A LONG STORY
Documenting Clementine's history will be a never-ending process. We're historians and we take the life of a building seriously. That is also why we continue to have church services in what was originally - and remains - a church. Here is some of what we know.
When the property was for sale and we were asked to visit it, we initially declined once we saw the above Google Street View photo. We're glad that John Cavin, the broker and member of the church board of trustees, was persuasive. When we visited, we crawled through attics and found the original facade and trusses. The rest was a matter of conjecture and faith.
At the time we purchased Clementine in 2017, it had been in continuous operation as the West Nashville United Methodist Church since its construction in 1889 (nearly 130 years). The Methodist Church entrusted the building to us to both restore and continue operating as a church. Both promises we've fulfilled as Gracepoint Church now meets at Clementine.
Select a photo to learn more.
Google Street View ca. 2017
The church was built in 1889 as part of the master planned town of West Nashville (known as New Town). A three-mile rail line connected New Town to downtown Nashville. A church was located on every corner facing Richland Park, which was to be the town square. The First Methodist Episcopal Church of West Nashville, as the church was originally known, was the first church constructed in New Town.
The original minister, G.W. Winn (George Washington, born 1819), remains a fascinating enigma. His grandfather fought in the Revolutionary War under LaFayette. He met Andrew Jackson as a boy who called him from a crowd to shake his hand. This made him a lifelong Democrat and was said to have helped cast him as an Andrew Jackson type. At his funeral in 1895, Rev. L.C. Bryan, the only surviving member of Winn's Conference class of 1840, said of Winn; " He seemed born with a martial spirit. His face was of the Andrew Jackson cast - features strong and firm. He had a fine physique, a clear, blue eye that never quailed and feared no man. He espoused the Confederate cause and made a brave soldier as a member of Gen. Morgan's command, and persevered his Christian integrity through all the temptations of war." Historical records refer to Winn as a spy, one of Morgan's "favorite scouts", and a member of the genera's staff. Morgan's Raiders pushed farther North than any other conferee force.
T.D. Fite, a trustee of the development company behind New Town, arranged for the property to be sold to the church for $1. Children from the Sunday School classes raised money for construction going door-to-door selling symbolic paper bricks. The original building, consisting of Adelaide Hall, bell tower and vestibule, cost approximately $7,500.
Many notable members of the community belonged to the church, including J.A. Bowling, a developer in Sylvan Park and for whom Bowling Avenue is named. The church had a large chapter of the Women's Christian Temperance Union that sought to stop the flow of liquor. Most members lived within a mile of the church.
The church prospered for its first 60 years and reached a peak congregation of 1,300 persons. in 1903, the transept was added to the sanctuary together with a room beneath it (what we now call Pandora's Box). In 1905, the Geo. Kilgen & Sons pipe organ was installed. The pipe organ was said to have made a significant impression at the first wedding on May 3, 1906 - much as it does today. Also in 1905, a balcony was erected (later removed) and since the plaster has been stripped from the brick walls, the anchor points of the structure are evident. In 1912, the many rooms comprising Little Bird Lounge were added. These included the pastor's study, with the now exposed fireplace, and a restroom for the first time. About this time, the coal stoves that heated the building were replaced , and you can still see the holes in the brickwork where the flues exited the building. In 1947, Memorial Hall was built in honor of those who had served in the war. Memorial Hall is now Hathorne Restaurant. The last changes were made in 1957 when the bell tower was replaced with the Benton Chapel and a new vestibule to replace the original.
The construction of suburbs and general exodus from the urban core following World War 2 began a 70 year long decline in membership. When then Reverend J.N. Wilson marched in a parade memorializing the death of M.L. King in 1968, the congregation was deeply divided. Integration of the previously all-black Pearl High School exacerbated white flight from the neighborhood. 1968 may have been the nadir of the church and from this point onward was often unable to pay its Conference fees to the Methodist church and the building began to deteriorate. To make matters worse, a fire in 1969 that started in what is now catering would have destroyed the building had not a trucker on I-40 called in the blaze. We discovered the charred floor joists during construction. Milnar & Sons restored the organ after the fire and continues to maintain it to this day. The church ceased holding services in July 2016.
Of course the story of a building is really a story of the people who have congregated, been married or otherwise spent an important portion of their lives here. We've met many of the members of the congregation who have walked in and told us how the church factored into their lives. From the kind old lady pictured above who was married in the church in the 40s to the head of the music department at Trinity Church in Boston - the list is long.
With re-construction completed in the spring of 2018, the structure is ready to continue its service for the next century.