See These West Tennessee Historic Churches
Remember when I took you to Collierville, Tennessee, recently?
I focused on the town’s railroad and Civil War history (and gelato). But I could have written a piece on its historic churches alone.
Collierville’s already done this, in a sense – print this and you’ve got yourself a DIY tour with liner notes (historic markers at each site add detail). You could walk or drive between stops, but on a spring day, I’d start from the town square and fan out on foot – inside this compact grid, you’ll discover several churches within walking distance. I’d recommend bringing your camera – back-dropped by a clear sky and trees begging to bloom, the architectural details of these old structures make great photo ops.
Located right on the town square at North Rowlett Street, Collierville United Methodist Church was erected in 1900. Note the stained glass windows (imported from France) and, if you can get inside, beadboard wainscoting and ceilings. (The sanctuary is still used for Sunday morning services and special events including weddings.)
One block off the square (to the west) at Walnut and West Mulberry streets, you get a twofer: Saint Andrew’s Episcopal and Collierville Presbyterian. St. Andrew’s intrigues with architecture and tradition: Gothic Revival styling follows the form of a cross; eight “medallion” windows, imported from England, were gifted by the contemporary Bishop of Tennessee (we’re talking 1890 or so here); the church’s original brass bell, forged in New York in 1891, remains in the bell tower – and still calls parishioners to worship today.
Across the street, Collierville Presbyterian is all charm with its small scale, white clapboard siding, red front door and current raison d’être: Sheltering Simply Done Catering and Cupcakes, the repurposed church offers deliverance…by dessert. (Open Tues., Weds. and Fri., 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Thurs., noon to 6 p.m.)
Half a mile south at Main Street and Poplar Avenue, acquaint yourself with another repurposing: Collierville Christian Church (circa 1873) as the Morton Museum of Collierville History. Scan the permanent area-history exhibits and changing local art; then slip into the sanctuary for an aesthetically transforming experience: sunlight streaming through the arched stained glass windows; a delightfully-detailed ceiling and spindles that will make you smile.
Next stop: The Village Chapel at Casey Jones Village
Northeast 90 minutes of Collierville in Jackson, Casey Jones Village has something new to show you: the Village Chapel. If you recall my story about Casey Jones Village, and the Shaw family that directs it, you won’t be surprised to learn how the chapel came to be here. Like his late father Brooks Shaw, Casey Jones Village CEO Clark Shaw unwinds by driving through rural Tennessee, searching for relics (which, for the Shaw family, can mean anything from a ragged sign to a ragged building). The Shaw family had been hunting, in particular, for a classic country church to install in the Village in Brooks Shaw’s honor, when Clark and his wife, Juanita, set out in their beat-up convertible one afternoon. While stopped to examine an abandoned country store, Clark noticed something across the road. “I could see the white of a building through the trees and I said, ‘Honey, I think that’s a church over there,'” he recounted for me. What Clark spotted, in fact, was the century-old Browns Creek Primitive Baptist Church of Haywood County. The Shaws relocated it to Casey Jones Village and began the restoration, adding a missing bell and steeple. The Village Chapel now invites visitors daily to discover its architecture, preservation story and perhaps a quiet moment, though if you venture in on a Thursday around 6:30 p.m., you may catch live bluegrass gospel (an offshoot of the Village’s popular plectral society jam). Clark and Juanita are also developing exhibits for the chapel’s interior, detailing the role of faith in the South with spotlights on hymns, the history of the chapel and Primitive Baptist traditions. The Shaws expect to unveil the exhibits around Memorial Day.
Sidetrip to Paris
Another 90 minutes northeast and you’re in Paris, Tennessee, home to Grace Church. Aged gracefully she has – a restoration project completed in 1999 preserved this jewel of the town square, the oldest church building in Henry County. But it’s the glamor that gets me – by the time of Grace Church’s consecration in 1904, the structure had been embellished with windows crafted at the Tiffany plant in Versailles, France (then shipped trans-Atlantically and delivered by horse and rail to Paris, Tennessee) and roofed in part with a financial contribution from J.P. Morgan. The church’s annex, in its first life as the Capitol Theater, served as Paris’ only movie theater and host to the first Miss Tennessee pageant (in 1930). Keep an eye on my blog for details on touring the church very soon.
Which are your favorite historic churches in West Tennessee?