William Booth

A Brief History of The Salvation Army

The history of The Salvation Army in our community is long and storied. We start in 1865,  when William Booth, an ordained Methodist minister, aided by his wife Catherine, formed an evangelical group dedicated to preaching among the “unchurched” people living in the midst of appalling poverty in London’s East End. Booth’s ministry recognized the interdependence of material, emotional and spiritual needs. In addition to preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ, Booth became involved in the feeding and shelter of the hungry and homeless and in rehabilitation of alcoholics.

As of 2018 The Salvation Army’s outreach has been expanded to include 130 countries, and the Gospel is preached by its Officers in more than 160 languages.

History of The Salvation Army

Adam Janelli, founder of The Salvation Army in Texas

Adam Janelli

The Salvation Army in Texas was started by an Italian Naval Captain named Adam Janelli. Janelli met The Salvation Army while on a trip to Calcutta, India. There he attended one of the meetings and was so touched by the message that he became one of the most unassuming Salvation Army personalities Texas and the United States have ever known.

In February 1889, four “hallelujah lassies,” among them Staff Captain Rees, were appointed to Austin, Texas by the Provincial Headquarters. The first meeting was conducted in the old, temporary Capitol building on the corner of Congress and 11th Street. A few nights later, the first street meeting was held in front of the old Iron Front Saloon located on Congress and 6th Street where the Littlefield Building now stands.

These early workers were quite surprised at the good reception given them in Austin, as most of the other cities in the early days of its organization greeted The Salvation Army with sticks, mud and other missiles. In Austin, however, great crowds attended the outdoor meetings and cooperation was given them by the people of the city.

The popularity of this unusual organization was not universal, however, according to the following excerpt from The Austin Statesman:

“It is rumored that The Salvation Army is going to fight the city ordinance which was passed last Monday prohibiting the banging of their big drum. The law will go into effect in a couple of days and some lively times may be expected if the vociferous promulgators of salvation persist in their drum beating” [September 13, 1891].

Years later, the Mayor of Austin recalled that members of his family were among the first contacted upon the arrival of The Army. He also recalled Army marching down the streets carrying out the Founder’s command, “Go for souls and go for the worst.” He and his family remained staunch supporters.

From this small beginning The Salvation Army has grown. In 1928 construction began on a new $12,000 home on 2nd Street. In 1938 the Social Service and Family Relief Center moved to Red River Street, where clients raised vegetables and fruit to help keep the center in operation. The corps remained at the 2nd Street location. In 1962 a new social service center rose next to the corps building. In 1974 a new corps community center was built at 1001 Cumberland Road. The Adult Rehabilitation Center, which now serves 120 men at a time, began in the 1980s with three men. The Social Service Center at 8th Street and Neches opened in April 1988. This 65,000 square foot facility is a multi-population facility for 242 men, women and children, along with a dining room, shower, locker and laundry facilities, and case work and job development programs. In 2001 The Army began operating the Austin Women’s and Children’s Shelter on Tannehill Lane, a City of Austin funded facility owned by Travis County with 60 beds for single women and women with children.

The Salvation Army has served in Williamson County for decades, and in 2014 opened the Williamson County Service Center in Georgetown to better meet the needs of those in need in Williamson County. Through rent and utility assistance along with a clothing closet and food pantry, the Williamson County Service Center helps prevent homelessness for this vulnerable population. Volunteers and staff are busy throughout the year with outreach to nursing homes, delivering books and snacks to children in under served neighborhoods, ringing bells at the red kettles during the holidays, and taking children to overnight camp at Camp Hoblitzelle in North Texas.

For more than 130 years The Salvation Army of Austin has been the silent, steady partner meeting the needs of those in our community. In the shadow of skyscrapers, new condominiums and Austin’s dazzling economic success, stand hundreds of women and children, shut out of the progress and prosperity that has become synonymous with our city. The Salvation Army is the safety net that this vulnerable population relies on for basic survival services.

Through the 125th Anniversary Capital Campaign, The Salvation Army provided:

Built a new shelter for women and children – The Salvation Army Rathgeber Center – Projected completion date: August 2019. The Salvation Army is the largest provider of services to women and children experiencing homelessness in the Austin area. It is a surprise to many people that women and children are the fastest growing segment of Austin’s homeless population. An average of 250 women and children are on the wait list for emergency shelter in the Austin area every day.

Built a new corps community center and administration center. Educational and recreational programs are needed for at-risk youth in East Austin. The new Salvation Army Corps Community Center and Austin Area Command was open in October 2018 in Rathgeber Village in the Mueller Development to meet the needs of families in the neighborhood and will include youth, music, recreational and educational programs in a faith-based setting.

Renovated and expanded services at the Downtown Shelter and Social Service Center. This heavily-used facility received repair and renovation after almost three decades of constant round-the-clock use.

Today, The Salvation Army in Texas is thriving through the support of people like you. Currently, in Texas, we have more than 155 Officers; all of whom are ordained ministers; more than 1,600 employees and thousands of volunteers, all committed to furthering the mission of The Salvation Army and helping those in need in Jesus’ name.

 Learn more about The Salvation Army founders and other important figures.