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Kingsport Tennessee History and Heritage Trail
Item 3 of 9
This structure is used by the oldest congregation in Kingsport, Tennessee, which was organized in 1820. The leader of the church, Dr. Frederick Ross, had the building constructed by using his slaves as the laborers in 1846. The slaves were also members of the church, although they (the enslaved church members) left with Dr. Ross in 1852, as he moved to Huntsville, AL. Soon thereafter, the national Presbyterian church split in 1858 over slavery. Kingsport Presbyterian aligned itself with the anti-slave faction soon after it was discovered they belonged to the pro-slave faction of the national church.

  • Dr. Frederick Ross. undated photo
  • Oldest known photo of Old Kingsport Church. circa 1910
  • Old Kingsport Cemetery. Original log building church was located on this spot of land.
  • Church as of 2008
  • Scene from the church's move in 1953. It is clearly seen how the church was moved intact.

The church and congregation was originally called the Boatyard Church Presbyterian Church when it was organized in May of 1820. The original church was a small log building that was located where a cemetery now stands. Dr. Frederick Ross was the church's second minister from 1826-1852 (he was never paid for his services, largely due to his independent wealth. He owned the local Rotherwood Mansion) and under his leadership, church membership grew, causing a need for a larger building. In 1840 the church changed its name to Kingsport Presbyterian Church. In 1846 he had a larger building constructed by using his slaves (also members of the church) and paying for it himself.

By 1858 the church suffered from both a decrease in membership and a loss of 'diversity' with no more slaves attending the church (they were seated in a balcony away from the rest of the congregation) after Dr. Ross relocated, with his slaves, to Huntsville, AL. In 1858, the U.S. Presbyterian Church became fractured over the issue of slavery. Kingsport church was part of the regional Southern Synod after a North/South split occurred in 1857. Upon hearing that the region was under control of the southern and pro-slave portion of the Presbyterian church, the members of Kingsport church voted to align themselves with the Northern Synod Presbyterian Church. This lasted until 1865 when Northern victory in the Civil War eliminated the need for a southern and pro-slave faction of Presbyterianism.

During the 1864 battle of Kingsport, TN, it has been rumored that the original church, the log building, was dismantled by Union troops so that the lumber could be used to repair a bridge nearby.

In 1917, the city of Kingsport was officially created and Kingsport church, now called Old Kingsport, became the city's Presbyterian church. However, church membership and greatly decreased since 1865 and only five members were recorded in church roster in 1917. This tiny membership caused the church to be used as a community center until the church was reorganized in 1937. Church membership steadily grew into the 1950s. At its peak in the 1970 there were 190 members.

For reasons unknown, the church was moved to its current location in 1953. It was moved to a tract of land donated by a member of the church, Octavia Patton. The whole church was lifted and moved to its current location, all without an external or internal damage being done to the building. In 1972, age and mold caused the roof to collapse. Rebuilt shortly thereafter.

Since 1970 membership had steadily decreased again, most remaining members are elderly. Despite the small and declining roster, the church has been able to remain active as well as having funds needed for renovations and beautification.