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Kristen Baldwin Deathridge Middle Tennessee State University

Sacred and Secular: A Tale of Two Churches Nearly as long as congregations have been constructing churches and other

religious buildings, they have been abandoning those structures for new ones, either larger or smaller. This paper explores the fates of two religious buildings in Nashville, Tennessee. Located in the same South Nashville neighborhood, Holy Trinity Episcopal and Elm Street Methodist churches have changed in different ways throughout their histories. In response to the changing demographics in the neighborhood, the people of Holy Trinity Episcopal have changed their mission from service to an upper middleclass white audience to outreach to a multicultural, multiracial working-class community. Two blocks east, Elm Street Methodist, on the other hand, was sold rst to a manufacturer and then to the current tenant, an architectural rm: Tuck Hinton Architects, PLLC. This paper explores two sacred spaces in the same neighborhood, and asks why one space continued to host a congregation and why another has been adaptively reused.1 How have the spaces themselves changed? Do the current tenants of these spaces honor their sacred histories? In what ways do they do so? Contributing factors include shifting neighborhood demographics, denominational organization, and

Here I am evaluating an adaptive reuse project from a cultural and historical perspective, as well as an architectural one. Most published works on adaptive reuse are either handbooks for preservationists, the newest example being as J. Stanley Rabun and Richard Kelsos Building Evaluation for Adaptive Reuse and Preservation (2009) or little more than coffee table books, a new crop of which is represented by Sandu Publishings Transformer: Reuse, Renewal, and Renovation in Contemporary Architecture (2010). Stewart Brands approach in How Buildings Learn: What Happens After Theyre Built (1995) is largely to discuss what works and what does not in building design and reuse, but he does remind us that it is people who make the choices about both building design and what to reuse. I am interested in why communities value certain structures and their histories enough to preserve them with new uses.

Kristen Baldwin Deathridge Middle Tennessee State University

the character of the congregations. By exploring these and other questions, this paper assists in understanding these key issues surrounding the adaptive reuse of religious buildings.

Map of Nashville in 1908, showing Holy Trinity Episcopal Church (triangular block) and Elm Street Methodist Church.2

G.M. Hopkins, Plate 13A, Atlas of the City of Nashville, Tennessee: from ofcial records, private plans and actual surveys, 1908. Scale 150 feet to an inch. Nashville, TN: Special Collections Division of the Nashville Public Library. (accessed November 2010).

Kristen Baldwin Deathridge Middle Tennessee State University

Holy Trinity Episcopal Church: Episcopalians of Nashville formed Holy Trinity Episcopal Church as a mission of

Christ Church of Nashville in 1849. At rst called St. Pauls mission, by 1852, the congregation became Holy Trinity Parish.3 The current building was begun in 1852. Designed by architects Wills and Dudley of New York, the nave and chancel were completed in 1853. The tower was not completed until 1887 and the building was consecrated in 1888.4 Located at the corner of Ewing Avenue and 6th Street and modeled after English parish churches, the gothic revival building at rst served the lower- and middle-class whites of the neighborhood. The parish was organized to be a free church, meaning one that did not charge pew fees, in a neighborhood that, at the time, lay outside the boundaries of Nashville.5 The area was annexed to Nashville in 1854 and denomination leaders believed that it would continue to grow in population.6

Pamela E. Foster, Nashvilles Holy Trinity Episcopal Church: The Early Years, (Nashville, TN: The Church of the Holy Trinity, Episcopal , 2002), 63-64. I am currently processing the archives for Holy Trinity Episcopal Church. Most of the sources for Fosters work are in the unprocessed archive and, as a work of popular history, she did not provide citations. As I process the archive, I can see the source material for much of the book. Early newspaper accounts add little to parish records, but future research at other Nashville Episcopal congregations and in the diocesan records could provide further insight into the motives of the diocese in making decisions that involved Holy Trinity.

U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Historic American Buildings Survey, Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, Roy C. Pledger, HABS No. TN-135. (Washington, D.C., 1970).
4 5 6

Foster, Nashvilles Holy Trinity Episcopal Church: The Early Years, 69. Ibid., 64ff. 3

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The early years of the parish were marked by an inability to nd a long-term

priest and a stable, rather than growing, number of communicants.7 In the late 1850s, another Episcopal congregation, the Church of the Advent, was founded nearby. The local priests supported this move, even though they calculated it would drain Holy Trinity of attendance, because it too was to be a free church. Some of the members did indeed move to the Church of the Advent, but Holy Trinitys numbers remained stable, with growing Sunday school attendance.8 Priests shared duties between the two congregations as the neighborhood developed. This demonstrates the denominations early commitment to maintain Holy Trinity. The nearby University of Nashville (at the intersection of 3rd Avenue and Peabody Street), with its thriving teaching college that would later be incorporated into Vanderbilt University, ourished and brought new homes and residents to the neighborhood, and by 1859 Holy Trinity had increased to sixty-one communicants. Services were interrupted in 1862 by the Civil War and the occupation of

Nashville by federal troops. Quartered near Holy Trinity on the land around Mile End, a property owned by the Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad company,9 the federal army used the building as both a stable and a powder magazine (and possibly as a hospital as well) and much damage was done to the interior. Despite this use, the
7 8 9

Ibid., 74. Ibid., 78-79.

Steven Hoskins, A Restless Landscape: Building Nashville History and Seventh and Drexel, (PhD diss., Middle Tennessee State University, 2009) 51. 4

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church was open occasionally during the war, with Army chaplains using the space for services. It thus maintained its status as a part of the Episcopal Church.10 After the war, the government paid $1200 for the damages and $133 rental fee for use of the building.11 Thanks to that repayment, donations from the diocese, and the persistence of members, the interior of Holy Trinity was restored. By 1867 most of the restoration was complete, a new organ was purchased in 1872, and the tower was completed in 1887.12 In the years following the Civil War, the sixty-six communicants, 107 Sunday school students, and fteen Sunday school teachers of Holy Trinity continued to be a white congregation. Episcopal leaders in Tennessee and throughout the nation discouraged the formation of a separate branch of the Episcopal church for blacks and worked to bring freed-people into the Episcopal church, if not necessarily into fully integrated congregations. 13 As early as the late 1850s, the Episcopal Diocese of Tennessee began requesting

that its churches report statistics separately for blacks and whites. While Holy Trinity Parish and other major Nashville Episcopal congregations did not comply with this request, when the diocese established the rst black Episcopal congregation in 1888,

10 11

Foster, Nashvilles Holy Trinity Episcopal Church: The Early Years, 82.

U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Historic American Buildings Survey, Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, Roy C. Pledger, HABS No. TN-135. (Washington, D.C., 1970).
12 13

Ibid. Foster, Nashvilles Holy Trinity Episcopal Church: The Early Years, 82 ff. 5

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there were existing black episcopalians to attend.14 It is possible that there were no black communicants at Holy Trinity. Alternatively, there were African Americans attending the church and the priests just refused to differentiate. Unfortunately, we may never know which was the case or where the black Episcopalians were worshiping before the congregation was established in 1888. Demographic and structural changes to the neighborhood around Holy Trinity

(and Elm Street) began accelerating after the Civil War. After the occupation by the federal army, African Americans continued settling in the area and rebuilding the neighborhood, and the city created new streets and widened existing ones throughout the 1870s and 1880s.15 Additionally, the area grew in its commercial focus as boosterism in the city worked to bring Nashville some New South status.16 This desire to remake Nashville with some of the trappings of Northern industrial cities inuenced the changes in street infrastructure in this South Nashville neighborhood and contributed to the increase in light industry and the construction of warehouses along the railroad.17 The neighborhoods demographics changed even further as some residents who left the area when the U. S. Army began occupation during the war never

14 15 16 17

Ibid., 76-77. Ibid., 91. Hoskins, A Restless Landscape, 53. Ibid., 59. 6

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return while others left the neighborhood for the suburbs as commercial interests moved in.18 By the time the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament announced the establishment of

a Roman Catholic parochial school for African American girls two blocks west of Holy Trinity in 1905, they were able to argue that the location of the school among existing black homes was ideal.19 The school continued in the neighborhood until the 1950s when it was closed in favor of integration.20 By the late 1880s, the priests at Holy Trinity served an integrated congregation, but in the 1890s they separated, as the blacks worshiped at the Holy Trinity mission church of St. Pauls (later renamed All Saints).21 Both congregations were served by the same priests.22 At the 1905 Diocesan Convention, some proposed that Holy Trinity be sold as its numbers of white congregants had declined and the African American members could have the less impressive All Saints property. Showing continued denominational support for the building and congregation, Nashville Bishop Thomas Frank Gailor worked from that point on to have Holy Trinity instead transferred to its black members. 23 Nationally, the Episcopal church remained convinced that blacks and whites needed to stay in the same
18 19 20 21 22 23

Ibid., 60. Ibid., 75, 82. Ibid., 95. Foster, Nashvilles Holy Trinity Episcopal Church: The Early Years, 109ff. Ibid., 124. Ibid., 130. 7

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denomination. However, all Episcopalians still did not want integrated services. In November 1907, Holy Trinity was ofcially given to its African American communicants, those members at All Saints joined Holy Trinity, and All Saints was dissolved. The church was also reduced to mission status with the understanding that the new congregation would not be able to meet the nancial obligations of a parish.24 In 1961, Holy Trinity again gained parish status. In the turbulent 1950s and

1960s, many members of the congregation at Holy Trinity participated in Nashvilles Civil Rights Movement. Unfortunately, less of this period of Holy Trinitys history is immediately veriable, and is an area of current research. Rallies and educational sessions were held at Holy Trinity. Several of its members taught at Nashville universities and one of the best known members was Nashville councilman, Fisk University educator, and lawyer Z. Alexander Looby. Looby defended the students arrested in the Nashville sit-ins and his North Nashville home was bombed as a result. This led to an impromptu march to the capitol by North Nashvillians in which Diane Nash asked Mayor Ben West if he recommend[s] that the lunch counters be desegregated. Put on the spot, West answered in the afrmative and three weeks later, Nashville lunch counters began serving blacks.25

24 25

Ibid., 135.

John Lewis and Michael DOrso, Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement, (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1998), 110-111. 8

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Looby lived in North Nashville, but attended church at Holy Trinity in South

Nashville. Members came from around town and no longer just from the neighborhood around the building, and so, despite the changing demographics, Holy Trinity continued to thrive through the 1970s. Through the 1980s and 1990s, the congregation held steady and then began declining in size. This is consistent with the general decline nationwide in members for mainline denominations after about 1965. The current congregation at Holy Trinity is smaller but remains largely African

American. The past two priests-in-charge have been white men from outside of the South and the homeless population in the area has grown due to the location of the Nashville Union Mission on the land formerly used by the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for their school. The parish does signicant outreach to the homeless, even holding services in Spanish for the newcomers to the neighborhood. Through the changing demographics of the neighborhood, Holy Trinitys congregation also changed and remained committed to reaching the poor. While the diocese has not disbanded Holy Trinity, they have stopped providing them with the nancial support to maintain their building and the congregation is struggling.

Elm Street Methodist Church: Currently the home of Tuck Hinton, PLLC architects, the Elm Street Methodist

Church was completed in 1871 on the corner of Elm Street and 5th Avenue. Unfortunately, as compared to Holy Trinity, archival records and history on Elm Street

Kristen Baldwin Deathridge Middle Tennessee State University

have proven more difcult to locate.26 There are fewer extant documents, probably due to the disbanding of the congregation in 1971. According to oral tradition, the Elm Street congregation began meeting in the

back room of one of the members houses before the Civil War. However, in a history of Middle Tennessee Methodist congregations that was published in 1956, the then pastor of Elm Street reported that the congregation was founded when two churches, Mulberry Street Methodist and Andrew Charge Methodist, merged. The new, larger group traded the too-small Mulberry Street church building to the Cumberland Presbyterian denomination in return for the property at 5th and Elm in 1867, in the middle of the war. A Cumberland Presbyterian congregation had formed and begun construction on the site in 1860, but they were only able to complete the basement level during the Civil War. 27 Perhaps the two Methodist congregations began meeting together in a home during the War as presumably several of their members and perhaps pastors were serving in one of the armies and this is the origin of the oral tradition. By

Some records, mostly those involving the last business of the congregation, were handed over to the Tennessee Conference of the United Methodist Church Commission on Archives and History. They are largely unprocessed, but the archivist permitted me to review them. I have been unable to locate any other newspaper accounts of Elm Street. The Conference archivist informed me that the memoir and records held by at least one former church member are in the possession of someone who is writing a book on Elm Street Methodist. This author has agreed to hand over those records once her work is completed, but she will not allow any other scholars to access them before then. The partners at Tuck Hinton PLLC have also done some research on the history of the building, but I have also been unable to secure an appointment with them. Access to these sources would assist in future research for those investigating the changes to the building at 5th and Elm.

O.H. Vanlandingham, Elm Street, in History of Methodist Churches and Institutions in Middle Tennessee, 1787-1956, Cullen T. Carter, ed. (Nashville, TN: Parthenon Press, 1956) 87.


Kristen Baldwin Deathridge Middle Tennessee State University

the time the church was completed and dedicated in 1871, there were 430 members in the congregation.28 Drawing from an image of Elm Street that was taken around 1897 for a booklet

for the Tennessee Centennial, we know the brick Italianate structure was painted white and had a central cupola over the front projecting section. By 1950, the front, western elevation had been changed. The cupola was gone and the areas on either side of the projecting front had been extended. 5th Avenue had been widened and graded, causing the congregation to lift their doors and build a shielded stair.29 The cupola was destroyed in a re in December of 192530 and it is not currently known if the other exterior modications took place after that re or at another time, dictated by the infrastructure change in 5th Avenue. By the time it was auctioned off in 1971, the bricks had been cleaned and the building was no longer painted white.31 At its height, Elm Street maintained 1,200 members and was one of the strongest

congregations in Tennessee.32 As the neighborhood demographics changed, the congregation lost membership. O. H. Vanlandingham, pastor of Elm Street in 1956, attributes this loss to what he calls a steady drift in population to the east and the west

28 29 30 31 32

Ibid., 88. Nashville Tennessean, February 5, 1950. Vanlandingham, Elm Street, in History of Methodist Churches, 88. Advertisement, The Nashville Tennessean, Sunday, July 18, 1971, 132. Vanlandingham, Elm Street, in History of Methodist Churches, 88-89. 11

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in Nashville and the removal of Peabody College nearer to Vanderbilt Universitys main campus. 33 Vanlandingham insisted that other neighborhood denominations suffered worse membership losses and considered it an accomplishment to be able to keep just under 500 members and to be able to meet the nancial obligations of the church and conference.34 Such optimism could not hold the Elm Street congregation together forever and the neighborhood population continued to shift. With a shrinking congregation and ever reducing resources, Elm Streets members could no longer care for their aging building. The tenor of the neighborhood was changing and the middle-class whites of the

Elm Street congregation were nally able to afford a move to the suburbs, where the Tennessee Conference was building new Methodist churches for them to attend. In addition, the areas transition to more of a commercial district effected Elm Street just as it did Holy Trinity. Elm Street Methodist, listing 200 members on the rolls, held its nal service on June 20, 1971 after it had been ofcially dissolved by the Tennessee United Methodist Conference.35 According to some correspondence from October of 1971, the Tennessee Conference sold the church and parsonage, dividing the proceeds into three parts which were given to local Methodist charities. McKendree Manor (a retirement community), Martin College, and Scarritt College each received $8989.37 of the
33 34 35

Ibid., 89. Ibid.

Bob Bell, Jr., Final Service Set June 20 for Elm Street Methodist, in The Nashville Banner, Sat. May 22, 1971. 12

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$26,949.84 sum.36 Scant more than rumor is available about how the remaining 200 members felt about this decision by the conference, but it is likely that fewer people were in attendance than were on the rolls as people left the neighborhood and began attending elsewhere without ofcially moving their membership. After the property was auctioned, at some point it was given over to small scale manufacturing before being purchased by Tuck Hinton, PLLC architectural rm, its current tenants.

Conclusions There are several reasons for the differing fates of these buildings, located mere

blocks apart. The character of the congregations plays a role as the members of Holy Trinity have successfully fought to maintain their location and to celebrate their history, while the members of Elm Street, for whatever reason, were unable to do the same. One reason for the lasting actions of Holy Trinity lies in the Episcopal organization, which lent them more denominational support (though now this is slipping somewhat). While both the Episcopal Diocese and the Methodist Conference hold the deeds to church lands, in the Methodist church, nancial support is more directly tied to the individual congregation. Episcopal and Catholic churches often have more regional and national support. Perhaps most signicantly, the congregations weathered the changing demographics of the neighborhood differently. Holy Trinity changed with the

of Elm Street United Methodist Church, Conference Records, Tennessee Conference Commission on Archives and History, Nashville, TN, (unprocessed records, consulted 2010).

36 Records


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neighborhood, while the members of Elm Street mostly relocated. However, occupants of both buildings honor their sacred histories. Custodians of both Holy Trinity and Elm Street value and want to explore the

history of the spaces. Both churches are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Holy Trinity was listed 4/14/1972 (72001234) but Elm Street wasnt listed until 5/15/1984 (84003496) and then as part of a multiple property nomination for Nineteenth Century Churches of South Nashville. Holy Trinity celebrated its sesquicentennial in 2002 with much pomp and the publication of what was then seen as the rst half of its history, through 1907. Plans to complete a second volume detailing their history as an African American congregation have stalled. The current priest at Holy Trinity is in his third year with the congregation and he almost immediately began learning about the history of the building and its congregation. He contacted the MTSU Center for Historic Preservation in search of guidance for maintaining the historic structure and presenting the congregational history. It is in this capacity that I am working with the current priest in charge to process the archives at Holy Trinity. As the congregation expends much of its dwindling efforts on feeding and reaching the homeless, they have little in the way of funds and energy left to continue work on their history and their building. The current priest is aware that the rich history of the congregation and its sacred space can encourage the regional and national diocese, as well as perhaps outside grant writers, to help them maintain the property.


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The architects of Tuck Hinton, PLLC have honored the sacred history of their

building through maintaining an open, churchlike feel in their interior modications by, among other things, removing the oors and boarded up windows that were implemented when the space was used for light manufacturing. When it might have been cheaper, though this is arguable, to nd another space, the partners at Tuck Hinton paid to have an expensive underground buttress built to maintain the character of the building that those in the neighborhood had become so used to passing by. In fact, they advertise their studio on their website using the following quote by Louis Kahn, Architecture must have the religion of light, a sense of light as the giver of all presences.


Kristen Baldwin Deathridge Middle Tennessee State University

Bibliography: Bell, Jr., Bob. Final Service Set June 20 for Elm Street Methodist. In The Nashville Banner, Sat. May 22, 1971. Foster, Pamela E. Nashvilles Holy Trinity Episcopal Church: The Early Years. Nashville, TN: The Church of the Holy Trinity, Episcopal , 2002. Gavin, Michael T. Church of the Holy Trinity Nashville, Tennessee: Preservation Action Plan. Murfreesboro, TN: MTSU Center for Historic Preservation, January 2010. Hopkins, G.M. Plate 13A. Atlas of the City of Nashville, Tennessee: from ofcial records, private plans and actual surveys, 1908. Scale 150 feet to an inch. Nashville, TN: Special Collections Division of the Nashville Public Library. http:// (accessed November 2010). Hoskins, Steven. A Restless Landscape: Building Nashville History and Seventh and Drexel. PhD diss., Middle Tennessee State University, 2009. Lewis, John and Michael DOrso. Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1998. Nashville Tennessean. February 5, 1950 and July 18, 1971. Records of Elm Street United Methodist Church. Conference Records. Tennessee Conference Commission on Archives and History, Nashville, TN. (unprocessed records, consulted 2010). Records of Holy Trinity Episcopal Church. Nashville, TN. (unprocessed records, consulted 2010). U.S. Department of the Interior. National Park Service. Historic American Buildings Survey. Holy Trinity Episcopal Church. Roy C. Pledger. HABS No. TN-135. Washington, D.C., 1970. Vanlandingham, O.H. Elm Street. In History of Methodist Churches and Institutions in Middle Tennessee, 1787-1956. Cullen T. Carter, ed. Nashville, TN: Parthenon Press, 1956.