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 SMYRNA PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH 

 CONGREGATION ESTABLISHED 1810 

The year was 1810. It had only been thirty-four years since the colonies declared independence from England arid fourteen years since Tennessee became a State. Rutherford County Tennessee was seven years old, having been formed in 1803 in response to the request of some 256 households located near the Stewarts Creek-Stones River area. Jefferson, located at the confluence of the east and west forks of the Stones River, was the county seat. 

There was a Presbyterian Church at Jefferson thought to have been called Mt Pizgah. When the Smyrna Church formed in 1810, most of its members came from this church. When the church building was erected, it was a square building of hand-hewn logs. It was located on land along Old Jones Mill Road in a grove of trees on the banks of a creek called Harts Branch. The land was donated by William H. Davis. Today, the site can be seen along the Smyrna Greenway in the section linking Sam Ridley Parkway and Sam Davis Road. Beginning at Sam Ridley Parkway, the site is located on the west side of the walking bridge that crosses Harts Branch. After ten years of existence, the church was officially recognized as an active congregation of the Presbyterian Church. Reverend Samuel Hodge was the pastor. 

The town of Smyrna did not exist when the Smyrna Church was formed. In 1851, the NashvilleChattanooga Railroad built a depot on land owned by Silas Tucker. Mr. Tucker was a member and elder in Smyrna Presbyterian Church and suggested naming the "way station" after the church. The name is from the Book of Revelation, Smyrna being the name of one of the seven churches of Asia Minor. 

For three years during the Civil War, armies marched and fought in Tennessee. Federal Troops occupied Rutherford County in early 1862. Due to military activity, the church suspended public worship. Federal forces seized the log church building in January of 1863. According to the Federal Court of Claims "the military forces of the United States tore down and removed the church building of the Presbyterian Church of Smyrna, Tenn, and used the material therein for building winter quarters and for other army purposes". 

 Old Jones Mill Road Building 1867-1913 

Old Jones Mill Road Building 1867-1913.jpg

Church members faced many difficulties following the war. Crops and livestock had been destroyed or confiscated for military use. Businesses, farm buildings, fences and homes were damaged or destroyed. In 1866, though times were hard and church members limited in their resources, they voted to erect a new building. A brick building, measuring 30 X 53 feet, was finished in 1867 at a cost of 

$2,700. It had been five years since there had been regular preaching or worship services. Rev. J. B. Chapman came as pastor to the congregation. It wasn't until 1905, after the trustees of the church petitioned the Federal Court of Claims, that the church was awarded $1,250 in reparations for the loss of the church and its furnishings. Today, the church has one of the original pews from this building. Minutes of the church prior to 1867 were either destroyed or lost; but the church has minutes and records beginning in 1867 to the present. 

On April 14,1912, as the town grew up around the depot, the church voted to move to a location on Maple Street. According to the will of William Davis, the land he gave to the church and the building erected on it, were to revert to his family when the property was no longer used by the church. Walter Hibben. an elder in the church, must have supplied money for the church to begin its building project. After obtaining the signatures of Mr. Davis's heirs, a deed was registered in Rutherford County in March of 1913 whereby the heirs deeded the land and building to Walter C. Hibbett. The document states this action was taken since Mr. Hibbett had earlier reimbursed the church for the value of the property. After the congregation discontinued its use of the structure in 1913, the building continued to stand at its location in the grove of trees alongside Harts Branch. The property then passed from one owner to another. In 1942, the building and the farms all around it were acquired for the site of Sewart Air Force Base. When the old building was tom down, her bricks were obtained by the Sam Davis Memorial Association and used to build the Jane Simmons Tea Room, now called the Creek House. 

Maple Street Building 1913-1924 

Maple Street Building 1913-1924.jpg

September 14, 1913, was the date of the last regular service in the old brick building on Old Jones Mill Road. The service was observed as a memorial and communion service. On the 21st day of September 1913, the first meeting was held in the new church building on Maple St. On June 26, 1913, the church was incorporated in the State of Tennessee as First Presbyterian Church of Smyrna. 

During the Sunday morning worship service on March 16, 1924, the new building on Maple Street burned. At the church's 175th anniversary celebration, Lucille McDonald told this story of what happened that day. 

"During the services one March day in 1924, Mr. Link, mentioned that the noises in the roof must be caused by squirrels as they rolled acorns under the roof. Nearby the church, a huge oak tree stood as limbs touched the church building. Several times during the service, we heard the noises supposedly made by the squirrels moving the acorns. 

At the close of the benediction, my older brother, William, and two other teenage boys sat on the back pew. The three boys ran down the church steps. They looked up and all saw that the roof was blazing. My brother ran to our father to report that the church was burning. The other boys also ran to their fathers to give the news. Several men along with my father began to tell each one in the congregation to remain calm, but to get out as soon as possible. 

Two or three men started rolling out the piano. Right behind them I saw my father begin to roll up the carpet on the aisles. I was a very young girl, but I saw two girls about fifteen or sixteen years old begin to shake the heavy pews until the screws were loosed Then two girls picked up a heavy pew and moved it toward the front door. Several trips the girls made taking pews across the street for safety. Then others were taking the pews out. They could never have lifted the heavy pews in regular times. 

Everything was moved across the street, even the children's chairs and tables in the basement, and a small portable organ. I remember picking up hymn books and carrying as many as possible at once to get to safety. 

The ceiling was very high and it didn't fall for probably ten or twelve minutes. The congregation young and old watched our beloved church become enveloped in flames, then we saw black smoke reaching high in the sky. Most of us were in tears as we watched more smoke and angry flames cover the building. " 

In 1925, another brick building was constructed on the same site. This building served the congregation until 1999. 

Maple Street Building 1924-1999

Maple Street Building 1924-1999.jpg

On 1920, Walter C. Hibbett made his Last Will and Testament. Mr. Hibbett was a leading business man in Smyrna, President of First National Bank of Smyrna and an elder in Smyrna Presbyterian Church. Having no children, he left a large portion of his estate to his wife, Johnnie, for her use in her 4 

 

life time. After her death, any portion of his estate which she had not used was to go the Smyrna Presbyterian Church. Mr. Hibbett died in 1939. Johnnie lived on until 1955. At the time of her death, Johnnie had not used any of the estate left to her by her husband. Many church projects, people, community organizations and mission projects have benefited and continue to benefit from Mr. 

Hibbett' s bequest. 

Sam Ridley Parkway Building 1999-Present 

Sam Ridley Parkway Building 1999-Present.jpg

In 1993 due to the tremendous growth in the Sam Ridley Parkway area, church members again voted to move to a new location. In May of 1996, the church found 12.75 acres available on Sam Ridley Parkway. The next month, South Trinity Presbyterian Church located in the Whispering Hills area of Nashville merged with the Smyrna Church. Proceeds from the sale of their building helped make the move financially possible. This is only one of the miracles that occurred during this time, making the dream a reality for the small congregation. God was definitely at work. In 1997, the church began to raise funds and planning for the new church building. A Groundbreaking Worship Service was held on September 13, 1998, and construction began. First Presbyterian Church of Smyrna, moved to its present location at 540 Sam Ridley Parkway West on July 18, 1999. 

The stained-glass windows placed in the new building are from four different sources. In 1977, a memorial window was given to the church. A white dove with wings outspread, representing the Holy Spirit, dominates the center of the window. Seven flames across the lower part of the window represent the gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church. The window was given by the family of Dr. Brainard B. Gracy and his wife, Andramedia Moore Gracy. Dr. Gracy came to Smyrna in the 1870's serving patients in the small village and the surrounding area until his retirement in the 1920's. Dr. Gracy was ordained a Ruling Elder in the church on November 27, 1898. This window is now located in the narthex.

 

The second set of windows are located in the sanctuary and the community fellowship room. They are from the church building on Maple Street, having been installed in the 1980's. These windows feature various depictions of Bible stories and Christian symbols. Those in the sanctuary are in the doors exiting the building. 

The third set, found in the sanctuary, are from the South Trinity Presbyterian Church. They are the oblong windows with the floral motifs seen along the walls. The windows were made in 1967 from glass which was shipped from Germany in 1890. Originally the glass was in fifteen windows in the Garden Street Presbyterian Church in Columbia, Tennessee, before being moved to South Trinity. When that building was sold, the windows were removed and stored until being placed in the new building on Sam Ridley Parkway. 

The fourth set of windows were made and installed in the sanctuary in 1999 when the church moved to Sam Ridley Parkway. These are the octagonal shaped windows depicting the Presbyterian Church in the USA symbol. 

In 2001, a Mother’s Day Out and Preschool program was started at the church. The program provides a loving, nurturing and educational Christian care program for pre-school children in our community. Its dedicated teachers and staff help children develop important life skills, a sense of worth, acceptance, and respect for others, to know the importance of God, Jesus and the Bible in their lives and to develop an excitement for learning. 

It has now been 25 years since the congregation moved to the Sam Ridley Parkway location. It continues to strive to carry out the mission to which God has called us. A line in the song "Hymn of Promise, reads, "From the past will come the future, what it holds a mystery... The past of First Presbyterian Church of Smyrna reveals stories to give promise and encouragement for its future. They are stories of: 
 

  • ASSURANCE AND HOPE. We find assurance that God has been at work in this congregation from its beginning; assurance that God is here with us in the present and will be here for those generations to come. He will guide us. Our calling is to follow.
     

  • FAITHFULNESS, COURAGE, AND PERSEVERANCE. Faith and courage are evidenced by the dedication and determination of those who have gone before us. They were among the first settlers of the Middle Tennessee area. They cleared the land, built their homes and joined together as a congregation to build a house of worship. Years later, church members who were still suffering the devastation and loss caused by war rebuilt their church building. They were worshipping together again within two years of the end of the war. Our history tells the story of people who watched their church building go up in flames, but whose courage and hope could not be destroyed. 
     

  • GENEROSITY. The church and numerous organizations, mission projects and people in our community and around the world have benefited from the generosity of one man who loved his church and wanted to ensure its financial security. It is a lesson in how God can use our talents, time and resources for His purpose. 

We are thankful for these stories of the past, for the people who lived them and the lessons they teach us. May those generations who come behind us find our stories to be a witness to God’s presence and grace. 

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