The history of Thompson’s Station United Methodist Church is synonymous with the history of the community itself. Thompson’s Station acquired its name from the donor of land given in 1856, Dr. Elijah Thompson, a prominent physician, state legislator and farmer.
At that time the village was a bustling place, with huge grain and millet bins for shipping via railway. This area of Middle Tennessee was once known as the “Dimple of the Universe” and “the German millet seed market of the world”. There was a depot and freight office with a telegraph system and a turntable for trains for distributing the cattle, grains, tobacco, and cotton from the rich farmland. Thompson’s Station even had a bank, and hearsay of course, that a saloon existed across from the depot.
Sadly, enough, however, there was no Methodist Church in the beautiful thriving village of Thompson Station until a young physician from Marshall County by the name of Dr. Hiram Laws settle here after the civil war. Being a devout Methodist, he just could not believe that a substantial community like Thompson’s Station could not support a church. Therefore, in making his rounds through the community he made inquiries, and found there were a number of people who were members of the Methodist Church, but whose membership was in outlying communities of Spring Hill, Cowles’ Chapel and Pope’s Chapel, and further, he found a larger number of people whose church preference was Methodist but who were not yet member of any church.
A definite start toward the realization of his dream was made when Reverend J.G. Bolton, pastor of the circuit in this area was invited to come to the Thompson’s Station community and preach. This was a typical procedure since Methodism was basically spread throughout the country with circuit rider preachers who traveled from community to community. The first few preaching services were held in the Christian church. Circumstances soon made it necessary for the group to hold their preaching services in the old Thompson’s Station schoolhouse. This was in the year 1872 and from the very first services conducted by Reverend Bolton, a genuine interest was manifested, and it was evident that a church would evolve from this activity.
In the summer of 1873, a great revival swept the Pope’s camp meeting and the surrounding countryside. (Pope’s Chapel is the predecessor to Burwood UMC). On the heels of this great spiritual awakening, the Methodist Church at Thompson’s Station took definite form. Under the leadership of Reverend Bolton, the church organized, with about sixteen charter members such as Ridleys, Thompsons, Kennedys, Banks, Crawfords, Laws, Porters, Garys, Fritzgeralds, Moss.
Very soon after the church was organized, Mrs. Sophie Hatton, the widow of General Hatton of civil ware fame, organized a Sunday School which made steady gains and soon plans began for erecting a house of worship in the little community of Thompson’s Station.
Very soon after the church was organized, Mrs. Sophie Hatton, the widow of General Hatton of civil ware fame, organized a Sunday School which made stead gains and soon plans began for erecting a hour of worship in the little community of Thompson’s Station.
Under the leadership of Reverend F.C. Wilkes, the sanctuary of the present church was completed in 1876. The cornerstone depicts the year 1876 as well as the initials MECS which stands for “Methodist Episcopal Church South”. Sam A Pointer, a member of the Presbyterian Church donated the property for the church. They built wisely and well, using substantial amounts of existing yellow poplar lumber which was quite plentiful in the area for the original church pews, flooring, window facings and doors. Since the poplar wood was considered mundane, or common, a local person used a technique called “graining” to make the wood look like oak, a more desirable wood for the church. I doubt very seriously if that person realized their contribution would someday be recognized as the art of “faux painting”. This technique was somewhat duplicated with the renovation of 1997 which will be discussed later.
The church was originally name “Wilkes Chapel” after Reverend Wilkes but the name just didn’t take hold. It wasn’t long until it went by the name of Thompson’s Station.
The year following the completion of the building, Thompson’s Station was placed with Douglas, Bethel and Cowles Chapel, to form the Douglas Circuit. From this time until the year 1883, the church struggled along, making appreciable and visible headway. The young Reverend W.B. Lowry, a preacher of great promise, was sent to the Douglas Circuit in 1882 and in the summer of 1883 a great revival swept the Douglas Circuit. An eyewitness testifies that fifty men and women were added to Thompson’s Station church during this great revival. (Now that’s a great revival). It was at this time that the church at Thompson’s Station really came into the prominent station that it held so long. A parsonage was purchased in 1883, which was used until the early 1900’s when one more convenient to the church was purchased.
One of the brightest chapters in the history of this church is that which relates to the women’s work. Before the General Conference recognized and chartered the Woman’s Work, there was an organized Missionary Society (predecessor to WSCS, Women’s Society of Christian Service). Miss Luvinia Kelly, a returned missionary and the mother-in-law of Bishop Lumbuth, organized the women of the Thompson’s Station Church into a missionary band. The women of the Thompson’s Station have always been an asset to the church, tending to the needy of the community, and working hard to enhance the surroundings of the church. A major fund raiser for the women was to sell sandwiches, lemonade, and desserts at local auctions. Naturally, that was before fast foods became prevalent. The women came to the church on designated days for clean up and there was no object unturned. The women also came together and made quilts for unfortunate people in the community whose house may have burned, or for a new couple setting up house. Most of the women participated in this event, coming together with potluck meals and their small children to quilt. While all were willing, not all of them were skilled with the needle. I have heard my mother (Ella Mai Porter) say that she would stay and remove those stitches after the other ladies left and she would replace them with her own neat, skilled stitches. She said she did not want some poor soul to get their toenails caught in those stitches. I can’t help but wonder if any of those ladies ever knew what was happening. They even carded the cotton from their farms and the wool from their sheep to make the batting for those quilts.
While we are speaking of the women of the church, the ladies of Thompson’s Station were known throughout the countryside for their excellent cooking skills. It makes you wonder if it had anything to do with the fresh vegetables used, fresh eggs and butter straight from the farms of the “Dimple of the Universe”. Each person was known for certain recipes and most of them kept them a secret. There must have been at least ten different recipes for chess pies, each with their own variation of the same pie. You can say the same for potato salad, fried chicken and slaw. You could look at the dishes set out at church gatherings and recognize each person’s dish.
Even after Thompson’s Station Methodist Church ceased to have a formal Methodist Women group, the ladies of our church have continued to rise to the occasion when needed.
Continuing with our history, the church experienced a dark period around 1892-1894. This was the period of the so-called “Second Blessing” upheaval. In this shakeup, Thompson’s Station, as so many of her sister churches did, suffered the loss of some fine members to the Nazarene church.
About 1900, the old Douglas Circuit was dissolved and Thompson’s Station joined with Neapolis and Bethel to form the Thompons’ Circuit. In 1900 the Bethel church was blown away in a terrible storm, and White’s Chapel was put with Thompson to form the Thompson’s White’s Circuit. In 1928, White’s Chapel was dissolved, and Cowles’ Chapel was placed with Thompson’s to form the Thompson-Cowles Circuit. In 1932 Burwood was placed on the Thompson’s Circuit as it exists today.
In 1915, the first major improvement was made to the building at Thompson’s Station. A Sunday school annex of three rooms was added at a cost of $1200.00. In 1917, a new roof chancel and altar fixtures and a furnace were added as improvement at a cost of $600. A little later, beautiful memorial windows were put in that added to the beauty of the building. In 1930, electric lights and fixtures were installed.
In 1917, during the pastorate of Reverend W.W. Pullen, another great revival swept the church and community and there was a great ingathering of souls.
Several older homes in the community had served as parsonages for the clergy of the Thompson’s Station Charge until a modern brick parsonage was built in 1949 on land given by Mr. and Mrs. Fred Kinnard. The Kinnards were the parents of the only minister derived from the Thompson’s Station Methodist Church. Walter Cannon Kannard was ordained in this church in 1954 and he became a high ranking church official in the Missouri area.
On the 75th anniversary of the building of the church, a homecoming was held on June 24, 1951 and all previous ministers gathered for this event as well as friends and family returned to their beloved Thompson’s Station for the big homecoming with dinner on the ground.
In the 1950’s, two churches thrived beside each other in the picturesque community. Since there was no air conditioning at that time, the windows were raised in the summertime and the churches appeared to compete with each other in the singing of hymns. On Sunday morning the vehicles mingled together along the hillside road beside the churches. Indeed, you couldn’t tell which cars belonged to our church, the Church of Christ, or the Bootleg Joint on the other side. Naturally, we participated in revivals, vacation bible school and various activities of both churches. The 50’s were a good era for the Thompson’s Station Methodist Church; the church seemed to be full, plenty of youth, Sunday school classes were overflowing. Thus, another church improvement was made in 1954 by adding three new classrooms at a cost of $5,000.
Also in 1954, a Hammond electric organ was presented to the church by Mr. Milton Hatcher in memory of his wife, Kathleen Kennedy Hatcher.
A well was dug in 1960 followed by installation of plumbing in the church. A classroom was converted into two restrooms and a small kitchen. Alas, the outside privies were torn down and removed by none other that William Caudel Pennington and Thompson’s Station Methodist Church was “modernized”.
In 1962 we celebrated the sesquicentennial of Methodism in Tennessee. It was another opportunity to invite previous ministers, friends and loved ones back to Thompson’s Station for singing and dinner on the ground.
In 1966, a donation of new carpet was given in memory of Mrs. Irene Bales. Her nephew, Malcolm Gibbs, recently returned to Thompson’s Station from many years in Washington, DC accepted the project to give the church a major uplift. Many hours were volunteered by members and the Reverend Jim Crocker. New pews certainly added comfort to the sanctuary, while the choir loft was refinished. New paint for the inside as well as the outside added to the beauty of the church.
Upon national unification of several churches in 1968, we became the United Methodist Church. Unfortunately, some members did not understand the purpose of this movement and left our church, forming a Southern Methodist Church in Franklin, TN. By this time, the community of Thompson’s Station and the church was declining. There was nothing to offer the young residents of this area. When they left for college or work in the larger cities of the area, they simply did not return to live or go to church. The Thompson’s Station United Methodist Church struggled for many years, in fact, there were times when we had to dig deeper into our pockets just to pay utilities to keep the doors open.
As we continue the history of Thompson’s Station, let’s not forget the 100th anniversary of our church in 1976. Well, prior to the celebration of this anniversary, the church needed a little “fixin” up. $3,000 was collected one Sunday morning for aluminum siding for the church. Also we really needed a new piano. The keys were sticking badly on the old one, of course, it didn’t help that it sat in a cold sanctuary during the week. You may think it a coincidence that we were cleaning the basement of the church and discovered some of the original church pews and other items that resulted in a church yard sale. The yard sale revenue paid for the new piano. Those of us attending church at the time knew this to be the work of the Holy Spirit and not a coincidence. As you can imagine, there was great celebration for the 100-year anniversary of our church with the return of our loved ones and previous ministers having served this church.
Throughout the history of our church, there has been no recorded indebtedness, which is quite an accomplishment of any church. However, things were looking pretty bleak during the 1990’s. That’s when we realized that the church parsonage had virtually been left alone since it was built in 1949. Oh, there was an occasional coat of paint, but that was about it. In 1993, volunteers, from the three churches on our charge tore the old roofing from the parsonage and replaced the roof. Serious water damage was discovered under the parsonage, causing replacement of floor joists. The parsonage was totally renovated, new electrical, septic system, plumbing, kitchen, pantry and addition of another bedroom and bath. The parsonage was once again up to standard for the ministers serving the Thompson’s Station Charge.
Toward the close of the 90’s our church was in sad condition. We were small in number, but as always, a true and abiding faith prevailed. We had managed to attend to the needs of our church with the famous ice cream socials held throughout Williamson County. It was hard work and lots of fun. We made gallons and gallons of ice cream, gathered auction items from neighboring merchants, and made wonderful cakes and desserts to be auctioned as well as served with our ice cream and hamburgers off the grill of the famous Punkin Porter. There was generally a homemade quilt for auction that really drew the crowd. There would be a couple of jam cakes decorated with caramel icing and walnuts made by my mother, Ella Mai Porter and her sister, Fannie Myrtle Smith. Of course, Mrs. Virginia Nichols made the best chocolate pies in the county and the politicians just loved to come to our auctions and outbid each other for these cakes and pies. They have brought as much as $150 each. This sure did help the coffers of this little church.
Then in 1997, we received that magical check in the amount of $10,000 from Cindy and Leon Heron, newcomers to Thompson’s Station. The note with the check said, “Thought you might be able to use this for a new roof”. Boy, did we need a new roof, however, $10,000 wouldn’t begin to fix everything that needed “fixin” at that church. Our little group huddled together, and concluded that perhaps 15 ice cream socials later; we could take care of the roof, doors, etc. Meanwhile, our benefactor, Cindy Heron, made a pleasant call to ask when the roof would be put on. We revealed our circumstances to this stranger, who asked to meet with our Administrative Board to discuss what could be done to preserve the beautiful little church that gave them much pleasure as they drove through the village of Thompson’s Station. The Heron’s offered, and we accepted their offer to historically restore the church. Naturally, it was more of an endeavor than anyone expected, to the tune of over $600,000. During the restoration, we had a great place to worship at the Heron’s barn. You see, this was not just any barn, it received architectural honors, and cattle only saw that barn when they were led into the sale arena and immediately out another door. We worshipped in the KMK Heron barn for nearly two years until the completion of the church in 1999.
It was time for a celebration again, when we moved back into our church. Tennessee Conference Bishop Carder and District Superintendent Johnson led the dedication service along with our minister, Reverend John Anderson. Yes, there was singing, praising and fellowship at that time and things were beginning to turn around for us. When we had visitors, or invited someone to our church, they no longer shook their heads without returning. Our visitors began to stay and they invited other visitors and they became members.
The 2000’s have been wonderful years for the Thompson’s Station United Methodist Church. Some visitors who became members were excellent musicians and they dedicated their talents toward developing a choir and music program at our church worthy of any congregation. With this talent visible, it was evident that a grand piano would enhance the cause. Soon there were enough donations to make this purchase and the music program continues to grow.
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