The History of Oak Island The story of Oak Island Church really begins when a baby boy was born in Gresham, Frederick County, Maryland in August, 1818. His name was John Wesley DeVilbiss. And oh what a life was to be his in the years to come. We are the better for it, but the hard work and dangers he would face, in his lifetime, leave it up to our imagination what it took in the years between and the final result he accomplished in our lives 200 year later. When John Wesley was a small child his family joined a caravan of wagons crossing the Alleghenies and heading west. They settled in Licking County Ohio. His college years were spent in Augusta, Kentucky and in 1842 at the age of 24 there was call out for missionaries to go to the wild frontier of Texas. There were 6 that answered the call and soon John Wesley found himself in a saddle heading for the wild wilderness of Texas. Now he had a name, which would follow him the rest of his life. He was a circuit rider. A person that would ride in this wild unsettled country to bring the word of God to those that needed the word of salvation. And rode he did, through rain, wind, snow and intense heat. Thru the German communities, the black communities and all those in between. His life was far from easy. Through chills, fevers, thunderstorms and snow storms, he rode on, bringing Methodism and the word of God to those that had need for hope and salvation in their lives. His life was painted with a large brush. He was an educator, with his hand in helping to establish a couple of colleges. He was a brilliant speaker. He and Rev. McCoullough gave the first English speaking sermon in San Antonio and he was known as the little man with the bell. He was instrumental in helping the German Methodist in the establishment of LaVilllita Church, which still stands near the downtown area of San Antonio, near the Alamo. Times were hard back then and circuit riders did not make much money so he needed extra money to survive tough times. His talents were many and he put them to good use. He was a saddle maker, a surveyor. He surveyed the Rockport Road, which has now mostly been swallowed up by first 1518, then 1604 but little stretches of it still remain here and there, including the tiny piece which runs between the church and the old school house area. The little piece of road known as DeVilbiss lane was also part of the Rockport road as well as Oak Island Drive. He was a carpenter, which, along with his son, built the pulpit, candle stands and benches still in use in the DeVilbiss Sanctuary today. And oh yes, lets not forget that he also served Bexar County as a coroner if one was needed. Before establishing our little church, he organized the Travis Park Methodist Episcopal Church in San Antonio in 1846. Oak Island Methodist Episcopal Church was established in 1868 near the Medina River in a little picket building—not much more than a little shelter from the ravages of winter and a shelter from the storm. With his vision of the future always in mind, DeVilbiss was determined to improve the means of worship for this little group of parishioners. The vision became clear when Jesse Applewhite donated land for the purpose of establishing a school, a church and a cemetery. But you know the rest of that story and we will go on to tell you about those that followed after. In Liberty County, within earshot of San Jacinto, an African American salve was tending the wounded Phillip Dever. Mr. Dever had ridden out on horseback headed for battle against the Mexican soldiers. He was mortally wounded but was able to get back home. As Cloe Stevens tended the wounds, Catherine his wife, helped assist her in any way she could. She was expecting their tenth child. Moses another slave sat at the window holding the reins of the horses trying to keep them from being stolen by the Mexican soldiers, the Indians or renegades in the area. That night Phillip died and they buried him under an oak tree near the house. Catherine delivered her baby and they waited for morning to hitch up the oxen to the wagon and head off to follow Catherine’s other children, and the neighbors, as they fled toward Louisana to escape the Mexican soldiers as they headed toward Liberty County. If you are familiar with Texas history, you might recall, “The Runaway Scape.” Julia Devers, one of the daughters of Phillip and Catherine, later married a man from Alabama. For a while they lived with Catherine but soon they heard of a land that was so beautiful with prairie grass and oak trees, they decided to come to live in this new land called Oak Island. When Julia died after receiving ether for surgery in San Antonio, Catherine Dever and Cloe Stevens came to Oak Island to help Benjamin B. Gayle to care for their children. Being a devout Methodist, Cloe faithfully schooled the children in their belief in God and they all attended the Oak Island Methodist Episcopal Church South. Oak Island Sunday School began in the little picket church down by the Medina river sometime between the years 1868 and 1872. Mr. Quisenberry organized it and his daughter Alice Quisenberry taught it for many years as they moved into the new rock church. The first wedding that took place in the new church was that of Tom Applewhite and Miss Lou Carr. Many more have taken place since that time. How many? No one has kept a running count. In the 1920’s, Miss Dora Mae Gibson, a member of the church, and a teacher at the Oak Island School, across the road from the church, organized a Sunday School Class for girls ages 13 to 16. There were six or seven in the original group. They were the driving force in obtaining a water line to the church, and Oak Island Church had its first running water. After World War I, in 1925, Reverend Fred Hamner and his wife Blanche, decided to organize a women’s group at Oak Island Church. This group was named the Missionary Society and Mrs. Susie Gayle was its first president. Later it became the Women’s Society Of Christian Service and in 1972 when the Methodist Church Became The United Methodist Church, the WSCS became The United Methodist Women Or The UMW. It is a hard working group of women that still live by their original principals. During the late 1920’s Rev. Hamner and his wife Blanche organized The Epworth League, which brought together the young people of the church. There was fun, service and study. This group was later to become The Methodist Youth Fellowship, which is still active in our church. The Sunday School which was organized so long ago by Mr. Quisenberry, still faithfully continued on thru the years. One of the teachers was Nellie Ernst Bell. She taught some of the children that still attend this church now, as elderly people. She taught their children and their grandchildren. It is unknown just how many children she taught during the many, many years that she was known as Aunt Nellie. Her husband Eddie Bell also taught Sunday School and was a fun loving leader of the MYF. In the early 1940’s, Rev. J.W Richardson was pastor of Oak Island and Somerset Methodist Churches. His wife Bea, was also a terrific leader and established the first Vacation Bible School in Oak Island Church. Rev. Richardson was killed in an auto accident as he left our church to go to his home in Somerset. This happened in our neighborhood at the corner of what is now Hwy. 16 South and 1604. Aunt Bea, as she was affectionately called, then moved to San Angelo, Texas to be near her relatives. The distance made no difference to her and she traveled to Oak Island to continue her work in our Vacation Bible School for many years. Vacation Bible School is held each summer and is still going strong. The Oak Island choir was started, sometimes in the late 1940’s, by Mrs. Applewhite as the pianist and choir leader. It is hard to call 2 people a choir, but it was a very modest beginning that grew into a large group and is still in existence today. When Mrs. Applewhite was no longer able to serve as pianist and leader, Doll Gayle served in this capacity. Did you know that Oak Island had a church band? Yes. A fiddle, three guitars and a pianist! Earl Bly was the fiddle player and the leader. Doll Gayle played the piano and the three guitarists were Gladys Boatwright, Ada Barsch and Marion McOsker. They called their band “The Oakettes”, but we affectionately called them “Earl And The Girls.” They played at special occasions at the church and visited numerous nursing homes, traveling as far away as Floresville. Sadly, Marian McOsker and Earl Bly are the only ones still living. The others have been called to play their guitars and piano in heaven. Earl Bly, at the age of 94, still drives himself to church. Marian McOsker is unable to attend church and resides in San Antonio. Senior Citizens of Oak Island was organized and became an immediate success. Each month approximately 90 post card reminders were sent out as a reminder of the upcoming, once a month meeting coming up. Usually there were about 70 senior citizens that attended and they came from as far away as Castroville, Southwest and San Antonio as well as Somerset, Poteet and the Oak Island community. There was dancing to the music of The Oakettes, special speakers, and games. Each person or couple was asked to bring a covered dish and donate a dollar to buy prizes for the games. It was a lot of fun for everyone but as all good things come to an end, so did the Senior Citizens Of Oak Island Fun Day. As the years went by, the seniors were dwindling away and soon there were only 12 or so left. Bill Miller’s came to the community and it was decided to just all meet there, buy their own lunches and visit as long as they wanted. It was then changed from Senior Citizens to include anyone that wanted to join the companionship of others and just have a pleasant afternoon. Now it has become the Meet, Greet and Eat crowd and everyone is invited. In the 1990’s The United Methodist Men was organized by the men of the church. They did odd jobs for those in need of assistance and were, and are, active in projects around the church. They meet every third Sunday of the month and enjoy a delicious breakfast after which there is a Bible discussion and a time of visiting until Church time. They are very active in all phases of service at the church and help others that may be of need. During the early years of the 1990’s, Oak Island had its first lady preacher. Sue Huntsman came with new ideas and plans and soon the little rock church had to start having two worship services each Sunday. The need was obvious we needed more space, so plans to build a new church were started and the word spread. Mark Oppelt, an architect and a member of Oak Island, drew up the plans and in 2002, the new sanctuary was completed and thanks to some very generous people and Global Ministries, enough money was donated to enable the congregation to move in, completely debt free. What the future holds for Oak Island United Methodist Church is now completely up to us.

Joey Glowka

Remember When?  

No not many of us-even the oldest– were around when our little church was started back so many years ago.  One hundred and fifty years ago, to be exact.  thousands of feet have trod into and thru our little rock church since that day its doors were first opened by circuit rider John Wesley DeVilbiss.  But do not let us get ahead of ourselves.

 The land where our church now sits was not the first place our roots were planted.  Near the Medina River someplace off Jett Road, near the curve, John Wesley DeVilbiss and men of the neighborhood constructed a little church made of logs and mud and a roof of boards and sod.  There were only eight people that formed this first little church which we now know as Oak Island.  It was known as The Oak Island Methodist Episcopal Church South.  Many have asked thru the years, “Why Oak Island”?  Well, the answer passed down thru a century, was that when the little picket church was first organized it was built under a group of oak trees.  Well, where does the Island part come in?  That’s easy too.  When it rained, water surrounded the little structure, and it sat on a little island.  This was the very beginning of our little church.

 Not long after, Mr. Jesse Applewhite saw the need for a new church, a school, and a cemetery.  So, he generously provided and donated the land. This land is where our church is now located.  In its beginning, it was on a little road named Rockport Road. (And as a surveyor, John Wesley DeVilbiss’ yes, our John Wesley DeVilbiss’) surveyed a good part of the road as times always does, changes came about and then it was known as Highway 1518 and now it is 1604.

 Now back to the roots of our story.  After the land was donated, the little rock church, now known as our DeVilbiss Chapel, was constructed by the men of the community and a group of friendly Indians, who also lived in the area, and were friendly to the whites. The rock and the clay were provided from the land in the area and brought to the site by slides and oxen.

 First, the church was built, and the school was held in the little church for a while until a school could be built across the road.  Later (date unknown) it was decided the old school needed to be replaced and a new 3 room school took its place. It was then a Bexar County School and under the finances of the county. There are a few of us in the area that are still here to tell its story.  It educated children first thru 8th grade, and I believe possibly thru the 10th grade long ago. When they graduated, they attended high schools first Somerset, then to Poteet and some went to Brackenridge and South San in San Antonio.

In 1950 it was voted on by the community and we were consolidated with Somerset.  All but a few of the students, in lower grades, went to Somerset, and they later also were moved to Somerset.  Somerset Trustees returned the care of the building and the house, which had been provided for the teachers, to our church.  Our church kept it for a while, continuing to use it, as before when it was the school, Sunday School, Bible School and community activities were all held in the old school.  You must remember the only building at our church, at that time, was the little rock church known as Oak Island. 

 As time passed by the little school needed so many repairs our little church could not afford its upkeep and sadly it had to be torn down.  The teacherage was rented for a while but soon it could not be afforded, and it was sold and moved away.  These are sad memories for the end of an era that will never be forgotten.  But time marches on and changes must become a necessity.  The only thing left are the memories and the little concrete drinking fountain.  The little drinking fountain that also quenched the thirst and filled the canteens of soldiers as they made their long physical training hikes from the San Antonio bases down Rockport Road and back up Applewhite Road to their base.  The excitement was out of bounds for the kids attending school that day.  Just to see the troops fill their canteens and lie under the trees on the school grounds to rest was so special to all the young children that knew all about the war.

This all took place before the advantage of TV and all the visual accounts offered by TV.  Their view of the war was watching the anxiety of parents and grandparents huddled around the battery

radio and noticeably upset.  Or when the pursuit planes practiced their dog fights above their home diving toward each other above their heads as they played outside...  Or the horrors of a pursuit plane crashing in the neighborhood right down Applewhite Road in a pasture just south of Rockport Road and killing the pilot or pilots.  Dear sons in the neighborhood families were killed or made captives by the enemy. This is why the young men that marched along the road and drank at our fountain were so marveled at and caused such excitement. Not Superman or any of the other comic strip heroes.  Of course, they were our heroes too, but the real heroes were these young men that were marching and resting on our school grounds getting ready to go to battle to save our country and our freedom.

 As all the chaos in the world swirled around in the heads of the children, they all did what little they could do to help the war effort. Not much in the way of help and I wonder if it was really help or just to get the children involved. Everything was rationed and we had rationing books with the amount of stamps each person was allowed.  One of the things that was so scarce was chewing gum.  That was sent first to the servicemen and the leftovers were sold to the citizens.  We were taught to peel the little metal wrapper off each piece and save it.  We would take our little wrapper insides to school where we would roll it into a ball altogether and save it for the war effort.  Some schools taught their boys and girls to knit and knitted blanket squares to be combined and make blankets for the servicemen and women.

 Oh, what a different world we are living in from the days a century ago.  No place on the internet or in the history books will you find the uniqueness of life in Oak Island during the early days of this past century.  And yet here it all happened in the Oak Island neighborhood.  Can you imagine wild donkeys running around the school and the older boys catching them and trying to ride them?  Or hot air balloons floating overhead with their pilots yelling from above to the people below and shouting for them to catch the rope and pull them down.  Or what about an army plane landing near a big melon patch, loading a bunch of melons from the field, and not being able to get off the ground because their load was too heavy.  Damaging the plane to boot.  Carefully unloading the plane and putting the melons back to hide the evidence before calling to have the plane hauled in for repair.

 This terrible World War 11 came to an abrupt end with the dropping of the Atomic Bomb.  This was a terrible thing to do, but at that time, it was felt it was a fair retaliation for the attack on Pearl Harbor destroying many of our naval fleets and killing so many of our good American sailors.

 Now you are wondering what this has to do with our church and school history, as you know, the atomic bomb was developed as “The Manhattan Project” by brilliant scientists, mostly in a lab in New Mexico.  One of the scientists (Judson Swearengen) that helped develop it, was a man of many talents and one of his talents was that he was a brilliant scientist.  He was born and raised in our community.  I don’t know if he attended school at Oak Island School or not, but wherever he got his education, he must have been a brilliant scholar.  Just don’t know if he attended our little Oak Island Church but most at that time, knew him as a friend and neighbor when he was growing up.  Coming to our Cemetery Association BAR-B-Qs made him well known to a lot of the people in our local group.  During his last years, he traveled with his wife from Dallas to attend those days when possible.  He had chosen our little cemetery as his final resting place, and you will find his black headstone near the back of the DeVilbiss Chapel.

 Now to finish up this story, we explained how the Island in our name came to pass and the oaks and little picket church near the river were surrounded by water, but what about our present location?  There were only mesquites on the land right where our church is located.  In the early 1990’s it was decided we needed to plant a few oak trees.  The word was sent out that we would be asking for anyone that wanted to donate an oak tree in memory of someone to please join in the project.  Oak trees were donated by the dozens, and we had more oak trees than you can imagine.  That folk's is the spirit and love in which our church has always been blessed.  From oak trees to a new sanctuary, our friends are always there to keep the little brown church in the wildwood alive and thriving.  As witnessed by the fact that the congregation moved into a new sanctuary, completely debt-free, right down to the last hymnal.

By Joey Glowka




Ian Glowka on 12-15-2023 at 1:32 AM
Update on our history on 01-29-2023 at 4:47 PM
In 2022 Oak Island UMC voted to disafiliate from the UMC and join the Global Methodist Church.
Post a Comment