The Charleston United Methodist Church is located on the relatively quiet highway of 179 and is just east of the Charleston-Mason Road intersection. The church is named for the nearby community, Charleston, which is in Tipton County. Large plantations once surrounded the church and still exist but as smaller farms. The county is largely agricultural because of its fertile soil and level land.
It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in July of 2002. The church is also known as the First United Methodist Church. The church has a rich history because of the architectural design, its contributions to the community, and its circuit riders. (NRHP No. 02000811)
Charleston United Methodist Church was established in 1823. Since it was common practice to conduct outdoor multi-denominational meetings, by circuit riders or town leaders, tent meetings were held before the actual church was built. A log cabin was the first multi-denominational meetinghouse in this community located on this site in 1833, and it was most likely on the northwest corner of the church property as evidenced by the oldest graves and trees in this area. The current building was built in 1917 due to the expanding Methodist community in Tipton County. Thereby, replacing a previous church which was in poor condition.
Other Churches in the Area
Charleston, and its neighboring small towns and communities, retain much of their historic integrity. Several other churches, like the Charleston Church, remain much as they did in their early years. Trinity Church (NR 2/13/84) built in 1870, is in Mason. The brick church building has Gothic Revival detailing, including Gothic arch windows. Old Trinity Episcopal Church (NR 5/8/97) is four miles northeast of Mason. The 1847 building is a simple frame church sided with weatherboards and with nine over nine windows. The 1854 Mt. Carmel Presbyterian Church (NR 6/4/84) is four miles south of Covington. The frame church has Greek Revival and Gothic Revival influence in its design, such as the Gothic arch entry and windows. Charleston United Methodist Church, constructed later than the other National Register listed churches in the county, compares favorably with them in terms of architectural integrity.
The architecture of the church speaks to the beliefs of the Methodist Church in the 20th Century. Its design fits the early colonial, Anglican idea of the “Low Church”. Therefore, the floor plan has no separation between the altar and the main body of the church. Furthermore, the clear glass windows, as opposed to stained glass, are representative of the values of the Enlightenment. Likewise, simple, unadorned pews reflect a rural church of limited means and their uniformity in design, style, and location reflects the Anglican belief that all men are one in God’s eyes.
In 1917, the church built in 1876 was destroyed. As a result, the church had to be rebuilt many of the materials from the previous church were used in the reconstruction.
The current church is a one-story frame building sided with weatherboarding, and the gable roof is capped by an asphalt shingle. Stone piers and concrete block form the foundation of the church. Above all, the church’s most prominent exterior feature, influenced by the Greek Revival, is the recessed entrance with two square Doric columns and two Doric pilasters on either side. The original double wood panel doors have a single-light transom. Similarly, the church has its original double-hung wood sash windows; however, the glass panes had to be replaced in 1973 using textured glass. The congregation kept the exterior and the interior of the church extremely close to its original appearance.
The gable front rectangular building faces Covington-Stanton Road (Hwy 179), and the church is roughly 56 feet long and 40 feet wide. Furthermore, the church is set back approximately 100 feet from the road. The landscaping is minimal; however, there are a few shrubs planted near the north side of the church building. The historic cemetery is on the west side of the church.
There are five evenly placed double hung windows on each side of the building. The southern side of the building rest on a concrete block foundation and the northern side on a stone pier foundation. The rear of the church has two double hung windows and a small gable roof addition with a single leaf entry. This single leaf entrance leads into the basement, which was added in 1936.
The interior remains close to its original appearance with slight changes. For example, Sunday school rooms were added to the front of the church in 1936. Also, the two original wood stoves, which stood in the center of church, were replaced with gas heaters located in the rear of the church. The original light fixtures remain in the church as does the dark stained beaded board walls and ceiling, floor and pews. (NOTE: Dark stained beaded board became popular in the late 1800s as an alternative to plaster or pressed metal wall coverings.)
The high ceiling is adorned with the six original Schoolhouse pendant light fixtures. Schoolhouse pendants were the most usual form of fixed lighting in the 1920s and 1930s. Simply designed poplar pews ranging in length from 7′ to 10′ fill the sanctuary. The altar chair, organ, and piano are located on the south wall. Above all, is the ornate lectern also located on the south wall. A 1980 wooden cross is centered on the wall behind the lectern.
James McFerrin was the first circuit rider for the church. He and his wife, riding the same horse, left Virginia for Rutherford County, Tennessee in 1784. McFerrin was a farmer, rifleman, Indian fighter and served with General Jackson in the War of 1812. After that he converted to Methodism. He spent some time in Alabama before returning to Tennessee in 1833 and establishing the church in Charleston. He died in 1840 and is buried in the Charleston churchyard.
The United Methodist Church erected an historic marker in front of the church in 1984 to honor Reverend McFerrin. It reads
Rev. James McFerrin, 1784-1840. Born the same year as American Methodism, this 1812 solider and farmer was converted at a camp meeting and was 20 years a Methodist preacher. He came to this community in 1834, became pastor of Wesley Circuit, and died the year the Memphis Conference was formed. He is buried hear near the site of the original Charleston church. His sons John B., A.P. and Wm. M. became prominent Methodist ministers in Tenn. Other family members carried Methodism to Ark. And Texas. One descendent is Bishop McFerrin Stow of Dallas. The influence of his life has spread worldwide and through 6 generations of American Methodism.
Dr. John B. McFerrin, Rev. James McFerrin’s oldest son, was also a well know preacher. His youngest child, Eliza, was married to Noah Smith, who is buried in the adjoining cemetery.
Church and Community
Charleston United Methodist Church was an integral part of the Charleston community.
Women Raised Money
In 1909, the women raised money for various endeavors, one of which included giving Miss Evie Waddell $10.35 to “assist her in preparing to enter the Methodist Training School at Nashville.” (Miss Waddell did attend the Methodist Training School in Nashville and went on to be a missionary in the coalfields.)
Moreover, the women of the church were influential in caring for the community. They raised money for fruit for the sick, items for the needy, and church needs with egg and chicken showers, ice cream socials, box suppers, election lunches, quilts, concerts, and banquets.
Supporting the War
During World War I and II, the community encouraged the purchase of bonds and collected metal.
Churches Helping Churches
The church was used by the Baptist congregation in 1933 after their building was destroyed by a tornado.
Church and School
Likewise, a school, which stood west of the church and burned in 1932, used Charleston Methodist until their school was rebuilt.