Concise History of
First United Methodist Church of West Monroe

First United Methodist Church of West Monroe was the first church west of the Ouachita River. The fertile soil from which it sprung was the soil of the Louisiana Purchase of 1803; its seeds were planted in a home prayer meeting in 1806. Its bud of a congregation would not be seen until 1850; when Trenton M. E. Church South was formed. In 1806 Rev. Elisha Bowman was the first to preach in “the pine hills west of the Washita River.” Rev. Bowman was appointed to preach the Washita circuit that included Fort Miro, west Washita [including old Trenton and West Monroe areas], “Isle de Seard” [this may be the old Ouachita City], Prairie Mer Rouge, and Prairie Jefferson [Oak Ridge]. Rev. Learner Blackman (another early Methodist preacher) said when he preached in Fort Miro [present day Monroe], “Nearly all of the people came out to hear me preach — a portion of the congregation had never heard a sermon before.” These communities were literally islands in the vast southern swamp west of the Mississippi River. Bowman and Learner saw “beautiful lake(s) with shoals of fish, lounging alligators, and flocks of wild fowl; then dense canebrakes; next the open swamp with watermarks on the trees twenty feet above (their) head(s); then the bridgeless lagoons and bayous with half floating bottoms of bottomless mud; small rivers and fordless creeks without ferries, with here and there a beautiful prairie as well, defined by the surrounding forests and the pine hills west of the Washita River.”
First United Methodist Church emerged from the murky swamp of the Louisiana Purchase, in the beautiful Ouachita River eco-system, with the vibrant preaching of the early circuit rider and the pioneering spirit of the first settlers of what was then called the West. In 1850 a wood framed church was built in Trenton on Claiborne Street. The first appointed pastor was the Rev. John J. Weems. When the Civil War broke out between the states most churches, including Trenton M. E. Church South, ceased to function. The disruption of war not only took men to the battle front; it took clergy to serve as chaplains for the Confederacy.
After eight years of disfunction, Trenton Church reorganized with the appointment of Rev. Jewel in 1868. While the nation was recovering from the Civil War, Trenton Church was planning to be rooted in Trenton’s, and soon to be West Monroe’s, future.
In 1883, the seismic shift of the railroad made itself known to northeast Louisiana. When the Vicksburg, Shreveport, and Pacific Railroad (what is now the Kansas City Southern line) “pushed westward from Monroe to Cotton Port in 1883, it entirely missed the older town of Trenton two miles to the north.” This major economic change caused Trenton Church between 1884 and 1886 to relocate to North 2nd Street in West Monroe. Thus, First Methodist Episcopal Church, South was born. This church building was a one-story wooden structure that would serve this community well for the next 34 years. They used large curtains to sub-divide the sanctuary for Sunday schools. Rev. William Hart was the minister. The presiding Elder was Rev. Robert Randle. Captain John E. Morris was the Superintendent of the Sunday School. The organist was Mrs. R. L. Rinehart. She played the PUMP organ!

First Church would be fully involved with the citizens of West Monroe in shaping the growing town, northeast Louisiana, and our nation. They served in World Wars I and II. They helped establish Ouachita High School. They endured the Depression. They helped create West Monroe High School. They were in the trenches making West Monroe the vibrant city that it is today. In 1920-21, a red brick sanctuary with Sunday School rooms was erected at North 2nd Street. In 1955 an educational building was built. In 1982, the congregation relocated to Glenwood Drive, the service road to Interstate 20. In 1997, the Family Life Center was built. In 2008, a steeple with carillon was raised over the sanctuary.

The simple children’s teaching using hands that are folded together says, “Here is the church. Here is the steeple. Open the doors and here are the people.” It reminds us that life in the church and community is not about buildings but rather it is about people. Some of the many people that have made this congregation vibrant are Millsaps, McClain, Henry, Ponder, Faulk, McClendon, Heron, Cattlett, Collins, Hamilton, Harper, Hood, Hunt, Kilpatrick, Morris, Rinehart, Sutliff, Camp, Stinson, McKee, Watson, Tippit and many more. Truly, through our lives coming together, first with Elisha Bowman, Learner Blackman and thousands following, we have opened the doors of faith, love and service. Our past is glorious. Our future is bright!
1Trenton was the name of the first town on the west side of the Ouachita River. Trenton was about two miles north of the Endom Bridge. 
2In the MSGen Project [Mississippi Genealogical Project at] 
you will find in the original journaling that Elisha Bowman came to Washita in September 1806.
3While in "Early History of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, Monroe, Louisiana," written in 1934 by Julia Wossman says that Learner Blackman was the first to come in 1806. Are both sources right, Learner Blackman preceding Elisha Bowman by a few days or months? 
4MSGen Project
5West Monroe 1st UMC History, October 23, 1996, published only in handout form for the congregate on. 
6“Ron Downing: West Monroe, you’ve come a long way baby,” by Ron Downing; Feb 15, 2017;
7West Monroe 1st UMC History 
8West Monroe 1st UMC History
9West Monroe 1st UMC History