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HISTORY OF THE LA GRANGE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH

La Grange, the most written about town of Fayette County, had everything going for it when the Presbyterian Church was formed there in 1834.  It had the only bank in the county and the only newspaper and its citizens had ambitious plans for the first railroad - the La Grange to Memphis.

Church Founder

The Presbyterian Church was founded by Reverend Samuel McCulloch Williamson, a surprising fact since he was from an extensive and well-known Methodist family.  In order of their service, some of the other men involved with the first church were Stephen K. Sneed, Richard Watkins, Reverend John H. Gray, Reverend John N. Waddel, Philip Doddridge Ewell, Robert H. Shepperd, Reverend Angus Johnson and Reverend William S. Cochrane.  The deed for the church's first location has not been found.  There were two known locations: Lot 102 and the southeast corner of Lot 11.

HARD BLOWS IN THE 1840s

Reverend Samuel M. Williamson: Founder, died at age 42 in 1846 and was buried in the La Grange Cemetery.  He was born 1804 in Northampton County, North Carolina.  He was married twice.  His first wife was Mary R. Chapman, daughter of Robert H. Chapman, D.D. Dr. Alexander Augustus Campbell performed their marriage ceremony in Covington in 1832.  Samuel M. Williamson, the second son of Benjamin and Mary (McCulloch) Williamson, was graduated from Yale in 1823, admitted to the bar in 1825 and moved to Tennessee and commenced practice with John Grundy.  After entering the ministry, he supplied the Presbyterian Church in Memphis from November 1830 to November 1833 and was one of the most able ministers to preach in Memphis.  He came to the Western District Presbytery from Shiloh Presbytery in 1831.

He moved to La Grange in 1838 where he was serving as pastor.  He also supplied for Germantown and Bethany (in Hardeman County).  His first wife died young -- before 1841.  Their four children were: Priscilla Blanche, Ann C., Robert Chapman and Ellen Boylan Williamson.  Reverend Williamson married second, Mary Jane Sneed, daughter of Stephen K. Sneed.  There was only one child by the second marriage: Mary Pugh Williamson.  Reverend Williamson's widow, Mary Jane Sneed Williamson, married again in 1852 to George Wood, a prominent Presbyterian of Hardeman County.

Stephen K. Sneed: The church suffered its first severe blow in 1841 when one of the organizing members, Stephen K. Sneed, died.  Sneed's tombstone in the La Grange Cemetery says: "He was a Ruling Elder in the Presbyterian Church for 15 years."  This means that he was active somewhere in a Presbyterian Church prior to his coming to La Grange.

Richard Watkins: Richard Watkins (1801-1848), another of the founding members, came to Fayette County about 1830.  He too died young in 1848 and was buried in the La Grange Cemetery.  A large rectangular box-type gravestone marks his burial spot.  The inscription is almost illegible, but there is something about the Presbyterian Church on the stone and these words: "Erected by his wife, Lucy M. F. Watkins."  Lucy M. Watkins was another daughter of Stephen K. Sneed mentioned above.  Losing three of the earliest members and supporters of the church had to be devastating; however, the church had recovered somewhat by the middle of the 1850s with the coming of Dr. John H. Gray.

REVEREND JOHN H. GRAY, D.D. (The Beloved Longtime Pastor)

Reverend John H. Gray was pastor of the Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis on Beale Street when he was unanimously chosen in 1855 as president of the La Grange Synodical College.  He shared the La Grange Presbyterian Church pastorate in the late 1850s and early 1860s with Reverend John N. Waddel.  Dr. Gray performed many marriages in La Grange in the late 1860s and early 1870s.  His health failed and he last attended church on April 14, 1878.  He died soon after.  His Last Will and Testament was probated that year.  He had a large family but only two survived him, a son Daniel Gray and a daughter, Jane H. Hardiman.  He was buried in Elmwood Cemetery, Memphis, beside his wife, Jane B. Gray.  The Session Minutes bear witness to the affection in which he was held by his congregation.

REVEREND JOHN N. WADDEL, D.D., L.L.D. (The Courageous Pastor)

Reverend John Newton Waddel was the brother-in-law of Reverend John H. Gray and came to La Grange in 1857 as a professor of Ancient Languages at the Synodical College.  He supplied the church twice a month in 1858 and Dr. Gray preached the other two Sabbaths.

In the early 1860s Reverend Waddel performed several marriages in La Grange and there are indications that he was helping pastor the Presbyterian Church at the outbreak of the Civil War.  According to a history of La Grange written by the town historian, the late Mrs. Lucy Pulliam Williamson, Dr. Waddel was forced to give up part of his home for the use of a Northern general and he was also forced to abandon his pulpit.  He would not - or did not take the oath of allegiance and decided to flee La Grange.  Mrs. Williamson said that Reverend John H. Gray and friend Dr. J. J. Pulliam, a neighbor, helped him escape.  Dr. Waddel spent the night before he left in the home of John Walker Jones who lived on a plantation nearby.  Dr. Waddel was later Chancellor of the University of Mississippi at Oxford.  He preached a few times in the late 1870s when he returned to La Grange on visits.  He died in 1895.

THE CHURCH IN THE 1870s

Session Minutes are available from 1872 through 1907 and for two more years - 1917 and 1926, but records for the intervening years are missing.  The minutes that are available, however, are wonderful in that they contain some unexpected and much needed information about the congregation during those critical years.  The minutes for April 1872 reported 41 communicants and 40 in attendance for Sabbath School.  Dr. Gray was Stated Supply.  Elders were Dr. Alexander Compton Ewell and Henry F. Scott.  Henry F. Scott was also Clerk of the Session, the position he held until his death in 1881.  In the fall of 1872, W. N. Shive was elected Ruling Elder.  Dr. A. C. Ewell moved away from La Grange in 1873 and was replaced as Ruling Elder by J. B. Irwin.

MRS. GRAY DIED 1874

The Session Minutes for March 14, 1874, recorded the recent death of "beloved Mrs. Jane B. Gray, wife of our dear pastor."  The Gray plot at Elmwood Cemetery, Memphis, shows that she was buried on March 6, 1874, near six Gray children who had predeceased her.  Financial difficulties befell the church in 1875 due to endebtedness for repairs made to the church in 1874.

PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH LOCATION 1875 (On Lot #102)

There is documentation showing that the church stood on Lot 102 in the year 1867.  How much earlier it stood on that site is unknown.  Lot 102 was on the same side of the street as "Tiara."  Tiara, which still stands, was built by Franklin Dwight Cossitt at the corner of Fourth and Main.  The church was bounded on the north by Fourth Street and on the east by Lot 103.  The Baptist Church stood across the street from Tiara.  Tiara was later owned by James B. Sims, father of late owner, Mrs. Edna Jones.

In the fall of 1875, Reverend Richard R. Evans of Germantown visited and preached one Sunday and Reverend S. S. Gill of the Hickory White Church held a two-day meeting in the fall of 1876.  The minutes had this to say at the end of the next church year:

"During the greater part of the year 1877, this church was without the regular services of a minister due to the continuous indisposition of its beloved pastor, Dr. Gray."

Reverend Angus Johnson was employed for part of 1877 and 1878.  This Reverend Johnson had founded the Grand Junction Church in 1877.  A Communion Meeting was held in the church on Friday preceding the 5th Sabbath of March 1878 and was conducted by Dr. Waddel and Reverend Angus Johnson.  The number of communicants was down to 31.

REVEREND GRAY DIED 1878

Reverend John H. Gray died in 1878.  His will was probated that year, but for some unknown reason, Cemetery records at Elmwood show him buried there on Jan. 6, 1881.  It is entirely possible that he was buried temporarily someplace else and moved to Elmwood later, but the dead of winter would have been an unlikely time to have done this.  After Dr. Gray's death, it looks as if Reverend Richard R. Evans of Germantown was pastor in 1879.  On April 1, 1879, the post office for the pastor was listed in the minutes as 'Germantown, Tennessee.'  No pastor's name was stated, but more than likely, the pastor was Reverend Evans since he had a well known association with the Germantown Church.

THE 1880s AND 1890s

From 1881 to 1889, the church was without an Elder.  In the spring of 1889, Philip Doddridge Ewell, Jr. and T. R. Moody were elected Ruling Elders.  Reverend William S. Cochrane's name was first mentioned in the Session Minutes in June 1839 and T. R. Moody was Clerk of Session.  In October 1892 at a Congregational Meeting, Dr. A. D. Lewis and Robert H. Shepperd were elected Ruling Elders. Regular routine business was conducted from 1893 to 1900.

CYCLONE DESTROYED CHURCH (1900)

On Wednesday, November 21, 1900, the newspaper carried the account of great destruction of property in La Grange as the result of a powerful cyclone that occurred the day previous which destroyed all of the business portion of the town and also the foundry.  The Presbyterian Church was blown away, as were the Baptist and Methodist Churches.

After the cyclone, Moses L. Anderson, a trustee for the Baptist Church on December 19, 1900, made what amounted to a deed of gift to the ground on which the Baptist Church had stood prior to its having been blown away.  The Presbyterian trustees who took title to the site were Philip Doddridge Ewell and Robert H. Shepperd.  The Baptists reserved the privilege of using the Presbyterian Church when it was not in use by the Presbyterians.

CHURCH LOCATION 1901 - 1926 (On SE corner Lot #11)

Since both church buildings had been destoyed, it is not definite as to exactly when or how the Presbyterians were able to put up a new church building on the southeast part of Lot #11 where the Baptist Church had been.  However, it is certain that the Presbyterians did rebuild on the old Baptist site, diagonally across the street from where they had been situated.

Indications are that the next Presbyterian Church buildiing was built about 1901.  In 1904, three deacons of the Presbyterian Church -- Abner D. Lewis, R. H. Shepperd and Philip Doddridge Ewell, Jr. -- sold the old Presbyterian Lot 102 to C. W. McNeil.

REVEREND WILLIAM S. COCHRANE (Another Longtime Pastor)

Reverend William S. Cochrane was born May 9, 1850, and died January 29, 1924.  He married Anna Parran Hardin.  Anna was born in 1853 and died in 1935.  Both were buried in the Polk Cemetery in Bolivar.  He was educated at Londonderry University in Ireland and Richmond Presbyterian Seminary.  He was pastor of the Somerville Church in the early 1880s.  He lived in Bolivar.  He was pastor of the La Grange Church from 1889 to 1915, according to the Session Minutes, page 173, followed by Reverend J. T. Rothrock about 1917.  Although his name is not given in the minutes, Reverend Cochrane was said to have been the pastor when the church closed.

CHURCH CLOSED 1926

The church was closed by the Memphis Presbytery on April 14, 1926, due to dwindling membership.  When the church closed, Philip Doddridge Ewell, Jr. was the sole surviving trustee for the church.  He transferred his membership to the Grand Junction Presbyterian Church although he continued to live near La Grange.  He deeded the closed church site (the southeast part of Lot 11) to the Memphis Presbytery in 1926.  Philip Doddridge Ewell, Jr. died December 6, 1937, and was buried in the family cemetery near La Grange.  The Board of Directors of the Memphis Presbytery sold the closed church site lot for $400 to W. C. Smith on October 28, 1926.  In recent years, Mr. Charles Dawkins resided on the southeast corner of Lot #11, the site of the last Presbyterian Church in La Grange at 314 Fourth Street.

The steeple was removed, the boards of the church were taken down, marked and numbered and were sold to an African American congregation who reconstructed the church on Harris Road out from Grand Junction near the railroad track at the present site of the M. B. Pleasant Grove Church.

THE BELL

When the church closed, the bell was next used at the Presbyterian Church in Grand Junction.  The bell is now at Pinecrest.

CHURCH ESTABLISHED ANEW 1992

The first church services were held on September 13, 1992, in Immanuel Episcopal Church.  Reverend R. Christy Morgan became pastor soon afterward.

1995 - 1999

The church was organized on November 19, 1995, by the Memphis Presbytery.  The Charter of Incorporation was entered into on March 13, 1996, by Mrs. Betty Northcross, the late Mr. Wayne Camburn, both of La Grange, and Mr. Maury A. Ayrer of Rossville.  On September 26, 1996, the Presbytery of Memphis deeded the present church site of five acres just east of Pinecrest on Highway 57.  Ground breaking ceremonies for the church's Educational Facilities were held in October 1997.  Mrs. Edna Jones passed away in 1997.  She had been organist for the Presbyterian Church (as well as for the Methodist Church).

Three sections of the church were under construction in 1998.  Mr. Ed White, former mayor of La Grange, was the construction manager for the project.  The church has about 46 members on roll and Reverend Morgan is still the pastor.


Sources:
Fayette County deeds and census records
Memphis newspapers and the Fayette Falcon
Conversations, tour and photo, courtesy Mrs. Hazel Givens, Somerville, Tn
Conversation, Mrs. Carmen Camburn, Pinecrest, La Grange
Interview, copy Session Minutes 1872-1926 and other valuable data, Reverend Christy Morgan, Corinth, Ms
Transcription Session Minutes, courtesy Joy Rosser, Somerville
"Shadow of a Mighty Rock" by Robert Milton Winter, published 1997
TN Historical Quarterly Vol. III 1971 by John Deberry (Mrs. Lucy Pulliam's History)

Researched and written by Bernice Cargill

 
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