Nashville Churches of Christ in 1885

I have at hand Year-Book of the Disciples of Christ, Their Membership, Missions, Ministry, Educational and Other Institutions. Cincinnati: General Christian Missionary Convention, 1885.

This was not the first attempt to gather statistics, but we may regard as the first of its kind and scope.  Earlier attempts did quite well to list preachers and names of congregations. The 1885 Yearbook lists congregations in 38 American states and territories plus Canada, Great Britain, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Australia, New Zealand and Tasmania.  Under each state, territory or country, the congregations are listed in nearly alphabetical order by the name of the church.  At least all the names starting with the same letter are grouped together.  Not truly alphabetical, but close.  Also included are lists of preachers and descriptions of mission activity, higher educational institutions and literary output.

What sets the 1885 book apart from its sporadic predecessors is that for each congregation it also provides names of elders, Post Office [the closest thing in 1885 to an address as we know it], the frequency of preaching [tri-monthly, monthly, semi-monthly, weekly, irregular or no data provided], number of members, number of Sunday School pupils, number of officers and teachers [presumably within the Sunday School arrangement], value of church property, the amount raised in 1883 for local work, the amount raised in 1883 for missions, and the name of the regular preacher in 1884.

At 159 pages the document is by a large margin the largest and broadest such directory undertaken thus far among the Stone-Campbell movement.  However, it has significant limitations.  The compiler, evidently Robert Moffett of Cleveland, Ohio, states in the first sentence of the General Introduction that “It can not be too forcibly enjoined on all who examine this Year-Book, that no pretensions to completeness are made for it.  On the contrary, it is expressly claimed that its statistics are very incomplete.”  He cites the organizing committee’s utter lack of financial resources and serious disorganization as factors mitigating against a fuller or more accurate compilation.  As a ” work of purely voluntary goodwillI…” Moffett states, “it may well be regarded as surprising that they have accomplished so much.”

The committee relied upon the personal-informational network put in place by advocates of missionary societies to gather their statistics: “That only in States having well-established and vigorous State organizations–such as Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia–has it been possible to obtain even approximately full lists of the churches; and much less their statistics.”  In short, the advocates of the Society kept track of the churches in their area.  Some states, such as Kentucky, Georgia, Indiana, Texas and Arkansas, “there has not been the same pains taken by the State organizations to gather statistics.”  Finally, “in other quarters–such as Tennessee and the majority of the Southern and far Western states and Territories–they have been obliged to depend on individual aid–generally on such preachers as were known to them.  Hence their work must be regarded as merely a beginning.”

There are 264 Tennessee congregations listed.  None of those in Nashville are among this number.  Not Church Street or Second Christian downtown nor Woodland Street in East Nashville.  Outlying county congregations like South Harpeth, Philippi, and on out to Lavergne, Franklin and Owen Chapel are also missing.  Tucker’s Crossroads or Bethlehem in Wilson County is there, along with Bush’s Chapel in Sumner County up on the ridge and Sycamore over in Cheatham County.  But no Nashville congregations, not a one of them.

The list of preachers for Tennessee was hastily added late, after the majority of preachers were compiled into the main listing.  Of the 2620 preachers listed, here are those with Nashville addresses: R. Lin Cave [who was at Church Street in downtown], J. P. Grigg [who preached all over but chiefly in 1885 at the infant North Nashville, or 8th Avenue North congregation], David Lipscomb [a member at Church Street in 1885], William Lipscomb [listed in Brentwood, but still very close], W. J. Loos [who was at Woodland Street in East Nashville as a regular preacher], J. C. McQuiddy {who was at the infant Foster Street mission in North Edgefield], a Rawlings [who knows?], E. G. Sewell {an elder at Woodland Street], Rice Sewell [listed as Donleson, in Davidson County], and E. S. B. Waldron [listed as Lavergne, on the Davidson/Rutherford county line].  No other Tennessee city has as many resident preachers as Nashville.  One one African-American preacher was listed in Tennessee, H. Hankal in East Tennessee.

The Block River [could be Black River] church in Connersville, reported 250 members with no pupils in Sunday School; they did not report the amount spent in local or mission work. They heard preaching monthly by Joseph Hill.

The Catby’s Creek [almost surely the Cathey’s Creek] church, at Isom’s Store, reported monthly preaching by T. I. Brooks.  A congregation of 300 members, they had 25 Sunday School pupils, taught by four teachers.  With property valued at $2000, this congregation spent $100 for local work and $40 for mission work in 1883.

The McMinnville congregation, meeting weekly for preaching by George W. Sweeney, had 350 members, 125 in a Sunday School taught by five teachers.  Their property was valued at $5000.  They spent $2500 at home and $100 for mission work in 1883.  I have a neat old photograph of the McMinnville meetinghouse.  It reads ‘Church of God’ in the stone tablet high above the front door.  I will have to post it here sometime.

There are a few other congregations reporting memberships between 100-200, but in Tennessee, the Block river, Cathey’s Creek and McMinnville are the largest as recorded in the 1885 Year-Book.  The McMinnville congregation tied with Fayetteville in terms of the value of church property ($5000) and with the Memphis congregation for the amount spent in local work ($2500).  A few other churches show property valued above $1000, but McMinnville and Memphis are far and away the leaders in expenditures, as reported in this book.

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A strategy for congregational research

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, Nashville, TN

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.

Twelfth Avenue North, 5.26.10 5

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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.

,Twelfth Avenue Directory photo p1

Twelfth Avenue Directory cover

Twelfth Avnue Directory.1

Twelfth Avnue Directory.2

Twelfth Avnue Directory.3

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.

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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.”
Twelfth Avenue Adult Class 1950s

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.

Twelfth Avenue North, 5.26.10 1

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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…

Twelfth Avenews Bulletin.1

Twelfth Avenews Bulletin.2

Sources:

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.

Nashville Churches of Christ History Facebook group

Nashville Churches of Christ History group is open to anyone interested in the history of the Stone-Campbell Movement in Nashville and Davidson County, Tennessee. When I began the group about three years ago I said this:

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 1810’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.

Since readership for this blog is significantly higher now than it was in 2010, let me offer another invitation.  The group is open to all. Help spread the word and generate interest. (astogetherwestandandsing…)

Name Authority for Nashville, Tennessee Stone-Campbell Congregations

Name Authority for Nashville Tennessee Stone-Campbell Congregations, September 2012

Click above to download a document listing 319 variants of time-, place- and character-names for the 227 known congregations of the Stone-Campbell movement in Nashville and Davidson County, Tennessee from 1812 to September 2012.

To my knowledge my work in this area is the only such compilation, and therefore, the most complete.  The initial publication of the list to this blog was in May 2010 as a first step in my research toward a book on the Restoration Movement in Nashville.  I blogged then:

With over 200 congregations in this county, the congregational research alone will take years, perhaps the remainder of my life.  If I live to be 100 I may not finish even a rudimentary survey.  It may be too much:  too many congregations, too many preachers, too much ‘story’ to tell.

But this is where I am at the present.  I publish the list here to generate interest, additions, subtractions, corrections and clarifications.  Look it over and if I need to make changes, please let me know.

While congregational history is only one aspect of this project, this is where it all played out…on the ground in the congregations on a weekly basis.  Few congregations have attempted more than a list of preachers or a narrative of the expansion of the church building.  What I propose, as I wrote above, may be too much…too far to the other extreme.  But that fact changes not one whit the necessity of it being done.

The story of these churches in Nashville needs to be told.  I ask for your help in telling it.  look over my list; I solicit your critique. Contact me at icekm [at] aol [dot] com.

(The first version of the name authority, from May 2010, can be found here.)

Religious Intelligence from 1882 Nashville

Nashville’s Daily American listed details of Sunday church services, provided such notices were received by 7pm Saturday evening.  The 25 June 1882 “Religious Intelligence” column lists two Christian Churches:

Elder R. L. Cave will preach at 11 A. M. in the Church-street Christian Church.

J. H. Jackson, of the North Nashville Christian Church, Barracks school-house, will preach to-day, at 11 A. M. and         8 P. M. Morning subject: “Does the Bible Teach the Idea of Endless Punishment?”  At night, subject: “The Foundation of the Church.”

This item is helpful since the Nashville city directory for 1882 knows nothing of a North Nashville Christian Church.  Rather, Church Street Church and Woodland Street Church (Elders R. L. Cave and E. G. Sewell pastors, respectively) are the white congregations and Second Church, Rev. H. S. Berry, pastor, is the sole “Colored” Christian Church in the book.  The same holds true for 1883, -4, and -5.  In 1886 Nashville City Directory lists for the first time North Nashville Christian Church, Elder J. P. Grigg, pastor.  By the following year the first meetinghouse for this congregation is built; its replacement (below) came in 1942 on the same lot.

I suspect further evidence may confirm my hypothesis that the congregation met in ‘fits and starts’ until elders and deacons were appointed and regular weekly assemblies were maintained for the purpose of taking the Lord’s Supper.  Here is one piece of evidence that they were meeting as early as the summer of 1882.  I also glean from this Intelligence the name of the school house (former Union Army barracks) where early services were conducted.  Now I can chase down the location of this school house, maybe even locate a photograph of it.  Discovery leads to discovery; questions beget questions, leads go on and on.

It is admittedly small piece of information yet every little bit helps.  I also have a name, albeit otherwise unknown to me, but I have a name.  J. H. Jackson, who are you, whence, whither…?  And I have two sermon titles.  I don’t have sermon mansuscripts, I don’t even have outlines.  I have titles and that is more than I had this time last week.  Before this clipping my assumption was that, according to other sources (like Churches of Today, vol. 1:233), the congregation began in 1887.  I don’t doubt it.  At the same time it began earlier; at least it appears to have existed in a missional form five years before it “began.”  Again, I think the explanation lies in the (likely I think) ordination of elders and deacons in (about) 1887 when the first building is completed…thus a fully organized congregation.  This happened at South Nashville…they were basically a mission for thirty years before elders and deacons were set apart which coincided with the completion of the first meetinghouse.

All this to say you go with what you have, form hypotheses, test and weigh them against new discoveries, reform your hypothesis, and keep looking.  Always pay attention to the details.