CHURCH STREET’S STORIED PAST
The church, built in 1816, was called White’s Chapel. The congregation grew and later built a brick building on Church Street in 1836. The building was referred to as Church Street Methodist Church after the Civil War. The simple two-story brick building remained a church for the next 26 years, until federal forces gained control of Knoxville. At this time, it was closed to worshipers and used by forces as a horse stable. It became a church again 7 years after the end of the Civil War.
The church split and members in strong sympathy with the Union apparently joined other congregations. Sunday School meetings for slaves continued at White’s Chapel on E. Hill Avenue and they attended church services at the Church St. Methodist Episcopal Church where they were segregated into balcony seats.
Now too small for its growing congregation, a new church building was completed in 1878. The building remained in tact and in use for 50 years, until being destroyed in a fire in 1928.
The building was destroyed. No one was injured, but the organist, Bess Platt, was worried that she forgot to lock the organ as she fled when flames broke through the ceiling. She continued to serve as organist for 35 years! Salvaged from the fire were a communion table and chair, the pulpit Bible, and a few pulpit chairs.
The congregation voted to build a new church on a new and larger lot on Henley Street. It was to be a beautifully constructed building in the Gothic Revival style by renowned architects Charles I. Barber of Knoxville (a member of the church) and John Russell Pope (Jefferson Memorial, National Archives Building, and National Gallery of Art West building in Washington, D.C.).
With respect to the new building, everything went well until the stock market crash of 1929. Despite the crash, church members continued to push forward with the plan, and during the ensuing Great Depression, some even sold their personal belongings and used their homes as collateral to make payments for the new building. The first church service in the new building was held on January 25, 1931, just 9 months and 24 days after construction had begun. One thousand worshipers attended this first service and they sat in 1000 cane-bottom chairs. This building is now a Knoxville icon and is on the National Registry of Historic Places.
After 75 years of division around slavery and the Civil War, the Holston Conference reunites its two factions.
Wainscoting from Irving-Casson of Boston and New York was installed in the chancel. Lanterns were purchased and installed, correcting a decades-long problem with lighting.
Our chapel has striking examples of the use of Christian symbols. The wall at the front of the chapel has a cross as its centerpiece. The wall looks like a mosaic, but in reality it is painted and was completed by Hugh Tyler in 1955-56, a nationally known ecclesiastical artist who grew up in Knoxville and studied art in New York. His work can also be found at St. John’s Episcopal Church, 2nd Presbyterian Church, and Wesley Foundation at the University of TN.
Designer Charles Barber of Barber & McMurray died just four days after plans were finalized for this next “wing” of the church.
The original organ was bought in the early 1930s for half price at about $17,500. The new Aeolian Skinner Organ cost approximately $100,000. In 2001, the antiphonal organ was added in the balcony at the east end of the Nave.
Ground was broken in September of 1986 and completed December 1989, with a cost estimate of $2.3 million.
No gothic church would be complete without a bell tower and its bells. Yet, with all its style and beauty, Church Street was not fully equipped with its bells until 2006. On the Sunday before Christmas in 2006, the tall and stately bell tower heard the very first beautiful and rich peal of its bells, almost exactly 75 years after its first service in the nave in January 1931. The occasion of the 75th anniversary in 2006 was the inspiration for the donation of bells from the famous la Fonderie Paccard in Anncey-leVieux, France.