The History of First Presbyterian
First Presbyterian Church
Harbert Lee Rice Alexander, Sr.
WITH SPECIAL THANKS TO
W. Ed Terry, Martha Hill and Dolly Mathis
for historical research
and to Regina Barnhill and Norma Smith
for typing and typesetting
First Presbyterian Church. downtown Jackson.
corner of Main and Church Streets. 1832-1912
THE FIRST CONGREGATION
Tennessee became a state in June of 1796, the sixteenth state to join the Union. It was the first state to be created out of government territory. West Tennessee was known as the “Western District” or the “Jackson Purchase” Even though Tennessee had achieved statehood, no settlers would come into the area until a treaty was signed with the Chickasaw Indians in 1818. Madison County was formed in 1821 in the shape of a perfect square with twenty-five miles in length on each side, giving it an area of six hundred twenty-five square miles.
In 1819 the first settlement was made east of Jackson at Cotton Gin Grove. The first community was located on Cotton Grove Road near today’s Lake Graham. The first settlers were John Hargrove, Roderick and Duncan McIver and their families. Later that year John Bradberry settled near Spring Creek. In 1820 Adam Rankin Alexander, James Porter, James Born and William Brown made a settlement west of Jackson on the Forked Deer River. Adam Alexander was a surveyor of the United States Range Survey and Registrar of the Land Office of this section. The settlement was called Alexandria.
In April of 1822 fifty-four acres of land were purchased for the establishment of the county seat. The location that was selected is the site of today’s downtown Jackson. It was selected because it sat between the settlements of Alexandria and Cotton Gin Grove. This area was platted off into one hundred four lots with space reserved for a courthouse and a jail. Sales of the lots began on August 1st and 2nd, 1822, and continued for about a week. Prices on the lots ranged from $31.00 to $503 .00. When all of the lots were sold, the city realized $19,202.00. The proposed name of the city was Alexandria. However, because there was another Tennessee community with that name, the city was named Jackson on August 17, 1822. The city was named for Andrew Jackson, later to become the seventh President of the United States. Jackson’s wife, Rachel, had a sister, Jane Donelson Hays, who was one of Jackson’s first settlers. Mrs. Hays had two sons and four daughters, who became prominent citizens here. Thus, because Andrew Jackson had two nephews and four nieces who lived here, the city was appropriately named. Dr. William Edward Butler, often called the father of Jackson, because of his efforts in establishing the town, married one of the nieces. Colonel Robert I. Chester, Jackson’s first postmaster, married another. Butler established a race track near the site of today’s Chamber of Commerce, where Andrew Jackson raced his horses.
Within two years a log courthouse was built at a cost of $135.00. A jail costing $95.00 was also built. Two newspapers, The Pioneer and The Gazette were begun. Two schools started, the Jackson Male Academy and The Jackson Female Academy. Other early establishments included a Masonic lodge, two taverns, two drug stores, a cabinet maker and a saddle, harness and trunk maker. Twenty-two lawyers opened their doors for practice! By 1823 laws were passed that provided fines of $20.00 for racing horses or discharging firearms in town. Fastening matches on dogs or other animals called for a fine of $5 .00! By 1823 there were nine hundred people living in Jackson.
THE FIRST CHURCH
Though Jackson was well on its way to becoming a city, no churches had been established. Minutes of the Presbytery of West Tennessee, dated September 25, 1823, reflected that a Presbyterian congregation had been organized. The minutes read as follows: “The following congregations have been organized since our last reports – Bethelgreen, St. Marks, Tuscumbia (Alabama), Jackson, New Providence and Mt. Pleasant.” This is the first mention of a Presbyterian congregation in Jackson and clearly shows that a church had been organized here, sometime before the date in the report. This report established the First Presbyterian Church as Jackson’s oldest church, and the oldest standing church in the Memphis Presbytery. It would be three more years before the Methodists established a congregation here in 1826.
Apparently that first group of Presbyterians met at various places including the courthouse for its first nine years, alternating meeting days with Methodists and Baptists. One early Methodist missionary reported that he had three enemies to fight here – the wilderness, the devil and the Scotch Presbyterians!
Evidently the organization was not complete, as a Jackson newspaper, The Gazette, noted on June 26, 1824, that Reverend Mr. John Gillespie will attend at the Jackson Male Academy for the purpose of establishing a Presbyterian Church. In January of 1825 Reverend Mr. Hare from Kentucky spent a week preaching in Jackson at the Male Academy and organized a Presbyterian church while he was here. He officiated at the marriage of Colonel Robert I. Chester and Elizabeth Hays, niece of Rachel and Andrew Jackson. Reverend J. W. Hall served as the supply minister for Jackson, New Providence and Mt. Pleasant for several years.
Even though the congregation had been organized in 1823, it would be nine years before they called their first pastor, Dr. Alexander Augustus Campbell. A native of Amherst, Virginia, Dr. Campbell was born on December 30, 1779. In his early life he studied medicine in Virginia and Pennsylvania. In 1811, he graduated from medical school. As a child Campbell was deeply interested in religion, but became an atheist while studying to become a doctor. Shortly after his graduation, he was struck by yellow fever. His case was pronounced hopeless and he was left to die. Praying that if there was a God, he manifest himself and permit him to live, and if there was such a God, he would serve him for the rest of his life. Campbell lived, made a public profession of his faith, and as a Christian physician, began the practice of medicine. In 1817, he moved to Huntsville, Alabama. Having grown in Christian grace, he determined to devote himself to preaching the gospel. He was licensed to preach in 1822 and in 1823 h6 was ordained as a Presbyterian minister by the Presbytery of North Alabama as an evangelist. He continued to live in Alabama for the next seven years, preaching and practicing medicine until he moved to Haywood County in 1830. Here he continued his dual ministry, preaching and organizing churches, while he healed settlers and Indians alike. By the autumn of 1832, the Presbyterian Congregation in Jackson had grown strong enough to call him as their pastor. Shortly thereafter, he donated a lot on the northeast corner of Main and Church Streets, fronting on Church, for the building of the first church.
Among the members of the building committee, appointed by Dr. Campbell , J. W. Campbell, Jackson’s first banker, J. H. Mahon, Phillip Warlick, N. F. Warlick, James Greer, and Dr. William E. Butler, Jackson’s most prominent citizen. The church was a large brick building painted gray and entered by two doors into a vestibule. The pulpit was simple but elegant and stood in front of one straight aisle. The organ and the choir were on a slightly raised platform to the left of the pulpit. Pews and pulpit alike were of a colonial type with a door at the end of the pew. There were slave galleries, but these were later tom down and a rear gallery was reserved for Negroes. A bell was hung in the tower on top of the church building. The church would remain in this form until it was remodeled in 1881. Dr. Campbell continued as its minister until his death in 1846.
James Greer is listed as the first elder of the church. Other first elders of the church were J. H. Mahon, R. H. Cartmell, Phillip Warlick, Dr. Butler, and J. W. Campbell. Shortly thereafter Colonel Robert I. Chester became an elder. Thus, among those early elders, two of them, Butler and Chester were married to nieces of Andrew Jackson and Rachel Jackson. With members like this, the church had some of Jackson’s most prominent citizens as members.
THE CHURCH MOVES ON
Following the death of Dr. Campbell, Reverend Colin McKinney was called as the church’s second pastor. A native of Casey County, Kentucky, he was a graduate of Centre College and Miami University of Oxford, Ohio. After being licensed to preach in 1838, he filled several pastorates in the North and in the South. While serving as a pastor in Natchez, Mississippi, in 1846, he accepted the call to come to Jackson. Rev. McKinney was of Scotch ancestry, tall and slender and very spiritual as well as intellectual. He preached in Jackson for thirteen years before moving to Perryville, Kentucky, where he served as the pastor of a Presbyterian church and as the head of a female college. His last pastorate was in Ripley, Tennessee, where he was serving at the time of his death in 1873. His funeral was conducted at the Presbyterian church here in Jackson, and he was buried in Riverside Cemetery.
STRUGGLES IN FEDERAL OCCUPIED JACKSON
The aggregate membership of the Western District Presbytery in 1859 was 998, twenty-five of whom were African American. Membership of some of the larger churches were Denmark 137, Concord 116, Jackson 99 and Brownsville, 92. Following the pastorate of Colin McKinney, Rev. E. C. Trimble accepted the church’s call to become their third pastor. Trimble would be the first of two pastors called to lead the church during the difficult years of the Civil War. Trimble served from August 7, 1859, to July 12, 1863, leaving to accept a call in Seymore, Illinois. Trimble’s departure from Jackson to a northern state shows the strain of a divided nation. Following the Confederate loss at the Battle of Fort Donelson, West Tennessee was open to Federal occupation. Federal troops occupied Jackson for one year from June 6, 1862, to June 6, 1863. Shortly after the Federal soldiers left Jackson, Trimble accepted a call to move to Illinois. The strain of life in occupied Jackson is reflected in excerpts from the diary of Robert Cartmell, one of our founding elders.
February 23, 1863: There is nothing left save the land and a few out buildings. Soon the place will be cleared of the timber. Great as the annoyance has been and loss of property, the loss of those near and dear is greater. How cruel is war! How long is it to last, when will Jackson say peacel Where can we look but to heaven to stop this unnatural cruel war.
March 1, 1863: First Sunday, rode to town and attended Presbyterian church. Mr. Trimble preached as he very nearly always does, a good sermon. A beautiful day. A day to walk forth in the woods and meditate, if it were not for the dark clouds by which the political sky is darkened.
March 15, 1863: Mary Jane and myself walked to preaching this morning. Mr. Trimble preached to a house filled mostly with Federals.
Following the departure of Reverend Trimble to Illinois, the church called Reverend Langdon Neely as its pastor. A native of Mecklenburg, North Carolina, he moved 10 Denmark, Tennessee with his parents in 1833. As a graduate of the Danville Theological Seminary in Kentucky, he was licensed to preach by the Presbytery of the Western District in 1857. Prior to his call to Jackson, he preached at the Hopewell Church in Oxford, Mississippi. In 1858, he was stricken with paralysis, and was an invalid for many months. Despite this infirmity, he served as the pastor for the First Presbyterian Church from 1863 to 1865. By 1877, he was fully recovered and was ordained as an evangelist. He died in 1888, while serving as pastor of the Union Church near Denmark, and is buried in the Denmark Cemetery.
In our 19th century church the pastors and the elders formed the ruling body as they do today. But it appears from the record that they were a little more strict in the exercise of their authority than is the rule today. Here are examples as recorded by Mr. John L. H. Tomlin, Clerk of the Session from January 1865 on for many years.
August 3, 1870: Committee consisting of Robert I. Chester and G. G. Hogsett was appointed to visit (a member) who has absented himself from the church, and call upon him to show cause why he has so acted.
September 30, l872: It is recorded under this date that one of the members voluntarily appeared before the Session and confessed to have been guilty of intemperance, for which he expressed sorrow and asked forgiveness . The Session joined with him in prayer and admonished him to be more prudent and circumspect in the future.
April 2, 1876: a committee consisting of the Pastor (Rev. E. McNair), L. Murrell and Don Cameron were appointed to revise the roll of members and report any whom they may deem as subjects for discipline. (This committee reported four names on October 6, 1876.)
Shortly after Federal troops left Jackson in 1863, Fielding Hurst, a Yankee colonel from Bethel Springs, burned the town. When Confederate veterans returned home in 1865, Jackson and Madison County were in a sad condition. A diary of the period reflects “that from Lafayette to Baltimore Street, and from Shannon to Market had been burned; the block east of the courthouse was in blackened ruins, while the blocks to the north were only dilapidated brick houses mostly vacant. The Baptist and Methodist churches were in a sad state of repair. Tumbled down one-story frame shanties and blackened or charred walls were all around. Hogs and goats were the chief occupants of the streets. Few stores were open for business and these had little goods in stock.” Fifteen years later it was reported that the courthouse was dilapidated to the last degree and the home of a herd of goats. It was in this atmosphere of reconstruction that the church called Dr. Evander McNair as the next pastor. A native of Robertson County, North Carolina, he came from a long line of Presbyterian Preachers and elders. Having graduated from the Danville Theological Seminary, he was licensed to preach by the Transylvania Presbytery in 1860. His first pastorate was in Pointe Coupee Parish, Louisiana. When the war broke out, he was made Chaplain of the 24th North Carolina Infantry, Stonewall Jackson Division. At the battle of Fredricksburg his horse was shot from under him, falling on him and disabling him for the rest of the war. Despite his injury, he continued to serve as a Confederate chaplain as his injury allowed. Following his call to Jackson, in 1865, he served as the pastor for fourteen years. He was greatly loved by the Jackson congregation. Some of the church members remembered that his fervent prayers were a sermon within themselves.
After leaving Jackson he served as a pastor in Liberty, Missouri. He later served as the President of the Upper Missouri College at Lawson, Missouri. In his later years he preached for fourteen years in Monroe City, Missouri, even though he was blind for the last six years!
When Dr. McNair left for Missouri, Dr. Jerre Witherspoon accepted the call to become the next pastor. A native of Aberdeen, Mississippi, he graduated from the University of Mississippi in 1872. Three years later he completed his theological training at the Seminary at Columbia, South Carolina. Prior to coming to Jackson he pastored churches in Mississippi and Kentucky. Minutes of the Synod reflected that “His was a pure, clean attractive personality. As a man and as a servant of the Lord, he was fitted by both nature and grace to take a strong hold upon the best affections and confidences of all the people to whom he ever ministered.”
After only four years in Jackson he was called to the First Presbyterian Church in Nashville and later to the First Church in Baltimore, also serving on the board of Princeton Seminary. He died in 1909 while serving as pastor of Grace Street Church, Richmond, Virginia.
REMODELING OF THE CHURCH
In 1881 the church entered into a remodeling project, some forty-eight years after it was constructed. The focal point of the project was a large addition extending to the pavement on Main Street. A wide door was at the corner of Main and Church Streets, with a tall window on the left. A group of three tall windows on Main Street and a wide vestibule extended across the front. Three buckets filled with fresh water and bright tin dippers were always placed on a bench in this vestibule with Jerry, the sexton, sitting by them. The library was on the left and on three sides were broad galleries supported by massive pillows. In the spire on top hung the bell. The organ and choir were in the gallery in the rear of the church. The pulpit, chairs and pews were of beautiful oak, attractively carved. The ladies of the church hoped for stained glass windows, but the church did not feel they could afford them. As a substitute the ladies bought especially prepared colored paper which imitated stained glass. Fifteen years later when Dr. Mark Matthews was pastor, a choir gallery was built over the pulpit, extending out in a balcony style, at a cost of $10,000.
First Presbyterian Church, downtown Jackson.
Corner of Main and Church Streets. 1832-1912
MOVING TOWARD THE TURN OF THE CENTURY
Three ministers would be called here as the century moved toward a close and the beginning of the twentieth century. Dr. J. H. Nall accepted the church’s call in 1884. A native of Marion, Alabama, he came from a family tree that listed more than sixty ministers of the gospel, including his brother, his father and his grandfather. He was valedictorian of his college class at Oglethorpe College and received his theological training at Columbia Seminary. Prior to his call in Jackson he served as pastor in Tuskegee, Alabama; Americus, Georgia and New Orleans, Louisiana. Serving here for eight years he was remembered by members of the church as, “being loved for his gentleness, his Christian life, his intellect, and fidelity to the work of the Master.” After leaving Jackson he returned to his work in New Orleans where he served as an evangelist and secretary of the Home Missions Commission of the Presbytery of New Orleans. He died in 1915 shortly after preaching his last sermon at Lookout Mountain, Tennessee.
Doctor William A. Anderson, a West Tennessee native from Yorkville was called as our eighth pastor in 1892. He received three degrees from Southwestern prior to receiving his first call in Rock Hill, South Carolina. He was married to a resident of Dyersburg and the father of five sons, two of whom became ministers. Serving in Jackson for three years, he is remembered as a zealous evangelist and for his eloquence from the pulpit.
However, he was best remembered for his caring manner for friends in sickness and sorrow. In 1895 he became the minister for the First Presbyterian Church in Dallas, Texas. He later served at the First Presbyterian Church in Nashville before being called back to the same Church in Dallas where he remained until his death in 1924.
THE BLACK MANED LION OF SEATTLE
Perhaps the most extraordinary minister to occupy the pulpit of Jackson’s Presbyterian Church was Dr. Mark Allison Matthews. He was born in Calhoun) Georgia in 1867 into a family whose business and home had been destroyed by General Sherman.
He was licensed to preach in 1886 and ordained in 1887. His first call was to Calhoun, Georgia. Besides being pastor there, he had five other rural churches he visited every Sunday. From Calhoun he accepted a call to Dalton, Georgia, leaving there for Jackson in 1896. Not yet thirty when he began his ministry here, Matthews possessed a brilliant mind. He was very forceful as a ‘Speaker, standing six feet, five inches in the pulpit.
The characteristic that set him apart from previous ministers was the amount of civic projects that he helped develop for the city, projects that clearly reflected the important influence of the “Social Gospel Movement” on his ministry.
Some of his projects included:
• Established a Presbyterian Night School for working people. Within four years the number of teachers had increased to thirty-five, and more than six hundred students had passed through the school.
• Led the fight to persuade Andrew Carnegie to donate $30,000 for the building of the Carnegie Library, and persuaded the City Council to purchase a lot for it and provide maintenance funds.
• Led the church in establishing the Presbyterian Hospital in 1897. Secured Dr. Jere L. Crook as its first administrator, and served as its first president. Began the process of establishing a YMCA, selected a site and helped to begin its operation.
• Helped to raise money for the purchase of land for the Bemis Cotton Mill.
• Organized the Humane Society 10 1897, publicizing the need for prevention of animal and child abuse.
• Organized the Ladies Bible Training School whose group identified 750 people a year in need of clothing, food and fuel.
During Dr. Matthews pastorate here six hundred new members were received into the church. Dr. Matthews was very clear’ in his expectations of members attending church. Admonishing the congregation, he wrote:
Will you always be in your pews. Be prompt at service. Empty pews do great injury. Will you please bring someone to church? Go work – The Harvest is Great.
Matthews left Jackson to become the minister of the First Presbyterian Church of Seattle in 1902, the largest congregation in the denomination. His ministry spanned nearly forty years in the Pacific Northwest. In 1912 Collier’s Magazine described him as “the Black – Maned Lion of Seattle” when he was elected as Moderator of the Presbyterian General Assembly. Further the article states: “Matthews had caught a large part of the nation with his evangelized efforts and his involvement with Seattle city politics. The man is a born trouble maker, a congenital disturber of the peace. He troubles his town, he troubles his church, he troubles himself. He can never let well enough alone. He is the best hated, most feared man in Seattle. But also he is the most loved.” Today, ninety-six years after Matthews left Jackson for Seattle, the church continues to go out into the community to answer its social responsibility.
CHURCH LIFE IN A NEW CENTURY
Following the pastorate of Mark Matthews it was a formidable task for anyone to fill his shoes. Dr. Angus McDonald, who followed him, continued to move the church ahead in the community and finish up some of Matthews’ projects such as the Carnegie Library. Dr. McDonald was a North Carolinian educated at Davidson College and Union Theological Seminary. He served in several pastorates, but it was while he was pastor in Nashville that he accepted the call to Jackson in 1904. He served here for five and one-half years. On February 27th, 1909, he died from a heart attack and was buried in Hollywood Cemetery.
Following the death of Angus McDonald, Dr. Albert Sidney Johnson accepted the call to Jackson. The son of a prominent Confederate officer, Dr. Johnson was born in Tuscumbia, Alabama in 1881. (His name reminds one of General Albert Sidney Johnston, who was killed at Shiloh. His last name however is Johnson, not Johnston.) He graduated from business school in Louisville before entering the ministry. Graduating from Union Theological Seminary in Richmond, he was ordained as a Presbyterian minister in 1906. He served as a supply pastor in Texas before coming here.
During his seven years in Jackson he served as an inspiration to the boys and young men of the church. He organized the Coventers Class for boys of ages 12 to 16. From this class came two ministers, Dr. Campbell Symonds who served as the pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Lynchburg, Virginia and Rev. Walter L. Brown, Pastor at Excelsior Springs, Missouri. Dr. Johnson’s Missionary spirit led to the establishment of the Neely Street Mission at the corner of Neely and Hatton Streets. In 1932, it was organized into Johnson Memorial Church, named for the one who founded it.
CONSTRUCTION OF A NEW CHURCH
Eighty years after the first church was built, a new church was constructed on the same site in 1912. It was a beautiful building constructed of Indiana limestone. The architecture was Corinthian with floors and wainscoating of Tennessee marble with curving pews. The pulpit of red mahogany was made by Budde and Weis, a Jackson firm whose principals were members of the church. The windows were crafted of leaded art glass. In the front was a baptismal font on a marble pedestal. For its time it was a striking building with classrooms on two levels, a session room, a chapel, a basement with assembly rooms and a kitchen. It had a seating capacity of 15O to 200 people. This building would last for forty years.
Four years after the new building was completed, Dr. Johnson left to accept a call to the South Highland Church in Birmingham, Alabama. After the departure of Dr. Johnson, the church called Dr. J. Edmond Brown as its twelfth pastor. A North Carolina native, Dr. Brown was born in Charlotte in 1875. After graduating from Davidson College, he taught for a year before entering the ministry. He studied at Union Theological Seminary and Hampden Sidney College at Farmville, Virginia before accepting his first call at Mt. Airey, North Carolina. He subsequently served at churches in Kansas City, Missouri, and Oxford, Mississippi, coming to Jackson in March of 1916. He was deeply interested in foreign missions and served as chairman of foreign missions for the Synod of Tennessee. During his pastorate the church assumed responsibility for half of the salary for Dr. Frank A. Brown, a missionary in China. Under the leadership of Dr. Brown and his wife, ladies of the church organized the Women’s Auxiliary. He is best remembered for his work with the sick during an influenza epidemic. His zealous nature in caring for others caused him to neglect himself. When his health failed, he returned to Charlotte, North Carolina, where he died in 1920.
After the death of Dr. Brown, Dr. E. D. McDougal came as our next pastor. A native of Dundee, Wisconsin, he received a B.A. and a B.D. degree from Southwestern Presbyterian University in Clarksville, Tennessee (now Rhodes College in Memphis.) He was ordained by the Presbytery of Cherokee Synod of Georgia. Prior to coming here he pastored at five churches in Georgia and Tennessee, also serving as President of Alabama Presbyterian Church in Anniston, Alabama. Coming here in 1921 he served for five years before leaving to become Dean of Southwestern in Memphis. During his pastorate here, evangelistic services helped to raise enough money to reduce the church’s debt from $25,000 to $12,500. Later he led the congregation in raising $17,000 for Southwestern.
In January of 1927 Dr. Samuel Stanworth accepted a call as our fourteenth pastor. His service here would be longer than any other minister, serving for twenty-six years. A native of Shropshire, England, he received his education at Trinity College and Burlington College, England. Coming to the United States in 1911, he graduated from Austin Theological Seminary in 1914. He was ordained in that same year and served as a pastor in churches in Arkansas and Texas before coming here in 1927. His early ministry led the church toward the repayment of its construction debt, the last payment being paid in 1932, leaving the church with no financial obligations. In 1933, Dr. Stanworth, received a D.O. degree from Union University. Through his leadership the Neely Street Sunday School was organized into a church and given the name of Johnson Memorial Church. A training school for church teachers began and a series of Union Services began with the Methodist Church.
On December 7, 1947, at a congregational meeting the church voted to purchase the Wilson Geyer property adjoining the church on Main Street for $40,000. The congregation also voted to apply $20,000 toward the purchase with $20,000 to be borrowed. The church intended to build a Sunday School Annex on the rear of the property. The lot had 56 feet frontage on Main Street with a depth of 103 feet. In 1941, through the leadership of Clarence Pigford, plans had begun for the construction of a Memorial Carillon to honor those who had served or were serving in World War I, 1914- 1918, and World War II, 1940-1945. Forty-seven bells were to be cast in France at a cost of $35,000 and housed in a stone tower at a cost of $50,000. The tower was to be constructed on the church property. The project was to be funded jointly by the citizens of Jackson and the church. Dr. Arthur Lynds Bigelow, leading Bell Master of the United States, was selected to install the carillon. The project was expected to be completed early in 1949.
The Master Bell of the Carillon was dedicated to Madison County soldiers and other service men who lost their lives in the two world wars. The second bell was to be inscribed “In loving memory of Clarence E. Pigford, 1873-1945, who conceived and generously supported this memorial Carillon.” The third bell was inscribed “In appreciation of the generous gifts from the residents of Jackson and Madison county.” Even though the bells had been ordered and were being tuned at that time in France, there was concern within the congregation about locating them at the church’s downtown location. First there was concern about putting such a heavy load on the corner of the church building. Many felt that this would cause the foundation to begin to sink. Secondly the height of the bells would be too low, deadening their sound. Further the clamor of the bells would be a nuisance disturbing the worship of nearby churches. (The Methodist, Baptist, First Christian, Church of Christ and Episcopal Churches were all clustered nearby.) Eventually the session decided to accept the bells and store them temporarily.
THE CHURCH MOVES NORTH
Despite plans for additions to the church and construction of the bell tower, some members of the congregation felt that the church should sell its existing property and move to a new location. The elders and deacons of the church at a joint meeting decided not to offer the church property for sale and not to seek a suburban location. On November 19, 1950, a congregational meeting was called to approve a building program of $120,000. These projects included $60,000 for the new Sunday School Annex; $52,500 for construction of the bell tower and $7,500 reduction of the auditorium. This was approved by a vote of three to one. These plans changed dramatically in 1951 when Mrs. Clarence Pigford offered her home on 1573 North Highland, known as Chevy Chase, as a site for the future home of the church and the Carillon. The site that Mrs. Pigford offered as the new location of the church was on one of the most historic locations in Jackson. Known as Willow Banks, it was the site of the home of Colonel William H. Stephens. The original home was built in 1824 by William Knight for William Espy who had been granted 640 acres on November 4, 1824, by the State of Tennessee. Stephens, who purchased the plantation from Espy, was an early Madison County attorney and Clerk of the Supreme Court of Tennessee from 1840 to 1857. During the presidential campaign of 1856, Stephens wrote numerous letters denouncing the Democratic candidate James Buchanan. Published nationally, these letters became known as the “Willow Banks Epistles.” At the beginning of the Civil War, Stephens was elected Colonel of the 6th Tennessee Infantry. He led this unit at the Battle of Shiloh where half of his regiment was killed or wounded. By 1863 he had resumed his law practice.
After Stephens’ death, the property was acquired in 1918 by Clarence Pigford, owner and president of the Jackson Sun. Pigford built a new home on the site, incorporating some of the earlier buildings. Edgar Green Parish built the new residence, called Chevy Chase. In addition to Chevy Chase, Parish was the contractor and builder of the First National Bank, Southern Hotel, Elks Building and Jackson High School, the new City Hall and the first building at Lambuth College. Thus the church was offered a premier site in Jackson’s early history. A committee was formed to study plans for the relocation of the church composed of Albert D. Noe, III, and Baxter Smith (CoChairman), Fred Ashby, Ridley Alexander, R. L. Beare, Jr., Harold Bond, Addison Johnston, Frank Proctor, Fred T. Smith and Cartnell Townes. On February 24, 1952, a congregational meeting was held to decide the matter. One hundred and sixty-seven voted to move while one hundred and eight voted to remain downtown. The Jackson Fire Department was located across the street from the church. On many Sundays, their loud sirens and bells would interrupt the service, much to the delight of younger members of the congregation. (On this Sunday they were silent.)
Using the theme of “WE MUST REMEMBER – WE BUILD A CHURCH ONLY ONCE-IN-A-LIFE-TIME!” the steering committee set a course for the relocation of the church. Plans were completed for the construction of a sanctuary costing $225.000, an education building costing $120,000, and a youth activities building costing $30,000. The total cost of the project was $375,000. Sale of the existing property was expected to bring $120,000. Unpaid pledges from the 1952 campaign totaled $50,000. A minimum of $200,000 was needed to complete the project.
In 1953 Dr. Stanworth wrote the following letter to the congregation:
During these years I have formed friendships of an enduring character, and these I treasure beyond measure. Now I must come to the purpose of my letter: It is my intention to retire from the active ministry and the pastorate of this church at the end of the present church year which is March 31, 1953. At the proper time I shall ask the congregation to unite with me in requesting Presbytery to dissolve the pastoral relationship. I pray that this congregation may be united in purpose; divinely led in its undertakings and that the spirit of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, may dwell in every heart. The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you, the Lord lift up the light of His countenance upon you, and give you peace.
Dr. Stanworth continued to serve as Minister Emeritus until his death in 1971. Following the retirement of Dr. Stanworth, Dr. Norman B. Gibbs was called as the next pastor.
Dr. Norman Gibbs was born in Keatchie, Louisiana in 1911. He received his B.A. degree from Southwestern in Memphis and his B.D. degree from Louisville Seminary in 1935. He was ordained in Natchitoches, Louisiana, in 1935 as pastor of the First Presbyterian Church. In 1939 he became pastor of the Brunswick Presbyterian Church in Rawlings, Virginia. While he was there he continued his studies at Union Seminary in Richmond. From 1943 to 1945 he served as a chaplain in the United States Air Force. Following this he became a Professor of Philosophy and Religion at College of the Ozarks in Arkansas. From 1949 to 1951 he did graduate study at Duke University where he received his Ph.D. degree. From 1951 to 1953 he was Professor of Bible and Philosophy at Southwestern. In 1953 he accepted a call to the First Presbyterian Church in Jackson.
Dr. Gibbs and his son, Lee, were avid tennis players. Shortly after his move to Jackson he had a tennis court constructed on the new church grounds, immediately east of today’s educational building.
In his sermons, Dr. Gibbs frequently reminded the congregation, “We know not what the day may bring forth, but only the hour for serving the Lord is ever present.”
The carillon tower housing the Jackson Memorial Carillon was completed in 1954, except for a sixty two and one-half foot spire on the top of the tower which was added later. A dedication and concert was held on Sunday, September 12, 1954. On that sunny autumn afternoon, a large crowd gathered to hear the bells for the first time. After the striking of the hour on the Bourdon Bell (the largest of the forty-seven bells, weighing 5,060 pounds) the program began. Along with Dr. Gibbs, pastors from First Methodist, First Baptist, St. Luke’s Episcopal and the Jewish Temple participated. Following an address from Mayor Emmet Guy, Arthur Lynds Bigelow, Bellmaster of Princeton University was introduced. A Bells Singers Chorus from Macedonia Baptist Church then accompanied the playing of the bells. Prior to a carillon concert at the end of the ceremony, the 74th Army Band from Fort Campbell played “Nearer My God To Thee” and the “National Anthem.” Near the end of the ceremony, a large pecan tree just west of the carillon split in two with part of it crashing to the ground. One of our participating elders remarked, “Never have I seen such a definite exposition of the power of prayer.”
On October 3, 1954, a congregational meeting was held to consider the sale of the church property on Main and Church Streets including the sale of the adjacent Wilson Geyer property. An offer of $225,000 had been received from The Second National Bank. The offer allowed the church to remain at its downtown location until January 1, 1956. The sale of the property was approved by a vote of 165 to 31.
On October 11th a congregational dinner was held at the New Southern Hotel to stimulate enthusiasm for the building project. Bransford Whitlow presided as the campaign chairman. A goal of $200,000 was set. At a “victory dinner” on November 19th, it was announced that $206,702 had been raised!
In 1956 the congregation moved to the new location, although the new sanctuary was not yet complete. Services were held in the new gymnasium. Folding chairs were set up each Sunday in the pattern of a regular church with a strip of carpet on the center aisle. A pulpit chair and a lectern were located on the stage.
On February 12, 1956, at a congregational meeting, Dr. Gibbs requested that his pastoral relationship be dissolved as of March I, 1956. Following this he moved to St. Paul, Minnesota where he became a professor at Macalester College.
DR. JAMES BULLOCK
In 1957, Dr. James R. Bullock was called as our 16th pastor. A native of McKinnie, Texas, he was born in 1910. He graduated from Austin College in Sherman, Texas. He then attended Union Theological Seminary in Richmond, Virginia where he received his D.O. degree. The following year he received a fellowship through which he studied for a year at New College in Scotland.
Dr. Bullock felt God’s call while a student in high school and committed his life to becoming a minister. His first pastorate was in Glade Water, Texas, an oil field community. Mrs. Bullock remembered that they could see fifty oil wells from the front porch of their house. After three and one-half years in Texas, he pastored for seven years at Canal Street Presbyterian in New Orleans and for ten years at Second Presbyterian Church in Houston. In 1957 he accepted the call to come to Jackson, Elizabeth Bullock remembered that they traveled to Jackson in two cars, Jim drove one car with two of their boys and six hamsters while she brought up the rear with the rest of the family . On the way they encountered snow for only the second time in the children’s lives.
Dr. Bullock, in accepting our call, was intrigued that our church had moved from its traditional location downtown to a location in the suburbs. He saw this as a challenge and an opportunity. His largest challenge was to guide the church through the racial tensions then prevalent throughout the South. As a social activist he met these problems head on, continuing to preach “The Brotherhood of Man.”
These were difficult times for the church. His fifteen years here helped the church to accept change and move ahead. During his ministry here the congregation moved into the new sanctuary where Dr. Bullock preached the first sermon on Easter Sunday, 1956.
In addition, the education building was completed and the spire was placed on the bell tower. Mrs. Bullock remarked that Jim always preached from the Bible. It was a common occurrence for folding chairs to be placed in the aisles.
In 1972, he moved to Riverside Presbyterian in Jacksonville, Florida. After his retirement there, he served four additional years as Parish Associate. He died there in 1987.
In addition to Dr. Bullock, two of his brothers were Presbyterian ministers. His son, Jim, is minister of the Presbyterian Church in Ocala, Florida and his daughter has been ordained as a Minister in the Methodist clergy.
DR. WILLIAM M. CLARK
Following Dr. Bullock’s move to Florida in 1972, Dr. William Clark accepted the call to become our 18th minister. He was born in Jackson Springs, North Carolina in 1928. Receiving his B.A. from King College, he then received a B.D. degree from Union Theological Seminary of Virginia. During the summer of 1972 and again in 1980 he studied at St. Andrews University of Scotland. In 1976 he received a Doctorate of Ministry from McCormick Theological Seminary of Chicago.
Ordained in 1952 by the Fayetteville Presbytery, he was first called as pastor of First Church, Big Stone Gap, Virginia. After five years there, he accepted a call to the Windsor Avenue Church in Bristol, Tennessee, where he remained for eight years. Prior to his call to Jackson he was Associate Pastor for Mission and Pastoral Care at First Presbyterian in Orlando, Florida, for six years.
His first task in Jackson was to unite the congregation, divided by social issues in the church throughout the sixties and seventies. A central issue was whether women should be ordained as church officers, and whether the local congregation was essentially autonomous. Small neighborhood groups were organized to study these issues. After eighteen months it was apparent that the congregation was committed to stay together and work toward a “unity of believers in the bond of fellowship.”
These neighborhood groups evolved into Parish Care Groups which enabled the congregation to care for each other and to reach out to newcomers.
In 1974 the church served as a sponsor for a Vietnamese refugee family which moved to Jackson and became part of the congregation. In addition the church served in a leadership role with other community churches to establish the Regional Inter Faith Association (RIFA) and to begin a literacy program called “Each-One-Teach-One” Youth of the church became involved in the Heifer Project in Arkansas and two missionaries were adopted to support the overseas mission.
For the first time the position of Choir Master and Organist was filled by a full time professional, and a teaching program for carillonneurs had begun. The Jackson Symphony joined with the church in beginning the annual Starlight Symphony. With new industrial growth in Jackson, six hundred and fifty new members joined the church between 1973 and 1983. A Wednesday Evening Youth Ministry began and the church staff was reorganized to include two new staff positions of a full-time book keeper and a business manager.
Dr. Clark left Jackson in 1983 to serve as Deputy Executive for Ministry and Mission, Southwest Florida Presbytery. From 1989 to 1992 he served as General Presbyter in the Peace River Presbytery in Florida before retiring.
Pat Graham was born in Warren, Arkansas, population 5,800. He attended Florida Presbyterian College (now Eckerd College) for two years before transferring to the University of Arkansas where he received his undergraduate degree. Following this he received a Master’s degree in Divinity from Louisville Theological Seminary. During his ministry he has occupied every ordained position that the Presbyterian Church offers for clergy.
He first served as an assistant pastor at the Sycamore United Presbyterian Church in Cincinnati. (For this position, he accepted a call from the church session.) After eighteen months he accepted the congregation’s call as an Associate Pastor. Following Cincinnati, he accepted a call as Co-Pastor of Ladue Chapel Presbyterian Church in Sf. Louis where he served as senior pastor for four years.
Accepting the call to Jackson, Pat began here in 1983, serving for three years. During his tenure here, large numbers of new members came into the church with a record number of baptisms.
The husband and wife team of Frank and Margie Boyd joined Pat, Margie as Director of Christian Education and Frank as the first Director of Recreation in the church’s history. Numerous church funds were consolidated into a church endowment fund. Today Pat lives in Fort Worth, Texas. He is Senior Vice President of Cargill Associates where he helps churches and institutions with funds development.
JAMES H. IRWIN, JR.
On January I, 1988, James H. Irwin, Jr., began his ministry at First Presbyterian Church. He was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and grew up in northwestern Pennsylvania. Receiving his B.A. degree from Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, where he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, he then earned his Master of Divinity degree at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. He first served as an Associate Pastor at Second Presbyterian Church in Auburn, New York from 1962 to 1965. He then pastored in Westfield, New York, from 1965 to 1971, Fairborn, Ohio, from 1971 to 1981 and Cincinnati, Ohio, from 1981 to 1988 when he came to Jackson.
During the ten years he has served in Jackson, 719 new members have been received into the church and the congregation has had a net growth of 30%. The church budget has doubled and the benevolence and mission giving has increased 128%.
Under his leadership the church has completed a two-phase building program. Phase 1 was completed in 1993, at a cost of $1,250,000. It included the construction of a new gymnasium and the renovation of the old gym into a dining hall. It also included a major expansion of the choir room and the addition of two youth rooms and five adult school classrooms. Phase II was completed in 1996 at a cost of $775,000.
Memorial Hall, the former home of Mrs. Clarence Pigford, was extensively renovated, the church grounds were landscaped and a drive-through and cloister were completed. On June 9, 1991, a scholarship fund was begun. A church member pledged a minimum of one million dollars payable over a ten year period. Its purpose is to provide scholarships for needy college students going into the sciences. To date $102,210 in scholarships have been awarded to fifteen students, only one of which was a Presbyterian!
Jim Irwin ministers to today’s congregation along with three associates. In 1996 Steve Taranto succeeded Beth Hunter as Director of Music. He received his B.A. from Elmhurst College and his Masters in Sacred Music and Performance from Perkins Theological Seminary at Southern Methodist University. In 1992 Kathi Bubb succeeded the Rev. John Burnham as Director of Christian Education. She received her B.A. from Franklin College and her Masters in Religion from Indiana University. By 1992 the congregation had grown to the size that an associate pastor was needed. Kathi’s husband, David Bubb, came as our first Associate Pastor. He received his B.A. from Centre College in Danville, Kentucky, and his Master of Divinity from Duke University Theological School.
The hymn “God Calls Us” was written by the congregation of the First Presbyterian Church to celebrate their 175th Anniversary. The first words of the hymn are “God calls us as a church of faith to celebrate our heritage.” And so this September, we celebrate our heritage. As we look back it is easy to see that the church has had a wonderful history. Looking forward it is apparent the church faces a bright future and that the best part of its history is yet to come.