The below article was written by Dr. Eugene Murphey and was published in the July 2009 Tower newsletter.
In past history segments, we have considered many aspects of our present church home and how it came to be what it is today. We have looked briefly at some of the early founding members and a few of more recent vintage. Now at the suggestion of Joe Rutherford, we would like to view in more detail some of the ‘Old members and families of the church.’
Thanks to the expert research of Lousie Nanney Godwin and the late Grace Thornton Wallace, as well as the journalistic skills of Joe Rutherford, a very complete and informative FPC history was compiled and published for the church’s centennial celebration November 5, 1967. Other contributing members of the centennial committee were Edith Thomas, Margaret Clayton, Frances Joyner, Sr, Other deceased members if the committee were Elizabeth Ballard, Marion Riley, Richard Bolton, Mrs. Durell Bolton, and Mrs. J.B. Lawson, and Reverend Bertrand Tuggle was the associate minister. On this date, the new Fellowship Hall was officially opened and dedicated. Please forgive the personal item that this writer had the distinct privilege of giving the dedicatory address.
The previous article related that Reverend Thomas C. Stuart who had earlier in 1841 organized the White Zion Church on Highway 6 to Pontotoc was instrumental in establishing the church in Tupelo in 1867 at the corner of North Church Street and Walnut Street. Among the charter members we Dr. and Mrs. J.W. Frazer, Col. and Mrs. T.A. Mitchell, Mr. and Mrs. J.R. Dickerson, Col. John Williams and Mrs. Hannah Gayle (great-great-grandmother of our present member Britt Rogers). In all, there were about twenty-five members in the original church with most of them moving from the White Zion and Pontotoc churches. The building was not complete until 1868 and until then worship services were held at First Baptist Church. The first wedding in the new building was that of Miss Antoinette Kimmons to Mr. John Clark. Miss Kimmons is said to have wanted a small wedding. A much larger wedding is said to have taken place when Mr. and Mrs. Shelby Topp were wed. Lousie Godwin claims that the longest family line in the church with five generations: McAllister, Nanney, Godwin, Godwin, Godwin.
Others in our history whose forebearers came from nearby churches founded by Rev. Thomas Stuart are Judge Glen Davidson (Pontotoc), George and Paul McCullough (White Zion), Leighton Pettis (College Hill), Lora Simms Rutherford (White Zion), and Lottie Sampler Payne and Mary Sample Terry (White Zion).
The congregation finally outgrew this original building and moved to a larger home on Church Street across from the back of the present Post Office. In April 1905 this congregation voted to merge with the Cumberland Presbyterian Church at our present location and retain First Presbyterian name and Jefferson street building which has subsequently undergone several renovations as well as extensive restorations after partial destruction by tornado and fire.
Next month we hope to look further at other people who have contributed much to the ongoing history through dedication, service and Christian love at FPC