7 December 1939 Gospel Advocate “Nashville Special”
This special issue of Gospel Advocate highlights with historical sketches and photographs several dozen Churches of Christ in Nashville, Tennessee, the City of David (Lipscomb). In view of an upcoming lecture at Lipscomb University (I’m co-presenting with Christopher Cotten, John Mark Hicks and Jeremy Sweets), this will be the first of several daily posts of the photographs from that issue. From now until the end of June I will post one photo daily. Look for the portraits of Fall, Fanning, Sewell, McQuiddy and Harding tomorrow and the meetinghouses in alphabetical order beginning 23 May until 30 June 2013, d.v. …. You are invited to our sessions Monday July 1 and Tuesday July 2. See the Summer Celebration schedule for time and place. Please come, I’d like to meet and talk with you.
[B. C. Goodpasture], “How Special Was Prepared”, page 1166:
In collecting the material for the special number of the Gospel Advocate we have sought a short history and a picture of the meetinghouse of every congregation in what might be called the Nashville district. There are some congregations not within the city limits which have been so vitally related to the work in the city that it was thought proper to include them. To this end each congregation was asked by telephone or letter to supply a sketch of its work and a good picture of its meetinghouse. We are grateful that most of the congregations complied with our request, but regret that some did not. Except where otherwise stated, we have used only the material that was sent in to us. Where the type of meetinghouse and of picture permitted, the cuts are uniform in size.—EDITOR.
H. Leo Boles, “General History of the Church in Nashville,” 1146-1148. Included in this brief essay are portraits of Philip Slater Fall, Tolbert Fanning, Elisha Granville Sewell, Jephthah Clayton McQuiddy and James Alexander Harding. David Lipscomb’s portrait graces the front cover. The bulk of the issue are the sketches and photos of the congregations and their meetinghouses. Boles’ task is to introduce the issue with a lead-off broad historical resume.
List of Congregations, pages 1148-1167
Listed below, in the order of appearance, are the congregations featured; those without an accompanying photograph marked with an asterisk [*]. I cannot discern an organizing principle, if there was one, governing the listing of the congregations. For their relative locations consult the map on the back cover.
Lindsley Avenue Church
Twelfth Avenue Church
Old Hickory Church
Charlotte Avenue Church
Grandview Heights Church
Riverside Drive Church
Shelby Avenue Church
Joseph Avenue Church
Grace Avenue Church
Park Avenue Church
Park Circle Church
Lawrence Avenue Church
David Lipscomb College Church
Acklen Avenue Church
Chapel Avenue Church
Eleventh Street Church
Reid Avenue Church
Cedar Grove Church
Trinity Lane Church
Russell Street Church
Third and Taylor Church
Mead’s Chapel Church
Highland Avenue Church
Fifth Street Church
Seventh Avenue Church
Whites Creek Church
Fanning School and Church
Lischey Avenue Church
New Shops Church*
Neely’s Bend Church*
W. E. Brightwell, “Record Not Complete”, pages 1166-1167:
“Some congregations failed to provide a picture of their building; some prepared something, but there was a slip-up in delivery.” Brightwell briefly recalls details about Green Street, Eighth Street [Eight Avenue, North], Jo Johnston, Twenty-Second Avenue, Otter Creek, and Reid Avenue. Within Brightwell’s note are photographs of the Home for the Aged (overseen by the Chapel Avenue Church), Jackson Park Church and Rains Avenue Church. He closes by asking, “What became of the sketches for Jackson Park and Rains Avenue congregations? Gorman Avenue, Richland Creek, Edenwold, Fourth Avenue, South, Pennsylvania Avenue, Ivy Point, Dickerson Road, and possibly others within the area of Greater Nashville, failed to report, or something happened that their report did not arrive in time.”
Given Brightwell’s note, I thought it worthwhile to discern which congregations were absent. It became readily apparent that there was no mention, at all, of any African-American congregation or preacher in the issue. There is a list of six “Colored Churches” on the rear-cover map.
If George Philip Bowser’s 1942 directory is any indication, Nashville was as much “Jerusalem” for African-American churches of Christ as it was for whites. In 1942 Nashville claimed six black Churches of Christ, the same as are listed on the rear cover of this ‘Nashville Special.’ No other city in America at that time, known to Bowser at least, had as many black congregations or as many members among them. Were Bowser to describe these congregations, their establishment and growth and the great men and women who built and nurtured them, he might use Henry Leo Boles’ words which opens this ‘Nashville Special’: “Nashville, Tenn., has been called the modern Jerusalem. There are more churches of Christ in this city than in any other city of the world. The church in Nashville, like the church in Jerusalem, had a small beginning, but it has grown to great proportions.” If not, at least his data would support the claim nonetheless.
The rear cover, with map, lists sixty-five congregations, fifty-nine [white] and six “colored.”
The congregations listed below have neither photo nor sketch in the issue proper:
Buford’s Chapel [this is an earlier name for Whites Creek church listed above]
Fourteenth and Jackson
Twenty-Sixth and Jefferson
Sixth and Ramsey
Fairfield and Green
Neither on this map nor inside are:
Chapel Hill (possibly a variant name for Little Marrowbone)
All of these are in Davidson County, reasonably within the bounds of Goodpasture’s “Nashville district” or Brightwell’s “Greater Nashville.”
The 1939 City Directory lists a Sanctified Church of Christ at 408 16th Avenue, North and a Metropolitan Church of Christ on East Hill as a ‘Colored’ congregation. The same directory lists Emanuel Church of Christ which I have confirmed is not a Stone-Campbell congregation. Sanctified is entirely new to me; there is an outside chance it could be the predecessor to the Fifteenth Avenue, North congregation (est. 1955 according to the 2012 Churches of Christ in the United States). If so then it is a black congregation…15th Ave is a plant from Jefferson or Jackson Street. Metropolitan Church is likewise new to me.
Remember, check back daily for a new photograph. Comments are welcome for memories, suggestions, etc. Should you like to contact me privately, do so at icekm [at] aol [dot] com. Should you have or know someone who has photographs, directories, bulletins or other paper from any of these congregations, please contact me.
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!
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.