Baptists From Around The World Gathered In Chattanooga In The Summer Of 1897

Tuesday, March 9, 2021 - by John Wilson

Baptists from around the globe converged on Chattanooga in the summer of 1897.

The seventh annual Baptist Young Peoples Union convention was hosted by the Scenic City July 15-18.

The group had been organized in Chicago in 1890 when 2,900 representatives from 21 states met. Later annual meetings were held in Detroit, Indianapolis, Toronto, Baltimore and Milwaukee.

By the time of the Milwaukee session, there were 10,402 delegates.

In Chattanooga, delegates stayed at the new Southern Hotel and other fine downtown hotels, including the Read House. It was held at the City Auditorium that was on Ninth Street (MLK Boulevard).

On Thursday morning of the grand meeting, delegates were welcomed by Chattanooga Mayor George W. Ochs and Rev. R.B. Garrett. Dr. Garrett was pastor at the handsome pink sandstone First Baptist Church on Georgia Avenue across from the County Courthouse. It then had a membership of 520 with a Young People's Society of from 75 to 100.

Chattanooga then had about 1,300 members in the white Baptist churches and 2,000 in the black Baptist churches.

The Central Baptist Church had moved out on McCallie Avenue some six years earlier. It had a membership of 275 and a Young People's Society of 99.

The Second Baptist Church was in a sturdy brick building at the corner of Long Street and John Street in South Chattanooga. It had 240 members and a Young People's Society numbering 45.

There was also the Beech Street Church of Highland Park with 116 members and a Young People's Society of 20.

The Hill City Church had 68 members and 43 young people. The St. Elmo Baptist had a membership of 55. Rev. W.A. Moffett pastored both churches.

Sherman Heights (East Chattanooga) had its own Baptist Church.

Of the black churches, First Baptist on Eighth Street was one of the finest in the South. It had a membership of 500 and 50 in the Young People's Society.

Chattanooga Baptist leaders confessed, "Other denominations are stronger in our city than the Baptists, and while our relations to and with them are pleasant, we feel that we have not done our full part to spread the gospel among the people. We are trying to do our duty, but have had many discouragements. While Chattanooga is a city of churches the truth must be told. There are a large number of our citizens who do not go to any church at all. Many of them are among our most intelligent and progressive people, and we hope the sojourn in our midst of so many happy, hopeful young Christians will influence these people to have more respect for the service of our Master and cause them to assemble more frequently in our places that are dedicated to the worship of our King." 

Organizers arranged for discount tickets on the streetcar lines. It was noted that red tickets must be used over the lines of the Signal Mountain Railway to points across the river. The Incline tickets were "good over either line" as for a few years two Inclines operated up Lookout Mountain. Visitors to Chickamauga Park were urged to buy Norwood's Map and History of the Chickamauga Battle at a cost of 25 cents.     

Delegates were told that Ninth and Market was "the center of the city." All streetcars passed this point except the Vallombrosa (Red Bank) and Riverview lines.

Cameron Hill was reached by carriage, or it was a 20-minute walk to see all the fine homes and the view of the river and the mountains at the top.

Chattanooga's leading Baptists had a big part in the event.

Dr. E.B. Wise was chairman of the general committee. T.T. Wilson was treasurer. Emmett H. Rolston was secretary of the general committee and had the duty of dealing with the press. D.A. Landress was recording secretary. Newell Sanders served as chairman of the finance committee, and W.A. Wilkins was auditor and secretary of the finance committee.

G.M. Connelly was chairman of the program committee. Dr. H.A. Winters headed up the music committee. 

R.G. Garrett was put in charge of "side trips." Rev. R.D. Haymore was chairman of the denominational exhibits. J.M. Langston was chairman of the reception committee, and J.T. Burford was over the entertainment committee.

Claude C. Pierce headed up the information committee. G.W. Chamblee Jr. was in charge of the ushers. J.D. Hunt was chairman of the halls committee. Dr. G. Manning Ellis supervised the hospital committee.

L.J. Sharp headed up city decoration, while C.J. Boulden was chairman of hall decorations. F.W. Rood was chairman of the registration committee. I.B. Merriam was chairman pro temp of the finance committee.

A souvenir program was printed up that included many photos of Chattanooga's scenic and historic sites.

The advertisers included the Ross-Meehan Foundry, the various railroad lines then serving the city, the Chickamauga Hay Press Co., Silva & Abbott "the dinner set people," the John Church Co. which provided the Everett pianos for the convention, Burford Lumber Company, the Magic Food Company, the Mountain City Mill, architect R.H. Hunt who had designed First Baptist, John Troutt cemetery works, Bukofzer's restaurant, and several livery stables.  

 


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