including the property adjoining FM Road 228 on the north and the property adjoining FM Road 227 on the south. The western north-south boundary is about one to one and a half miles from Grapeland, while the eastern boundary stretches approximately four miles east of Grapeland on FM Road 228 to about four miles east of Grapeland on FM Road 227.
According to the “History of the First Christian Church of Grapeland”, a community was located about two and a half miles east of Grapeland and just north of the present FM Road 228. It’s name was Red House, which derived from a big red house situated there. This community was relocated just south of the present FM Road 228 from the original site of the red house. It was renamed Enon, or combined with Enon to form one community in the late 1850’s or 1860’s. It was reported that a school was at Enon in 1859 and the school was used as a place of worship.
On the western frontier, it was common for people to give Biblical names to schools and churches as was the case in this instance. The name Enon is derived from the Aramaic work “Aenon” which means “springs”. It was at Aenon in Israel that John the Baptist was baptising while Jesus was baptising in Judae. (John 3:22,23).
The Enon School and Church was located just off a crystal clear spring called Mill Branch – a spring which we would today call a creek. Near this school was located an industry which received its power from a water wheel on Mill Branch. The water wheel gave power to operate a grist mill, a wood lathe, cotton gin and other tools used to manufacture products needed in the community. Bricks were manufactured and a saw mill was operated here. Two syrup mills were worked nearby on San Pedro Creek bottom. Ruins of the Mill Branch dam and the viaduct which carried the water all the way (some seven to eight hundred yards) to the banks of the creek bottom are still very visible.
Old family names in the community are: Hollingsworth, Kyle, Yarborough, Oliver, Brimberry, Green, Langham, Walton, Edge, Lively, Hague, Smith, Davis, Brooks, Driskell, ates, Browning, Shaver, Ramey, Skidmore, Lock, Brown, Owens, Story, Bynum, Leamons, Mason, Matthrews, Mills, Thedford, Whitaker, Allen, Cook, Strowbridge, Garretts and Ingrams. The Greens, Waltons, Edges, Brownings and Ingrams all came from Forsythe (Monroe County), Georgia, in the 1870’s and some of them assisted in the operation of the water wheel and the various industries associated with it.
The “History of the First Christian Church at Grapeland” notes that the Christian Church at Grapeland and the Christian Church at Sunset grew out of the church in Enon. The Sunset Christian Church is located on FM Road 227 about two and a half miles east of Grapeland, and approximately three-fourths of a mile south of the first Enon school site.
After there was no longer a need for power generated by the conventional waterwheel, the center of the community shifted south and east from the first Enon school site. The Sunset Christian Church was established on its present site in 1903 – using a brush arbor for church.
A new site for the Enon school was given by Mr. T.E. Edge and was located on the present FM Road 227 and about one-half miles east of the Sunset Church in 1911. The Houston County Superintendent of School records indicate that the Enon Public School (on it’s new site) began as a one teacher school with Miss Ruby Cook as the teacher. A second instructor was added in 1914 and a third came aboard in 1917, when it became a grades one through ten school. In 1925 and eleventh grade was added so that students could go through eleven grades to graduate. The following year the school was reduced to a ten grade school again and remained that way until a year before it was consolidated with the Grapeland Independent School District in 1932.
Since 1932 the focus of community life has centered around the two churches; Shiloh Primitive Baptist and the Sunset Christian (Disciples of Christ) Churches. The community has carried the name Sunset. An early settler by the name of George A. Brimberry gave the original 1.5 acres for the church site with the understanding that it be called Sunset Christian Church. The site was directly west of the Brimberry homesite by design – he could look toward the setting sun each day and observe the brilliance of the setting sun upon the house of worship. Mr. Brimberry fought in the Civil War and was determined to impress upon his grandchildren the virtues of Biblical teachings such as “turning your implements of war into plowshares”, by providing them some miniature plowshares made from Civil War hardware.
Shiloh Primitive Baptist Church is another landmark in the area. It ahs to be found on Farm Road 227 across the road from where the last Enon School was built. Shiloh was a city in Ephraim, twelve miles north and east of Bethel in Israel. It was just south of where Enon (Aenon) was though to be located. Shiloh was regarded by many Jews and Christians as a reference to the Messiah. There are at least two churches in Houston County bearing the name Shiloh. It is interesting to note again that Sunset Community has both an Enon and a Shiloh.
The Shiloh Church minutes indicate that a Brother Matthew gave 1.5 acres of land to the Shiloh congregation in 1866 for the church site. Mr. J.J. Brooks, a prominent man in the community, once owned a farm and a home near the Shiloh Church. “The Grapeland Messenger” files report that he was a participant in the Primitive Baptist Church Association and its meeting at the Pilgrim Primitive Baptist Church near Elkhart, Texas. This would confirm reports that the descendants of Daniel Parker had a hand in the early development of the church. Major repair work both inside and out has been done and the congregation still worships regularly in the original building.
The three cemeteries in the community are named Dunnam-Harmon, Davis, and Owens-Tyer. The Dunnam-Harmon Cemetery is found about two miles east of Grapeland off the Percilla Road, FM Road 228, on property now owned by the Cunningham family. It is on private land and no longer used for burials. Some of the headstones date back to 1899.
Davis Cemetery is situated three miles east of Grapeland on the Augusta Road, FM Road 227. L.M. Davis gave land for the original site and additional acreage has been purchased for the cemetery by Edgar Brooks. memorial Day is observed with a homecoming each year on the Sunday before Memorial Day in May. Some of the earlier headstones date back to the early eighteen sixties.
The Owens-Tyer Cemetery was established immediately south of the Davis Cemetery about one-fourth of a mile. Robert (Bob) Owens gave the land and some of the markers refer to the 1880’s.
The Sunset Community iss on the western edge of the western part of the Neches River water-shed. The soil is for the most part a deep sandy soil with an occasional red clay out-crop. Many beautiful springs of clear water dot the landscape and provide for year-round streams winding their way to the Neches River. These streams now provide water for many reservoirs – big and small. One of the oldest man-made lakes in this area, Grapeland Country Club Lake, was completed in 1928, and served as the recreational outlet for the affluent people of Grapeland through the 1950’s. It is on the San Pedro Creek about three-fourths of a mile north of Sunset Church.
From the turn of the century until the 1930’s, the primary industry here was farming – mostly cotton and corn. In the 1930’s it became a multi-agribusiness area: forestry, ranching and fruits and vegetables. Since the 1950’s, the main crops have been: peanuts, peas and watermelons. Most of the land has now been converted to a range and forestry.
According to a short history of the community by Charles D. Story, a native son, written to Dean Colby D. Hall, Brite College of the Bible, Texas Christian University, Fort Worth, Texas, June 23, 1953, an interesting commercial venture paralleled the development of one of the churches. Around 1900 Rev. B.R. Brill, a Yankee who came here by way of Shelby County, Texas, became the minister of Sunset Church. Some of the pioneers in the church use to remind others that as little children they were frightened when in his presence because they had heard bad things about the Yankees. Rev. Brill moved to the Sunset area and bought a farm next to the church property and managed a plant nursery. Apparently the nursery business was a success for in 1907 Rev. W.N. Warlick bought Rev. Brill’s nursery and became the first minister of Sunset Church. In 1907 the first church house was constructed and the congregation no longer met in the arbor. Brother Warlick preached there and kept the nursery until 1912 when he sold it to Mr. R.E. Hague from Waco, Texas. Mr. Hague became very popular, not only for outstanding religious leadership, but also for his charming wife and daughters. Although not an ordained minister, Mr. Hague gave himself to the church for eighteen years as an elder and the keeper of the diminishing nursery.
In 1934 a new church was built. Brother M.L. Dickey was minister from 1932 to 1946, and although he did not maintain the original nursery as related to some of the previous ministers, he did establish, not too far away, one of the best peach orchards in the vicinity.
Through the efforts of the Brimberry heirs, the Edge Family and the Spence family, approximately 2.5 acres were added to the church property at the Sunset Church site.
The sanctuary was rebuilt in 1950 on the same foundation as the one constructed in 1934 and served as the church until 1977 when a new building was erected – primarily with voluntary work from the community and contributions from those members who were still living out of the community. In 1985, the John A. Brimberry home was purchased for the church parsonage, and Rev. Jesse Pugh was hired as the minister who presently serves in this capacity.
The greatest resource of the community is, of course, the PEOPLE – those who were reared here and those who moved in. Those who left to find their niche in the world as professionals, technicians, and whatever, kept in touch with the folks back home and remained part of the dynamics of the Sunset community – their home. The performance reflected a good upbringing and true loyalty to their heritage. A grandson of Mrs. M.L. Whitaker (now ninety-four years young and still serving as secretary of Shiloh Church) discovered a comet while still in high school in South Texas. He had the privilege of naming it. Guess what? We now have a comet circling the planets and bearing as part of its name “Whitaker” with roots going back to the Sunset Community.
The people who stayed at Sunset and those many who are returning to retire here after decades of absence, offer enthusiasm for living and the natural surrounding beauty. Their care for the land, natural resources, heir home, and their sense of responsibility to be “their neighbor’s keepers” reflect an ardent desire to pass on “the good things of life”.