Saturday, 15 January 2011

First Presbyterian Church, Nashville

Rev Thomas B Craighead (1750-1825), a Scotch-Irish Presbyterian minister, arrived in Nashville in 1785 and established the first congregation in the area with a minister.  He was therefore the founding father of Presbyterianism in Nashville.

The next Presbyterian minister to come to the area was Rev William Hume (1770-1833), who was a Scot.  He was installed on 2 December 1801 and did more than any other to sustain the early Presbyterian witness.

In 1814 Rev Gideon Blackburn (1772-1838), another Scotch-Irish minister, with a committee of six women and one man, went to the county court house to formally charter the Presbyterian congregation, which had already been in existence for 28 years.  In that year the First Presbyterian Church was built at the corner of Fifth Street and Church Street and ever since there has been a Presbyterian church on that site.
The original First Presbyterian Church
In 1815, after the Battle of New Orleans, the state of Tennessee presented General Andrew Jackson with a ceremonial sword on the front steps of the church.  Rev Allan Dirchfield Campbell joined the faculty of Cumberland College as a professor in 1820 and that same year First Presbyterian Church called him to be their minister.

The original church building was destroyed in a fire in 1832 but a second building was then erected on the same site.  It hosted the inauguration of James Knox Polk, a Scotch-Irish politican and future president, as governor of Tennessee but it burned down in 1848.

The congregation then hired the Philadelphia architect William Strickland, who was in Tennessee to design and supervise the construction of the Tennessee State Capitol, to design the present building.  The construction work started in 1849 and ended in 1851.

When it was built the church had only 350 members but they erected a building with space for 1,000 and so they ran out of money to finish it.

During the Civil War the building was seized by the United States government and used as a hospital.  After the war the congregation received reparations and they began the process of finishing the interior and exterior of the church.  The columns were put in place in 1871, the interior was reconfigured in 1880 and the organ was enlarged in 1914.

First Presbyterian Church, the third and current building, around 1920
By 1954 the First Presbyterian congregation was considering a move out of the city to the suburbs and they voted to do so.  However through the encouragement of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and local efforts, they were persuaded not to demolish the building.  Instead they sold it to those members of the congregation who did not want to move and so in 1955 the Downtown Presbyterian Church was formed.  It has continued to worship and minister to the needs of the city from the same location, where Presbyterians have worshipped for almost two hundred years. 

The Old First Presbyterian Church in Nashville was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1993.

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