A SHORT HISTORY OF FIRST PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH, HENDERSONVILLE
1847— The life of a church begins with a dream to which faith and commitment are added. The dream that became First Presbyterian Church in Hendersonville began with a small group of people in the mid-19th century along with the support of First Presbyterian Church in Gallatin.
1869— The dream became reality when seventeen people (twelve members from the Gallatin Presbyterian Church and five from the Hendersonville community) united and petitioned to establish a church. The Nashville Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S. granted the petition, and a small plot of land was purchased for $232. By October a one-room sanctuary and two outside restrooms were completed: the origins of First Presbyterian Church. The bricks of the sanctuary were handmade locally.
While it was common for churches to sell pews to raise money, this church created a cemetery and sold plots for five dollars each. It is believed that the church cemetery originally contained one hundred plots (though many headstones and grave markers are currently missing). The cemetery contains the remains of many of the church founders as well as fourteen Confederate veterans, including Major General Daniel Smith Donelson, Commander of the Department of East Tennessee, who died in Knoxville in 1863. General Donelson had been the original owner of the church property; it was purchased from his widow, Margaret Branch Donelson.
1937— Regular worship was discontinued. Over time the church had struggled to survive, and the Great Depression only made the struggle worse. Thanks to the Home Mission effort, services were held once or twice a month for a few years, but the church was forced to close its doors in the mid-forties. The building stood empty for several years and began to show signs of neglect. The coal-burning stoves remained cold and the small pump organ sat silently.
1951— The announced plans for Old Hickory Lake and the anticipated growth of Hendersonville initiated a move to reopen the church. The Presbyterian Church in Gallatin and the Presbytery provided much-needed repairs, and the church sprang back to life. Seminary students from Louisville came to preach on Sundays.
1955— An addition was built to the sanctuary, providing indoor restrooms, a kitchen, a dining room/classroom, and a minister’s study.
1958— The church called its first full-time minister, James K.L. McClane. This same year the old foot-pedal organ was replaced by an electronic organ.
1963— In response to increasing membership, a new fellowship hall was constructed. (It was connected to the sanctuary in 1967).
1964— A day school program began that has since become highly respected and currently serves approximately 55 preschool children.
1962— For several decades, the spiritual leadership of the church was provided by some bright young ministers, most of whom were furthering their education at Vanderbilt Divinity School. The church acknowledged their potential, nurtured them, and trained them.
1986— The church called Rev. Charles Dreyer as its fulltime pastor. By the time he resigned in 1992, membership had risen to 469.
In recent years First Presbyterian Church has been blessed with a series of devoted pastors, each of whom have contributed various gifts and initiated programs for internal spiritual development and effective outreach. Rev. Vicki Harden-Evans served from 1994 until 1998. The church’s longest-serving senior pastor to date was Rev. Tim Reynolds, who was called in May 2001 and left in April 2009.
God has blessed our church anew with the calling of our current pastor, Michael Davis, whose first sermon was on Easter Sunday, 2012. Michael brings fresh life and abundant warmth to our worship, fellowship, and mission. He faithfully models our vision statement: “Responding to God’s love and grace, our vision is to serve Christ through service to others.”
- The stone steps in front of the church are original.
- The front doors have been replaced, but are exact replicas of the original ones.
- Window frames and some glass panes are original.
- Shutters are reproductions of the originals with original hinges used.
- Until 1965, the worship center at the front of the sanctuary had a single pulpit. At that time a wall was constructed in the rear of the sanctuary to create a narthex.
- The wooden cross on the north wall was made and installed in 1965 by a member of the congregation.
- The church became self-supporting in 1965, after almost 100 years.
- The U.S. Corp of Engineers owns the church parking lot as part of their flood control program. The church cannot purchase the lot, but has been allowed to pave and use it.