Church Circle in Kingsport is part of the original 1919 City Plan for the unique layout of the city. The layout of Kingsport, as one of the first professionally planned and privately financed cities in modern America, features a main street with a shopping district which leads directly into the Church Circle roundabout, consisting of four notable brick church buildings, which were the first to be constructed in modern Kingsport. The Circle was designed by William Dunlap, a railroad engineer, and refined by John Nolen, then city planner. The site was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973 because of its cultural and historical values and unique layout which is viewed as a cornerstone of planned urban design.
Backstory and Context
The Circle features a recently redesigned and modernized park surrounded by four large, red, brick church buildings with white steeples rising high into the sky. Each of the churches is an example of Colonial Revival style architecture. The First Broad Street United Methodist Church. the First Presbyterian Church, and the First Baptist Church are all three still operating today, while the fourth church, formerly the First Methodist Episcopal Church, is now used as an activities and education center.
Entering the Circle from East Sullivan Street, the former First Methodist Episcopal Church, the first church building to be constructed in Kingsport, is the initial building on the viewers’ right side. Today, the building is referred to as the Woodyard Center, named after Rev. Woodyard, a brick mason who was influential in the initial construction of the church. After the former First Methodist Episcopal Church and the First Broad Street United Methodist Church merged in 1969, the building was utilized by the City of Kingsport as an arts center. Soon after, a nearby former school building was renovated to serve as the arts center, and the former church was returned to the Broad Street United Methodist Church. Today, it is used by the Church, as the Woodyard Center, for various community activities like scout meetings.
The next building on the viewers’ right side is the First Broad Street United Methodist Church. This Church and the former Methodist Episcopal Church, now the Woodyard Center, both formed when the new churches were the first to be constructed in Kingsport in the early 1900s. Prior to these constructions, the congregations were once united as one at the Boatyard Church, formed at the Netherland Inn along the Holston River, only to be divided during the Civil War. Those sympathetic to the South eventually formed the Methodist Episcopal Church, now the Woodyard Center, and those sympathetic to the North formed the still-operating First Broad Street United Methodist Church. The churches were reunited with the 1969 merger.
The First Presbyterian Church is the next building on the right side of the Circle. This church was formed in 1917 during an organizational meeting of around 50 individuals held at the Hufford Home. During the meeting, locals expressed desires to establish a Southern Presbyterian Church, and soon after, services were being held under a revival tent and sometimes at the Old Gaiety Theater in Kingsport. In 1918, the congregation began to hold its services in a small schoolhouse located in Church Circle. The sanctuary used for the church’s services today was first utilized by the church shortly after its addition to the former building in 1940. The architect of the current sanctuary was Allen Dryden Sr., a member of the church.
The final church building in the Circle is the First Baptist Church. The sanctuary currently used by the church was constructed in 1927, when members began to realize the church’s increasing popularity demanded additional space for new members. After recently celebrating its Centennial in 2017, the First Baptist Church recently announced a new “visioning effort,” which it refers to as “New Century, New Vision.” The church’s congregation has joined with members of the Sullivan Baptist Association, the Tennessee Baptist Convention, the Southern Baptist Convention, and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in past years.
In 2017, the roundabout in the center of Church Circle received significant renovations aimed at modernizing its design. The total costs of the renovation were around $175,000. The renovations included increasing the size of the circle from 50 feet to 65 feet, planting a Black Hills spruce tree in its center, and increasing the height of the structure in the roundabout to about four feet high on one side and two feet high on the other. The granite circle with red brick and stone at the bottom is now also highlighted by LED lights on the ground shining up at it and the additional spruce tree.
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