First Presbyterian Church of Murfreesboro
This historic Murfreesboro church dates back to 1812 when the congregation maintained a modest church edifice at what is now the Old City Cemetery. During the Civil War, that structure was occupied and eventually destroyed by Union troops. A new sanctuary was built at the church’s present location on North Spring Street in 1867. In 1913, that building was mostly destroyed by a tornado. The congregation responded by building this Classical Revival style structure on the same spot within less than a year. This 1914 church continues to serve the congregation and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1993.
Backstory and Context
The First Presbyterian Church traces its origins back to June 1811, when the Rev. Robert Henderson came to service the Presbyterian residents of what is now Murfreesboro. In April 1812 the Presbyterian community formally established the Murfree Spring Church; the name would change to the First Presbyterian Church, Murfreesboro in 1818. Originally congregants worshipped in a log structure on the property of Colonel Hardy Murfree. Around 1820 the church’s first permanent sanctuary was constructed on Vine Street. The brick building was said to be one of the fanciest structures in Rutherford County at the time, and featured a five-story bell tower. Members of the congregation were buried in a graveyard adjacent to the church; in 1837 it expanded and evolved into a public burial ground, today known as the Old City Cemetery. In August 1822 the church hosted a special session of the Tennessee state general assembly. During this session the assembly voted to endorse Andrew Jackson for the presidency.
The church was hit hard by the effects of the Civil War. The sanctuary served as a hospital for Confederate soldiers during the Battle of Stones River, and afterwards was a hospital for Union soldiers during the occupation of Murfreesboro. Troops also set up camps in the area surrounding the church and cemetery. Sometime between the winter of 1863 and the spring of 1864 the church building was demolished. Details surrounding the circumstances behind its destruction are uncertain; some reports claim that Union soldiers began taking bricks from the building to make fireplaces for their shelters. Other accounts add that the soldiers desecrated the cemetery as well, destroying tombstones. From 1862 until July 1864 it appears that the congregation did not assemble. Towards the end of the war the church reemerged and in 1865 it filed a claim for damages from the federal government; after years of efforts, the church was awarded $6,500 in damages in 1899.
In 1867 the First Presbyterian church purchased a lot on the corner of Spring and College Streets. A new Gothic Revival style church building was constructed on the property and designed by Nashville architect W. A. Kiddell. In 1913 the building was heavily damaged by a tornado. Almost immediately the congregation moved to build a new structure on the same spot, with construction completed by 1914. The new building was constructed and possibly designed by the construction firm of Maugans and Bell in the popular Classical Revival style. Additional sections were built in 1959 and 1998. In 1993 the church was added to the National Register of Historic Places on the grounds that it was an ideal example of Classical Revival architecture. The First Presbyterian Church remains in operation and holds regular services.
Batte, Lauren and Gail Reed. “First Presbyterian Church.” National Register of Historic Places Registration Form. 1993. Accessed July 30, 2018. https://npgallery.nps.gov/GetAsset/1831738e-b07b-4b9a-9ddb-82febe4137c4
Hooper, Ernest. “First Presbyterian Church, Murfreesboro, Tennessee: The First Century.” Rutherford County Historical Society. 1980. Accessed July 30, 2018. http://digital.mtsu.edu/utils/getdownloaditem/collection/rchs/id/72/filename/73.pdf/mapsto/pdf
West, Mike. “Union army destroyed historic church.” Murfreesboro Post. June 1, 2008. Accessed July 30, 2018. https://www.murfreesboropost.com/community/union-army-destroyed-historic-church/article_226e5fa2-c19c-5476-a24b-404c482e231b.html
Willard, Michelle. “What happened to the old First Presbyterian Church?” Daily News Journal. August 31, 2015. Accessed July 30, 2018. https://www.dnj.com/story/news/2015/08/30/happened-old-first-presbyterian-church/71435822/
Image 1: https://nashvilleago.org/AreaOrgans/Specs/FPCMboro.htm
Image 2: http://www.photographybystein.com/tnorgans/murfsfirstpresby/pixpages/murfspresby18.htm