Gadsden and the American Restoration Movement


Last week the Vagabond discussed about the beginning of the Church of Christ in the Gadsden area.

It was part of the American Restoration Movement, a Christian movement that began on the American frontier during the Second Great Awakening (1790–1870).

The movement sought to restore the church and “the unification of all Chri-stians in a single body patterned after the church of the New Testament.”

Members did not identify themselves as Protestant but simply as Christian. Like Martin Luther was with his Reformation, men from from several in-dependent efforts in the Restoration Movement de-veloped to return to apostolic Christianity,

One of these great men that sought to worship just as Christians did in the beginning was James Henry Harden. He was born June 27, 1858, at Winnsboro, S. C.. He married Leila Varnon Harden, and they had two children, a son, J. A. Harden, and a daughter, Mrs. Susie Conner.

In 1887, soon after his marriage, he moved from Ocala, Fla., to Gadsden  and became secretary and treasurer of the Elliott Car Company.

He at once became an active and enthusiastic lea-der in all the work of the church. Through his influence, many ablest preachers were brought to Gadsden and held meetings, and in this way the small congregation here was encouraged and strengthened

He remained in Gadsden some 10 or 12 years, then went to Nashville, Tenn., where he acquired an interest in the Gospel Advocate Publishing Company and served as its auditor for two years.

From Nashville, he went to Memphis, Tenn., where he was manager of a plant of the Elliott Car Company operated there. Although he was there only about one year, he found time to establish a congregation in Memphis, which is now the Union Avenue Church of Christ, and the zeal and good work of that congregation is known far and wide.

From Memphis, he went to Anniston for a time, and from Anniston he came back to Gadsden in 1906, where he continued to live until his death.

He was always engaged in some secular business, but, nevertheless, found time to devote to the advancement of the cause of Christ, and he had remarkable power of leadership in this work.

The church at Gadsden was at the time of his return, a small, struggling congregation without a house of worship.

He was instrumental in building up and strengthening the church, and it was through his zeal and enthusiastic leadership that a lot was bought and a place of worship erected. He contributed liberally of his means to the erection of the building and thereafter to the support of the church.

For many years he was leader of the congregation without compensation.

Whatever his hands found to do he did with might and zeal, and he left his impress upon all classes with whom he came in contact.

He was kind, courteous, and princely in his intercourse with all classes; yet he was firm and unswerving in his convictions.

All who knew him admired and loved him. He had a busy and eventful career and was a remarkable man.

He will always be warmly remembered by the Gadsden congregation. He died May 29, 1929. His death was quiet and peaceful, and “let us believe that in the silence of the receding world he heard the great waves breaking on the farther shore and felt already on his brow the breath of the eternal morning.”

Harden is buried in Forrest Cemetery. To see his grave, go to the front of the Cemetery. Go into the main entrance.

You will see the chapel/office straight ahead. Bear to the right and go to the second turn to the left. After turning left go to the second section on the left. It will be in Section 3 Block 6.

His tombstone reads:
James Henry Harden
Born Winnsboro, S.C.
Beneath The Verdant Grassy Sod
Sleeps The Dust Of A Man Of God
He Blessed The World Through Which He Passed
Righteous And Hopeful To The Last

Another person that was interested in the American Restoration Movement in Gadsden was Emerson J. Estes who was a legend in his own time.

From a background including his being a manager of an insurance company, and working in the funeral business, emerges a “giant” among the preachers and leaders of his generation.

Emerson Estes was born June 17, 1903, in Tippah County, Miss.

He attended the schools of his day, and later he studied at the Montgomery Bible College (which is now Faulkner University), in Montgomery.

Estes became a Christian in 1923 and preached for over sixty-four years. From the time of his first sermon he has preached “The Old Jerusalem Gospel” in a most effective manner.

He preached the gospel to thousands in twenty-five states, Canada, and the Bahamas.

The phenomenal success of his preaching is explained only on the ground that his sermons are sound, fearless and scriptural. Through the years, he was in great demand.

From August 1939 until February of 1942 Emerson J. Estes served as a preacher at the church in Gadsden.

Estes served as a Board of Directors for Montgomery Bible College, Childhaven Orphanage, and MidSouth Christian Nursing Home.

In 1983, he was made an honorary Lt. Colonel on the staff of George Wallace, then the governor of Alabama. For years, he wrote articles for newspapers, and he also published a gospel paper entitled Way of Life for a period of four years.

Emerson Estes was married to Mildred Sams Estes. and had two daughters: Sylvia and Wanda.

The Vagabond challenges the reader to research the American Restoration Movement and the Church of Christ:

Next week the Vagabond is on several weeks adventures of historical mysteries and happenings in Etowah County.

Be sure to look forward and see!

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