Early Church History

When one attempts to record the history of the Church at Mt. Juliet, he immediately is assailed by several interesting questions.

The first is why is there such a lack of accurate information concerning the date of the Church’s establishment here. Although no one is sure of the exact date of its beginning, the Church here cannot be over 78 years old. The deed for the original plot was signed in 1899, but all estimates place the beginning several years earlier. Apparently the old people weren’t very prompt in recording transactions and in their effort to be unworldy had no secretary or church clerk to keep records.

The second question is why the village of Mt. Juliet was so long in existence without a Church being located here. A community was established here in 1835 and relocated along the tracts of the Texas & Pacific in 1870. Barton W. Stone established the first congregation in Wilson County at Bethelehem, east of Lebanon, in 1823. The Church at Corinth, about ten miles south of Mt. Juliet, and Lebanon were also started about this time, possibly by Stone or even by Campbell, who was known to be in Williamson and Rutherford Counties about that time. Lipscomb in his “Life of Jesse Sewell”, speaks of Sewell doing much preaching in Wilson County both before and after the Civil War. Tolbert Fanning’s home was barely ten miles due west of the village and he was active as early as 1847. Just why this prosperous little village had no Church for nearly sixty years presents an enigma. The answer might lie in the nature of the times; there was little or no activity in the church building other than the Sunday morning worship service, and it was about as easy to ride ten miles as to build a church.

The third question of interest is why the split caused by the liberal element was so late in making its influence felt here. The movement started in the late 1800’s and the split was complete by 1906, yet it was evidently 1915 before the brethren here became alarmed. This is shown by a separate deed drawn on March 1, 1915, and in language that is probably Bro. E. A. Elam’s states “This property is to be used only for a House of Worship for a congregation of the Church of Christ. It is a condition of this conveyance, without which it would not be made, that the use of instrumental music in the worship at all times be forbidden, and that the teaching and preaching in said Church shall conform, both in form and doctrine to that literally prescribed in the New Testament scriptures and established by the early disciples. All innovations including societies as an aid to the Church is likewise forbidden. In case division shall arise in the Congregation over these matters, the exclusive right to the use and possession of the Church property shall inher in and remain to those of the congregation, who conform more nearly to the above conditions and requirements. Whether they be a majority or minority of said congregation.”

The Church probably had its beginning in 1891 or 1892. A copy of the Mt. Juliet Messenger dated August 15, 1944, contains articles by Sister R. V. Cawthon and Bro. J. N. Carver listing the date as 1891. There was a small group of Christians meeting at Scobey’s Chapel, located where the Wanta Linga Court now stands. Nothing whatever is known of the history of this Church. The building at Scobey’s Chapel must have been getting quite old for Bro. Jonah Carver said that it was in need of repairs, and as most of the members lived in or near Mt. Juliet, they decided to relocate there. The building at Scobey’s Chapel was abandoned after the new building was built in Mt. Juliet and was destroyed just after the turn of the century. Annie Grigg says the building of the Mt. Juliet Church came about in this way. Her father, J. W. Grigg and Mrs. Annie Gleaves were riding horseback from church one Sunday when Bro. Griff said. “Why don’t we build a church in Mt. Juliet?” Sister Annie, wife of Jesse Gleaves, said, “We will give the little thicket down by the creek if you will raise the money So the little thicket became the location not only for that first church, but for at least two other Houses of Worship, for that little half acre plot is almost directly in front of our present building. In all probability it will continue to serve as a location for a Church of Christ for years to come, for the language of the Gleaves deed written by Bro. J. W. Grigg says, “J. H. Gleaves and wife to the Church at Mt. Juliet. For and in consideration of the deep abiding interest we feel in the cause of Christ and the great love we bear the Church of Christ at Mt. Juliet. We, Jesse H. Gleaves and wife, Annie Gleaves, do transfer and convey to said Church of Christ at Mt. Juliet, Tennessee forever the boundaries follow one half acre more or less. The above conveyance remains in full force and effect only so long as said property remains a place of worship, whenever the said property ceases to be used it shall revert to Jesse H. Gleaves, his wife and heirs.” Bro. Jonah Carver says the reasons the deed was not recorded until 1899 was the Gleaves did not bother to record it until they sold out and moved to Texas.

It is not known who built this House of Worship. It was a one-room structure about 25 by 45 feet, weatherboarded, painted white with double doors in the front and a single door in the rear. There were four tall narrow windows on each side and there was a flue for a stove in the middle of the building. It was built on stone pillars as few buildings had solid foundations in that day. This meant that the building was open to the weather under the floor and, oh, how cold those floors have been in winter.

Among those forming the nucleus of the new congregtion were Mr. and Mrs. G. V. Goodall, Mr. and Mrs. S. H. Hatfield, Mr. and Mrs. H. H. McFarland, Capt. And Mrs. R. C. Hardison, Mr. and Mrs. Jeff Mayberry, Mr. and Mrs. Kirk Burke, Mr. and Mrs. T. C. Kenton, Judge and Mrs. J. N. Adams, Mr. and Mrs. Will Grigg, Mr. and Mrs. Jesse Gleaves, Mr. and Mrs. Bob Scobey, Jim Grigg, Mrs. Harrison Ozment, and Mrs. Fannie Clemmons. H. P. Cawthon and wife, who were members of Corinth; one of the oldest congregations in the County, came over to the new group. Bro. Cawthon, one of the ablest songleaders the brotherhood has produced, became the songleader for the group. It is interesting to note that only Sis. Annie Grigg and Bro. Cawthon and his children, as descendants of this group worship with us today. Bro. J. N. Carver lists several others some of who may have been charter members. They are as follows: Mr. and Mrs. T. F. Hamilton, Mr. and Mrs. John Burke, Mr. and Mrs. Jim Moore, Mr. and Mrs. Dodney Cawthon, Mr. and Mrs. W. B. Cook, Mr. and Mrs. Bob Logue, Mrs. John Finney (Leora Grigg), Mrs. Henderson Clemmons, Mrs. Tom Tillman, Virgil Cawthon, Dayton Martin, Dr. Oldham, J. N. Carver, I. K. Hibbett, John Burke, Jerome Burke and Eugene Burke.

Even monthly preaching was unknown in those days, so the first preacher was probably Bro. John E. Ridley, one of the well known preachers of the time, who held the first meeting in the fall of 1892. Bro. Cawthon says the first three baptized in that meeting were Lizzie and Cora McFarland and Mattie Carver. He thinks that they were in that order. Lizzie became the wife of Elbert Young and until recent years when her health forced her to give up her home, worshipped here faithfully. At the time of this writing (1969), who is our oldest member in years of service. Mattie Carver married I. K. Hibbett, who later was an Elder here, and was the devoted mother of Kathleen Tate and Margaret Everett, and a faithful worker in the Church all the days of her life. Annie Hatfield was also baptized in that first meeting. She is known to us today as Annie Karnes and lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Although Bro. Ridley had only one other meeting here, the following year 1893, he must have kept in touch with the young church for several years, for mention is made of him preaching Mrs. Harrison Ozment’s funeral in 1897.

The Church still owned only the original half acre of land with barely one hundred feet of frontage. Between it and the creek was a saw mill powered by a steam engine. On March 22, 1908, sparks from the stack of the engine, helped by a strong south wind, ignited the wood shingles and the building burned. Even today Annie Grigg recalls seeing the smoke and rushing down to try to save the contents, especially the silver communion plates and goblets. She saved the goblets, but almost lost her life in the act. The plates ended as a gob of melted silver. The building was insured for $3,000, which the insurance company collected in a law suite against the owner of the saw mill.

The group worshipped in the old school building until the new church was finished that same year. Being quite fire conscious, they endeavored to make it as fire proof as possible. Concrete blocks and metal shingles, quite a novelty at the time, were used. This building was also a one room structure very similar in size and other features to the original building. The blocks were plastered on the inside and the elliptial shaped upper windows with stained glass were the talk of the day. The sloping floor was also the latest in church construction. Capt. Hardison, H. P. Cawthon and Tollie Hamilton served as the building committee and they did their work well. The walls of that old building would have lasted until the end of time.

Bro. Derryberry held the first meeting in the new building. No record is available as to who was the first to obey the Gospel in this meeting. All baptismal services both summer and winter were held at the old “Baptizing Hole” on the Tilghman property. Bro. J. N. Carver says, “Of my fondest memories are the times when at evening twilight on the banks of the creek in Tilghman’s lot we gathered and witnessed the burial in baptism of many souls. May the present building stand long and the baptismal spot in the creek never be destroyed is the prayer of one who loves them both.” Strangely enough the building lasted longer than the pool. The course of the creek was changed when the new road was built in 1966. The always frigid pool was about four feet in depth and was located just below the IEI building. This spot was used until after World War II, when the pools at the Old Hickory and Green Hill Churches were used.

In 1910, the balance of the land to the south and west of the original lot was purchased extending the property lines to where they are today. The Elders listed at the time were G. V. Goodall, T. F. Hamilton and Jim Grigg. In 1915 the property was deeded again, with the restrictions mentioned above, to G. N. Goodall, I. K. Hibbett and R. V. Cawthon as trustees.

The first Sunday School rooms were built 1927. The Elders serving during this period included J. S. Hatfield and H. C. Denson in addition to those mentioned above. The mission program of the Church at that time produced spectacular results in the distant future. The Church supported Bro. Cawthon in his mission meetings. He had his own tent and chairs and the Church gave him the little finances he needed. Congregations were established in Old Hickory, Berryville and six in Nashville.

Ray Jerkins became the first regular preacher for the Congregation in 1946. He was followed by W. C. Geer, R. R. Taylor, Damon Daniel, Bob Hendron, Ronnie Greenman, and during the summer and fall of 1966, J. Garvin Smith, Thomas Eldridge and Fred Mosely. Lloyd Gale, Jr. began his work here early n 1967. C. J. Potter became an Elder along with John McCulloch in 1949 and 1954, respectively. In 1966 after the deaths of Bros. Potter and Hatfield, Robert McCulloch, Kenneth Hackney and Paul Hunter were also appointed.

In 1958 another building program was finished. A nursery, baptistry, restrooms, and another class room were added. The first person to actually be baptized in the church building was Ronnie Hackney. Growth was slow but steady and by the early sixties the leaders of the congregation saw that with the anticipated growth of the town the old church could not serve the members. A building fund was started with the idea of building an auditorium for worship services beside the present building and using the present facilities for an education building. The relocation of the new highway changed that plan, however, and in November 1966, a committee of three men decided the future of the Mt. Juliet Church for years to come. There was pressure being applied to move to another location, and these men were instructed to investigate all possibilities and report back as to where the new church should be built. They were unanimously in favor of locating in back of the present building and demolishing it when the new facility was completed. This recommendation lost the church a minister but thoroughly united the congregation.

The last Gospel meeting was held in the old building in May, 1967 by Bro. Robert R. Taylor. Work was started on the new building in September, 1967, by the Anco Structures. The last Sunday service held in the old building was Sunday, April 28, 1968, with Lloyd Gale preaching. A short service was held Wednesday, May 1, and the moving process started. The last person baptized in the old building was Leroy Clark. The last funeral was Bro. Joe Hatfield in October, 1966, and the last wedding was Annette Hunter and Charles Mitchell. Thursday afternoon, May 6, a bulldozer, a monstrous machine undreamed of by Bro. Hamilton and his fellow members, was hitched to those concrete block walls and down they came after being a landmark for some sixty years.

The first service was held in the new building on May 5, 1968, with some 425 in attendance, although the membership was something less than 200 at that time. The first person to be baptized in the beautiful new edifice was Larry Engles. At the time of this writing the building had not been used for either a funeral or wedding.

A final note on the progress of the Gospel in Mt. Juliet might be made in the comparison of the cost of the three buildings. Bro. Cawthon says that the first building was insured for $3,000 so that must have been close to the cost. He also says that with the insurance collected they still owed $3,000 on the second structure, making the total cost $6,000. The Sunday School rooms added in 1927 cost some $2,500 and the addition in 1958 cost $12,000 making the total capital account in the last building about $20,500. The new building was built at a cost of approximately $95,-000 with the addition of many hours of time by the members and is appraised by the insurance company at $165,000.