History

1785 – The Rev. Thomas B. Craighead, a Presbyterian minister and graduate of Nassau Hall at Princeton, comes to the Cumberlands to begin a school. He is the first minister to arrive in Nashville, and he establishes Presbyterian as the first denomination to be represented by a minister.

1801 – The Rev. William Hume arrives from Scotland to lead the outpost of the westward movement in the Cumberland country as a missionary to the natives. He is credited more than any other minister for sustaining its earliest ministry.

1814 – Gideon Blackburn (with a committee of six women and one man) goes to the county courthouse to formerly charter the church, which already had been in existence about 28 years.

1820 – The Rev. Allan Dirchfield Campbell joins the faculty of Cumberland College as a professor, and the Nashville Presbyterian Church called him to be its minister.

1832 – Church burns to the ground.

1833 – The Rev. John Todd Edgar called as pastor of church.

1841 – Prominent members of First Church found Second Presbyterian Church.

1848 – Fire destroys the twelve-year-old church, but no records are destroyed as in the previous fire. Construction of a new Egyptian Revival building (current downtown church), designed by William Strickland, is begun. Stricklin is also the renowned architect of The Tennessee Statehouse, and St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church downtown.

1851 – The Egyptian Revival church is dedicated on Easter Day.

1862 – The City of Nashville and church are occupied during the Civil War. The church’s minister Joseph Bardwall goes south along with many members of the church.

1865 – The church building, which had been used as a hospital during the war, is released by the Union and given back to the congregation.

1865 – Robert Franklin Bunting, a renowned war hero among Confederate chaplains, is called to be the church minister.

1894 – A.G. Adams Church, named for the esteemed elder of First Church and Sunday School pioneer, marks the start of Martha O’Bryan.

1894 – The Rev. James I. Vance begins his first of two tenures as pastor of the church.

1900 – James Vance is called to become the pastor of a Reformed Church of America congregation in Newark, New Jersey. The Rev. William T. Anderson is called as pastor of First Presbyterian Church.

1901 – The church grows to 1,074 members, 16 elders, 14 deacons.

1909 – All nineteenth and twentieth century elders were appointed for life and served as long as they could be active. (This policy was changed in 1945).

1910 – The Rev. James I. Vance returns for his second pastorate at the end of 1910; he is also made chairman of the Board of Foreign Missions.

1914 – Second location of the Martha O’Bryan House is a small frame cottage on Joe Johnston Avenue near the site of the old Nashville stockyards.

1915 – The church was divided on the need for an assistant pastor and a new Sunday School building, and ultimately ended up with both additions. Church Elder Henry Hibbet was the architect for this addition, which included a Sunday School Chapel and gathering place, as well as fourth floor offices to house The Board of Foreign Mission for the PCUS.

1919 – After World War I, “Pew Rents” (custom of asking the pew-holders to give the amount of their rent in addition to their other contributions) are done away with.

1920 – James I. Vance leads the General Assembly that voted to move Southwestern College (later to be named Rhodes College) from Clarksville to Memphis. First Church made a significant capital gift to facilitate the move of the college, which occurred in 1925. Austin Peay State University now occupies the former campus of Southwestern College at Clarksville.

1928 – Southern Presbyterians give over 1.5 million dollars to foreign missions with 484 missionaries in the field. This work is centered at FPC where the congregation has built its new Sunday School building to house the Board of Foreign Missions on the top floor. James I. Vance remains the Executive Secretary of the mission board.

1934 – Dr. Thomas C. Barr becomes the first associate minister in the history of the old church.

1936 – Dr. James I. Vance retires, and Dr. Thomas C. Barr succeeds Vance. Moore Memorial Church (which was founded by FPC former members) becomes Westminster Presbyterian Church.

1940 – First Director of Music, Frederick Baumgartner, is hired.

1942 – Dr. Thomas Barr had an ardent group of supporters within the congregation, but not enough to continue to lead the church. This conflict led to the General Assembly establishing the rule that existing Associate Pastors were not eligible to become Pastors of the same congregation where they served. The Trinity Presbyterian Church is established (with 275 charter members) headed by Dr. Thomas Barr.

1943 – Search committee finds Dr. Walter Rowe Courtenay, who was voted in by the congregation.

1945 – Dr. Courtenay set up a rotation system for all church officers, although this was a monumental change for the church, FPC was the last Presbyterian Church in the city to put in a rotation system; officers were still all male.

1946 – 11:00 service at FPC is broadcast over WSM Radio.

1948 – Decision reached to buy property on Franklin Pike for youth work and chapel. The Martha O’Bryan Center moves to east Nashville.

1949 – A house and fifty-five acres of land are purchased from John Cheek, to be used for a weekday school for young children, for Sunday evenings for youth meetings and for a summer day camp. The seeds of Oak Hill School started as the “Oak Hill Country Day School,” with a nursery school and kindergarten in these years. Soon a chapel was built in “Cheek House” that would host an early Sunday morning service. It would eventually be dedicated as Stanford Chapel.

1955 – Final agreement between Session and minority group for relocation of church to Oak Hill premises. Groundbreaking took place for an educational building.

1956 – The cornerstone is laid for the new sanctuary at 4815 Franklin Road.

1957 – Life Magazine featured the Six Best Easter Sermons, with FPC’s own Walter Courtenay listed as “one of six notable American pastors.” The new sanctuary is dedicated in November.

1961 – Oak Hill School started from existing kindergarten.

1965 – The Rev. Arch McNair was named Associate Pastor for pastoral care. Dr. Courtenay had a weekly newspaper column in the Nashville Banner, which often published the texts of his sermons.

1966 – FPC grew to 2,362 members.

1970 – Dr. Courtenay considering retirement, bought a farm; church builds a house for the Courtenays.

1971 – The Rev. Cortez Cooper from First Presbyterian Church, Marietta, Georgia was installed as the new senior pastor. Proposal of new organ and choir to move to the balcony.

1973 – The PCA was formed by about 100,000, who withdrew from the PCUS over issues of biblical interpretation, the civil rights movement and the role of women in the Church.

1978 – Oak Hill School’s Clara Harris is replaced with Mrs. Betty Moore. Tension erupts over control of curriculum between Cooper and the faculty, board and teaching staff.

1970s – The church grows rapidly under Cortez Cooper’s dynamic leadership, but conflicts begin to arise around issues of theological differences he has with the PCUS. One sign of this theological narrowness is the decision to forbid the June Ramsey Class to meet on Sunday morning in the Cheek House.

1981 – Cortez Cooper resigns as senior pastor. Session records that 521 communicant members, all active, left FPC with Cooper to start Christ Presbyterian Church PCA. The Rev. Andrew Bird is called as interim pastor, and the June Ramsey Class is reinstated. In September, Dr. William T. Bryant was called as new senior pastor.

1983 – Historic reunion of the PCUS and UPUSA to form the PC(USA). New staff hired; two associate ministers and a Director of Christian Education. “Yoke Ministry” created between FPC and the Downtown Presbyterian Church.

1984 – Construction begins on new library wing with administration offices. We see the beginnings of local mission and outreach work.

1986 – The Rev. Mark DeVries is called out of Princeton Theological Seminary to begin his work as Associate Pastor for youth ministry.

1990 – Start of Wednesday Night School of Christian Living under the leadership of Bill Caruso, who came in 1990 to serve as Director of Adult Education.

1991 – First Mexico Mission Trip.

1993 – Endowment Fund started. Oak Hill Day Camp accredited.

1994 – Inquirers Class started by Bill Bryant for prospective members. Sissy Wade replaces Betty Moore as new Headmistress of Oak Hill School. Dr. Bill Bryant resigns to lead The Outreach Foundation, a missions support organization of the PC(USA). Dr. Jack Lancaster is named interim pastor.

1995 – Dr. Jack Lancaster’s heart condition causes him to resign immediately.

1996 – Dr. Wade Huie called to serve as second interim pastor. Crud Day established for the youth of the church under Mark DeVries’ leadership. The Rev. Tom Tyndall installed as the new pastor.

1998 – Ted Martin is installed as Minister of Recreational Ministries.

1999 – FPC ordained its first woman minister, Sandra Randleman. An informal summer worship service was held during the summer as a third service; the service is well attended, but becomes a source of controversy in the church. A study to explore a possible capital campaign reveals deep opposition to the Rev. Tyndall’s leadership.

2000 – The Rev. Tom Tyndall resigns after conflict over his leadership. The Rev. John David Burton named interim pastor. Oak Hill School initiates a capital campaign to add the rotunda and a new classroom wing.

2001 – Sissy Wade resigns as Head of Oak Hill School. The Rev. Roland Perdue named second interim pastor. Oak Hill School hires Jack Stanford as Interim Head, and completes a $5 million school facilities renovation and expansion.

2002 – Dr. Todd Jones is called to serve as Pastor, preaching his first sermon at FPC on Easter Sunday. Claire Wilkins joins Oak Hill School as Head of School.

2006 – FPC initiates its first congregation-wide capital campaign since 1984, Milestones & Cornerstones. The church adds 30,000 square feet of space for a new children’s ministry wing and adult education, as well as new staff offices. We also renovated Courtenay Hall and added a 30,000 square foot Enrichment Center to be used jointly by Oak Hill School and the church. The campaign goal was $20,000,000, and the construction was completed and dedicated in November of 2008. Oak Hill School also added a 12,000 square foot library, dedicated in 2012 in honor of long-time church member and Oak Hill School employee, Roxie Gibson.

2012 – FPC celebrates Todd Jones’s Tenth Anniversary as senior pastor and names the Session Room in his honor.

Thanks to Damaris Witherspoon Steele, First Presbyterian Church’s historian, for her contribution of this timeline, which is excerpted from her three-volume history entitled First Church.

Cheek House & Stanford Chapel

Built in 1930, Cheek House was the home of First Presbyterian Church members, Mr. and Mrs. John Cheek. Evidenced by the home’s classic look, many skilled artisans worked on the masonry, millwork, staircase and ironwork. The stairway was made by hand of 10,000 pieces of wood, costing $2,000, quite a sum at the time. The parquet floors were built on site, not cut at the mill and brought to be laid. The windows in the living room and dining room are triple hung, and they raise into the wall above so that they can be stepped through to the outside. Bricks for the exterior were made from local clay.

The Cheeks had always been very active at FPC, and after their children married and moved, Mr. and Mrs. Cheek were ready to sell the Georgian-style house and 55 acres. In 1949, the church purchased the home and property for $110,000 – a modest selling price by the Cheeks since it was their church buying it. The Cheeks then turned around and made a $5,000 donation to FPC!

When the church took possession of the property, the decision was made to honor the Cheek family’s generosity by naming the beautiful home Cheek House.

From 1949 until 1953, the church used what had been the Cheek family’s billiard room as a chapel, using benches for seating. In September 1953, the Stanford Memorial Chapel was dedicated in the same space and named for Mr. and Mrs. Robert Stanford, Sr., whose children Robert, Jr., Harold and Myrtle, made the chapel possible.

To transform this former billiards room into the chapel, the back chimney wall was knocked out and the space was then considerably lengthened, enabling the addition of trancepts and the pulpit section. (Note the frosted glass panes, which form a cross, in the large window at the apse). Matching bricks for this addition were provided by the same company as the existing structure, using the original molds kept by them for 23 years. Pews were installed replacing the benches, and a door to the outside was made from a front window.

First Presbyterian Church has made use of the gracious, lovely Cheek House as a locale for fellowship, learning and ministry. Our congregation is singularly blessed to have such a gracious, beautiful setting to enhance the life and work of our church family.

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