A History of
of the formal organization of
The Methodist Church in the United States
The Prospect community, nestled among the beautiful hills of Southern Giles County, Tennessee near the Alabama line, has been a stronghold of Methodism since the early 1800's.
During the first decade of the ninetheenth century, sometime between 1800 and 1810, several families from East Tennessee who had settled in Huntsville, Alabama, traveled west on the Tennessee River. For some reason they decided to row up the Elk River to see what lay along the stream. This act brought them to a point near the present village of Prospect. It is believed that these pioneers made their permanent camp at a point on Elk River where a stream, now known as Ford's Creek, emptied into it.
No one knows the names of these people who established this settlement, the first in Giles County. Only the name of the leader of the party, James Ford, has been preserved in the name of the small creek that runs through the present town. The original Prospect or "Old Prospect" was about a mile southwest of the present village. Some of the names of the early pioneers are preserved on the beautiful stained glass windows in the present Church.
On what is now the T.H. Davis farm, Thomas Abernathy Westmoreland built a large house, a Church, a store and a school and called the settlement Prospect. The first Methodist meeting place of Prospect was known as "The Camp Ground." This Camp Ground consisted of fifteen or twenty tents (not tents as we know them today, more like shacks). They were built of rough logs, dirt floors and rough boards for the roof. They were built in a circle with a brush arbor, a pulpit and rough seats in the center.. This Camp Ground was part of Thomas A. Westmoreland's settlement and was located about a mile and a half from Prospect on the Bethel Road. Great crowds attended.
The first Church was built outside the Camp Ground in 1830 by Thomas A. Westmoreland, for the use of his family, his friends and his slaves. The building was square with two doors, one on the east side for the women and one on the north side for the men. On the west side of the Church, facing the women's door, was the pulpit, large and high. It had a door so the preacher could shut himself in, and when shut in and sitting down, could not be seen by the congregation.
The women sat on one side, the men on the other side with blacks in the rear. The blacks were soon crowded out so the weatherboarding on the south side of the building was torn away and an annex was added, large enough to accommodate the blacks. No white person was allowed in that section.
This Church became a part of what was known as the Shoal Circuit which consisted of twenty-five or thirty Churches. This Circuit was from two to three hundred miles long and four weeks were required to make the trip around it. The ministers, who were known as Circuit riders, preached almost every day in the week and twice on Sunday. Two preachers were always appointed to ride the Circuit, one a married man and the other a single man. They followed each other on the Circuit two weeks apart. Preachers having traveled the Circuit were: William M. Wilkes, W. G. Hensley, Colman Green, John McCurdy, William P. Hickman, Thomas Wainwright and John S. Marks. Records show that some of the presiding elders of the Shoal Circuit were Thomas Maddin, Finch P. Scrugg, A. F. Driskell, John Sherrill and William Burr.
Quoting from the Pulaski Citizen of June 26, 1919, Coleman Harwell wrote "In 1840, Thomas A. Westmoreland was a very loyal Methodist and was Superintendent of the Sunday School. He was also class leader and a steward in the Church. Aleck Brown was the sweet singer of the congregation and usually led the singing. James Adkins was a mighty man in prayer and when interest in a meeting lagged, he would be asked to pray and generally with fine affect. He had a stentorian voice and on a still night could be heard a mile."
The first wedding that is thought to have been performed in Prospect was solemnized by the Reverend Thomas D. Harwell between a Miss Simpson and Hannibal Scruggs during one of the Camp meetings. It was an elopement and the father of the bride never forgave the minister.
The Civil War came and a battle was fought between the North and South on Battery Hill, a site overlooking the Church. The Northern soldiers quartered in the Church and remained until the end of the war to guard the railroad bridge across the Elk River. When they left, they burned the Church to the ground.
In 1856, the Nashville and Decatur Railroad was built about a mile from Old Prospect. After the Civil War, the railroad was leased by Louisville and Nashville Railroad and remains a part of that system until the late 1980s. At the location of the railroad, a depot was built and named Prospect Station. The town was moved to that area.
A two-story frame building was built by the Methodists on a hill overlooking the village and Old Prospect ceased to be a meeting place. Not a vestige of the first Church or old Camp Ground remains. The frame Church on the hill became the home of Wilson Carter. After the present Church was built in 1907, this building was sold to the J. Taylor Carter family which they used as a residence and a place of business known as the J. Taylor Carter and Son, Funeral Directors. There are no known records as to why this old Church was closed.
In 1906 land was purchased nearer the village. On the purchased site stood a saloon. The deed at the Giles County Court House shows that the land was bought from Tom and John D. Reed for the sum of four hundred dollars ($400.00).
A new brick Church was built at a cost of six thousand dollars ($6,000.00) with the exclusion of the stained glass windows, which were donated by the families who were memorialized. The Federal government paid twelve hundred dollars ($1,200.00) as compensation for the burning of the Old Prospect Church after the Civil War.
After the completion of the Church a district conference was held and on the Sunday during the conference the Church was formally opened for public services. Reverend T. A. Kerley, the presiding elder, preached an "elegant dedicatory sermon." The comer stone of the Church reads:
M E CHURCH
|Bro. Collier||B. L. Lyle||T. M. Gilbert|
|J. T. Cotton||G. E. Eubanks||W. H. Baird|
|Jerome Winford||G. R. Allen||J. K. Lee|
|W. L. Harwell||Robert Waite||J. L. Taylor|
|J. C. Elkins||B. H. Brandon||J. E. Trotter|
|Troy Bunch||Elwood Denson||W. C. Folks|
|Ralph Langston||John Marvin Bradford||Bro. Nunnelly|
|Rudolph Janes||Sam Webster||Thomas Smith|
|Marcus Nickell||Ben Alford||W. H. Moss|
|James Hughes||Gary Mraz||Larry C. Layne|
Each pastor, with his own personality and characteristics, left his lasting imprint upon the Church and the lives he touched while pastor of the Church.
The Reverend W. C. Folks was a wonderful craftsman, as well as a wonderful person and Christian. After his retirement he made and gave the Church the beautiful chair that sits in the center of the pulpit and the cross that hangs above it. This chair and cross were made entirely by hand with hand tools. No machine tools were used in their construction.
One event that took place sometime around 1927 was the visitation of the Ku Klux Klan to the Church. Reverend J. L. Taylor was conducting the Sunday night service. Not a sound was heard until the door opened and in came these men dressed in full Klan regalia. Walking single file down the aisle they quietly placed an envelope containing money on the altar and just as quietly filed out the other door seemingly disappearing into the night. No one knew who they were or from whence they came. Every one of the older members, who were children at that time, remembers exactly where he or she was sitting and how frightened everyone was.
At the end of each school term from 1918, when the first class graduated from Prospect High School, until 1931 the Baccalaureate Service was conducted at the Prospect Methodist Church. The student body, all dressed in white, marched into the Church led by the faculty and senior class. It was a very special day for the school and for the Church.
On June 18, 1892 the Woman's Missionary Society was organized. On the twentieth anniversary there is a record of this event which is as follows:
"Prospect, Tennessee, June 12, 1912
A few days ago I ran across a familiar verse which , though old, is ever new because of the sweet encouragement contained in the last four lines which reads:
I applied it at once to the subject in hand with the hope that the darkest hours for our society are in the years that are past and that this, the twentieth anniversary is the dawning or the beginning of better things.
Just twenty years ago today, June 12, 1892, we were organized by Bro. Collier in the old Church which stands in a delapidated condition on the hill above us, and sentinel-like overshadowing our little village. Yet, its bare walls and empty benches are sacred memories to many of us.
On this anniversary I refrain from long details of many struggles and hard battles fought -- but have thought perhaps a little recount of part of the work might be interesting at least to those who have been in the field and encouraging to all who have an interest in the general welfare of our society."
On June 12, 1892, the following were charter members:
|Mrs. J. G. Mason, President|
|Mrs. P. C. Beasley, Vice President|
|Mrs. T. W. Whitfield, Treasurer|
|Mrs. L. L. Gilbert, Corresponding Secretary|
|Mrs. Dr. Cardwell|
|Miss Bess Cardwell|
|Mrs. Dr. Dickey|
|Mrs. John Grooms|
|Mrs. Clifford Edmundson|
Since the organization in 1892, there has always been an active woman's group in Prospect Methodist Church.
A treasurer's report of the Woman's Society of Christian Service in 1951 by Mrs. J. H. Brazier, treasurer, is as follows:
"We the twenty-six members of the Woman's Society of Christian Service pledged $75.00 to our Methodist Conference. We had an over pledge of $25.00. This we used to make Mrs. Myrtle Abernathy a life member. This amount was sent to our conference treasurer to be proportioned according to the needs of our conference. In addition to our pledge, we have the Scarritt Maintenance, Cultivation Fund (this is used at home), Birthday Dollar, Supply and Week of Prayer. This is divided for home and foreign as suggested by our conference treasurer.
We pledged $25.00 for our Special. This amount was sent to Martin College. Our supply fund for the year was $13.50. This was used for Local and Supply. Total amount for the year is $184.85."
The Wesleyan Service Guild was organized May 6, 1951 with twelve members. Grace Denson, whose husband Elwood Denson was the Church pastor at this time, was instrumental in its organization. Although many years have passed since its organization and it has long since become a part of the United Methodist Women it is still spoken of locally as "The Guild." The United Methodist Women is still a viable part of the work in the local Church.
The first officers were:
|Mrs. Joe Wilson, President|
|Miss Emily Davis, Vice President|
|Mrs. John Aymett, Promotion Secretary|
|Mrs. Coleman Davis, Secretary of Spiritual Life|
|Mrs. Leon James, Secretary of Missionary Education|
|Mrs. Frank Williams, Recording Secretary|
|Mrs. Edwin Conner, Treasurer|
An Adult Fellowship Group was organized in 1945. It was comprised of young married couples and young single adults. The group met each Sunday night, with usually a pot-luck supper and program. Its aim was to cooperate fully with the community and Church in any undertakings as well as to spiritually enrich the lives of the members. The children also enjoyed its meetings as they were taken along and allowed to play. An enthusiastic youngster, Steve Aymett, the young son of John and Wanda Aymett inquired of his parents, "Is the Shellowflip to meet tonight?"
Many worthwhile projects were undertaken and completed during the ten years of its activity.
It is assumed that there has been an organized Church school since before 1840 as there are newspaper reports that show Thomas A. Westmoreland as the Sunday School Superintendent in that year. Others remembered as having served in that capacity are John E. Gilbert, Ed C. White, Robert Spears, William James, Ozro Petty, John W. Jones, Frank Williams, Tom Sanders, Joe Wilson, Layton Holley, Chan Harris, Carey Brownlow, and Robert L. Birdsong.
Sometime after 1907 a Men's Bible Class was organized. In 1927 they were calling themselves the "One-Gallus Class" and enjoyed much warm fellowship as well as social gatherings. A picture, made in 1927 on the Church steps, showed twenty members. They were: Reverend J. L. Taylor, A.D. Carter, Jack James, A. W. Harris, R. A. Gilbert, Herman Campbell, Ed. C. White, Ollis Harlow, Luther Gilbert, Reynolds Wheeler, Bob Whitfield, George Elder, John W. Jones, J. H. Bratton, Wilson Carter, Robert Spears, Stout P. Davis and W. B. Wilson.
The Men's Bible Class is still an important part of the Church School. In years past teachers have included Ed. C. White, John W. Jones, A. D. Carter, Vivian Malone, Robert Liles and Layton Holley.
A Youth Fellowship was organized in the fall of 1950 with a membership of twelve. Under the counseling and leadership of Reverend and Mrs. Elwood Denson, it became a fast growing organization with every youth in the community over twelve years of age belonging. The Youth Fellowship was preceded by the Epworth League. The Epworth League had been the organization for the Church teenagers for many years. Both the Epworth League and the MYF met on Sunday night with an adult sponsor present.
The MYF has continued to be an active organization. The congregation of the Church has always been a staunch supporter of the youth group and has provided leadership. Mr. & Mrs. Ozro Petty, Mr. & Mrs. Robert L. Birdsong, Rev. & Mrs. James (Jimbo) Hughes, Mr. & Mrs. Hugh Robert Griffin, and Susan Edgmon have served in this capacity. Some of the larger projects enjoyed by the group in recent years have been the attendance and participation in Mountain T.O.P. in the Prospect community.
Those participating were divided into groups and spent several days painting, cutting grass and weeds, washing windows and doing any kind of work that would be of help to the elderly who lived in or near the community. This group also entertained the Senior Citizens with a bountiful Christmas dinner and remembered the less fortunate on special occasions. During the Lenten Season in 1982 they compiled a booklet of devotions which were written by members of the Church charge and titled "Thoughts from the Valley."
The first records of what was known as The Beginner's Class began in the new Church. It was taught by Mrs. (Doctor) J. G. Mason, affectionately known as "Aunt Mag," on the front pew of the sanctuary. It consisted of all ages of the young children in the Church. It now consists of three classes- the Pre-School, the Primary and Intermediate.
A name, dear to all the children who attended Sunday School at the Prospect Methodist Church between the years of 1915-1965, is that of Miss Gertrude Carter. Miss Gertrude taught the children for fifty years. She was a dedicated Christian who loved the children and served her Church faithfully.
In years past the "Ladies Class" was the largest class in the Church school. On many Sunday mornings it filled the entire west section of the sanctuary. Remembered former teachers have been Mrs. R. A. (Miss Mamie) Gilbert, Mrs. B. G. (Miss Mary) Mason, Mrs. C. E. Reed, Miss Elizabeth Abernathy, Mrs. Sue W. James and Mrs. Margaret Hargrove.
As a result of an increase in young adults in the Church, it became necessary to reorganize the Young Adult Class. In October 1981 there was reorganization and this class is now an integral part of the Church school. Class members alternate as teachers.
The Teenage Class has always met in the choir loft of the sanctuary.
A quote from the Pulaski Citizen, Wednesday, Dec. 10, 1958 says, "It is a remarkable fact that for nearly or quite one hundred years, the Methodist have held undisputed sway in the Prospect neighborhood, no other denomination ever having made any headway there."
The Methodist Church, as we know it today, owes a debt of gratitude to those who met at Lovely Lane Church in Baltimore in 1784 and formally organized the Methodist Church in the United States. It is the prayer of this congregation at Prospect that Methodism continues to move forward in the years to come.
|Mattie Maud Mayes|
1868 - 1895
|Guy Franklin Mayes|
1877 - 1880
|In Memory of Father and Mother||Carey Gilbert|
|In Memory of|
Lou C. Lester 1842 - 1895
Frank B. Lester 1828 - 1886
|In Memory of John F. Westmoreland & Wife|
Who died August 17, 1898 and June 30, 1889
|In Memory of Ewell Gilbert|
Born April 23, 1866
Died July 12, 1898
Thomas A. WestmorelandBorn September 13, 1800
Died December 17, 1864
|January 18, 1822||In Memory of|
Joseph Grey Mason
|September 8, 1900|
|In Memory of Elizabeth J. Westmoreland|
Born December 28, 1804
Died April 22, 1887
|Dr. W. S. Cardwell|
Born July 5, 1834
Died November 25, 1905
|In Memory of Our Father & Mother||Katherine Cardwell|
Born November 19, 1840
Died September 14, 1906
|Donated by Jr. Epworth League|
This history was researched and written in 1984 by Historians Margaret Wilson Hargrove and her sister, Sue Wilson James, in celebration of the 200th Anniversary of the formal organization of the Methodist Church in the United States. The typist was Dorthy Rose Holley.
Edited and Submitted by: Anna O. Jackson.
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION ON