Prospect Methodist Church

A History of
Prospect United Methodist Church

Written in celebration of the 200th Anniversary
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:

A.D. 1907

For many years the Prospect Methodists had dreamed of a basement under the Church to relieve the crowded condition of the Sunday School and also to provide a place for Church recreation. Following World War II the dreams on this subject began to take serious form. The old heads said, "It can't be done, there's rock under that Church." There was only one way to find out, so a building committee was appointed which consisted of A. D. Carter, Leon James, John Pollard, Coleman Davis and Bill Ball. Under the strong leadership of the pastor, Reverend J. C. Elkins, the dream became a reality.

This committee called on a firm of architects and engineers, James L. and David V. Howard, both Prospect natives, and the plans were drawn. The services of this firm were donated.

Some provisions had to be made for heat since the sanctuary was heated by a coal furnace under the Church, so this was included in the plan. When the finance committee, chaired by Bob Ray, was called to raise the money they were shockingly greeted with a huge sum of approximately six thousand dollars ($6,000.00) (the same amount that the original Church had cost) to be raised. They set to work canvassing the town and at the first meeting announced to the building committee that they had twenty-five hundred dollars ($2,500.00) pledged. The building committee set to work. John Nolan Hargrove was in charge of the excavation and construction. The basement was dug by hand with pick and shovel and hauled out in wheelbarrows by hired labor. Most of the construction was done by volunteer labor.

Was there rock under the Church? Yes, but through the cooperation of the Giles County Road Department, the rock was removed without damage to the present building.

Many good citizens, who had more brains and brawn than money, gave labor. Those who were hired, worked far below the wage scale, so with the money on hand the church had a full sized basement, and a butane gas heating system in the basement and sanctuary. It was truly a labor of love and cooperation.

The first tables were built by the men of the Church. The dishes and silver were donated by the Home Demonstration Club. The electric stove was donated by the Adult Fellowship Group. The Wesleyan Service Guild sold vanilla flavoring and black pepper to buy six dozen cups and saucers with "Prospect Methodist Church" lettered in gold.

The Prospect Methodists prided themselves on this accomplishment. They not only made an improvement for their generation, but left something for future generations to enjoy. The older generations left the beautiful sanctuary above the basement where the congregation still meets and worships.

In 1950 ,when the school was being rebuilt, the Church basement was used as a classroom for fifty-two first graders.

In 1983 the wooden beams had to be replaced because termites had taken their toll of the wood. Steel beams were used to replace the wooden ones. A complete renovation of the basement took place at this time with new paint, new floor covering and flourescent lights. More cabinet space, a new stove, double sink and refrigerator were added to the kitchen area.

Since 1960, as memorials, an organ, pew cushions and light fixtures have been placed in the sanctuary. Accordion doors (to close off the annex) and carpet for the entire floor area were installed.

Records dating from 1892 show the following pastors who served the Prospect 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.

A Frightening Experience

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.

Baccalaureate Services

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.

Woman's Missionary Society

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:

There is never a night without a day,
Or an evening without a morning.
And the darkest hour, as the proverb goes,
Is the hour before the dawning.

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."

Signed, Mrs. J. H. Brazier, Treas.

Wesleyan Service Guild

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

Adult Fellowship Group

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.

Church School

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.

Men's Bible Class

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.

Youth Fellowship

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."

Children's Department

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.

Ladies Class

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.

Young Adult Class

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.

Teenage Class

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.


The Stained Glass Windows

All the stained glass windows have memorials lettered in the glass, except one. It is in the west wall of the Annex.

Windows on the east side of the Church, counter clockwise, starting at the southeast corner, memorialize the following:

Mattie Maud Mayes
1868 - 1895
Guy Franklin Mayes
1877 - 1880

Elizabeth Gilbert
In Memory of Father and MotherCarey Gilbert

In Memory of
Lou C. Lester 1842 - 1895
Frank B. Lester 1828 - 1886

The north wall windows:

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

The west wall holds memorials to:

In Memory
Thomas A. Westmoreland
Born September 13, 1800
Died December 17, 1864

January 18, 1822In Memory of
Joseph Grey Mason
September 8, 1900

In Memory of Elizabeth J. Westmoreland
Born December 28, 1804
Died April 22, 1887

The south wall has one window:


In the Annex south wall:

Dr. W. S. Cardwell
Born July 5, 1834
Died November 25, 1905
In Memory of Our Father & MotherKatherine Cardwell
Born November 19, 1840
Died September 14, 1906

In the Annex east wall:
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.


I am Peggy Ivey Smith, I grew up in Prospect and went to church at the Prospect M.E. church.

Miss Fay Carter was my 3rd. and 4th. grade teacher. She was married to Mr. Wilson Carter and was living in the Carter Funeral Home. I now live in the former Carter Funeral Home. Before Mr. Carter died he told me some of the history of my house.

It was built about 1870 out of Yellow Poplar lumber. Originally it had one large room down stairs and the stairway up was at the back in the northeast corner. Upstairs, one large room and 2 small rooms on the south side of the house. These rooms were used by the Masonic Lodge. The two over-sized doors on these rooms still have the "peep" holes in them from the lodge days.

The building was used on Sunday as the Church and during the week as a school before the school was built in 1918. After the new brick church was built, partitions were put in and the building was used as the Parsonage until the present Parsonage was built.

The building was sold to Mr. J.T. Carter in 1922 and was remodeled, (stairway was moved to the middle of the house) . Mr. Wilson Carter and Fay George Carter lived in an apartment upstairs. Mr. Wilson was 35 years old when they moved from Bethel TN to Prospect. I tell you his age so you will know he knew what he was talking about.

In 1951 when we went to school in surplus army tents because the school was being rebuilt, we had no place to hold our graduation so we used the church to graduate. I was in that class of '51.

If I can help in any thing else about the history of Prospect, I gladly supply information. I have been collecting the history of the Prospect area for a long time. And, if you are ever down this way, please drop in.


Peggy Ivey Smith

Click HERE to view a commemorative quilt that hangs in the church.
Photo submitted by Jane Gilbert.