Tim McDonald Remembers St. Elmo's Churches

Sunday, August 20, 2017 - by Tim McDonald

I took another recent walk along my memory’s paths to remember the beautiful churches located in St. Elmo. If one traveled from the railroad underpass on the north end of the community to the southern end, he or she would find these churches, most of which are still in existence.

 

The first church that comes to mind is the former AME Church that was located on its namesake street, Church Street, near West 38th Street.

I seem to think the church bore the name Patten Chapel AME Church. The church building dates to the 1880’s, is constructed of beautiful red brick (some bricks appear to have been made by hand) and is built in the traditional style with large arched windows. Unfortunately, the church closed as a house of worship several years ago and the building is now in the hands of a private owner. I spoke with him not long ago and learned that he is restoring the building as a residence.

 

Walking further south one would find the Living Hope Seventh-Day Adventist Church located on the southeast corner of West 42nd Street and St. Elmo Avenue. This traditional white frame church was the original home of the St. Elmo United Methodist Church prior to that church’s moving further south in the community in the 1920’s. This white frame church features the 19th century style building with two front entrances and frosted windows.

 

The next church is the beautiful Thankful Memorial Episcopal Church located on Thankful Place between West 42nd and West 43rd Streets. This church (one of the oldest in Chattanooga) was given in memory of Mrs. Thankful Whiteside Johnson, the wife of Colonel A.M. Johnson who established the community of St. Elmo in 1886. The church is built of stone in the English style with beautiful stained-glass windows that illustrate figures from the Bible. The church includes a bell in the tower on the northwest corner of the building. I recall hearing that the bell came from St. Paul’s Church in downtown Chattanooga and as a child I clearly recall hearing the bell ring on various occasions. The church also features one of the few tracker pipe organs to be found in Chattanooga. Recently the church installed an attractive garden in the rear on 43rd Street.

 

The St. Elmo Presbyterian Church sits at West 44th Street and St. Elmo Avenue. This historic structure is built in the East Lake style with many “gingerbread” features and deeply colored stained-glass windows. This church is one of the oldest Presbyterian congregations in Chattanooga and has been painted appropriately in the colors of the era in which it was built. Older St. Elmo residents will remember one of the church’s former organists, Mrs. Robert Peart, who taught piano in St. Elmo for many years. Recent growth in the congregation enabled the church to add an updated building to the rear of the original building.

 

One block south at 4500 St. Elmo Avenue is the former St. Elmo Avenue Baptist Church that is now known as Silverdale at St. Elmo since the church merged with Silverdale Baptist Church in 2015. This church features two large buildings in cream-colored brick with white trim; one was built in 1928 in the Southern colonial style with stately columns fronting on St. Elmo Avenue, and the other was built in 1963 in a 20th century style that complements the original building. Both buildings are lighted by large elegant stained-glass windows. Until 1928, the church was located on the northwest corner of West 45th Street and St. Elmo Avenue on the site now occupied by the old St. Elmo fire hall. The church had its origins in a log cabin located near the intersection of West 37th Street and Tennessee Avenue when it was started in 1878. The church enjoyed a period of tremendous growth during the pastorate of Dr. T.W. Callaway during the 1930s-1940s and again during the 1950’s when Rev. V. Wayne Tarpley and Rev. McKnight Fite served as pastors. On a personal note, four generations of my family have worshiped in this church and my wife and I were married there in 1985.

 

Turning east toward Hawkins Ridge, one would find the Second St. James Missionary Baptist Church located at 1301 West 45th Street, one block east of Tennessee Avenue. Second St. James occupies a neat white building that sits on property adjacent to the site of the original white frame building and is reminiscent of the small white clapboard churches that are scattered across the South. The cornerstone from the original building has been preserved and shows the date of the original church as June 1931. I have a longstanding personal connection with this church since the family of the former pastor, Rev. Fred Collier, and my family have been friends for four generations. Rev. Collier served as pastor for many years until his untimely death a few years ago.

 

At 4726 St. Elmo Avenue sits the St. Elmo United Methodist Church in a recently re-built building. The original building from 1923 was largely destroyed in a fire in 2010 unfortunately. However, the congregation was able to restore the original exterior walls during the re-building process and the church very closely resembles the original. The elegant red-brick building contains beautiful stained-glass windows with two entrances from St. Elmo Avenue. I recall several times during my elementary school days at St. Elmo School across the street that the church would call the school and ask that the school delay dismissal for that day due to a funeral scheduled for that afternoon at the church. Another memory is that of “sneaking” into the basement door of the church on my way home from school for a drink of cold water from the fountain there. Typically, three of four of us walked together from school and one would keep watch for anyone in authority while the others grabbed a quick drink of cold water and then scrambled down West 47th Street to get home.

 

St. Elmo Church of Christ is located at West 48th Street and St. Elmo Avenue in an attractive red-brick building built during the 1920’s. The church also contains stained glass windows and the building style reminds me of small English churches with two entrances from the street. The cornerstone of the building shows the dates 1913-1923. I recall attending Vacation Bible School one summer at this church.

 

Walking south one finds a small frame church at West 56th Street and the intersection of Tennessee and Beulah Avenues. This church was originally the South St. Elmo Baptist Church founded during the 1950’s and was built in the 1950’s style. I went past the church earlier this week and found that the sign did not show a name now.

 

The former St. Elmo Church of God sits at West 57th Street and St. Elmo Avenue. This church is built in a 1950’s style and sits on the banks of the tree-shaded stream that flows from the well-known Glen Falls on the side of Lookout Mountain.

 

The churches in St. Elmo reflect a long and deeply-held faith tradition in that community. They have survived sunny and severe weather, depression and prosperity, suburban decline, and renewal, and changing cultural values and will continue to be a part of the rich tradition of this wonderful historic community well into the future.

 

Tim McDonald

scot4533@gmail.com



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