Exploring Our Heritage
A Travel Guide To Restoration Sites
Many sites of the Restoration Movement are within 150-mile radius of Nashville, Tennessee. Trips to visit these sites can be both enjoyable and educational.
Some people never find an interest in history, and that is sad. A study of the lives of men and institutions of the past can be a first step in understanding and appreciating one's heritage. A Christian can especially gain a great deal by visiting and studying the lives of historic characters and the locations of significant events in the history of the church of Christ in America. One can discover that history is more than a mass of uninteresting facts and dates, but is a record of people and events that explain a great deal of what the church is today.
Students of church history find that the beginnings of the Restoration Movement go back further than many people realize. In the past, some have falsely maintained that Alexander Campbell started the church of Christ. In reality, Campbell came late on the scene of the early efforts to restore New Testament Christianity. Men in southern Kentucky, northern Alabama and middle Tennessee were preaching New Testament Christianity, and were establishing churches using the New Testament pattern before Campbell came to America in 1809.
The locations of the efforts of some of these men are quite accessible. Many are within a 150-mile radius of Nashville, Tenn. Trips to visit these sites can be both enjoyable and educational.
Old Mulkey Meetinghouse
In 1798, John Mulkey and his brother Philip moved to Barren (now Monroe) County, Ky. They settled two miles south of Tompkinsville, and assisted in the founding of the Mill Creek Baptist Church the same year. John Mulkey became the first licensed preacher in Barren County.
In 1804, the Mill Creek Baptist Church finished its new church building. It was built in the shape of a cross with three doors, four alcoves and 12 corners.
John Mulkey's spiritual thinking was challenged in 1801 when he attended the great revival at Cane Ridge, near Lexington, Ky. There he met Barton W. Stone for the first time. Mulkey' s dissatisfaction with creeds and denominationalism peaked in 1809. While preaching in the home of William Sims, Mulkey realized his arguments to prove predestination from John 10 were illogical, and expressed this discovery to his audience. Some of the members of the Mill Creek Baptist Church accused Mulkey of heresy.
For the next three months the church and Mulkey attempted to resolve their differences. In November, the church agreed to divide peaceably with the majority keeping the church building.
Mulkey said, "All who believe as I do, follow me out the west door." A large majority went with him. Traditionally, it is reported that Hannah Pennington, sister of Daniel Boone, was the first one to follow Mulkey out the door. Mulkey's group met that same day and resolved to be a church according to the New Testament.
Mulkey gave up preaching in 1841, after 51 years because of his poor health. He had reportedly delivered 10,000 sermons and baptized 10,000 people.
Confined to home he said, "You cannot think how willing I am to die." He died Dec. 13, 1842, and is buried in the Vernon community near Tompkinsville on land he once owned. Clayton E. Gooden, Mulkey's biographer, said, "Historians have given little credit to John Mulkey, usually dismissing his work in a sentence or two. Yet, this outstanding pioneer preacher was one of the first voices heard on behalf of the Restoration Movement."
Directions: The Mulkey meetinghouse is in a Kentucky state park about two miles south of Tompkinsville on Old Mulkey Road. Mulkey's grave is not easy to find but well worth the effort. From Tompkinsville, go southeast on 163 and turn left on 216. Go 6.6 miles and turn left on a dirt road. The cemetery is just on the right. If you come to the Burnet Community Produce sign, you have missed the turn. Go back about one mile and turn right on the first dirt road.
Rock Springs Church of Christ Celina, Tenn.
This church was established in the last decade of the 18th century in the Pea Ridge community with members meeting in private homes. In 1805, a church building was erected in Rock Springs. The present building is about 100 years old; the two previous buildings burned. Rock Springs is believed to be the oldest church of Christ meeting continuously in the same location. There is no evidence of any outside religious influence that shaped the members of this church. Members merely took the Bible and followed it. (Web editor's note: Recent discoveries suggest that the church at Rock Springs may have started with some from movement in North Carolina led by James O'Kelly).
To help put the establishment of these churches into perspective, one should remember that in 1805 Barton W. Stone was still a Presbyterian, and Alexander Campbell did not come to America until 1809. It was not until 1827 that Campbell withdrew from the Baptists.
Directions: From Celina, go north on Highway 53 for 7 miles to Fire Hall Road. Turn right and follow the signs.
In 1895, A.G. Freed merged his school at Essary Springs, Tenn., with the West Tennessee Christian College in Henderson and became president of the new institution. Under Freed's leadership a new building was erected in 1896 on the corner of Main and White streets.
The name of the college changed the next year. J.G. Robertson of Crockett Mills, Tenn., gave $5,000 in memory of his daughter. In appreciation, the school was renamed Georgia Robertson Christian College. When the new building opened for the 1897 term, N.B. Hardeman was a part-time student and faculty member.
By the turn of the century, the faculty and administration was hopelessly divided over instrumental music in worship. Freed's contract expired in 1905 and was not renewed, so he moved to Denton, Texas. Georgia Robertson Christian College lasted one more term and then closed.
After two years in Texas, Freed moved back to Henderson and joined with Hardeman in beginning a new school. Ownership of the Georgia Robertson building had passed to the Tennessee Missionary Society, who refused to sell to Freed and Hardeman. It was later purchased by the county and was used as both a grammar and a high school.
Freed and Hardeman called their new school the National Teachers' Normal and Business College. In 1919, Freed and Hardeman sold their interest in the school to a group of interested brethren. The new board of directors quickly renamed the school Freed-Hardeman College.
The stately building of Georgia Robertson Christian College is now known as the Milan-Sitka Building in honor of interested people from those two communities who provided the funds to buy the building in 1966. (Web Editor's Note: The delapidated building was dismantled due to lack of funding to restore it in 2004.)
The building which Freed and Hardeman erected in 1908 is now known as the Old Main. Earlier students remember it as the Ad Building.
A room in the lobby of this building contains historical archives of all of the colleges in Henderson. The walls of the chapel hall upstairs are lined with pictures and brief biographies of Restoration leaders.
N.B. Hardeman's home on White Street, across from the Henderson Church of Christ, has been restored. One block west is A.G. Freed's home which is now the Casey Funeral Home. A trip to the city cemetery is also worthwhile. A number of people associated with the school are buried there.(Web Editor's Note: See a fuller list of those buried in the City Cemetery.)
Directions: From Interstate 40, take exit 82 at Jackson, Tenn. Go south for approximately 20 miles. Turn left on Highway 100 and go 1/2 mile to Freed-Hardeman University. The Georgia Robertson (Milan-Sitka) building will be on the left and the Old Main on the right.
Burritt College sprang from a desire of the people of Spencer and Van Buren counties to better educate their children. A state charter was granted in 1849, and the school began that year.
W.D. Carnes became president the next year. Carnes had been living in Pikeville, Tenn., and was preaching and teaching although he had little education. He was persuaded to leave his work and attend what is now the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. He completed both the bachelor's and master's degrees there in only five years.
At Burritt, Carnes introduced the study of the Bible into the curriculum. In a revolutionary move, he opened the door of education to women in 1851; Burritt was probably the first school in the South to do this. The school was also a pioneer in adding physical education to its course of study.
Under Carnes' guidance the school grew to 145 students by 1854. There was opposition from some people in the community to some of his early changes, but eventually his methods gained complete approval. In a show of confidence the school signed him to a 25-year contract in 1854.
In the spirit of the time, Carnes joined the fight for prohibition to keep liquor from being available to the students. In 1857, he went to Nashville to lobby the legislature to make Tennessee a dry state. The law included the provision that no liquor could be sold within four miles of a chartered school.
Carnes' actions aroused much opposition in the community around the school. In 1857, his home burned under mysterious circumstances. He resigned in 1858 to become president of East Tennessee University, now the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.
Burritt College was closed from 1862-1867 because of the Civil War, with the exception of one term. The school buildings were confiscated during the war to provide housing for soldiers and stables for horses.
The school reopened in 1868 but had to sell some property to finance repairs. Seeking a strong leader, W.D. Carnes was hired again, and was president of Burritt for seven more years.
In 1888, the board appointed W.N. Billingsley, superintendent of schools in White County, as president. He and Carnes rank as the school's most outstanding leaders. The school flourished under Billingsley's leadership, and by 1900 had enrolled 200 students.
Tragically, the administration building burned in the spring of 1906. A new three-story brick building was erected and opened in the fall of that year. Billingsley remained as president until 1911.
In 1922, the school was recognized as a junior college. The prosperity of the school lasted until the Depression of the 1930s. To survive, the school agreed for the county to pay the teachers.
The school declined under the county's control. The junior college was discontinued in 1933, and the rest of the school closed three years later. The influence of this school spread far beyond its region. Many students from other areas attended to receive a Christian education ; probably the most prominent graduate is E.A. Elam.
The arch over the entrance marks the only original building still standing. This former administration building is now used for governmental services. At some point , the top story of the building was removed, and only two stories remain.
Directions: From McMinnville, go north on 70S E. for about three miles. Take the right fork to Tenn. 30. Stay on this road for about 15 miles. As you enter Spencer, the arch will be on the left. Both Carnes and Billingsley are buried in the Spencer city cemetery. Do not mistake this for the Malloy cemetery, which is also in Spencer. Each man has a prominent marker which can be found easily .
Old Philadelphia Meetinghouse
Warren County, Tenn.
The Philadelphia meetinghouse is believed to be one of the oldest of the churches of Christ in Tennessee. The congregation dates from 1805, when the Price brothers moved to the area from North Carolina where they had been involved with the O'Kelly movement. By 1818 the church was known as the Philadelphia Church of Christ. The present building was constructed in 1830.
Blacks and whites worshiped together in this building until the Civil War. In 1895, the church moved to the Morrison, Tenn., area and gave the building to the black brethren who used it until World War II. The building was abandoned, but the black brethren continued to return to the building each year for special events. For a number of years they conducted gospel meetings under a tent at this location.
In 1985, a group of brethren, both black and white, decided to restore the building to its original appearance. This project was finished in 1986, and today is on the National Register of Historic Places. The pews are of the same pattern, and the pulp it is believed to be the original. One is able today to stand in the same place as Alexander Campbell; Tolbert Fanning; David Lipscomb; Jesse L. , E.G. and Jesse P. Sewell; W.D. Carnes and Marshall Keeble. Many other faithful men have also shared this pulpit. In no other place in the country can a person stand where so many great men stood. (Webmaster's Note: Other preachers we have located who also preached there include: John D. Eichbaum; William J. Price; Joshua K. Speer; Levi N. Murphree; E.A. Elam; J.J. Trott; and many others.)
A small museum is open to the public on the site. An old cemetery where Jesse L. Sewell is buried adjoins the church building. David Lipscomb regarded Jesse L. Sewell in his prime as the best preacher he ever heard, and Lipscomb gave Sewell credit for much of the progress of the church in Middle Tennessee. (Web Editor's Note: Levi N. Murphree is also buried in the little cemetery adjacent to the church building, very near the grave of J.L. Sewell.)
Directions: From McMinnville, Tenn., Go southwest on Highway 55 toward Morrison. Turn left at Warren County High School. Go to Vervilla Road; turn left. Look for the sign and church building on the left.
Perhaps as early as 1807 a group left the Philadelphia church to move to northern Alabama as this territory was opened to settlers. They built a community called Antioch and started a church under the leader ship of W.J. Price. In 1847, the church moved to the Rocky Springs community.
The events of the war were disastrous. One letter told of 10 widows and 35 orphans in the church. The building was burned by the Union army in 1864. A new building was completed in 1870. In 1912 the present building was constructed.
Directions: Take highway 72 north from Bridgeport, Ala. At the edge of town, look for church sign. Turn west on Rocky Springs Road. Follow the signs to the church building.
David Lipscomb's Homes
David Lipscomb was born in Warren County near Winchester, Tenn. He spent most of his life in this area until he and his brother William entered Franklin College under the leadership of Tolbert Fanning in 1845:
David Lipscomb’s work as editor of the Gospel Advocate required him to travel to Nashville almost daily. He built a new log house nearer to his work and moved to Nashville permanently in 1883.
He bought a dairy farm on Granny White Pike and built a new home, which his wife named Avalon. In 1903, seeing the need of expansion for the Nashville Bible School, Lipscomb and his wife donated 60 acres of their farm to the school. This included their home, which was remodeled into a girl's dormitory. This building later burned.
A smaller house was constructed for their residence, also named Avalon. This was donated to David Lipscomb College after the deaths of Lipscomb and his wife.
The log cabin from Bell's Bend was moved to the edge of the Lipscomb campus in the mid-1980's and placed next to the second Avalon house. Although the two buildings stand in stark contrast, they are a striking memorial to the good works of the couple who built them.
Directions: Go south on 12th Avenue from downtown Nashville. This will become Granny White Pike. After crossing Woodmont Boulevard, look for the Granny White Church of Christ on the right. The cabin and house are on the right inside the Lipscomb campus just beyond the church building.
South Harpeth Church of Christ
The South Harpeth Church of Christ was established May 13, 1812. Tolbert Fanning was among the early preachers, and Alexander Campbell preached there on an early visit to Tennessee. A log building was erected which later burned—as did its replacement. Slave labor finished a brick structure in 1845. As was the custom of that day, two doors were on the front of the building—one for the women and one for the men. Men and women also sat on opposite sides of the auditorium. The original building was added onto later, but tbe first structure is still used by the church today. An interesting cemetery with an unusual stone wall adjoins this building.
Directions: From downtown Nashville, go south on West End Avenue. At a fork in the road, go left on Highway 100. Go about II miles, cross the South Harpeth River and take the next left on Old Harding Pike The church building is about half a mile down on the left.
Jackson Street Church of Christ
This church began early in the 20th century under the leadership of S.W. Womack and Aleck Campbell. The first building was purchased from Fisk University in 1906. Marshall Keeble, the church treasurer, made the first building payment. Keeble preached his first sermon at the Jackson Street church and often preached there. However, he spent most of his time in evangelistic meetings. From 1915 to 1918 Keeble was reportedly responsible for more than 23,000 baptisms.
Keeble's custom was to begin a gospel meeting at the Jackson Street church on the first Sunday of each new year. This practice continued for more than 40 years. A historical marker stands across the street from the present building.
Directions: Exit 1-40 at Charlotte Avenue. Go north on Charlotte, turn left at 11th Avenue, then left on Jo Johnston and right on 12th Avenue. Turn left on Jackson Street. The church's address is 1308 Jackson St., Nashville, Tenn.
Mount Olivet and Greenwood Cemeteries,
Several early Restoration preachers are buried in these cemeteries. Among them are David and William Lipscomb, Tolbert Fanning, E.G. Sewell, F.D. and F.B. Srygley and J.W. Shepherd. A diagram to assist in finding their graves can be obtained from the Gospel Advocate Co., 1006 Elm Hill Pike, not far from the cemetery. (Web Editor's Note: See a good map of locations of buried Gospel Preachers in Mount Olivet Cemetery here. Along with these mentioned, be sure to see the graves of at least eighteen other preachers buried here. Though not listed in this article, another cemetery with thirty or more well-known preachers in the Nashville area is Woodlawn Cemetery.)
Marshall Keeble is buried in Greenwood Cemetery, just off Elm Hill Pike. Keeble's grave is difficult to find without directions. Ask about the location of Keeble's grave at the cemetery office; he died in 1968. (Web Editor's Note: Good directions to the grave are located at the Marshall Keeble website.)
Directions: Turn off Briley Parkway onto Lebanon Pike. Go west to 1101 Lebanon Pike. Mt. Olivet Cemetery is on the left. Greenwood Cemetery is quite near Mt. Olivet. It is just west of the intersection of Elm Hill Pike and Spence Lane.
Mars Hill Bible School
T.B. Larimore's home was constructed in 1871 as a combination home and school. Larimore established Mars Hill College there. He and his wife operated the school until 1877. Larimore reluctantly gave up the school to spend more time in evangelistic work. However, it remained his home until 1907 when his wife died.
The building was acquired for the purpose of starting a Christian school in 1946. Lauderdale County Bible School began in 1947, and in 1951 the name was changed to Mars Hill Bible School. Today the school offers Christian education for students from kindergarten through grade 12.
The house is of post-Civil War architecture with a slight Victorian influence. A two-story veranda spans almost the full length of the front and back of the house. The house was restored around 1975.
Directions: In Florence, Alabama, Turn north from Florence Boulevard (Highway 72), on Cox Creek Parkway (Highway 133/157). The Larimore home is on the campus of Mars Hill Bible School, 688 Cox Creek Parkway.
Silver Point Christian Institute
Putnam County, Tenn.
Encouraged by the success of Nashville Bible School, some black brethren began to plan a similar school. Around the turn of the century, Aleck Campbell, S.W. Womack and G.P. Bowser started a grammar school in the Jackson Street building in Nashville. Encouraged by David Lipscomb, these three men began a plan to enlarge this effort.
Two years later in 1907 the school moved to Putnam County, Tenn. It was called Silver Point Christian Institute after the name of the community. This school offered an enlarged curriculum through the 12th grade. A two-story frame building was erected on eight acres.
Several reasons prompted this move. It was believed that the cost of maintenance would be less in a rural area. In addition, it was believed that the students could work to raise much of their food. Though isolated, the school was near a railroad station with a direct line to Nashville.
In 1912, A.M. Burton, founder of Life and Casualty Insurance Co., began his support of the school.
Four years later, Annie C. Tuggle visited David Lipscomb to ask for help. Lipscomb told her, "I don't have any money, but I have friends who do. And I am going to see to it that you can have a school where the Bible will be taught daily."
Burton sent Lipscomb to Silver Point to examine the prospects for the school. They were poor. Only nine students were enrolled in a school located on eight acres of poor land.
One significant asset was that the school owned a printing press and published a monthly paper for black brethren called The Christian Echo. This paper is still published today.
On Lipscomb's recommendation, the property was sold. The board purchased new land and built a large brick building. The material from the old building was used to erect a girls dormitory.
A new board was appointed which included Burton and Marshall Keeble. The peak of success for the school came in 1917. However, this was tempered by the death of Lipscomb, a strong supporter.
Silver Point lasted only two more years. Two factors prompted the sad decision to close the school. The area was extremely isolated, and it was difficult to attract students. The leaders were never able to develop a base of financial support outside of themselves.
Bowser continued his work in Christian education, founding school in Louisville, Ky., Fort Smith, Ark., Detroit, Mich., and Fort Worth, Texas. His dream of a Christian college was finally fulfilled with the establishment of Southwestern Christian College in Terrell, Texas.
What contribution did Silver Point Christian Institute make? Perhaps the most significant graduate was R.N. Hogan who became one of the most prominent black evangelists of the 20th century.
A historical marker identifies the location of the institution. The administration building, which was used by the black church until 1998, today is a reminder of the noble efforts and sacrifices of a few dedicated people to provide education for the neglected.
Directions: Take exit 273 from Interstate 40 and go south. Almost immediately, turn right and go approximately three miles. The building has a sign for the West End Church of Christ and the historical marker is on the right after you turn into the drive.
What Does It All Mean?
What lessons are to be gained by viewing the old church buildings and the graves of long-gone preachers? Some will only see such a visit as an outing, only a change of scenery.
As one stands at the graves of men like Lipscomb, Fanning, Keeble and others he should be reminded of the power of an individual. In our past, men of faith stood against the winds of change and digression. Much of what the church of Christ is today is the result of the courage and determination of these great men. Too often the spirit of our day is one of compromise and accommodation. The pressure of the world is to say and do the politically correct thing. For our grandchildren to know the church we have known, we must be willing to be an individual who will stand alone if necessary.
So often, it is the coming generations that recognizes a person's greatness. The largest and most elaborate grave marker of the 11 Restoration preachers in Mt. Olivet cemetery belongs to Jesse B. Ferguson. In his prime, he was the most outstanding preacher in Nashville, and the church grew in number and popularity. Yet Ferguson's true beliefs became evident. He believed he communicated with the dead and led the church into open membership. He eventually was forced to leave Nashville in 1852 and died in disgrace. Yet, one need only to compare his enormous monument to the simple marker of David Lipscomb and others. How fleeting is a man's popularity, yet how permanent is a person's character and the mark it makes on the lives of others. (Web Editor's Note: Nearly thirty Restoration preachers have now been found to be buried at Mount Olivet Cemetery.)
One can only be impressed by the power of an idea. John Mulkey, Jesse L. Sewell and Granville Lipscomb, David and William's father, all read the Bible for themselves and came to believe there was a pattern for what God wants His church to be. Each of these men, as well as countless others, came to this conclusion without anyone's help. If this principle was valid and viable then, why not today? The cry is heard that we cannot restore New Testament Christianity. Yet one needs only to look at the works of the past to believe this is possible today.
The Lord's church exists today because many men and women in the past determined to follow the Bible alone as their guide in religion. They did not falter though they found this conviction to be contrary to the views of many of their neighbors and friends. Often, oppression and persecution were the result. Jesse L. Sewell was dismissed from the Baptist church for preaching "faith, repentance and baptism for the remission of sins." Granville Lipscomb was also excluded because he determined to take the Bible as his guide.
We also cannot forget the physical and financial sacrifices made by these people in our heritage. Almost all preachers worked on the farm or in the school room during the week for the privilege of preaching on Sundays and in their spare time. As great as their sacrifices were, often the sacrifices of their wives and family were equal or greater. Though human and fallible, these people of conviction stand as a witness to what is necessary to live in today's religious world.
These schools were begun by godly men and women who desired to educate not only young people's minds but also their souls. Of the many schools founded, almost all ended is closed and deserted.
Often, people failed to see the value of Christian schools. As public schools and colleges became more available, parents no longer patronized Christian education. Since Christian schools could not exist solely on students' tuition, many schools were only able to operate because of the sacrifices of staff and faculty. For such schools to remain true to biblical principles, they need students and they need the financial support of interested people.
Yet another reason for the demise of some Christian schools is their drifting from their original purposes. When Georgia Robertson Christian College took a stand with instrumental music in worship, it lost the support those opposing this innovation. As a result, the school suffered a quick demise. The history of this institution and others should alert us of the possibility of a school drifting from the values and ideals of its supporters.
If members of the church today do not look to the past, they will often find themselves lacking both roots identity. If we do not learn from the past, we are doomed to repeat its mistakes. Without an understanding of past, we cannot comprehend some the pressures and forces affecting the church today.
Ancil Jenkins may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. He would appreciate any corrections or additions to his of sites in this article. The sites and individuals were chosen because of their uniqueness or contributions to the Restoration Movement.
Ancil Jenkins,Gospel Advocate, June, 2001, page 12-22
This photo spread and article appeared in the June, 2001 issue of the Gospel Advocate
Many thanks to Ancil Jenkins for his hard work in locating these places devoted to Restoration History.
Courtesy of Scott Harp, March, 2012