Days Gone By: Historic Churches of Franklin

Dec 13, 2021 at 02:24 pm by RMGadmin

With Rick Warwick

As we approach the Advent season each year, a popular theme on conservative talk radio is a cry to “Keep Christ in Christmas.” Well, with that thought in mind, I will avoid discussing elves, reindeer, mistletoe and sugar plum fairies and, instead, focus on the physical representatives of that humble teacher who stressed loving one’s neighbor as thyself; that being our historic churches in Williamson County. 

The Big Harpeth Primitive Baptist Church was the first church in Williamson County, organized in 1799, and was first located three miles east of Franklin. In 1909, a cyclone demolished the church, and the new church was built on Liberty Pike, one mile from the Square. 

Unfortunately, Franklin only has one antebellum church structure, and that is St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, organized in 1827 and built in 1831. Rev. James H. Otey came to Franklin to teach at Harpeth Academy and was instrumental in establishing St. Paul’s and the Episcopal Diocese of Tennessee. St. Paul’s is noted for its English Gothic style and beautiful stained-glass windows. 

Franklin’s First United Methodist Church was the first church in downtown Franklin to organize and has worshiped in three locations, all on Church Street. Bishop Francis Asbury preached here in 1812 when the church was located on First Avenue and Church Street. Part of the congregation still meets in the 1873 church on Fifth Avenue and Church Street, but the majority worships at the new campus on the Nashville Pike and Mack Hatcher Parkway. The Historic Presbyterian Church at Five Points can trace its origins to Rev. Gideon Blackburn when in 1811, the first church was located next to the Old City Cemetery. The congregation moved to Five Points in 1842. The present building was built in 1908 in a Romanesque Revival style.

Catholic mass was celebrated in Hugh Dempsey’s home in 1821, but St. Philip Catholic Church was not built until 1871. The first congregation consisted of Irish immigrants, who built the brick chapel at the corner of East Main and Second Avenue. Today, St. Philip enjoys the largest congregation in downtown Franklin.

Fourth Avenue Church of Christ was organized in 1833 with seventeen members. Leading preachers of the American Restoration Movement such as Alexander Campbell, Tolbert Fanning, David Lipscomb and Joel Anderson preached here. The congregation built its first meeting house in 1852 and has worshiped in two other buildings on Fourth Avenue. 

Franklin Cumberland Presbyterian Church was founded in 1871, and the beautiful Gothic-style church, located at Seventh Avenue and West Main Street, was built in 1877. This congregation has maintained a reputation as a “singing church.” Their gospel singings were popular monthly events in years past.

Cummins Street Church of Christ was established in 1877, and the congregation shared a meeting house with the Olive Branch F&AM Lodge No. 4. until 1944. Elder A.N.C. Williams was the leading minister until his death in 1930.  

Shorter Chapel A.M.E. Church was established in 1873, and the new congregation purchased the Franklin Methodist Church, located at Second Avenue and Church Street. The congregation worshiped there until 1925, when they moved to the corner of Natchez and Fowlkes Street, having built their new church with material from the old 1830 Methodist church.

First Franklin Primitive Baptist Church on Hardbargain Hill was established in 1865 and is the oldest black congregation in Franklin and the second oldest in Williamson County. In years past, the Fourth Sunday in May meeting brought hundreds of visitors to enjoy all-day preaching, dinner on the ground, and washing feet.

First Missionary Baptist Church was organized in 1870 and has maintained a large membership in the Natchez Street neighborhood. 

Providence United Primitive Baptist Church was established in 1883 and has worshiped at the corner of Natchez and Granbury for one hundred and thirty years.

Yes, I am sure any of the twelve 19th century congregations in Franklin will welcome you to join them this Yuletide season in celebrating peace on earth and joy to the world.

Christmas Eve Service Times

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
4:30 PM
7:30 PM
11 PM
Franklin First United Methodist Church
3:30 PM
5:30 PM
7:30 PM
11 PM
Historic Presbyterian Church at Five Points
5 PM
10 PM
St. Phillips Catholic Church
5 PM
10 PM
4th Avenue Church of Christ
5 PM