What a powerful way to understand, through the insights of an art historian, one aspect of the work of archives and archivists…
My Nashville research across the last ten years has evolved from an interest in Central Church (where I was then Associate Minister) to a much, much larger scope including each congregation in the county, every para-church ministry based in Nashville, and how the larger issues within Stone-Campbell history interact with local history in one city resulting in the ministry conducted on ground, in the trenches, in the congregations. With that comes the innumerable evangelists, ministers and pastors who held forth weekly from pulpits across the city. Ambitious? Yes. Perhaps too ambitious. That may be a fair criticism, but the field is fertile and the more I survey the landscape and read the sources and uncover additional data, the more I’m convinced to stay the course.
In the last four years especially I have focused my efforts to obtain information about the smaller congregations, closed congregations, particularly congrgations which have closed in the last 40 to 50 years. My rationale for this focus is that some history here is in some cases, potentially recoverable. There are larger affluent congregations which have appearances of vitality…they are going nowhere soon. I can only hope some one among them is heads-up enough to chronicle their ongoing history and preserve the materials they produced. On the other hand are congregations which have long-ago closed and chances are good we might not ever know anything of them except a name and possibly a location (for example, Carroll Street Christian Church is absorbed into South College Street in 1920 forming Lindsley Avenue Church of Christ…no paper is known to exist from this church, and I can’t even find one photo of the old building, and there is no one remaining who has living memory of this congregation). For all practical purposes Carroll Street Church of Christ may remain as mysterious in twenty years as it does now. I’d be surprised to learn of 3 people now living in the city of Nashville who have even heard of it.
But the several congregations that closed in the 50’s-80’s (and some even in the last five years) remain accessible if only through documents and interviews. Theoretically the paper (the bulletins, meeting minutes, directories, photographs, even potentially sermon tapes) has a good chance of survival in a basement or attic or closet. Chances are still good that former members still live, or folks might be around–in Nashville or elsewhere–who grew up at these congregations. Theoretically. Potentially. Hopefully.
Yet as time marches on there are more funerals…for example in the last year I missed opportunities to speak with three elderly folks about their memories at these now-closed churches…they were too ill to speak with me and now they are gone! I did, however, speak at length with one woman in ther 90’s who I thought died long ago! She is quite alive and lucid!
So from time to time I will highlight on this blog these closed congregations…closed in the recent past…with hopes that someone somewhere might look for them (I get hits on this blog by folks looking for all sorts of things, among them are several Nashville Churches of Christ). Maybe we can stir up some interest and surface additional information.
A few days ago I posted about one such congregation, the Twelfth Avenue, North Church of Christ. I have in the queue a post about New Shops Church of Christ in West Nashville. There are more, several more.
Stay tuned, and remember, save the paper!
I have, after a long, long absence from the blogosphere, returned to my research on the Restoration Movement in Nashville.
Not too long ago I spent an afternoon at TSLA. From that afternoon of work I have a short list of names of evangelists who held forth from Christian Churches or Churches of Christ in Nashville from the later 1850’s to the later 1950’s. These men are listed in city records as ‘pastor’ or ‘minister’ for Stone-Campbell congregations. With an exception or four, nearly every one of them is only a name. I know nothing else about them. I post the list here in hopes that someone doing genealogical research online will stumble upon it. If you have any information at all about anyone on this list, please contact me at icekm [at] aol [dot] com. Some of the names below are among Christian Churches (instrumental and pro-society) and some are Church of Christ (acapella and non-society). Before about the 1890’s these distinctions do not hold much sway as the division was in process. Racial division was more pronounced, though, and had been since the war.
This from Doris Kearns Goodwin via Garrison Keillor’s “Writer’s Almanac” (with thanks to Don Haymes for passing it on to me):
To be a historian is to discover the facts in context, to discover what things mean, to lay before the reader your reconstruction of time, place, mood, to empathize even when you disagree. You read all the relevant material, you synthesize all the books, you speak to all the people you can, and then you write down what you know about the period. You feel you own it.
I look forward to speaking tonight at North Boulevard Church of Christ. We’ll be surveying the story of the Nashville Churches of Christ in the 19th century…Philip S. Fall…Church Street Christian Church…Tolbert Fanning…David Lipscomb and the mission to the emerging post-Reconstruction-era suburbs. Ultimately, we’ll talk about how our history can inform our mission. Join us at 6:30 pm in Murfreesboro.
Nashville Churches of Christ History group is open to anyone interested in the Stone-Campbell movement in Nashville and Davidson County. Here is the first post I made a few days ago:
I envision this community as a place to share common interest in the rich story of the Stone-Campbell Movement in Nashville. I am conducting research for a book which will highlight each congregation of Churches of Christ and Christian Churches from the 1820’s to the present…basically the entire movement from its beginning in our city until now. I envision this group as a place to share memories, photos, news and generate discussion and interest. Please join and contribute. Please feel free to contact me directly at icekm (at) aol (dot) com.
The group is open to all. Help spread the word and generate interest.
Mayme Hart JOHNSON. A Treasury of Tennessee Churches. Brentwood, TN: JM Productions, 1986. 142 pp.
Published during Tennessee’s “Homecoming ’86” Bicentennial celebration, Johnson’s book chronicles with text and photographs a wide sampling of houses of worship in the Volunteer State. I counted 223 churches and synagogues in this diverse compilation. Johnson shows us the comparatively primitive frontier log cabins and clapboarded frame meeting houses and the Gothic, Romanesque and Greek Revival santuaries of the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. She also includes few modern variations of these styles constructed by larger urban congregations. For each congregation Johnson has a brief text and photographer Doug Brachey has a corresponding photograph. For every building Brachey has at least one photograph. While most are black and white, many are color and he includes both interior and exterior views.
That Tennessee has so many churches poses a significant problem for authors of books such as this. A volume highlighting the congregations of even one denomination would prove to be by itself unwieldy. For that matter, a volume highlighting all the churches of Nashville alone could run into multiple volumes. What Johnson and Brachey attempt, is, I think, a wise and fair compromise. First of all they sought “outstanding examples” of the various styles of religious architecture. Secondly, they sought out the oldest example available of each style. Finally, they sought to showcase buildings associated with some famous personage in Tennessee history (e.g. Bishop McKendree or David Lipscomb).
There are nineteen Stone-Campbell congregations featured in the book:
Central Christian Church, Murfreesboro
Central Church of Christ, McMinnville
Downtown Christian Church, Johnson City
East Main Church of Christ, Murfreesboro
Fayetteville Church of Christ, Fayetteville
First Christian Church, Knoxville
Fourth Avenue Church of Christ, Franklin
Gay-Lea Christian Church, Nashville
Granny White Church of Christ, Nashville
Lindsley Avenue Church of Christ, Nashville
Madison Church of Christ, Madison
Owen’s [sic, should be Owen Chapel] Chapel Church of Christ, Brentwood
Russell Street Church of Christ, Nashville
South Harpeth Church of Christ, Linton
Union City Church of Christ, Union City
Vine Street Christian Church, Nashville
West End Church of Christ, Nashville
Woodbury Church of Christ, Woodbury
Woodmont Christian Church, Nashville
I cannot speak to the accuracy of Johnson’s research on any area other than the churches listed above. But in her brief essays (some are just a few sentences) there are some errors. For example, she has the Lindsley Avenue Church constructing a “little building in 1894, and in 1920 they purchased the building which they now occupy from a Methodist church.” Neither is true. They constructed their first building in 1887 and purchased their current building from Grace Cumberland Presbyterian Church. Grace Church was built in 1894 as a Cumberland Presbyterian Church, not a Methodist Church. Additionally, prior to 1920 the congregation was known, variously, as South College Street Christian Church, South Nashville Christian Church or South College Street Church of Christ.
Another example: Owen Chapel church is said to have been “built in 1859 on land donated by Jim C. Owen, who was baptized by James A. Harding, co-founder with David Lipscomb of David Lipscomb College in Nashville.” The impression is left that Jim Owen was baptized by Harding prior to 1859 and then donated the land for the church. James A. Harding in 1859 was eleven years old. It is also ambiguous to speak of Harding and Lipscomb founding “David Lipscomb College.” True, in a sense, but in fact, not so. Harding and Lipscomb established the Nashville Bible School in 1891 thirty plus years after Owen’s Chapel was established. Furthermore, Harding had not taught at the Nashville School for nearly twenty years…and Lipscomb was dead…before there ever existed an entity known as “David Lipscomb College.” So, one could wish for a bit more perspicuity, especially concerning the details.
Now, on Ms. Johnson’s behalf, she very likely did the best she could with the sources available to her. Further, since her research notes for the book are housed at the Tennessee State Library and Archives it is possible to check her sources. Another quick example: for Vine Street Christian Church she has a rather long (comparatively speaking…it is a column or more of text) description of the congregation. My hunch is that it was supplied by someone at Vine Street…Eva Jean Wrather is suspect No. 1. If Ms. Johnson was supplied information by a member at a congregation she likely had little reason to doubt its accuracy, especially when she had over two hundred churches on her radar screen for this book. I think its fair to point this out. I haven’t looked at her research at TSLA, but I’m interested to see what she had available to her. At the same time, it is fair to point our inaccuracies and errors of fact.
A Treasury of Tennessee Churches is out of print, but worth finding. Johnson has written clear and succint descriptions and Brachey’s photographs provide not only illustration but documentation. It may be that some of the buildings in this book are no longer standing. It is an excellent starting point for historical research and a fine model for bringing academic and architectural research to the public in an accessible manner. A volume like this for each county in Tennessee would be marvelous. It is a beautiful book which accomplishes what it intends to do: to chronicle in brief text and photograph the rich treasury of Tennessee churches.
Mike SLATE and Kathy LAUDER, eds. The Confederate Twenty-Dollar Irony and Other Essays from the Nashville Historical Newsletter. Nashville: Nashville Historical Newsletter, 2004. 72 pp.
Kathy LAUDER and Mike SLATE, eds. From Knickers to Body Stockings and Other Essays from the Nashville Historical Newsletter. Nashville: Nashville Historical Newsletter, 2006. 89 pp.
Editors Mike Slate and Kathy Lauder have compiled thirty-six short essays into two compact and well-illustrated volumes. Authored by a wide range of Nashville natives, local historians, librarians, archivists and professionals, these essays touch upon the civic, political, economic, religious, military and cultural heritage of Nashville. Each originally appeared either in the print or online version of the Nashville Historical Newsletter. The essays are brief, clear and well-written. They appear to be well-researched in the primary and secondary sources, but bibliographic information is wanting for many articles. Though uneven in form, source lists and bibliographies are provided for several entries and both volumes are well-indexed. Both volumes are richly adorned with supporting documentary, photographic and artistic illustrations, all in black and white. Subjects for the essays range from the familiar to the obscure and they touch upon virtually every aspect of Nashville history. Editors Slate and Lauder are to be commended for assembling a fine array of essays, in clear and readable form and presented in an attractive manner. There are some books which become laborious after a few dozen pages. There are other books which leave you wanting more. This pair of short collections leaves me wanting more. History of this sort…brief, accessible, responsible, interesting… certainly fills an empty niche in the literature on Nashville history. You will be pleased with them.