The Churches of Russell Wallis, Part One

When my grandfather, Russell W. Wallis, died in Richmond, Virginia, on March 27, 1985, at the age of 88, I was 23 years old and living in Washington, DC, just two hours away. It was the closest I ever lived to him.

I moved to DC in January of that year and struggled at first to find work. During the day, I waited tables at a Capitol Hill restaurant. At night, I made phone calls for the National Symphony Orchestra, selling subscription packages.  It was an awful job, and I was terrible at it; but I liked my co-workers, and I loved the Dupont Circle neighborhood where we worked. After the evening shift, we would sometimes go to a nearby Greek restaurant for drinks or to Kramer Books for coffee. As winter turned into spring, the air softened, and I began to feel at home in the city.

Meanwhile, my grandfather was dying. A Southern Baptist minister for more than 50 years, he had been an immense presence in my childhood: a soft-spoken, dignified man, referred to by nearly all who knew him as “Reverend” or “Doctor Wallis.” He called me “David the Giant Killer” and had the kindest eyes I ever saw.


Richmond Times-Dispatch, March 28, 1985

I was at work in Dupont Circle when I learned of his death. It was a Sunday evening in late March: my mother must have called. I walked outside, heading for the subway station and home. I had not gone very far when I saw a man playing cello on the sidewalk. He was seated in a folding chair, one hand moving the bow, the other holding the neck of the cello. At his feet was a cardboard sign that read, “Today is J. S. Bach’s 300th birthday.” There was no basket for donations – and no crowd had gathered to celebrate. A deep, rich sound filled the air, just loud enough to compete with the Sunday night traffic on Connecticut Avenue. I stood against a storefront and listened.

At least, that’s what I’ve thought for the last 30 years. It turns out that my memory is faulty. My grandfather died not on Bach’s 300th birthday – Sunday, March 31, 1985 – but four days earlier, on March 27, a Wednesday. The funeral was that Friday in Richmond. I probably drove down with my older brother, who also lived in DC, and we probably came back the next day or the morning after that. Sunday night would have been prime telemarketing time, and I’m sure I couldn’t afford to miss my shift.

After work that night, I must have walked outside with thoughts of Richmond and family in my head. It was a Sunday in early spring.  The sun had set an hour or two before. There was a slight chill in the air – and yet the day had lingered affectionately long, a hint of days to come. On the sidewalk, a man was playing the cello.

Click below to hear Matthieu Fontana play J. S. Bach’s First Suite for Violoncello Solo, Prelude (2011).

•   •   •

Russell William Wallis was born on Washington’s Birthday, February 22, 1897, in the village of Honey Bend, Montgomery County, Illinois. The area is officially central Illinois, about midway between Springfield and St. Louis, but it has always had close ties – historically, geographically, and culturally – with the southern part of the state, that troublesome region known as “Little Egypt,” which has been, since the early nineteenth century, as much upper South as lower North.

1873 Asher & Adams Map of the Midwest

1873 Asher & Adams Map of the Midwest. Click to enlarge.

In fact, my grandfather’s own great grandfather, William Parker Wallis, was born in Rutherford County, Tennessee, in 1808. He married a local girl, Nancy Stone, and, in 1828, they had a baby girl, Amelia. Soon after “Millie” was born, the family moved to Illinois, settling in Carrollton, Greene County, where William farmed and Nancy, in 1830, gave birth to a son, John Daniel Wallis. She died two years later, perhaps in childbirth.

1895 Rand, McNally map of Illinois

1895 Rand, McNally map of Illinois. Click to enlarge.

Soon enough, William re-married and, with his two children and new wife Eliza McCauley Woolsey, moved to Edwardsville in nearby Madison County, where he bought a farm and a sawmill. He and Eliza had children of their own; two sons, Jerome and Samuel, later fought for the Union in the Civil War.

Meanwhile, William’s oldest son, John Daniel Wallis, grew up in Madison County, working on his father’s farm and sawmill. When he was 23, in 1854, he married his own local girl, Mary Elizabeth Shaffer. They moved to Macoupin County, then back to Madison County, and, finally, in 1867, to western Montgomery County, where he purchased 150 acres in North Litchfield Township. He would farm this land for a quarter of a century until, in his old age, he retired to the town of Litchfield and rented out the farm. He died in 1897, his widow living on for another 36 years.

1874 Brink, McCormick map of Montgomery County, Illinois

1874 Brink, McCormick map of Montgomery County, Illinois. Click to enlarge.

Of John Daniel Wallis, a 1918 history of Montgomery County writes that he “was not given many educational advantages, but being intelligent and ambitious, became a well informed man” (1176). He was a Republican, a Methodist, and a leader of the Litchfield Grange, a farmers’ association. He and Elizabeth had 13 children, of whom 8 lived to adulthood.

William Henry and Nancy Blair Crawford Wallis

William Henry and Nancy Blair Crawford Wallis

The eldest child was my great grandfather, William Henry Wallis. He was born in 1855 in Madison County and moved with his parents and siblings to Montgomery County when he was a boy. He lived at home until he was 21 years old. Then, in 1877, he married Nancy Blair Crawford, three years his junior. Her forbears had also come up to Illinois from Tennessee in the early nineteenth century, though they had settled in Montgomery County from the beginning and were, by the time John and Elizabeth Wallis settled there, prominent farmers and landowners.

After their marriage, William and Nancy Wallis moved to a 101-acre farm in Zanesville Township, less than a mile from John D. Wallis’s farm, on land owned by Nancy’s father. They raised six children there: James (b. 1878), Charles (b. 1882), Grace (b. 1884), Minnie (b. 1887), Lillian (b. 1892), and Russell (b. 1897), my grandfather.  A girl, Rosa (b. 1890), died in infancy.

According to the 1918 History of Montgomery County, William H. Wallis was a Democrat, a church goer, a highway commissioner, a school director, and a town supervisor (“one of the best” the township ever had). “Mr. and Mrs. Wallis stand very high in their community and are most excellent citizens in every respect” (1177). They lived until 1931 and 1942 respectively.

Sections of farmland in central Indiana

Sections of farmland in central Indiana

The farms of John D. and William H. Wallis are relatively easy to find in late nineteenth and early twentieth century maps of Montgomery County. That’s because the surveying, platting, and selling of land in the old Northwest Territories of the United States was a highly regularized process, using a method called the “rectangular survey” or “public land survey system” (PLSS). In this system, townships of 36 square miles each were laid out across most of the middle and western United States, each township divided into 36 sections of one square mile (or 640 acres) each. A “quarter section,” a common-sized tract for homesteading and speculation purposes, was 160 acres, and a “quarter-quarter section” was 40 acres. It was a very different surveying method than the “metes and bounds” system used in premodern England and eighteenth and nineteenth century rural North Carolina, including the Rowan County of my Fleming ancestors.


Illustration of the system from the National Atlas.

So, the 150-acre Illinois farm of my great great grandfather John Daniel Wallis, which was in my family from the 1860s to the 1920s, can be found in section 2 of North Litchfield Township, Illinois – officially, township 9 north, range 5 west, of the 3rd principal meridian (p.m.). Because I’d first read about this farm in the 1918 history of Montgomery County cited above, where it was said to be owned by John Wallis’ widow, I thought I would find it easily in the 1912 atlas. But I couldn’t locate any “Wallis” property of 150 acres in that atlas’s map of North Litchfield Township. I found a parcel of 14 acres owned by “G[eorge] W[ashington] Wallis,” my great great grandfather’s brother, but that was it.

Right near the village of Honey Bend, however, I found a 135.5 acre tract owned by a “John D. Wallace Est[ate]” (see above, left).  Could it be a misspelling?  It was.  An 1874 map of the same township (see above, right) showed clearly that this was my great great grandfather’ farm. Today, it can be found intact, though no longer owned by my family, between County Roads 1700 and 1750 North and County Roads 400 and 450 East – clearly visible in Google satellite view.

Meanwhile, the 101-acre farm of William Henry Wallis, John D.’s son and my great grandfather, was in family hands (Crawford or Wallis) for more than a century (from the 1840s to the 1940s).  It was close to John D.’s farm, straddling sections 33 and 34 of Zanesville Township, Illinois – officially, township 10 north, range 5 west, of the 3rd p.m. In the 1912 map of Zanesville Township, the farm is bisected by the same country road that divides sections 33 and 34.

1912 Ogle Atlas of Montgomery County, Illinois: Zanesville Township

1912 Ogle Atlas of Montgomery County, Illinois: Zanesville Township

Today, the tract can be found between County Roads 1800 and 1900 North and U.S. Interstate 55 and County Road 400 East.  Perhaps because of the highway, the family history of this farm has left less of a visible trace than the Wallis property to the south.

What did my Wallis ancestors produce here in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries? In 1918, according to the history cited above, 75,000 acres of Montgomery County, Illinois, were seeded in corn and 30,000 in wheat, with smaller acreages devoted to timothy, red clover, alfalfa, and other crops. Hogs and beef cattle were also prominent, and dairying was increasing in importance. Fruit orchards were said to be profitable, but there was difficulty finding workers, given competition from mines, factories, and city jobs (p. 730).  In letters he wrote home during World War I, my grandfather asked often about the corn.

Between the two farms of John D. and William H. Wallis, father and son, was the tiny village of Honey Bend, the geographical heart of this rural community. It was in far northern North Litchfield Township, just below the boundary with Zanesville Township. When my grandfather Russell was growing up, Honey Bend had a post office and general store, a school, a church, a cemetery, even a train station. It was no city, but it was important to the families who lived and farmed nearby. And it was dear to my grandfather – his “hometown” for the first twenty-one years of his life.

1912 Ogle Atlas of Montgomery County, Illinois: North Litchfield Township

1912 Ogle Atlas of Montgomery County, Illinois: North Litchfield Township

The story of Honey Bend is told in the 1918 History of Montgomery County:

When the Wabash Railroad was built across North Litchfield Township, in 1870, at a distance of about six miles from Litchfield, and near the northern line of the township, the right of way of the road ran through a little cluster of houses, and at this point the citizens of the community asked that a station be established, and the request met with a favorable reception and a station was granted. (920)

The history continues:

At the present time the village is a sequestered little place of about 200 inhabitants. There are two general stores, a post office, a blacksmith shop, and a two-room schoolhouse. There is also a Baptist Church, and the Free Methodists had a church house not now in use for worshipping purposes. There is also a grain elevator, which is the principal asset of the village. The people of the community are a frugal, industrious, and home loving sort, who are blessed with little of the extravagances of the larger towns. (921)

It’s all gone now. The train tracks remain, but there’s no station, no general store, no post office, no church, and no schoolhouse. On the website of the Historical Society of Montgomery County, there’s a drawing from the 1950s depicting the old store, which doubled as a post office, and a photograph from decades later, when it was abandoned. It’s since been torn down.

Because of my grandfather’s subsequent life, I was especially curious about Honey Bend’s church, Little Flock Regular Baptist. All the maps put it right in the center of the village, between the schoolhouse and the cemetery. Did it look something like this country church from Alabama, photographed in 1936 by Walker Evans?


Walker Evans. Country church, Alabama (1936).

Or did it look more like one of these country churches from Butler Grove Township, Illinois, near Honey Bend?

There were, in fact, two churches in Honey Bend: one Methodist and one Baptist, the latter surviving longer than the former. It’s not entirely clear which one my Wallis forbears attended; in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, in rural villages like Honey Bend, denominational boundaries were probably not guarded very strictly. My grandfather’s grandfather was apparently Methodist, and his mother, Nancy Crawford, Presbyterian. My aunt Helen says her father’s family were Methodists, though the 1918 History of Montgomery County names William Henry Wallis’ brother George Washington Wallis a trustee of the Honey Bend Baptist church (919).

If the churches are now gone, the Honey Bend cemetery, called Cedar Ridge, remains. According to a 1914 history, it was purchased in sections by the Little Flock Baptist Church between 1869 and 1873. Burials took place here from 1871 to 1913, at which time the church had the cemetery chartered under State Law. The Honey Bend Cemetery Association was formed on December 16, 1913; and on December 22, 1913, at a 2:00 pm meeting held in the church, eight trustees were named, including the following officers: George W. Wallis, President; Harley B. Lewright, Vice President; Samuel H. Crawford, Treasurer; and William H. Wallis, Secretary.  The place was clearly important to my family.

Buried in Cedar Ridge Cemetery, in Honey Bend, Illinois, are all four of my grandfather’s grandparents, both of his parents, and all six of his siblings.

Honey Bend! As my grandfather himself would say, it was little more than a wide spot in the road. But it was not completely cut off from the rest of the world. As we’ll see in Part Two of this post, fabled U.S. Route 66, which stretched from Chicago to Los Angeles, would go right by the Wallis farm in Zanesville Township. But even before that, the Wabash Railroad passed through Honey Bend, connecting that little village to the wider world beyond.

1895 Rand, McNally map of Illinois (detail)

1895 Rand, McNally map of Illinois (detail)

It probably wasn’t a regular stop on most routes; but, as the 1918 History shows, there was a station in Honey Bend, and trains must have stopped here occasionally. I’ve always imagined that my grandfather, as a seven year old boy, went with his family by train to the St. Louis World’s Fair of 1904 – it was only 60 miles away and would have been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.


1887 map of the Wabash Railroad. Click to enlarge.

Anyway, life in such a place, at such a time, centered on family.  And my grandfather’s family, by all accounts, were decent, hard-working, God-fearing, “home loving” people (to use a phrase from the 1918 history).

Russell, the baby, was apparently much loved.  In the photograph below, he’s standing in the back, second from the right.

William Henry and Nancy Blair Crawford Wallis with their children, c. 1912

William Henry and Nancy Blair Crawford Wallis with their children, c. 1912

My grandfather probably finished eighth grade at the same two-room Honey Bend schoolhouse that his parents attended a generation earlier. As with the general store and Baptist church, no trace of it remains. My mother and her sisters remember visiting it long ago; their father’s car got stuck in the snow when he tried to show it to them.

Did that school look like either of the schools shown below?  The one on the left is from section 6 of North Litchfield Township, photographed in 1905; the one on the right is from Zanesville Township, photographed in 1910.  I’m sure some of these children knew my grandfather.

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, especially in rural areas like Montgomery County, public school for most children in the United States ended at the eighth grade; the great expansion of “high schools” didn’t occur until the period from 1910 to 1940.  But the Wallis boys received some secondary education, apparently at Hillsboro High School, about 15 miles from Honey Bend. I know from the 1918 encyclopedia cited above that my grandfather’s older brother Jim, twenty years his senior, attended Hillsboro High in the 1890s, boarding in town with a relative or family friend; Charlie probably went to school there, too. I’m not sure about the girls.

Historical Society of Montgomery County, Illinois

Historical Society of Montgomery County, Illinois

But, according to my aunt Helen, Russell only attended one year of high school as a youth – presumably the ninth grade. The family farm was just too far away for a daily trip; and it must have been expensive to board Russell in Hillsboro for long. Maybe as the baby of the family, he was missed too much by his parents and siblings; maybe he was homesick for them.  Or, perhaps, as the 1910s wore on, the family began to experience some hardship.

500-1In any case, by the time he was 20, in 1917, Russell Wallis had finished only the ninth grade, most of it in a two-room country school. He no doubt faced a future as a farmer or laborer, a life rigidly bounded by the confines of his small, rural world.

That is, until history intervened.

War changes those it touches, and the Great War was no different. It altered the course of my grandfather’s life. As far as he was concerned, there was the world before 1917 and the world after.  Before, life was centered on tiny Honey Bend, with its corn fields and livestock, its local Grange and Baptist church. His family was close and loving – but it was a pinched life; and, as the youngest child, Russell must have seen it at its most pinched – the world around him somewhat worn down and worn out by the time he reached adulthood.

Then there was the world after 1917 – for Russell, that meant an expanding universe, increasing access to higher education, and the beginnings of a vocation.

Wallis Grandfather (electronically lightened)Twenty-year-old Russell W. Wallis enlisted in the U.S. Navy on December 26, 1917, eight months after the United States declared war on Germany.  He would be on active duty for nearly two years and would cross the Atlantic Ocean four times – this young man who had never even seen an ocean before the War.

It all began with a stint at Great Lakes Naval Training Station in Chicago, still the largest “boot camp” in the U.S. Navy.  Here, amidst 25,000 other “jackies,” Russell trained to be a radio electrician, mastering the use of Modern International (or “continental”) Morse Code.

Great Lakes Naval Training Station

Great Lakes Naval Training Station

According to my sister Susie, who has read his letters home from the War, Russell was at Great Lakes Station for several months, turning twenty-one there and gradually increasing his proficiency in receiving continental Morse Code from 0 to 10 words per minute.

Sailors sleeping in hammocks, Great Lakes Naval Training Camp

Sailors sleeping in hammocks

In the barracks, the men slept in hammocks from 9:00 pm to 5:00 am.  During the day, a victrola played nearly all the time. Did Russell hear this 1913 recording of “Rock of Ages,” one of his favorite hymns?  Did it make him homesick for Honey Bend and the little country church of his boyhood?

•    •    •

From Great Lakes Station, Russell went to Camp Perry in Ohio and, finally, in the summer of 1918, to the U.S. Navy Radio School on the campus of Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  Here, he improved his proficiency at continental Morse Code from 10 to 30 words per minute, good enough to qualify as a 3rd class radio electrician on board a Navy vessel.

He also took in his new surroundings.  What did my grandfather, a 21-year old country boy from the midwest, without even a high school diploma, think of Harvard – the oldest and most prestigious college in the country?  Did this glimpse of higher education influence the later course of his life?

Meanwhile, he ate his Sunday dinners at the local YMCA; one such meal, according to a letter he sent home, included mashed potatoes, peas, pork chops, tomatoes, and half of a mince pie.  That same day, he was given a small comfort kit, containing thread, scissors, buttons, assorted other objects, and a pocket-sized New Testament sent by a girl in Kansas.  Russell wrote her a thank you note.

All of Russell’s letters home from this period, according to my sister, have the same theme running through them: “He is always asking about the crops back home, friends and family, church news, and, most important – how is the Ford running?  He tells his family they should trade it in on a Dodge.”


Woolworth Building, New York City

By August, 1918, Russell, now a skilled wireless radio operator, was in New York City, awaiting assignment to his first Navy ship.  In his down time, he toured the city, visited the YMCA for meals and entertainment, and went to the top of the Woolworth Building, then the world’s tallest.  He wrote to his parents, offering to get a furlough to come home and help with the corn shucking.

But then he finally got his ship: the U.S.S. Tivives, a refrigerated cargo vessel commissioned by the U.S. Navy in July, 1918, and used to transport food to American soldiers in France.  It would carry 1,700 tons of beef when it departed New York City, with Russell Wallis aboard as a radio electrician, on September 2, 1918.  They would be 21 days at sea, 17 of them out of sight of land.  Once in France, they spent six days on the western coast, in and around Bordeaux, as the ship’s cargo was unloaded.  During this time, Russell traveled the countryside by bicycle and did as the French did – except, he wrote home, for drinking wine.  He described stone houses with red roofs and flowers in the parks.  And he assured his parents that he read his Bible regularly.

The U.S.S. Tivives, now empty of cargo, soon left port for the United States, arriving in New York City on October 13, 1918.

U.S.S. Tivives, 1918-1919

USS Tivives, 1918-1919

Russell’s second trip across the Atlantic, on the same boat, began soon after, on October 19, 1918.  This trip coincided with Armistice Day, November 11, 1918, when the hostilities of the Great War ended.  In fact, my grandfather was onboard his ship in Bordeaux harbor when the Armistice was announced.  He told me years later that he and his fellow sailors shouted over the side to a Frenchman in a little boat that the war was finally over.  The man jumped up and down so much, out of happiness, that his hat fell off, into the water.

The U.S.S. Tivives was back in New York City on December 3, 1918.  But even though the armistice held, there were still American troops in France, and they still needed to eat.  The Tivives, with Russell Wallis aboard, made two more transatlantic voyages, from December 25, 1918, to February 5, 1919, and again, from February 15 to March 27, 1919.  Soon after this last trip, the ship was decommissioned, though it would be pressed into service again during World War II, when it was torpedoed by the Germans and sank off the coast of North Africa in 1943.

Back in the United States, in the spring of 1919, Russell Wallis was assigned to another ship, the U.S.S. Lake Copley, as its sole radio electrician.  This time the cargo was coal, and the destination was the Caribbean.  My grandfather was on this cruise when the Treaty of Versailles was signed: June 28, 1919.  The First World War was now officially over.

Later that year, perhaps in early fall, 1919, Russell was released from active duty in the U.S. Navy; after another, shorter stint at Great Lakes Naval Training Station, he was back home in Honey Bend.

A 1920 Montgomery County “honor roll,” published by a Litchfield, Illinois, newspaper, listed his war service in the following terms:

Russell W. Wallis: Radio Electrician. U. S. Navy: born Feb. 22. 1897; son of Wm. H. and Nancy B. Wallis, Litchfield: joined the Navy Dec. 27, 1917; has made four trips across on S. S. Vivives [sic], also visited South America.

My grandfather was lucky – he saw no fighting in the War and suffered no great hardship.  He was often homesick, was no doubt frequently out of his element, and was surely glad to be back home in rural Montgomery County, Illinois, when it was over.  But he had seen the world during those two years, and he returned a different person.

•   •   •


One of my grandfather’s Bibles

Most crucially, it was in the Navy that my grandfather, by all accounts, was called to the ministry. How did it happen? Did he have a religious experience while crossing the ocean? Was he affected by all the time he spent at those YMCAs in Chicago, Boston, and New York? Did he meet other sailors with deep religious convictions? Was there a chaplain who impressed him with his sincere beliefs and pastoral style? Was it that little Bible sent by the girl in Kansas? Or did he, for the first time, glimpse a world beyond Honey Bend and realize he could play a part in it?

In any case, by 1920, Russell Wallis was back home and searching for a way forward. In the U.S. Census that year, he’s listed as living with his parents in Zanesville Township, Illinois; his occupation, a machinist working in a smelter works – perhaps at the blacksmith shop in Honey Bend or at some factory in nearby Litchfield.  He was 23 years old.

At some point, he must have asked his father, or one of his older brothers, to help him finish high school and attend college.  His goal was now clear: to become a minister of God.

Ewing College, Illinois

Ewing College, Ewing, Illinois

So, the next stop in Russell’s life was Ewing College in south central Illinois, 120 miles away from Honey Bend.  It no longer exists, but from 1867 to 1925, it was one of the most important Baptist schools in Southern Illinois.  I’m not sure how my grandfather ended up here – perhaps he confided to someone his dream of being a minister and was told that this was the place to go.  In any case, he attended Ewing from 1921 to 1925, finally finishing high school and beginning college there.

Crucially, Ewing was owned and operated by the Illinois Baptist State Association (IBSA), an organization of Baptist churches closely aligned with the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).

Now, the SBC had been formed in 1845 in Augusta, Georgia, when southern Baptists split off from their northern co-religionists over the issue of slavery.  The Illinois Baptist State Convention had not been aligned with the group before 1907, when a dramatic schism occurred, and Baptist churches in the southern part of the state formed their own group, the IBSA, linked explicitly with the SBC.

According to historian Charles Chaney, the break was a long time coming, owing to the very different historical, cultural, and doctrinal traditions of Baptists in the southern and northern parts of Illinois.  The differences were heightened in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries by the rise of the Baptist-affiliated University of Chicago, where leading divinity scholars practiced a “higher criticism” of the Bible that, in the southern part of the state, was deemed unacceptably liberal and insufficiently respectful of scriptural authority and Biblical inerrancy.

W. P. Throgmorton, leading Illinois Southern Baptist of the early 20th Century

W. P. Throgmorton, leading Illinois Southern Baptist of the early 20th Century

Did the Illinois Baptist schism of 1907 affect the little church in Honey Bend?  Did the Wallis family have a stake in the debate?  I don’t know.  What is clear is that conservative Protestantism was on the rise across the United States in the early decades of the twentieth century, a reaction not only against the “higher criticism” of the Bible but also against such modern depredations as the teaching of evolution and the excessive consumption of alcohol.  The 1920s in particular saw an increasingly prominent role for Christian “fundamentalism” in the culture of the United States – the very word was coined in 1920.

It’s not clear how much of this influenced the climate at Ewing or the life of my grandfather.  I know that W. P. Throgmorton, the leading figure in the secession of Illinois Southern Baptists in 1907, taught at Ewing in the late nineteenth century, participated in a famous 1912 debate about adult baptism there, and was pastor, from 1904 to 1906 and again from 1913 to 1918, at First Baptist Church of Marion, Illinois, where my grandfather had a pastorate in the early 1930s.  Russell must have been deeply committed to and intensely affected by this revival of conservative Christianity, especially its intense devotion to scripture, even if he eventually became disenchanted with the political conservatism of Southern Baptists in the later twentieth century.

In any case, his years at Ewing were an exciting period for him.  He not only grew as a scholar and budding theologian; he also met a young woman, Prudence Elizabeth Douthit, from nearby Jasper County, who caught his fancy.  She was smart and devout and, like him, from a rural Illinois family.  She was also seven years his junior.  After she finished high school at Ewing, probably in 1921 or ’22, she taught school at a little village in southern Illinois for a year or two, while Russell continued his studies.

He was also getting practice as a preacher, supplementing his meager income in doing so.  I didn’t know about this other, weekend part of my grandfather’s school life until I found a copy of the History of First Baptist Church of Marion, Illinois.  There, on page 23, was a piece of information that neither my mother nor her sisters had ever told me, that their father had been ordained as a minister at tiny Mulberry Grove Baptist Church in Mulberry, Illinois, on May 6, 1923, while he was still in college.

One reason I may have missed this fact was that the only printed evidence of it, besides the testimony of the Marion history cited above, is the list of Mulberry Grove pastors shown below.  The misspelling that bedeviled my earlier search for John D. Wallis’s farm in North Litchfield Township nearly foiled me again here.

Mulberry Grove Baptist Church, list of pastors

Mulberry Grove Baptist Church, list of pastors

The small church at Mulberry Grove was founded in 1901, when a dozen or so members met above a hardware store, at first only monthly because of the cost of a pastor.  In 1907, they finished their first church building (shown below); and, in 1909, with 25 members, they joined the IBSA.

Mulberry Grove Baptist Church, Mulberry, Illinois

Mulberry Grove Baptist Church, Mulberry, Illinois

Ordination of ministers in Southern Baptist churches is, theoretically at least, a local affair. Every church is autonomous and decides whether and how to ordain its own pastor. It is a common practice, however, to have a council of ministers review the candidate’s testimony of salvation, his pastoral calling, and his qualifications for the ministry.

A key text used in this process is 1 Timothy 3:1-7, which, in the King James Version of the Bible, reads as follows:

  1. This is a true saying, if a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work.
  2. A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach;
  3. Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous;
  4. One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity;
  5. (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?)
  6. Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil.
  7. Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.

“[V]igilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach” – the words describe my grandfather well.

At the time of his ordination at Mulberry Grove Baptist Church in May, 1923, he was 26 years old, single, and childless. He had not yet finished college. It was his first church.

For part two of “The Churches of Russell Wallis,” click here.

 Works Cited

For help preparing part one of this post, I am grateful to my aunts Helen Louise Wallis Rusher and Elizabeth Ann Wallis Stephenson, my mother Nancy Jo Wallis Fleming, and my father Robert Henry Fleming. Thanks also to my sister Susie for her research on the letters my grandfather wrote to his family during World War I.

The reproduction of Walker Evans’ “Country church, Alabama” (1936) is from the Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection [LC-USF342-T01-008225-A].  Click here for more information.

The Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois and History of Montgomery County, Vol. II, edited by Newton Bateman and Paul Selby and Alexander T. Strange was published in Chicago in 1918 by the Munsell Publishing Co.

Matthieu Fontana’s performance of J. S. Bach’s First Suite for Violoncello Solo, Prelude, comes from the Internet Archive; it can be found here.  The 1913 recording of “Rock of Ages” by the Edison Mixed Quartet can be found here.

The website of the Historical Society of Montgomery County, Illinois, can be found here.

The 1874 Brink, McCormick atlas of Montgomery County, IL, including North Litchfield and Zanesville Townships, is reproduced courtesy of the David Rumsey Collection.

The 1912 Ogle atlas of Montgomery County, IL, including North Litchfield and Zanesville Townships, comes from

Information about the Wabash Railroad can be found here.

Information about the Public Land Survey System can be found here.  For the history of land plats in Illinois, click here.

Charles Chaney’s article “Diversity: A Study of Illinois Baptist History to 1907” appeared in Foundations: A Baptist Journal of History and Theology, 7 [Jan. 1964]: 41-54. I was also aided by Lamire H. Moore’s Southern Baptists in Illinois (Nashville, TN: Benson Printing Co., 1957); the photograph of W. P. Throgmorton comes from this last source, p. 85.

For information about the U.S.S. Tivives during World War I, click here and here.

The History of Ewing College by Dr. A. E. Prince was published in Collinsville, IL, in 1961 by Herald Printing Co.

The History of Kaskaskia Baptist Association, 1840-2000, which includes information about Mulberry Grove Baptist Church, can be found here.

H. Lee Swope’s History of First Baptist Church, Marion, Illinois, 1865-1965 was published by that church in 1965.

One thought on “The Churches of Russell Wallis, Part One

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s