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FROM its earliest beginning, Mecklenburg has attracted a churchgoing people, and its society has long been church-centered. But even so, the growth of Charlotte's religious groups in more recent years is remarkable.
An 1875 directory lists nine white churches: two each for the Methodists and Presbyterians, and one each for the Baptists, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Associate Reformed Presbyterians, and Roman Catholics. There were six Negro churches: two Baptist, three Methodist, and one Presbyterian. By 1910 the figures were thirty-five white and twenty-four Negro. The list of denominations remained constant until 1918, when a synagogue was listed. A Seventh Day Adventist Church was added about 1914, the Christian Science Church in 1920, and the Moravian Church in 1925.
Until 1940 the white and Negro churches were listed separately, but after that they were listed together but still classified according to denominations. However, the list of non-denominational churches had grown to twenty-two, of which the most familiar are Garr Auditorium and Brethren Assembly. This form of listing continued until 1957, after which all Charlotte's nearly three hundred churches were listed in one alphabetical arrangement.
Since a complete treatment of all denominations is obviously impossible here, a short sketch of the mother church of the three leading denominations will be given, and brief mention made of others, in the hope of conveying an overall picture of the extensive and important place religion has had, and now holds, in Charlotte and Mecklenburg County.
The earliest settlement in Mecklenburg County was in the Rocky River community, later to become a part of Cabarrus County, and according to tradition, the first settler was John Rodgers, who arrived in 1732. If this is true, then his arrival antedated by several years the coming of Thomas Spratt, earliest known settler at Charlotte. Rodgers and those who followed him to this vicinity were predominantly Presbyterians. These people soon felt the need for a minister, and they gladly welcomed Rev. Hugh McAden, an itinerant Presbyterian minister. To him belongs the credit for holding the first regularly conducted religious service in the Rocky River section.
The exact date is unknown, but it was about 1750 that a Presbyterian congregation was formed at Rocky River, probably through the influence of Mr. McAden, who held a number of services in various homes of the community. Definite records begin with the installation of Alexander Craighead as minister of the Rocky River congregation on Monday, November 6, 1758. He thus became the first pastor of the first church of any kind to be established in Mecklenburg County.
Another group of pioneers settled nearer the present site of Charlotte and organized the Sugaw Creek Presbyterian Church in 1755, with Rev. Mr. Craighead serving as pastor of both the Rocky River church and the Sugaw Creek church from the time each was organized until 1766. Details of his long, eventful, and sometimes turbulent life are recorded in numerous places, notably The Presbyterian Church at Rocky River, by Thomas Hugh Spence, Jr. (1954) and A History of Sugaw Creek Presbyterian Church, by Neill Roderick McGeachy (1954). Mr. McGeachy writes: "Time and talent both fail as we try to assess the worth and contributions of this man whose life and work set the mold for Sugaw Creek Church and whose family and descendants have extended his influence through a large part of our Southland, and its institutions. Alexander Craighead, faithful servant and minister of Jesus Christ and His church, fighter for freedom and self-government, your spiritual descendants rise up through the centuries and call you 'blessed.'"
In the few years that followed the establishment of these first two churches in Mecklenburg, six additional Presbyterian churches were organized: Steele Creek (1760), Hopewell (1762), Poplar Tent (1764), Center (1765), Providence (1767), and Philadelphia (1770). Each of these churches has a long and inspiring history of its own, and some have had book-length histories written about them. All have been the subject of newspaper feature articles from time to time. These churches are still active in 1960 and, with the exception of Rocky River Church, take important roles in the affairs of Mecklenburg Presbytery. Most of them still make use of all or portions of their original structures, though rebuilding in varying degrees has been found necessary, and many have modern additions for educational, recreational, and social purposes.
Alexander Craighead's successor at Rocky River Presbyterian Church was Hezekiah James Balch, who later was one of the signers of the Mecklenburg declaration of independence. Joseph Alexander became the second pastor of Sugaw Creek Presbyterian Church, to be followed in 1780 by Thomas Craighead, son of Alexander Craighead, supply minister for two years. In 1791 Samuel Craighead Caldwell, grandson of Alexander Craighead, became pastor of Sugaw Creek Church and served two terms spanning 35 years, and in 1837 John Madison McKnitt Caldwell, a great-grandson of Alexander Craighead, served as pastor.
Some of these and many other founders of Presbyterianism in Mecklenburg were dramatically portrayed in Voice in the Wilderness, written and staged to celebrate the bicentennial of the founding of Presbyterianism in Mecklenburg. It was viewed by many thousands when presented in Charlotte June 14-19, 1955.
That the city did not always dominate Mecklenburg is illustrated by the fact that almost fifty years elapsed during the building of the first seven churches in Mecklenburg County and the building of the first church of any kind in Charlotte. Initial efforts to erect a church in town were not taken until 1819, when the town commissioners set apart a lot on Trade and Church Streets to be used for a church and cemetery. Begun in 1819, the building of this church was not completed until 1823. When the church was finished there remained a considerable debt from an original sum the commissioners had borrowed from the Charlotte branch of the Bank of New Berne. For some years thereafter the building was used by various denominations, but principally by the Presbyterians who had organized a church in 1832. When payment of the remaining sum, $674, became due in 1835, because of the expiration of the bank's charter, John Irwin, a prominent Presbyterian, paid off the debt and became owner of the property. On March 24, 1841, members of the congregation reimbursed Mr. Irwin and he deeded the property to the Presbyterian Church, by whom it has been owned ever since.
Formal organization of the Presbyterian Church of Charlotte took place on the fourth Sunday of August, 1832, with some thirty-six members enrolled. The pastor was Rev. Robert Hall Morrison, pastor of Sugaw Creek Presbyterian Church, who devoted one-third of his time to the Charlotte church, receiving from it $200 of his total annual salary of $800. Dr. Morrison resigned in January 1833. On May 3, 1834, Rev. A. J. Leavenworth was installed as the first full-time pastor of the Charlotte church.
The small, original church was replaced November 17, 1895, by an edifice which has been enlarged and improved from time to time. Today it is one of the larger church properties of Charlotte, and retains the architectural charm of an earlier period. Prior to 1873 most members of the congregation owned and held deeds to the pews, a custom not uncommon at the time. The original tract of land occupied by this church and still intact prompted one visitor to comment in print:
"I have visited many cities in this country, in Europe, in parts of Asia and Africa and I have not found anything more impressive than the sight of your magnificent city square with its majestic trees and green grass surrounding a church building of striking architectural design. One city block in this commercial age reserved for God. My, how unusual and how beautiful."
Known only as the Presbyterian Church from its founding, the church automatically became known as First Presbyterian Church with the organization of the Second Presbyterian Church in 1873. The history of Charlotte's First Presbyterian Church is long and filled with brilliant accomplishments and the names of distinguished men and women. Davidson College was established by Rev. Robert Hall Morrison, pastor of the church and first president of Davidson College; and Barium Springs Orphanage, some forty miles from Charlotte, is the outgrowth of a little home established in Charlotte largely by women of the First Presbyterian Church. The Fist Church is conceded to be the mother church of some forty Presbyterian churches now in Charlotte.
Among distinguished men and women who have been active in the First Presbyterian Church were General Daniel Harvey Hill and his wife Isabella, General Rufus Barringer and his wife Eugenia, Colonel John Brown and his wife Laura, and Mrs. T. J. "Stonewall" Jackson (the four ladies were daughters of Rev. Robert Hall Morrison); Governor Zebulon Baird Vance and his first wife, Harriet Newell Espy; Edward Kidder Graham, later president of the University of North Carolina; Dr. Walter Moore, president of Union Theological Seminary; James W. Osborne, Sr.; Judge Victor Barringer, and General John A. Young.
The centennial celebration of the First Presbyterian Church was observed by a series of meetings held November 16-20, 1932. At that time the minister was Albert Sidney Johnson. The governing bodies were no less worthy than their illustrious predecessors. Session: George M. Rose, clerk; Frank H. Andrews, M.E. Boyer, W. B. Bradford, E. T. Cansler, W. M. Wilcox, McAllister Carson, Robert A. Dunn, F. O. Hawley, Morgan B. Speir, Sr., J. W. McClung, Dr. J. P. Munroe, Jesse M. Oldham, H. H. Orr, and Thomas J. Smith. Diaconate: C. M. Carson, J. A. Fore, Dr. Robert L. Gibbon, C. W. Johnston, John M. Scott, W. B. McClintock, A. S. Orr, H. B. Patterson, Ivey W. Stewart, W. N. Ward (treasurer), Albert T. Summey, Dolph M. Young, and J. W. Zimmerman.
No description of the First Presbyterian Church of Charlotte should be concluded without recording the achievements of Mrs. J. A. Fore and Miss Madeline Orr in compiling histories of the church, its ministers, members, and activities, from its beginning until the present. Mrs. Fore's Scrap Book and Miss Orr's Collection of Historical Materials repose, for safekeeping, in the Historical Foundation of the Presbyterian Church at Montreat, North Carolina. Copies on microfilm are available to the public for reference in the Public Library of Charlotte. More than a record of one church, Miss Orr's history throws much light on life in the nineteenth century as lived in Charlotte. Some idea of the wealth and variety of her notes may be gained from the following samplings:
A quotation from the Catawba Journal, August 22, 1826, reads: "People are invited to assist in throwing up ditches to keep hogs out of the Presbyterian cemetery."
A note in 1874 implies that organization of the Second Presbyterian Church aided the First Church inasmuch as in October of that year, the deacons asked members to surrender the deeds to their pews, so that pews might be free.
A news note dated April 29, 1873, reads, "The bell for the Presbyterian Church arrived yesterday. The old bell of the Presbyterian Church is now used for the town clock. It was the only bell in the city not sacrificed for the Confederate cause."
A quotation from the Charlotte Observer for May 19, 1876, reads: "The picnic of the First Presbyterian Church held at Moore's Ferry on the Catawba River . . . not a single untoward occurrence during the day." The manse of the church was built in 1876 and in 1912 the paling fence, seen in many old pictures, was removed and afterwards replaced with one of iron.
Organization of the Second Presbyterian Church became necessary when the congregation of the original church outgrew the building, the date being October 22, 1873. Pending completion of the $10,000 church building in 1875 at 224 North Tryon Street, the new congregation used the county courthouse as a place of worship. In 1894 an imposing sanctuary was built, to which a commodious educational building was added in 1921.
After a hectic and somewhat poverty-stricken start, as recorded by Robert S. Hutchison in The Earliest Members of the Second Presbyterian Church of Charlotte, North Carolina (1951), the new church proved a worthy companion to its distinguished parent in furthering the cause of Presbyterianism in Charlotte and throughout the world. Detailed information, including biographical and genealogical sketches of officers and many members of the Second Church, is recorded in History of the Second Presbyterian Church of Charlotte, North Carolina, by Robert H. Lafferty (1953).
The Second Presbyterian Church sacrificed its identity, as did the Westminster Presbyterian Church, when they united in June, 1947, to form the Covenant Presbyterian Church. Covenant has the most imposing group of religious buildings in Charlotte. Sometimes, teasingly, it is referred to as "The Little Vatican."
From these two original churches have come the inspiration and much of the money for a long list of thriving Presbyterian churches convenient to all sections of the city. The list of pastors who have attained fame in these churches is entirely too long for inclusion here, but a few are so well remembered that they must be mentioned.
Still loved in memory by many elderly citizens is Dr. J. R. Howerton, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, 1897-1906. He was the father of Phillip Howerton, lay moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church U.S., 1958-9. Among others who served the same church with distinction was Dr. Albert Sidney Johnson, 1918-41. Rev. Charles E. S. Kraemer, 1945-54, resigned to become head of the Presbyterian School of Christian Education. From June 20, 1896, until April 5, 1903, Dr. J. W. Stagg was the beloved pastor of the Second Presbyterian Church. Very popular among citizens of all denominations was Archibald A. McGeachy, who served as pastor of the Second Church from September 1, 1908, until his death September 24, 1928. Participating in his funeral services were Dr. Albert Sidney Johnson, Rev. Father Jerome, Dr. J. R. Bridges, editor of The Presbyterian Standard, and Dr. W. H. Frazer, president of Queens College. More recently, Dr. John A. Redhead, 1937-1945, and Dr. Warner L. Hall, April 28, 1946, to date, have enjoyed the warm fellowship established so firmly by the predecessors. The first pastor of Myers Park Presbyterian Church was Dr. Edgar L. Gammon, 1927-1939, who resigned to become president of Hampden-Sydney College. Dr. James A. Jones succeeded Dr. Gammon, winning for himself a host of admiring friends throughout the city before he resigned to become president of Union Theological Seminary. Many ministers who have served Presbyterian churches in Mecklenburg County, outside of Charlotte, will be long remembered but none with more genuine affection than Rev. John M. Walker, pastor of Steele Creek Presbyterian Church, 1920-1948, and Rev. John W. Grier, for almost fifty years pastor of the Huntersville Presbyterian Church.
As the leading center of Presbyterianism in the South, it is fitting that Charlotte should have been selected as headquarters for the Presbyterian Foundation of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S. (Southern). The present name was chosen in 1957 to replace the former cumbersome title under which it was chartered by the State Legislature on February 19, 1866, "The Trustees of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States and the Presbyterian Foundation, Inc."
The purpose of the Presbyterian Foundation is "to receive, hold, employ, and dispose of all of the estate and property, real, personal and mixed which may, from time to time, be acquired by gift, devise, bequest, purchase or otherwise." By 1957 operations became so extensive that the services of a full-time director were required and the first to fill this position was Dr. John R. Cunningham, former president of Davidson College.
The first Methodist sermon and probably the first sermon of any kind ever preached in Mecklenburg was delivered by Reverend George Whitfield in October 1742 on what is now the campus of Davidson College. A quarter of a century later, the Methodists were sufficiently numerous in North Carolina to form a Carolina Circuit.
From that time on, influenced by "the great awakening" (1775-1778) membership in Methodist societies in North Carolina multiplied four times in two or three years. Today, it is estimated that every eighth Mecklenburger is a Methodist. The pioneer Methodists originally settled near the present town of Pineville. By 1785 these people had formed a small congregation, worshiping for the first twenty years in an open arbor, served by circuit riders and itinerant preachers.
This congregation met on Catawba Indian land, before it was generally available by the government. A large tract had been bought by Harrison Hood, a wealthy Presbyterian, lately from Virginia, who, when approached by the Methodists for permission to erect a church on his land, not only donated the land but supplied most of the required lumber, logs, and slave labor.
The church was referred to as Harrison's Church, but there is some confusion as to whom that name honors. It may have been Harrison Hood, or Samuel Harrison, a prominent Methodist who lived nearby. George Washington's diary, for May 28, 1791, records his breakfast at "Harrison's" before going on "to Charlotte 13 miles further along by 3 p.m."
The first structure at Harrison's Methodist Church was erected some time between 1805 and 1815. It was built of hewn logs notched up in the old-fashioned way and covered with oak boards with the cracks between the logs filled with clay mortar. Harrison's Methodist Church community had, in addition to President Washington, another distinguished visitor in the parson of Bishop Francis Asbury. In an account of his travels is recorded: "Monday, November 14, 1808, Rode 33 miles hungry, cold and sick to Harrison's, Mecklenburg County. I came unwell and taking medicine to Robert Hancock's, Waxhaws. I suffer but it is the will of God. 1800 miles since leaving Baltimore, I have ordained Hancock a local deacon."
Few small communities were so honored as to have had visits from both the "Father of the Country" and the "Father of American Methodism." No local church has had a more interesting history written about it: in 1955 Rev. Orion N. Hutchinson wrote A History of Harrison Methodist Church, which is still in manuscript form only. Mr. Hutchinson summarizes the activities of Harrison's to the end of the nineteenth century by stating, "The church has moved from brush arbor to two buildings, from a circuit of 16 or more societies to a circuit of 4 churches. All in all it was a good hundred years and 'the best is yet to come.'"
Over the years many other Methodist churches have been organized throughout the country and in the five incorporated towns. The second oldest is Trinity Methodist on Beattie's Ford Road. Hickory Grove Methodist Church was organized in 1844; its fourth building was dedicated on Sunday, March 17, 1935.
Methodism in Charlotte began in 1814 when Dr. David R. Dunlap, a practicing physician and a Methodist, located here. When Methodist ministers visited Charlotte, many of them complied with Dr. Dunlap's request to preach at services which were held in the courthouse. A few years later the little group of Methodists who had settled in Charlotte secured the occasional services of a preacher, Rev. William B. Barnett, who was the first minister of the newly-formed Sugaw Creek Circuit. The first class, or congregation, was formally organized in 1818, with Dr. Dunlap as leader, in time to share the community church which had been built by the town council.
In 1833, the junior preacher on the Sugaw Creek Circuit, Rev. David J. Allen, became the first full-time minister to the Charlotte congregation and in 1834 the first Methodist Church was built. This small building served until 1859 when a sizable church was built at the southwest corner of Tryon and Sixth Streets, and the name Tryon Street Methodist Church adopted. This, then, was the beginning of one of the two churches that were united to form the First Methodist Church of Charlotte, largest Methodist body in the city and mother church to many of the 48 Methodist congregations of Mecklenburg in 1960. The other of the two churches forming the First Methodist was Trinity Methodist Church, organized in 1896 and located at 401 South Tryon Street. Both churches had grown rapidly and at the time they were merged Tryon Street Church reported a membership of about 1,400 and Trinity Church, approximately 1,100 members.
Tryon Street Methodist Church and Trinity Methodist Church were officially united into the First Methodist Church on October 28, 1927 by Bishop Edwin D. Mouzon. The Bishop delivered the first sermon on Sunday morning, October 30, 1927, in the $900,000 structure on the corner of Tryon and Eighth Streets. In less than a year, the depression began. For some years it appeared that the church property might be lost but in 1944 the congregation had cleared the indebtedness. Dedicatory services were held March 9-19, 1944, with the formal dedication being made by Bishop Clare Purcell, and the dedicatory sermon preached by Bishop W. W. Peele.
The First Methodist Church and the two churches from which it was formed have numbered among their members some of Charlotte's most distinguished men and women. Charles J. Soong, father of the famous Soong sisters of China, was ordained a Methodist minister in the old Tryon Street church. This occurred during the annual conference, November 30, 1885. During his visit Mr. Soong was entertained at dinner in the home of the W. W. Hagood family, among the oldest and most faithful members of the church.
Other large Methodist congregations meet at Dilworth Methodist Church, founded about 1907, and the Myers Park Methodist Church, founded in 1925. The original building of the Dilworth church was on the corner of Worthington and Cleveland Avenues, until 1926 when the impressive sanctuary at 605 East Boulevard was completed. To this building, there was added in 1941, a large educational building, named for its donor, James Addison Jones.
Members of the Myers Park Methodist Church worshiped in the chapel of Queens College pending occupancy of their own church in 1930. Founders of this church, memorialized in a monograph published in observance of the 25th anniversary of the church, were: H. Connor Sherrill, Robert I. Dalton, George H. Moore, Fred Anderson, Dr. R. T. Ferguson, J. J. Akers, Dr. P. C. Hull, W. J. Stultz, D. D. Traywick, and Louis Asbury, who was not only a founder, but donated his services as architect of the building.
Many ministers and officers have brought the Myers Park Methodist Church to its present prestige. Rev. C. Excell Rozzelle, first pastor (1925-1927), laid the foundation upon which his successors built so well; J. Luther Snyder transferred his membership from Hawthorne Lane Methodist Church, contributed an organ and the $115,000 educational building; under Dr. Richard L. Owenby (pastor 1932-1941) the church indebtedness was paid in full and dedicatory services held (May 18, 1941); Dr. Embree H. Blackard (pastor 1941-1945) completed the organization of a competent staff; Dr. James G. Huggin (pastor 1945-1952) brought well deserved recognition when he became District Superintendent in 1956-1958.
Of the three largest Protestant denominations, the Baptists were the last to become organized in Charlotte. Their growth has been most impressive, however, and they have more than made up for their late start. The 1957 Charlotte City Directory lists 76 Baptist churches, 48 Methodist and 40 Presbyterian, the figures including both white and Negro congregations, and missions of all kinds. The Baptists have also been diligent in preserving their local church history, as a reading of the accompanying bibliography shows.
The first Baptist church in Charlotte was constituted in 1833. The church consisted of only 11 members dismissed from Flint Hill Baptist Church, about 12 miles from Charlotte, just across the South Carolina line. It did not prosper and after a decade passed out of existence. The first permanent Baptist church in Charlotte was constituted in June 1855 and named Beulah Baptist Church of Christ. The first service was held September 7, 1856. Thus, with many evolutionary steps began the First Baptist Church of Charlotte which today probably has the largest single congregation in the city. The history of this church is recorded in First Baptist Church of Charlotte 1832-1916, by Carrie L. McLean. It makes fascinating reading:
"November 1861. The pastor tendered his resignation. Is it any wonder? Not able to get together even five men for a business meeting and $360. annual salary, only $140. of which had been paid." (In 1959 the Charlotte Newslisted the salaries of Charlotte ministers as: Baptists, from $2,000 to $15,000; Methodists, $3,500 to $12,500; Presbyterians, $4,200 to $12,000.)
"1865. A source of great annoyance and a subject that occupied much time at business meetings was the church bell. Committee after committee was appointed to try to have the bell fixed so that it would ring better. A solution to the problem was offered by the war, the bell was made into bullets with which to shoot the Yankees . . . But the next bell was worse than the first and numerous attempts to get it fixed failed. Since the church has been on Tryon Street, it has never had a bell."
"1867. A salary of $500. was pledged the Pastor."
"June 1868. Letters were granted to all colored members recommended by the colored deacon and fifty-five of them . . . were formed into a regular colored Baptist church. Prior to 1867 the colored members had no surnames and were listed as, 'Moses, servant of Grier,' or 'Peggy, servant of Jenkins.'"
"1883. At this time, so poor was the church that they were unable to buy hymn books for the Sunday School. One of the duties of the Assistant Superintendent was that each week he procured a piece of muslin and spent each Friday night in stencilling on the muslin the hymn from the hymnbook owned. This was placed before the school . . . so that all could see."
"1892. It was resolved that membership should be withdrawn from members engaged in dancing."
The First Baptist Church is regarded as the mother church of 76 Baptist churches and missions in Charlotte and vicinity, some of which are beginning to rival the parent in membership, physical plant and achievement. The oldest of the mission churches began as the Ninth Avenue Baptist Church (1895) with Dr. L. R. Pruette as pastor. It was relocated in 1949 and named Midwood Baptist Church. The Pritchard Memorial Baptist Church, formed November 10, 1901, was the outgrowth of a Sunday School established by Dr. Pruette and Dr. T. H. Pritchard in 1895. St. John's (1922) and Myers Park (1943) have grown rapidly.
To those who know Charlotte best, certain names are synonymous with the Baptist faith: Thaddeus A. Adams, Henry B. Benoit, James R. Bryant, Dr. Amos S. Bumgardner, W. W. Crymes, John L. Dabbs, F. B. Davant, R. S. Dickson, Henry C. Dockery, William Carey Dowd, Sr., W. F. Dowd, J. A. Durham, J. B. Efird, Albert L. Faul, W. R. Foreman, Thomas S. Franklin, R. L. Goode, Brodie S. Griffith, V. J. Guthery, J. P. Hackney, L. L. Hackney, H. G. Harper, Fred B. Helms, Herman D. Horton, Dr. J. G. Johnson, A. B. Justice, Z. V. Kendrick, Clarence O. Kuester, Sr., Marshall E. Lake, Frank D. Lethco, B. Arp Lowrance, Carl McCraw, R. E. Mason, Lex Marsh, Dr. John Q. Myers, J. M. McMichael, J. B. Oates, Dr. C. N. Peeler, D. L. Probert, J. R. Purser, Dr. W. S. Rankin, E. E. Redfern, A. P. Rucker, W. J. Senn, John C. Shepherd, N. J. Sherrill, Cyril G. Smith, Junius Smith, Dr. Raymond Thompson, R. L. Vernon, J. M. Woodside, M. F. Wooten, and J. A. Yarbrough.
Biographical sketches of all pastors of the First Baptist Church are contained in Biography of a Thriving Church, by John Marvin Crowe (1953). Within the pleasant memory of many who are now living were Dr. A. C. Barron (1896-1905); Rev. H. H. Hulton (1906-1912); Dr. W. M. Vines (1913-1917), Dr. Luther Little (1917-1943), who served through two major wars and the country's most severe depression, will be long remembered for his monumental Christian achievements in Charlotte. Dr. Casper C. Warren succeeded Dr. Little and, because of his outstanding ability as demonstrated locally and throughout the South, was president of the Southern Baptist Convention, 1955. Dr. Claude U. Broach, scholarly pastor of St. John's Baptist Church, has been one of Georgia's great contributions to Charlotte, especially in the fields of inter-church cooperation and in work with the younger people of the community. Under the pastorate of Dr. George D. Heaton, the Myers Park Baptist Church grew rapidly from an idea to one of the most beautiful church structures in the city.
From April 1928 until forced by advancing age into graceful retirement, the pastor of Pritchard Memorial Baptist Church was Dr. William Harrison Williams. On his retirement, in 1958, Mayor James S. Smith said, "If Baptists had a bishop, Dr. Williams would certainly be it."
The first recorded service by a member of the Protestant Episcopal Church in Charlotte was held in a church erected for the common worship of the community and unconnected with any denominational organization. This church occupied the site of the present First Presbyterian Church on West Trade Street. The Rt. Rev. John Stark Ravenscroft, first bishop of the diocese of North Carolina (1823-1830) was in Charlotte and preached in that community church building on the first Sunday in November 1824.
St. Peter's Protestant Episcopal Church was established in Charlotte, first as a mission in 1834, later to become a parish of the diocese in 1844. An Episcopal visitation was made June 25, 1834 by the Rt. Rev. Levi Silliman Ives, the second bishop of the diocese of North Carolina (1831-1853) and at this time four persons were confirmed.
The first church building for St. Peter's Episcopal church was a small brick edifice erected on a lot opposite the Post Office on West Trade Street. This property was sold later and a new site purchased on North Tryon Street, the present location. The cornerstone was laid by the Rt. Rev. Thomas Atkinson, the third bishop of the diocese of North Carolina (1853-1881) on May 21, 1857 and the building was completed in 1858.
During the War Between the States members of the parish participated in the importation of Bibles and prayer books from England for use by the Confederate soldiers. On April 23, 1865 Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America, with members of his cabinet worshiped in St. Peter's Church following the surrender of the Confederate Army at Appomattox.
The small old church was dismantled and the present church erected in 1892. The Parish House was added in 1911-12.
Since its early beginning in 1834, the following parishes and missions have been established: St. Michael and All Angels; St. Martin's; Church of the Holy Comforter; St. Andrew's; St. Mark's, near Huntersville; Chapel of Hope; St. Mary the Virgin at Thompson Orphanage; Christ Church; St. John's; and St. Christopher's. There are presently sixteen members of the clergy serving the church in Charlotte and Mecklenburg County.
Four rectors of St. Peter's have become bishops: the Rt. Rev. Joseph Blount Cheshire; the Rt. Rev. Edwin Anderson Penick, D.D., consecrated bishop-coadjutor of this diocese October 15, 1922 and becoming bishop on December 27, 1932; the Rt. Rev. John Moore Walker, D.D., consecrated bishop of the diocese of Atlanta September 22, 1942; and the Rev. Gray Temple, bishop elect of the diocese of South Carolina, 1960.
The first rector of St. Martin's Episcopal Church was Rev. John Long Jackson who later became bishop of Louisiana and whose successor, Rev. C. Alfred Cole, became bishop of Upper South Carolina. At Christ Church, now largest in the diocese, the first rector was Rev. George M. Henry, who later became bishop of Western North Carolina. The longest pastorate of an Episcopal church in Charlotte was held by Rev. Robert Bruce Owens, rector of the Church of the Holy Comforter, 1916-1945, a man of many talents all of which he contributed liberally to the intellectual and spiritual life of his adopted city. An equally well known and respected Episcopal clergyman is Rev. William H. Wheeler, who served 1922-1940 as superintendent of the Thompson Orphanage. He later became assistant minister at St. Peter's Church in charge of some of the missions throughout the city, hospital visitor, and "friend of man."
As with all Charlotte churches certain names become identified with the denomination. In Protestant Episcopal circles, especially St. Peter's Church, some of these names are represented by members of the families of such past and present members as Fred Bonitz, W. Irving Bullard, Lewis C. Burwell, Edwin Clarkson, Judge Francis Clarkson, H. T. Cosby, Stuart W. Cramer, John H. Cutter, Harold C. Dwelle, Burt Fitch, Rupert Gillette, Jeremiah Goff, Mrs. Patsy Goodwin, Dr. W. A. Graham, E. C. Griffith, Thomas Griffith, Thomas Guion Griffith, John W. Labouisse, John B. London, Henry McAden, William McLaurine, E. C. Marshall, Dr. W. B. Mayer, M. M. Murphy, Frank Shannonhouse, E. A. Terrell, Dr. John Hill Tucker, James H. Van Ness, and J. Frank Wilkes.
The cornerstone of St. Peter's, the first Roman Catholic Church in Charlotte, was laid on St. Patrick's Day 1851, and the church was dedicated in 1852. This small church on the southeast corner of Tryon and First Streets was replaced in 1892 by a new and much larger building which, with additions and improvements, is still in use. The second and more imposing Roman Catholic Church, St. Patrick's, on Dilworth Road, was dedicated in 1939. It was the first Roman Catholic Church in North Carolina to be consecrated immediately upon completion. S. Patrick's Church was made possibly largely by the gift of John Henry Phelan of Texas, whose ancestors were from Charlotte. The first pastor of St. Patrick's was Rt. Rev. Monsignor Arthur Freeman. He was followed by the present pastor, Rt. Rev. Monsignor John Patrick Manley.
Following World War II, the high percentage of Roman Catholics among the newcomers to Charlotte made necessary the formation of four additional parishes, each with its own parochial school, and one mission church. Following the 1954 desegregation decision of the United States Supreme Court, the Catholics immediately opened their churches and schools to all races.
Morning Star Luthern Church near Matthews, organized 1775, antedates all other denominations in Mecklenburg except the Presbyterian. For some years it was one of the strongest rural churches in the county, but membership dwindled. Today, the church is rapidly regaining its former prestige. The first unit of a new building program was completed in 1959.
On February 1, 1959, St. Mark's, oldest Evangelical Lutheran Church in Charlotte, celebrated its centennial anniversary. It is the parent church of several congregations affiliated with the United Lutheran Church in America. The first building occupied by St. Mark's Evangelical Lutheran Church was located at College and Seventh Streets. The second, occupied from 1885 until 1960, was located midway between Seventh and Eighth Streets, on the east side of North Tryon Street. This property was sold in 1959 to the owners of the William R. Barringer Hotel. A new and handsome church building has been built on Queens Road.
The longest pastorate in the history of St. Mark's was held by Reverend John F. Crigler (1915-1948). From 1948 until 1954 the pastor of the church was Rev. Walter B. Freed, who was followed by the present pastor, Dr. John R. Brokhoff.
Among the older Lutheran churches of the city, also affiliated with the United Lutheran Church in America, is Holy Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church on the Plaza. Now occupying an attractive new church building, this congregation was led for many years by Dr. Robert L. Patterson, who willed his extensive theological library to the Public Library. Since 1936, Rev. Olin W. Sink, formerly assistant paster, has carried forward the work of this church.
The Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod, is represented in Charlotte by Ascension Lutheran Church, organized in 1932, currently enjoying the ministry of Rev. Leslie F. Frerking.
Associate Reformed Presbyterian
Prior to 1803, the Associate Reformed Presbyterian churches in the countryside around Charlotte were: Gilead (1787), Prosperity (1888), Sardis (1790), Steele Creek (1794), and Back Creek (1802). In 1860 there was an attempt on the part of these churches to organize an Associate Reformed Church in Charlotte, but these efforts were disrupted by the War Between the States.
The 1873-74 Synod authorized the formation of a church at Charlotte. This brought into being the First Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church on the corner of Fifth and College Streets. As the community grew other churchers were formed and by 1850 there had been added to the list Ebenezer (1869), Huntersville (1875), Tabernacle (1899), Parkwood (1908), Chalmers Memorial (1908), Statesville Avenue (1908), Glenwood (1919), Craig Avenue (1949).
The First Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, located now on North Tryon Street, divided in 1952. One group remained the First A.R.P. Church and retained the property. The other group formed the Westminster Church of the Presbyterian denomination U. S. (Southern) on September 14, 1952. On July 15, 1952 the Sardis A. R. P. Church became affiliated with the same denomination, making a settlement with the A. R. P. Synod for the church property.
While Jewish congregations and houses of worship are of comparatively recent origin, there have been religious and benevolent activities by Jewish citizens in Charlotte for a hundred years. Temple Israel, older of the two Jewish congregations, is the outgrowth of the Hebrew Benevolent Society which, in 1875, was a flourishing Charlotte organization. That year they gave a charity ball and raised $100 for an old age home.
An early Jewish leader in Charlotte was Samuel Wittkowsky, a warm friend of Governor Zebulon Vance, and probably the inspiration for Vance's famous address, "The Scattered Nation." There was a branch of the Baruch family living in Charlotte and Bernard M. Baruch, financier and friend of Presidents, spent a good deal of time as a boy with his uncle in Charlotte. Some other Jewish citizens of the late nineteenth century whose names and whose descendants are familiar include Samuel and Solomon Cohen, H. Bumgarten, A. A. Nathan, David Goldberg, Jay Hirshinger, and Louis N. Schiff.
From this social group, and another which was formed to provide a Jewish cemetery, there evolved a congregation and synagogue. Actual formation of the congregation occurred about 1895, and the first building on West Seventh Street came into existence about 1916. The 60th anniversary was celebrated in 1955 in a new synagogue on Dilworth Road, completed in 1949. On that occasion there was only one of the founding members present, Mrs. David Ben Silverstein, who shared honors with the 1955 officials: Rabbi Aaron Tofield, Dr. Albert Kossove, president; Ben Jaffa, vice president; S. S. Fligel, treasurer; and Leon Kraft, secretary.
The newer Jewish congregation in Charlotte, Temple Beth El, was orgaized in 1942 and shortly thereafter built a synagogue on Providence Road. The first rabbi selected by this congregation was Philip Frankel.
Seventh Day Adventist
The Seventh Day Adventist congregation in Charlotte dates form 1914. By 1947 its membership had increased sufficiently to build a church at 1011 East Morehead Street. This building was dedicated in December 1951.
The Moravian congregation in Charlotte was formed on November 7, 1920, and on October 19, 1924 the first service was held in the newly built chapel, since known as The Little Church on the Lane.
The Little Church on the Lane is the fulfillment of a dream of Mr. and Mrs. W. T. Wohlford, members of the original group. They donated the property on which the parish house and parsonage stand. Dr. Herbert Spaugh came to the church as resident pastor and is still (1961) pastor. It is generally agreed that Dr. Spaugh is the best known Protestant minister in Charlotte. Outstanding among his contributions are his long and effective service as Chairman of the Charlotte School Board, and quarter century as author of "The Everyday Counselor," popular daily feature of the Charlotte News. This column is also carried in other southern newspapers.
In 1959 Dr. Spaugh was elected a bishop of the Moravian Church. He continues as pastor of The Little Church ofn the Lane with Rev. James L. Johnson as assistant.
A group of students of Christian Science began holding regular services in Charlotte homes in 1900. As the number grew, services were held in rented halls. In 1905 the group was organized as a Christian Science Society. In 1911 this Society had fulfilled requirements of the mother church, The First Church of Christ, Scientist, of Boston, Massachusetts, and became known as the First Church of Christ, Scientist, of Charlotte. In 1919 the church purchased property at Cedar and West Trade Streets and services were continued there until 1940 when a new edifice of New England Colonial architectural design was erected on East Morehead Street. This building was dedicated in 1945, free of debt.
A Christian Science Reading Room, where may be obtained the Bible, Christain Science textbooks, and all authorized Christain Science publications, is maintained by the church in downtown Charlotte.
Although it is among the oldest religious denominations in American, the Unitarian Church was an unknown organization in conservative, Protestant Charlotte until recent years. The rapid expansion of Charlotte following World War II brought Unitarians to the city in increasing numbers, and in 1947 they began to hold services.
Pending construction of a church on East Boulevard, services were held in the Broadway Theatre. The first leader in Charlotte was John Morgan, a gentleman of such personal charm and sincerity that the new organization soon became firmly established and has since continued as an aggressive and influential institution.
One of the newest church edifices in Charlotte was occupied October 1, 1959 by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, more commonly known as the Mormon Church. Membership in the Charlotte branch has gradually increased over the past 20 years from a handful to more than 250 peole. This growth is due principally to the efforts of young missionaries making house to house visits.
In 1923, following a gradual increase in Charlotte's population of Greek origin dating from about 1900, a Greek Orthodox Community was organized, with the blessings of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America. Between fourty and fifty charter members attended the orgaization meeting and elected Gus Kokenes as president; Charles Michaels, secretary; George Plumides, treasurer. To serve with them were Chris Leventis, Charles Anagnos and Sam Wallace as board members.
By 1929 the new church had grown sufficiently to justify the purchase of a building on South Boulevard which had been vacated by Westminster Presbyterian Church. This building served until 1954 when the imposing edifice at 600 East Boulevard was occupied. It was the first of several units. This Community Center also serves as headquarters for the Southern Diocese of the Greek Orthodox Church which was created in the early 1940's to administer the affairs of the church in the South. Since 1939 Rev. Chrys Papalambrou, a graduate of the Theological School of Halki, Constantinople, has been the spiritual head of the Community.
Quakers or Friends
In the spring of 1960 the small group of Quakers in Charlotte became organized as the Charlotte Friends Fellowship. The board of trustees was composed of Dr. Elizabeth Corkey, Miss Sally Southerland, J. C. Rush, Dr. William Beidler, and Carol B. Mullis, with Donald Bruce Thornton as clerk, Miss Helen Stroupe as recording clerk, and John Charles Rush, treasurer. This gorup laid plans to begin the formal and official Monthly Meetings of the Religious Society of Friends.
Negro Churches in Charlotte
Despite the fact that the local Christian Ministers Association is an interracial group and has had a Negro minister as its president, Charlotte's Protestant and undenominational churches were still almost entirely segregated in 1960. In the sphere of religion no appreciable effort toward universal desegregation had been made by either white or Negro citizens. The reason is, apparently, that since the churches of the two races were separated in the South following the War Between the States, the Negro church has become the most significant influence in the Negro community.
The history of Negro churches and their activities in Charlotte largely parallels that of white churches. In 1875 there were five Negro churches: Ebenezer Baptist and one unnamed Baptist church, Zion Methodist and one unnamed Methodist church; and one Presbyterian church. It is interesting to note that the pastor of the Presbyterian church is listed as Stephen Mattoon. He was, at that time, president of Biddle Memorial Institute, later Johnson C. Smith University. This Stephen Mattoon was the grandfather of Norman Thomas, himself an ordained Presbyterian minister, who was on several occasions nominee for president of the United States as a candidate of the Socialist party. The number of Negro churches increased at about the same rate as white churches and in 1925 there were thirteen Baptist churches, sixteen Methodist, five Holiness, two Lutheran, and seven Presbyterian. There was also a Congregational, a Seventh Day Adventist, and an Episcopal church serving the Negro community.
Among the undenominational churches, by far the best known is the Church of the Rock of the Apostolic Faith, organized in 1924 by Bishop C. M. Grace, known to his followers as Daddy Grace. Throughout the years this sect grew into a national organization and currently, in Charlotte, the congregation occupies the largest single Negro church structure in the city. Known as The House of Prayer for All People, it is located on South McDowell Street. Bishop Grace made it a custom to visit Charlotte each summer and, following a spectacular parade by members of his congregation, baptised a large group of converts in a small lake.
Daddy Grace died in Los Angeles, California in January, 1960. His body was brought to Charlotte where it lay in state for 24 hours, to be viewed by thousands of his grief-stricken followers. The following paragraphs, written by columnist Kays Gary, appeared in the Charlotte Observer:
DADDY GRACE 'TOOK ROCK NO ONE WOULD
USE AND BUILT HIS CHURCH.'
How can the phenomenon of Daddy Grace be explained?
A learned and widely respected Negro minister of an established faith has this answer:
"Grace took a rock no other builder would use and made it the cornerstone of his church."
The rock was Brooklyn.
Brooklyn had always been Charlotte's slum ridden section.
The name was leprous. It represented crime, poverty, shiftlessness and was poluted, in the public eye, by untouchables.
"But he gave those people there," the minister said, "a new self-identity. They had somebody who wanted them. He gave them hope and something to be happy about."
Echoing the words of former Police Chief Frank Littlejohn, the minister added that "you will find no member who is not industrious and none who does not respect right and the law."
Others may judge the purposes of Grace as they will, but this minister doubts that the bishop's primitive flamboyance was the product of complete self-interest.
He suggests that Grace knew what would appeal most to those who could be drawn to his church . . . that there is member pride in his Cadillac, diamonds, mansions and vast property holdings all in the church's name.
Moreover, he says, that which appears undignified and in bad taste and selfish by standards of accepted society can be genuine and sacred to those who never found this society particularly kind.
This minister believes that the cult's by-laws provide for election of a titular head to administer the vast property and bank holdings which only Grace could touch. And he declares that he knows this wealth is used in part to build more Houses of Prayer and to give material aid "to any member in dire circumstances."
The minister once asked Grace why he did not use his wealth to build hospitals, schools, orphanages etc. and got this reply: "I represent all my people and all people can be lifted only a little at a time."
These observations are interesting because of the sources and especially because their sum falls between the extreme of those who regarded Grace as a repulsive charlatan and phony, and those who believed him to be a prophet.
A clearer picture of Grace and his use of all the wealth he controlled should evolve when and if the federal government files tax liens against it, as expected.
In any case the man added a historical lesson that the downtrodden, hopeless and rejected are always ripe for leadership.
Protracted Meetings - Revivals – Crusades
While activities of white and Negro churches have been basically the same, there have been two features popular with white congregations that do not seem to have appealed to Negroes. These are the related practices of protracted meetings, called revivals when held in cities, and camp meetings when held in rural areas. Because of the presence of churches in rural Mecklenburg from earliest times, camp meetings were never too important. On the other hand, the custom of holding revivals has always been popular, especially with Methodists and Baptists and, to a lesser extent, with Presbyterians. The major projects in this field have been in the nature of joint efforts by groups of Protestant churhces.
There is little difference in the meaning of the words, "protracted meeting," and "revival," except that perhaps the term protracted meeting describes a series of meetings held by one church, whereas revival indicates sponsorship by a group of churches, or several Protestant denominations. Calling such meetings or revivals "crusades" is a modern idea. A meeting of this type was held in the First Presbyterian Church in 1853. The minister on that occasion was Reverend Daniel Baker of Texas who, writing of his Charlotte visit, stated: "There were 47 conversions, among them were 4 lawyers, 2 physicians, 6 merchants and a pretty large number of gay and fashionable young ladies."
The earliest city-wide revival was held in the auditorium of the Y.M.C.A. in March 1887. The minister was Rev. R. G. Pearson. No mention was made in the local papers concerning the results of his professional appeals, but he did very well financially, raising between three and four thousand dollars for the Y.M.C.A., for which he received a fee of $1,000.
During the latter part of the nineteenth century and early years of the twentieth, the leading evangelists were Rev. Sam Porter Jones, Methodist; Rev. George Truett, Baptist; and Rev. William Black, Presbyterian. In 1915 the largest city-wide revival up until that time was held in a special tabernacle on East Avenue, seating 6,000. This was known as the Chapman-Alexander Revival, with Dr. J. Wilburn Chapman doing the preaching and Charles M. Alexander as choir director and song leader.
Rev. William A. (Billy) Sunday, the greatest evangelist of his day, conducted a very successful revival in Charlotte in December 1923 and January 1924. For this event, a huge, temporary wooden structure was erected on the southwest corner of Tryon and Third Streets. Most evangelists used their own hymn books, each containing a selection of many popular religious songs, and no one who attended the Billy Sunday services will likely forget the tremendous enthusiasm with which the congregations, led by Homer Rodeheaver, sang "Brighten the Corner Where You Are," "When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder, I'll Be There," and other favorites.
In October 1934 Mordecai Ham, the Baptist evangelist, held one of his several series of protracted meetings in Charlotte. The importance of this particular series was not fully realized until some years later when they were given credit for his conversion by Rev. William Franklin (Billy) Graham of Charlotte, who became the most noted evangelist of his time.
Following triumphant appearances in several large cities in the United Kingdom and the United States, including London and New York, Billy Graham was given an impressive reception when he returned to his own home town to lead a Crusade for Christ in 1958. The Charlotte Coliseum and Ovens Auditorium were inadequate to accommodate the multitudes attracted by the sincere and magnetic personality of their fellow townsman.
Blythe, LeGette and Brockmann, Charles Raven. Hornets' Nest: The Story of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County. Charlotte, N.C.: Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, 1961.