1833 – early 1900’s
Methodism in Fort Smith began in 1833 when the Reverend John Harrell was sent to the small riverfront community of Fort Smith as a Methodist Circuit Rider. Nine years later, Fort Smith became a part of the Van Buren-Fort Smith charge to which Methodist preachers were regularly assigned. Reverend Harrell was still serving in Fort Smith, and continued to bring Methodism to the residents of this fast-growing outpost on the eastern border of Indian Territory.
The need for a church building became apparent, and Reverend Harrell was appointed chairman of the Building Committee in 1853. Eight days later a site for the church was bought at 110 North Fifth Street in Fort Smith. The building was built and the cornerstone was laid on April 15, 1853. Soon after the church was occupied, Reverend Harrell was sent as a missionary to the Indians in Indian Territory (now Oklahoma). Because of his early connections with Methodism, he was known as the “Father of Fort Smith Methodism” and the church was named Harrell’s Chapel.
After thirty years, Harrell’s Chapel building was considered structurally unsafe, and it was abandoned by the congregation. For a time, the congregation worshiped in a building in the 700 block on the south side of Garrison Avenue. The Reverend J.L. Massey was the appointed pastor during this time.
Having some disagreement among the congregation about building sites, the decision was made that the congregation would split, and two Methodist churches would be organized and two churches would be built. One group built a frame building at North 13th and B Streets, and selected the name “Central Methodist Church”. The other group built a brick building on the former of North 7th and A Streets, and selected the name “First Methodist Church”. In 1887, Central Methodist had 161 members and First Methodist had 198 members. The cornerstone of First Methodist Church was laid October 13, 1887. Years later when that building was torn down, the cornerstone was obtained and placed in the new Educational Building of First Methodist Church at North 15th and B Streets, and it carries the inscription for “old” First Methodist Church and the new Educational Building built in 1940.
1914 – 1957
In 1914, Central Methodist and First Methodist churches had outgrown their buildings. Two years later the two churches united into one church, choosing the name “First Methodist Church South” and the congregation met in the building at North 13th and B Streets.
In 1916 the Conference approved the plans to build a new building which is now our church Sanctuary at North 15th and B Streets. The Reverend Dr. McClure was pastor in 1918 and it was under his leadership that the present church was built. Our building was occupied in February 1921, and dedicated, debt-free, in 1938.
In 1926 the church parsonage at 1112 Adelaide was built. In 1939, under the leadership of Reverend Dr. L.L. Evans, the new Educational Building was added to the original Sanctuary building. In 1956-57 a chapel and additional classrooms were added to the Educational Building. This chapel was named for Reverend Dr. Fred G. Roebuck, who served as Senior Pastor of First Methodist Church, Fort Smith, for twenty-one years.
1968 – to present
At the meeting of the General Conference of the Methodist Church in Dallas, Texas, in 1968, Methodists merged with United Brethren Church members, and took the name “The United Methodist Church”. Thus, we became the First United Methodist Church of Fort Smith, Arkansas.
A Journey In Faith, 1853-2000, the recently published history of our church, is available in our church office. Included in this book are lists of names of early members of our church, pictures, and accomplishments of our ministers, facts about our church organizations, and personal notes of interest.