The History of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
Watch the video about the History of St. Paul’s Video here!
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church was founded on August 25, 1827 in a room of the Hiram Masonic Lodge #7 in Franklin, Tennessee. Those persons “friendly to the formation of an Episcopal church in the area” met under the leadership of Reverend James Hervey Otey, who not only started this “Mother Church of the Diocese of Tennessee” but was also instrumental in starting several other churches and educational institutions in the area. He would later become the state’s first bishop, as well as the bishop of Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas and Indian Territory (all at the same time!).
The church edifice was not started until 1831 and when completed in 1834 it was called a “three-decker” building which included the nave, slave galleries, and undercroft. The original altar silver, presented by the Ladies of St. Paul’s Church in 1834, is still in use today.
When the Civil War commenced the church closed its doors and the rector of St. Paul’s resigned and joined the Army of Tennessee. In February of 1862 with the fall of Ft. Donelson, Franklin became occupied by Union soldiers who used the church as a barracks. Being winter, the pews and pipe organ were burned for firewood. The interior columns were damaged to build watering troughs for the horses and this evidence is still visible today. The fair linen became saddlecloths for the commanders’ horses. Fortunately, the altar silver and Parish Register were saved—but only because they had been buried across the street.
Following the bloody Battle of Franklin on November 30, 1864, St. Paul’s was used as a hospital for wounded troops—first by the Federals and then later by the Confederates. When it was all over, nothing much more than the thick walls were left intact.
After the war, the church was used as a carpenter’s shop and a stable for horses! It was rat-infested in 1869 when Reverend Bradley from Memphis made plans to restore the sacred place. He went across the country collecting donations and returned with nearly $2,000 in gold (a small fortune for the day). The back taxes now having been paid, the roof was lowered as they removed the slave galleries that were no longer needed and the bricks were recycled to build Founder’s Hall behind the church to be used as a rectory for the priest’s family. St. Paul’s was re-consecrated in 1871 by Bishop Charles Todd Quintard who succeeded Bishop Otey, who had died during the war. Later, in 1902, the church won a lawsuit against the United States government for damages sustained during the Civil War and was awarded a judgment of nearly $2,000.
From 1902 to 1915, several memorials were donated by members of prominent families who had worshipped at St. Paul’s from its humble beginnings. Among those donations were the trademarks of the place today: eight stained-glass windows created by Louis Comfort Tiffany. His unique recipe for Favrile glass seen here was lost upon his death.
St. Paul’s celebrated its Centennial in August of 1927 with the largest celebration in its history. Church dignitaries and laymen from across the country attended the event and barbeque that followed. However, following the Great Depression, membership began to decline until the rosters showed less than two dozen people, and many of those were inactive.
In the 1950’s St. Paul’s was almost non-functioning. There was talk at the diocesan office of shutting it down due to lack of interest and funding. The plea from the few still faithful to St. Paul’s fell heavy on the bishop and he decided to give it one more try. An energetic priest named Bill Ray arrived and used all kinds of clever techniques—from unorthodox sermons to buying a pool table to attract young people—and the parish began a period of new growth which has continued to this day. There are now six weekly services with over one thousand members divided among two full-time priests, all of whom hope you will join us sometime for worship or fellowship. Literally, our doors are always open!