Mt. Carmel Presbyterian Church, constructed around 1854, is a one story frame building. It is located in rural southwest Tennessee and is four miles south of the Tipton County seat of Covington, TN (pop. 6,030).
The exterior is a skillful combination of both Greek Revival and Gothic Revival elements. Of course the notable exterior features include tall, pointed-arch windows on the front and side elevations. The four corners of the building have large Doric pilasters. The front consists of a pointed-arch entrance. It has Greek key pilasters and, above, a stained glass window.
On the other hand, the interior is simple. The floors are the original wood. The pews are of the late nineteenth century and there are very fine Greek Revival reredos. Accordingly, the church is relatively unaltered, and retains a remarkable level of architectural and historical integrity.
To illustrate, the exterior of the church faces west. It is surrounded by open farmland. The church is located at the top of a low hill and is called the same as the church. In fact, Mt. Carmel is the highest point in Tipton County.
The informal landscape covers about five acres and has many mature trees. A small one-story framed education building of recent construction to the south of the church. To the southwest is the congregation’s cemetery. It is on the west side of Mt. Carmel Road.
General Shape of Church
The church is rectangular in shape. It measures 36 by 60 feet with a gable roof covered with standing-seam metal sheets. The building has an open foundation of stuccoed brick piers. Furthermore, the narrow wooden siding is original on all four elevations.
Front of Church
The front of the church is distinguished by a low gable end with a wide entablature and Doric corner pilasters. In the three-bay facade, two tall, pointed-arch windows flank a pointed-arch entrance with an early double-leaf door and pilasters having a Greek key capital. Equally important are the 6/9 double-hung sash windows have clear glass panes. They are simple Gothic tracery in the apex, and original louvered shutters.
Above the central entry, is a tracered window with late-nineteenth-century stained class. A flight of five stone steps leads to the doorway. The identical north and south sides have five long, pointed-arch windows exactly like the two on the front side. There are Doric corner pilasters and a wide entablature on each side. In contrast, the rear is entirely plain with no windows or pilasters.
The interior consists of a vestibule with two small corner rooms. It has a large sanctuary with a Sunday School room above the vestibule. The building has plaster walls and an eighteen foot ceiling. The floors are of the original wood. Two early double-leaf doors lead from the vestibule into the sanctuary. In the large simple sanctuary there are two aisles between rows of pews. However, the pews not original. The current pews are nineteenth century pews used to replacements for the original closed box pews.
At the front, behind the low dais, a well proportioned and detailed Greek Revival reredos of four Doric pilasters stand. These pilasters support a wide entablature and a low pediment. On the dais are early Gothic Revival chairs and a lecturn. Originally, an open gallery was above the vestibule at the rear of the sanctuary; however, this area was enclosed around 1900 to serve as a Sunday School room.
The simple gasolier style electric ceiling fixtures are not original. But they are in keeping with the general historical period of the pews.
A small one-story framed education building, constructed in the 1970s, is the only other building on the nominated site. It is a gable-roofed structure with a simple Doric portico. A nineteenth century bell rests on a short wooden tower to the south of the education building.
Mt. Carmel Presbyterian Church is nominated under National Register criterion C for its architectural significance to Tipton County and West Tennessee. It is one of the finest nineteenth century churches in that region. The frame design skillfully employs both Greek Revival and Gothic Revival features as expressed on the exterior in the tall pointed arch windows and Doric corner pilasters. And, on the interior, by a pedimented Doric reredos.
The origins of the church go back to the winter of 1834 when twenty-four people gathered in a log house. The house was that of Rev. James Holmes, a former Presbyterian missionary to the Chickasaw Indians in Mississippi. As a result of this meeting, on the small hill of Mt. Carmel, a church was organized. Elders and deacons were elected. And, funds were subscribed for a church building.
During the church’s construction, members met in Rev. Holmes’ stable in an area designated for his horse.
The church was originally a little to the west of the present building. It had two doorways with steps and it faced north. Although the architect is unknown, the contractor was a Mr. Crenshaw. This structure later burned, and the current church was erected around 1854. Sadly, no description of the original church construction remain.
The first pastor was Rev. Hugh Wilson. He was a missionary with Rev. Holmes in Mississippi. The original church membership consisted of twenty-one whites and three blacks. However, membership began to expand steadily. As a result the church was one of the largest Presbyterian congregations in West Tennessee by the time of the Civil War. And at the turn of the century, the membership reached a peak of over two hundred members.
Simultaneously, the church completed one of its principal goals. It began helping educate the young people of the region. Founded by Rev. Holmes in the 1840s, the Mt. Carmel Academy soon became one of the most important secondary schools in West Tennessee. Of course there were separate schools and curriculums for boys and girls. Students came from several neighboring states as well as from Tennessee. Thus the children boarded with church members during the week. And, the students took their classes in Mt. Carmel buildings which are no longer standing. As a result of public education, the school closed around 1900.
Finally, Mt. Carmel Church is an outstanding example of eclectic architectural trends of the mid-nineteenth century. Its fine composition of Greek Revival and Gothic Revival features and its exceptional craftsmanship give the building a sophistication rarely seen in rural West Tennessee. For example the significant architectural elements of the exterior are well proportioned. The Gothic windows have their original clear glass and tracery. There are detailed Doric pilasters at the corners of the building. Likewise there is a pointed-arch front doorway demonstrate a Greek key motif.
Also the austere interior is noteworthy for its rare Greek Revival reredos, late-nineteenth-century pews, and original wooden floors.
In conclusion, the nominated property is bound on the west by Mt. Carmel Road. It is bound on the north by an unnamed county road. And bound on the east and south by adjoining property lines. The east side boundary includes the northern half of the congregation’s ten acre parcel. This parcel of land is located on the east side of Mt. Carmel Road. Thus the nomination includes the minimum land needed to protect the architectural and historical integrity of the church.
Furthermore, the Mt. Carmel Cemetery is on the west side of Mt. Carmel Road and is not included in the nomination.