In 1935, the Davidians established the original Mount Carmel Center about two miles outside of the city of Waco. Victor T. Houteff compiled his religious teachings and prophecy into a book called The Shepherd’s Rod, and when he gathered a small following in California, the Seventh-Day Adventist Church proclaimed him a heretic. In response, he and the thirty-seven followers founded the Davidian Church and settled the Mount Carmel site.Houteff and the Davidians believed God called them to leave California, buy this parcel of land, and start their new commune in Waco, Texas.
The 189 acres the Davidians bought contained a river, forest area, and a clearing where houses and farms could be built. The main church and administration building housed Houteff, the administration of the church, and the publishing center so that Houteff could continue to publish new editions of The Shepherd’s Rod. A few other houses served as infirmaries, dispensaries, and living quarters because this community was designed to be self-sustaining. One of the main breaking points with the Adventist Church was that the Davidians believed that contact with the modern world was harmful for those who believed in Jesus’ imminent coming. In order to cope with this, the Davidians established a commune where they could heal their own sick, teach their own children, run their own community, and farm their own crops, selling the surplus to visitors for any cash they needed.
The Davidian Church flourished at Mount Carmel, even thriving during the Great Depression due to the excess farmed crops which they sold at a farmers' market open to the public. They also modernized their commune by constructing water and sewage systems, adding electricity and telephone connections. In 1940, the Davidians expanded the compound to 375 acres by buying up property to the west. The population also grew from the original thirty-seven in 1935 to sixty-four residents in 1940.
During the 1940s and into the 1950s, internal problems arose within the Davidians. Houteff predicted that the Second Coming of Christ would occur within one year, but that had not happened. It was difficult to recruit new members and keep old members’ faith strong when his prophecy had not been fulfilled. The population in 1950 had increased to about ninety, but it was still at that level in 1955 when Houteff died.
Houteff’s death was a problem in itself because he had preached to his parishioners that those who followed the word of The Shepherd’s Rod could not die, but would live eternally in a Davidic Kingdom on Earth. Houteff’s death broke up the church and scattered followers away from Mount Carmel because they no longer had faith in his prophecies. After her husband's death, Florence Houteff decided that the Davidian Church was too close to the city of Waco and needed a rejuvenation, and so she moved the church to the modern location about ten miles east of Waco near Elk, Texas.
The seeds of discontent sown at Old Mount Carmel continued, splintering the Davidians into groups such as the Branch Davidians, leading to the infamous government siege on New Mount Carmel. Today, the history of the Davidians is vastly misunderstood and confused with that of the Branch Davidians. In 1991, the Davidians repurchased a portion of their original land in order to establish a press to continue spreading Houteff’s message. Though much of the land around the Mount Carmel Center has been developed into commercial buildings and shops, one can still see the Davidians’ first compound and walk among the Davidians’ former houses.