Susan Harber, The Daily News Journal, August 13, 2018
And the Scripture says “Upon this rock will I build my church.”
How true these words ring out inside Rock Springs Church of Christ, the oldest congregation in Rutherford County.
Organized as a Baptist church on July 2, 1804, the congregation originally met under a grove of trees by a spring on sandstone rock. Thus, the community name of Rock Springs was born. The primitive and adjacent Rock Springs Road served as the direct route from Nolensville to Jefferson with a stage coach traveling by the doors of this church every week.
The 1804 charter members of the original Baptist church were Nance, McFadden and Gooch. In 1805, Isaac Nance deeded a plot for the land to build a church, and the first building was a log structure. By 1816, a meetinghouse was established.
Minutes were maintained in a detailed manner from the first day. If disorderly in any manner, a member was voted out of the church. Members brought their own chairs for seating. Contribution was placed in a drawer of the assembly table by individual members.
In 1820, 42 white males and 48 white females were in attendance, along with 10 black males and 20 black females. The black members were slaves of the white members. At one time, 32 slaves were in attendance. Blacks and whites worshiped together; yet, regrettably, the slaves sat in the rear of the building. The slaves were also served the Lord’s Supper after the whites. This regimen was protocol just 45 years before the Civil War would change mankind.
The log-hewn building was utilized for both Union Church and education in Union School in the early 1830s. The back room of the structure functioned as the school, which remained intact until 1915.
For a duration, Rock Springs shared its church equally with both Baptist and Church of Christ. The Church of Christ met first and third Sundays, and Baptists met on second and fourth Sundays. Nevertheless, the church ultimately voted (with exception of three members) to convert wholly to the Church of Christ doctrine.
By May 5, 1832, Rock Springs was firmly established as a flourishing congregation of the Church of Christ with leaders David Gooch, John Hill, Beverly Nelson, Peyton Smith and William Nance. Smith offered the first sermon to the new congregation. Church leader John Hill was known as an early settler of La Vergne. Robert, William and Emily Caldwell were members there during 1836-1860.
The early history of this church records only three elders — Warmouth Blair, Grady Haynes and Tom Irvin. Two Smyrna native residents, Joy Johns and Will Haynes, had fathers who served as these elders. Joy has been a longtime caretaker and preservationist of the church heritage and history and resides near the congregation. WarmouthBlair’s daughter, Margaret Blair Naron, lives on
Blair Road today and still attends this congregation.
By 1837, D.R. Gooch led the church with W.W. Nance and George Batey serving as deacons.
In 1886, the Rock Springs church was destroyed by a tornado. In the next year, Columbus Brittain deeded a plot of land for the location where the church stands today. Seven weeks of intense construction moved forward.
There were now two front doors for women to enter one side and men the other. Moreover, men sat on one side and women the opposite aisle. The newly constructed brick congregation had a pot-bellied stove, oil lamps and wide pine floors. Outside stood three horse blocks. In recent years, the church still housed the original pulpit stand and two of the earliest chairs. Each side of the pulpit encompassed an Amen corner.
Celebrations and momentous family events within these walls include weddings, funerals and newborn dedications. Members arrived each week by foot or horseback. Visitors were showered with hospitality as honored guests. The beautiful basket dinners and homecomings are legend. A big tree near the meeting house always had 10 “tobacco chews” on hand for men to enjoy after the service.
Prominent visiting preachers who graced the pulpit included Tolbert Fanning, David Lipscomb, E.A. Elam, E.G. Sewell and J.A. Harding. The old- time gospel tunes were led by Nobel and David Naron and D.R. Gooch, while baptisms were in the nearby Hart Springs Branch.
In 1845, a porch was added to the longstanding structure, and in 1954, four Sunday school rooms were annexed within the building. In 1966, new pews replaced the yellow poplar benches of 79 years.
As Psalms 91 states “The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer,” and so abides Rock Springs Church of Christ.
Correction: Regarding the column on the history of Wards Grove Baptist Church in Milton, Tim Fisher is the hard-working and effective minister of six years.
Contact Susan Harber at [email protected].