The Venable Center: A place where the past and present flow together

By: Peggy Purser Freeman

Historic elegance, set in Texas-size spaces defines the Venable Center. These simple white frame buildings that whisper faith, hope, and love, once served as the Pleasant Hill Methodist Church and Indian Creek School. Today they continue to give the community a place to celebrate. Ancient oaks stand as witnesses to the past, present, and future sacred vows and celebrations held on these grounds.

Circuit riders like James M. Johnson, who served the Stephenville and Comanche missions from 1861 to 1863, married, baptized, and prayed many a soul into glory within the shade of the oaks. After the War Between the States, folks like Confederate Army Chaplain Peter Gravis ministered here in 1865 and 1866.

DSC_0015The two-acre tract where the Venable Center now stands was purchased for twenty dollars in April 1901 by the Methodist church from the Venable family.

Back in the day, families settled onto handmade benches and prayed at a handmade altar. Once a month, members tied their horses to the fence around the church, pulled the pew and piano into the cool air and sang the old, familiar hymns all afternoon. Today, that music seems to float on the country breeze toting memories of summer revivals under a brush arbor.

In 1949, a tornado roared through the area, twisting the church off its foundation. Services were held in the Selden School auditorium while the building was taken apart and then rebuilt, using the original lumber and nails. In 1951, a dedication service brought the church back to life, and several years later the Alexander Methodist Church gifted Pleasant Hill Methodist with a fellowship hall. The fellowship hall had been moved to the site from Selden where it had been a schoolhouse and then a Baptist church. Now, both structures commingle to create the simple beauty that is the Venable Center.

DSC_0017Linda McElroy wrote of her memories at Pleasant Hill: “My grandfather, ‘Papa,’ served as Sunday School Superintendent, Trustee, song leader and anything else needed. My grandmother, Mattie, was secretary of the Sunday school. She always wore a hat and gloves… Pleasant Hill is the place for beautiful weddings. My sister’s wedding was the first one I remember at Pleasant Hill… The greatest memory for me is all the gospel singing and the third Sunday afternoon gathering.”

Located on U.S. Highway 281 between Stephenville and Hico, this 2,400 square-foot facility reflects the era of its original construction. The Venable Center was a project undertaken to preserve the heritage of the original facility. In May 2014, the Center opened to host special events in a real Texas setting. Sunlight filters through the stained glass window and church bells chime—all preserved and reconstructed. Reflecting its history as a rural schoolhouse and church, the center offers modern amenities to create the perfect ambiance for gatherings of every kind. Weddings, conferences, luncheons, parties, and events—large and small. Manager Ashleigh Feuerbacher adds her own personality to the center, helping each event find that perfect slice of country peace.

Ashleigh describes it this way, “There is so much history in this space–it was a must to keep it alive. The intent was to focus on restoring the 1901 and 1951 buildings for the best use in today’s world. It was never a consideration to do anything with the buildings but to restore and re-purpose them. The history, stories, and memories that these walls hold, live in the Venable.”

DSC_0013Although the Venable Center is a contemporary facility, it offers quality audio-visual equipment, 21st century heating and cooling system, and a chef’s catering kitchen. The site is architecturally designed to provide access for guests with limited agility, the disabled and handicapped. The facility hosts not only workshops, but everything from office parties to family reunions; and it’s the perfect place for recitals.

Artist Vicki McMurry talked about the versatility of the center and it’s scenic views: “The Venable Center was the ideal facility for our painting workshop.”

The outdoor space with a 1012 square-foot patio, perfect for a family barbecue, turns into a tranquil, romantic setting in the evening. By nightfall, orange and pink sunsets fade into purple shadows and settles into a dark-blue twilight. In the summertime, the magic of fireflies often dances in the trees. The building and patio offer room for a band and space for dancing under the Texas stars, providing the ambiance of romance.

Pamela Kaumeyer gives it five stars and said, “It has the most scenic and beautiful vistas. True Texas atmosphere.” And Jenna Jones Walker held the Bosque River Coalition seminar at the Venable Center. She said the Center is “A true gem with great people to work with, boasting Texas heritage and gorgeous views of the top of the Texas Hill Country.”

2014-03-25 12.21.49Laura Williams Burt, owner of Cowgirl at Heart Photography, recently photographed a wedding at the Venable Center. “Super nice facilities,” Laura said. “It was amazing.” The Center and the grounds provide various opportunities for excellent pictures.

Mitzi Miller, a December 2014, bride said, “It could have been a disaster but Ashleigh truly helped it all come together. It turned out wonderful, and we loved the venue. It was perfect.”

Ashleigh shared her favorite story of the Venable Center, a story that defines the way the buildings and its history have formed a place of family, faith, hope and love. “We had a bride on the books for May 2015. We called her our ‘legacy bride.’ She was married in the same building where her mother was married. This is the same place her grandmother married, and the place her great-grandfather helped build.”

“My grandfather, Marvin Toler, helped build Pleasant Hill and as a boy my dad ran around handing the men tools,” Patty Burris explained. “My grandparents attended Church there. My dad (known as Happy) Marvin Toler and mom, Helen, were married there June 8, 1962. My sister and her husband Robin and Cleve Simpson were married there on January 2, 1982. And I was married there in February of 1988. Of course, my daughter, Christina Brawner and Shelby Sharp will be exchanging vows there in 2015. I was raised in this Church. Lots of memories from singing with Mr Waldsworth (the oldest living member) to the sunrise Easter services. Bringing my children back for Easter services and Vacation Bible School—that little hill is full of memories and love.”

2013-05-31 17.14.42Memories like Patty’s are the charm of the facility. Its history defines it. The Venable Center–a place where the past and present flow together in perfect harmony.

Visit the Venable Center at Highway 281 and County Road 504 Stephenville, Texas. Call 254.459.2414 or contact info@thevenablecenter.com. You can find more information at www.thevenablecenter.com.

Photos provided by The Venable Center and Design Build Adventure