Fred Callaway was born in Nickleville on January 29, 1886. Nickleville was located in an area now known as the east side of Wylie, Texas. Wylie became a town in October of that same year.
The Civil War ended and many from the Southern States headed to Texas. Among them were the three strong Christian sons of Mr. and Mrs. Garrison Callaway. From Georgia to Arkansas to Nickleville they came. They were James Madison Callaway, William M. (Uncle Billy) Callaway and Henry H. Callaway. All were instrumental in building the towns of Nickleville and Wylie. All were devout in their faith and were charter members of the Nickleville Baptist Church.
It was Fred’s “Uncle Henry” and his wife “Aunt Sallie,” (the former Sarah Elizabeth McCullough) who gave the land for the Baptist Church in 1884. The present location would be called South Ballard and Oak Street. Reverend Benjamin Bishop was the first pastor. For one year the church was also used as a “free school,” but in 1885 Uncle Henry and Aunt Sallie gave land for a schoolhouse as well.
For many years the Callaway family held the distinction of having the oldest member of the First Baptist. First, Mrs. Daisy Pitts, sister-in-law of Fred, held this honor. Upon her death, Mrs. Della Oliver, Fred’s sister, was the oldest. Fred was next in line to receive this title. He held it with dignity for many years.
Fred remembered the names of some of the charter members of the newly formed Baptist Church of the mid 1880’s. There was Charley Bishop and his family, the Munday’s, the Daniel’s, the Winn’s and the Floyd’s (one was a teacher Miss Bessie Floyd). He said he couldn’t recall all of the names. After all, they had approximately three hundred (300) in Sunday School then.
Vivid were the memories of the sanctuary. All around the building were hitching posts for horses and buggies. The wooden church building faced east and was built in a long row. The sidewalk forked to a north and a south door. At the north door there was an eight foot by eight foot room which housed mops and brooms. Above this room held Fred’s fascination, the church bell. Entering the south door of the building, one would note six windows on each side. The many benches were of wood and not padded. Benches were behind the pulpit for choir members.
Fred reminisced about his conversion and when he joined the church. It happened August 14, 1898, and he was baptized on August 15, 1898. Pastor was J.A. Moore of Garland. Garland was not much bigger than Wylie then. Rev. Moore would preach two Sundays in Garland and two Sundays here. Each year he would hold a two-week revival. It was during the August 1898 revival that Fred was baptized. He seldom missed church. For five straight years, from age eighty to eighty-five, Fred did not miss one service at the church. This included midweek services and revivals. Rev. Gilbert Calloway was pastor here then. His sincerity and smile were contagious.
When Fred began talking about the old church bell, much time and many cassette tapes were required. It was his favorite subject, and he knew about the old bell. The melodious chimes of this ancient work of art came alive as the story unfolded.
Fred was a small boy of five years when he first recalled “the bell.” It began tolling for him to come to church at 8:30 a.m. and again at 9 a.m. His words on this are as follows;
“When that bell rang, I couldn’t be still for mother to dress me, After she finished with me, she would go to another room. She’d tell me to sit still, but I’d slip out and head up that road fast as my legs would carry me. When she missed me, she would fuss, but that bell had rung.”
After she caught me, I’d explain “But, Mother, you may be late and Brother E.L. Duncan (father of the late Fred Duncan) is calling me,” Brother Duncan tolled that bell for me three times each Sunday, at 8:30 and nine in the morning and at night.
Fred recalled that it was his father who had the job of toning the old bell in the church tower. Its foundations were made of 2×4’s and 2×6’s. Never once did the foundation shake because of the bell.
For many years this bell sat silent behind our present educational building. Fred could not understand this, for he knew that the sounds would “bring more people to church than all of the witnesses the church could send out.”
If Fred would have lived a little longer: he would have been elated to see this old church bell in a place of honor in front of the church. No one would have enjoyed the beautiful hymns which chime hourly by the Carillon Bells as much as Fred.
By Beb Fulkerson, Wylie Area Heritage, 1990.