Thursday, August 12, 2010
The Preacher’s Corner
The Sabbath school was first Holly Springs Church
While our old church is being worked on, we’ve been meeting in the little building two doors north that belongs to the Town and Country Garden Club. We are grateful to the club for allowing us to use this space, for it has a historic connection to our congregation. You see, the little garden club building was the original Holly Springs Presbyterian Church! In fact, it was the town’s first church.
In the spring of 1836, about the time that Davey Crockett and General Sam Houston were fighting at the Alamo, two pioneer settlers at Holly Springs erected a pole-and-mud cabin at the corner of what is now Memphis Street and Gholson Avenue and began a Sabbath school.
In this little cabin, on the spot of land where the present Holly Springs Presbyterian Church now stands, James Elder, a Methodist and a merchant from Murfreesboro, Tenn., and Robert H. Pattillo, originally of North Carolina, and a descendant of an old Presbyterian family and the town’s newspaper editor, began a Sunday school. The founding of the school preceded formal organization of the town’s churches by several months.
The Elder and Pattillo Sabbath school operated on a plan similar to many on the frontier, where lay leaders were much more willing than clergy to cooperate across denominational lines. Indeed, most early Sunday schools in Mississippi were interdenominational. James Elder joined the Holly Springs Presbyterian Church when it was organized in December 1836 (a Methodist church was not organized until the following year), and served as an elder in the church until he moved to Memphis in 1850. He was a banker in Memphis, serving as a director of what is now the National Bank of Commerce.
R.H. Pattillo was also an elder in the Holly Springs Church until he moved to Memphis. A stained glass window in the First Presbyterian Church of Memphis, Tenn., honors his memory. (Mrs Lyndon B. Johnson of Texas was a descendant of the Pattillo family.)
In 1871 James Elder recorded memories of the little Sunday school at Holly Springs. He wrote that: “At an early day myself and Mr. Pattillo, organized a Sabbath school, perhaps in the beginning of 1836 or 37 — in a little pole cabin; not a log cabin, for I could not dignify it with that name (long before we had a church building), which prospered exceedingly, and finally became one of the most flourishing schools I ever knew.”
By December 1836, with representatives of the Elder and Pattillo Sabbath school, 20 persons covenanted together to form the First Presbyterian Church of Holly Springs.
The little pole-and-mud cabin sheltered the first Presbyterian sermons that fell upon the local settlers’ ears. But the growth of the congregation could not long be accommodated without a proper church building. This was erected in 1837, and both the congregation and its little Sunday school had a home. The 48-foot long, narrow building, said to be the region’s oldest extant example of “shotgun” architecture, was erected on the site of the original pole-and-mud cabin, but faced south.
The Sabbath school no doubt profited most from the increased allotment of space when the Presbyterians turned to build the first brick church in the county on the north corner of the same block as the little frame church. This building, occupied in 1848, was used until a still-finer house of worship (our present church) was erected in 1860.
At this time the congregation re-purchased the lot on the south end of the block where the little church built in 1837 still stood and moved it to the center of the block, where it has since been used for secular purposes, but remains the oldest structure built for religious use in North Mississippi. (The 1848 building likewise still stands and for many years housed the Graham Miller Department Store.)
So you can see why we are pleased to worship once more in the little church and salute our hosts, the Town & Country Garden Club for the wonderful work of preserving and restoring this building that they have recently carried out.
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