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!

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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

Twelfth Avenue North, 5.26.10 7

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…)

Two Cane Ridge Revival items, 1852 and 1889

A few days ago I blogged James Trader’s want-list for the archives at Cane Ridge.  Two items on the list are available on Google Books.  I am pleased to learn of them as I do not recall seeing reference to either.  Here are two points in the history of memory of this momentous event.

First, the Magazine of Western History, December 1889 issue has this long article by Isaac Smucker:

Second, Henry Howe, Historical Collections of the Great West in 2 vols.  Vol. 1 notes the exercises; vol. 2 notes Cane Ridge in particular.

From vol. 1, pp. 189-190:

Volume 2, pages 215ff

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.)

Barton W. Stone preaches at Spring Hill Presbyterian Church, Nashville, September 1796

Part fifth (and final installment), a continuation from Barton Stone preaches at Mansker’s Station, August-September 1796, part 2:

My colleague, J. [John] Anderson, having preached through the settlements of West Tennessee, determined to visit Kentucky.  We had our last appointment in father Thomas Caraighead’s congregation, in which neighborhood we had often preached.  As we expected a large and intelligent audience, we endeavored to prepare discourses suitable to the occasion.  My companion, Anderson, first rose to preach from these words: “Without holiness no man shall see the Lord.”  I shall never forget his exordium, which, in fact, was also his peroration.  Holiness, said he, is a moral quality–he paused, having forgotten all his studied discourse.  Confused, he turned with staring eyes to address the other side of his audience, and repeated with emphasis–Holiness is a moral quality–and after a few incoherent words, he paused again, and sat down.  Astonished at the failure of my bnrother, I arose and prached.  He declared to me afterwards, that every idea had forsaken him; that he veiwed it as from God, to humble his pride; as he had expected to make a brilliant display of talent to that assembly.  I never remembered a sermon better, and to e it has been very profitable; for from the hint given, I was led to more correct views of the doctrines of original sin, and of regeneration.

Thomas Craighead was the first Presbyterian minister in the Cumberland settlements, having arrvied in 1785 from Kentucky.  He settled on the northern bluff overlooking the Cumberland River at the Madison/Opryland/Briley Parkway part of town.  Haysboro, as it was known then, was for a time a rival settlement to Nashborough down the river a bend or two.  Nashville eventually eclipsed the other hamlets, but the little stone church/school built there left an indelible impression on the larger community.  Opened on 25 September 1786, Davidson Academy was not only the first school in the Cumberland settlements but ancestor to the University of Nashville and Peabody College.  The stone building served as meetinghouse for Spring Hill Presbyterian Church, of which Craighead was pastor.  It was here that Stone held forth in the early autumn 1796.

En route to and from work each day I pass by the old Craighead homesite.  For locals, it was located under the Home Depot complex at the intersection of Briley and Gallatin Road opposite the cemeteries as you come into (or leave) Madison.  For a brief article about the home and its demise, click here.  There stood the Craighead place and there stood the little school which helped initiate a reputation Nashville enjoys to this hour: Athens of the South.

Spring Hill Presbyterian Church site, Nashville

Spring Hill Presbyterian Church site marker, Nashville

Spring Hill Presbyterian Church site looking across Gallatin Road/Briley Parkway intersection toward Craighead home site, Nashville

Spring Hill Presbyterian Church graveyard, Thomas Craighead grave looking toward church site. The grave is to the right of the church site.

Spring Hill Presbyterian Church, Thomas Craighead marker

Spring Hill Presbyterian Church, Thomas Craighead marker closeup 1

Spring Hill Presbyterian Church, Thomas Craighead marker close up 2

I wonder if Margaret Brown, then about age 96, was in attendance when Barton Stone preached at Spring Hill Presbyterian Church?

Spring Hill Presbyterian Church, Margaret Brown marker, age 100

Perhaps also in attendance was Dr. William McWhirter. The James Robertson party was among the first groups to move into Nashville. They constructed Fort Nashboro in the winter/spring of 1780. The Cumberland Compact was the first governmental document drafted and signed in Middle Tennessee.

Spring Hill Presbyterian Church, William McWhirter marker, signer of Cumberland Compact