Twelfth Avenue Church of Christ began in 1904 as a swarm from North Spruce Street Church of Christ (also known as Eighth Avenue, North Church and earlier as North Nashville Christian Church). Numbering about a dozen, they met first in a private home, in rented space at the Presbyterian Church on 14th Avenue, North, (pictured below) and in the home of Mr. and Mrs. E. L. Luton on 14th Avenue North across the street from the Presbyterian church. The earliest preaching for this small group was from Henry Leo Boles and Samuel Parker Pittman in particular, and others in general, from Nashville Bible School. They met in the afternoons; I suspect that they may have also met at their former congregation(s) until this new work could get off the ground. I have seen several references in the Nashville newspapers of that time to ‘missions’ which met in the afternoons.
By 1906 they purchased a lot on Twelfth Avenue, North, upon it built a small frame meeting house measuring 24′ by 36′. Additions were numerous from protracted meetings held by John T. Poe of Texas and Joseph McPherson, preacher/mail carrier of Nashville. When Poe arrived and saw the little frame building, he declared: “I did not come here to hold a meeting in a sweat-box.” A tent secured, his meeting went on as planned resulting in several additions to the church. While Poe referred to it as a ‘Sweat-box’ the little fram church building was nicknamed among the members as the ‘Cracker Box’ and apparently with a tinge of nostalgia. In any case, it was soon to small to accomodate the growing congregation. By the late 1910’s the building was enlarged three times. This 1934 directory photo shows it when the seating capactity in the auditorium was 500 plus 14 Sunday School rooms.
North Nashville in the 1910’s and 1920’s was a bustling working class suburb. Described to me by one who lived there in those days as a wonderful place to live with a true community feel, it was, nonetheless, looked down upon as an undesirable section of the city. Living in, or being from ‘North Nashville’ was enough to garner a ‘bless your heart’ from residents of Nshville’s trendier and wealthier sections. Twelfth Avenue Church, however, reached out to its community, however that community was viewed by the larger city. In 1925, as the two photos below indicate, the vitality of its Bible class program was palpable. The Shaub brothers’ classes brought over 1800 for the capstone Sunday of an attendance drive.
Its membership in 1934, at the time the directory pictured here was printed, was 591 with 600 enrolled in sixteen Bible classes. In 1939 the membership numbered 650. My sources estimate the number of baptisms, prior to 1939, to have been in the ‘several thousands.’
Local mission work was always a focal point for Twelth Avenue Church. They began as a mission point…a small group who worshipped together at Eight Avenue Church then swarmed to form another congregation in their section of town. Few in this section of Nashville had cars; walking to church was common and neighborhood churches were the norm. By the later 1960’s interstates 24, 40 and 65 would alter not only Nashville’s physical landscape, but the ecclesiastical, social and racial landscapes; but that is another tale for another day.
Twelfth Avenue Church planted neighborhood congregations at 22nd Avenue, Seventh Avenue North, and Bull Run in Nashville plus congregations in Georgia and Mississippi. Unsuccessful attempts were made, prior to 1934, to plant churches on Dickerson Pike and Murfressboro Pike. The 1934 directory also notes they contributed financially to build a number of meeting houses acros the country as well as to several of the Christian colleges. Local benevolent, or ‘charity work’, was also a mainstay of their day-to-day ministry.
It appears that by March 1, 1934 J. W. Brents became the first located minister at Twelfth Avenue. It is unclear how long he preached there, but the 12th Ave. sketch (authored by Boles) in the December 1939 special Nashville issue of Gospel Advocate does not mention him. Rather, he says, “H. Leo Boles has preached for the congregation since its beginning and has served as an elder for many years.”
By the middle to late 1950’s the frame building was given a brick facade, the steeple removed, air-conditioned and a foyer added with a stone facade. Even so, the membership by then had begun its decline. By 1975 when 12th Avenue Church of Christ closed there were only, ironically, about a dozen members. The old 12th Avenue building is now occupied by Abyssinia Missioanry Baptist Church. My occasional efforts to contact them, over the last three years, has always proved unsuccessful. I’d like to photograph the interior of the building.
The Twelfth Avenews apparently began weekly publication in 1939. Should anyone have copies of this bulletin, or know of any phone calls or emails I should make to obtain copies, please contact me at : icekm [at] aol [dot] com. If the story of the ministry of this congregation is to be at all recovered, it will be through the pages of this bulletin and through interviews with the few surviving members…and they are few. If records from this congregation can be discovered, they will shed light on the life of the congregation served as elder by one of Nashville’s most influential church and educational leaders of the early 20th century: Henry Leo Boles. It will also shed light on the rise and decline of one of the strongest, in its hey day, congregations among Churches of Christ in Nashville, arguably the strongest and most aggressive in North Nashville. If…
H. Leo Boles, “Twelfth Avenue Church” Gospel Advocate, December 7, 1939.
Directory. Twelfth Avenue Church of Christ, Nashville, TN. March 1, 1934.
Interview, Miss Etha Green, September 2012, Nashville, TN.