In Search of J. Frank Norris

by MBG

I became interested a few months ago in perhaps putting together a biography of Dr. J. Frank Norris. This desire is mainly based on the shortcomings of various biographies now available and to rediscover the legacy and impact of Norris. As an Independent Fundamental Baptist, I marvel at how much of what we believe and practice can be traced back to this one individual.

I have been collecting Norris material for a while now, and own almost every book about him. I hope to purchase the others soon. I have scoured the internet for information and facts. Recently, I finally had a chance to do a little "field research" and visit sites connected with Norris.

Former Site of First Baptist Church, Fort Worth, Texas

It is amazing to me how much this site has changed over the last sixty or so years. For some seventy years the corner of Fourth and Throckmorton was the site of the First Baptist Church and its various auditoriums. Today you would never know this as all of these buildings are lost to history. It is part of a bustling downtown area with shops and offices. Thousands of people drive or walk within a few yards of where Norris preached and never realize how close they are to history. I personally feel that it is a shame that there is no historical marker of some type at this location. This illustrates the Norris' divisiveness that lingers to this day.

Greenwood Memorial Park - Norris Grave

Cemetery entrance

Entrance of the Greenwood Memorial Park, Fort Worth, TX.

Norris plot

The Norris family plot.

Norris marker

The Norris headstone placed by IBFI.

Norris marker

Marker at the foot of Norris' grave. Each member of the Norris family has a similar marker.

Greenwood Memorial Park is located a short distance from downtown at the corner of University and White Settlement. This cemetery is the final resting place of many notable residents of Fort Worth, including Amon Carter. The Norris family plot is located at the rear of the cemetery almost directly north of the cemetery offices. It is one of three plots on a triangular island surrounded by roads. A large black headstone was set by Independent Baptist Fellowship International in 1989. Buried alongside Norris is his wife, three sons, and two daughters-in-law. Evidently his only daughter is buried elsewhere. Each grave has a small marker with the person's name and years of birth and death.

Greenwood Memorial Park - D.E. Chipps Grave

Chipps grave

Marker at the Chipps grave.

The darkest moment in the life of Norris I think is clearly the incidents involving and the impact of the death of D.E. Chipps. Dexter Elliot Chipps was a forty-nine year old lumber broker who confronted Norris in his study at the First Baptist Church. Feeling threatened, Norris pulled a gun and shot the intoxicated and unarmed Chipps four times. Norris would be acquitted of murder after a well publicized trial.

D.E. Chipps is also buried in Greenwood Memorial Park. He is buried next his wife and only two small markers mark the graves. The markers appears to have been placed some time after Chipps' burial.

Hubbard, Texas

Hubbard sign

Historical marker for the town of Hubbard.

Hubbard sign

Historical marker for Baseball Hall of Famer Tris Speaker

In 1888 James Warner Norris moved his family to Hubbard, Texas. Some of his in-laws had already moved to the area. Land was very cheap at the time and money could be made in growing cotton. The young J. Frank Norris would live in this area until leaving for Baylor in 1899.

Today Hubbard is a small town of less than three thousand residents. It has a very "Mayberry" feel to it and boasts a number of Victorian style homes built around 1900. The area still has a number of farms and ranches. The town proudly claims another native son, Baseball Hall of Famer Tris Speaker. I have been unable to determine if Speaker and Norris knew each other, but in that small of a community I would assume that they would have.

Fairview Cemetery - Mary Davis Norris Grave

Cemetery Entrance

Entrance of the Fairview Cemetery in Hubbard, TX.

Mary Norris grave

The grave site of Mary Norris.

Mary Norris marker

Headstone at Mary Norris' grave.

One of the few sites that you can visit today that had a very special place in the life of Norris is the grave of his mother. Mary Davis Norris died in 1905 (often wrongly put in 1906, even by Norris surprisingly) while Norris was pastoring the McKinney Avenue Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas. She is buried in the Fairview Cemetery in Hubbard, Texas. Norris retreated to Hubbard for rest and would visit her grave often. Norris had the headstone placed here some time after her death.

Mary Norris had a profound impact on her son's life. It is from her that he developed a deep concern for religion. She was a fixture in his emotional appeals in his sermons.

First Baptist Church, Mt. Calm, Texas

Mt. Calm church

First Baptist Church building in Mt. Calm, TX, that was built in 1954.

Mt. Calm sign

Historical marker at church that mentions Norris.

Often overlooked in the life of Norris are his pastorates: Mt. Antioch Baptist Church (many accounts completely omit this one he pastored before going to Baylor), First Baptist Church, Mt. Calm, Texas, and McKinney Avenue Baptist Church, Dallas, Texas. Norris pastored the church in Mt. Calm while attending Baylor University in Waco. Each weekend he would jump aboard a train and go to work in building this church. The town at the time had about four hundred residents and the church had over eight hundred in attendance of some services.

Today Mt. Calm is a small town that has not grown much over the years. The present building of the First Baptist Church was built in 1954 and has a historical marker in front that mentions Norris. Evidently he led a building campaign during his pastorate. That building burned in 1940.