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The History of Cookeville First Presbyterian Church, U.S.A.
by Michael E. Birdwell, Ph.D.
First Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) is a denomination that was formed in 1706 in America. Our building is in the Greek Revival style with an educational wing and playground added.
Our congregation comes from pioneering efforts of Presbyterian ministers who, in 1867, organized the Cookeville Society of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. With founding Elders J.M. Goodpasture and Jesse Pendergrass, they conducted services once every two months at the home of Dr. Goodpasture. They lost their first church building to fire in 1891 and windstorm in 1892, but faithfully rebuilt and dedicated a structure in 1894.
Where fire and wind united our congregation, the reuniting of two denominations divided them. The Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. and the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. adopted a plan to reunite in 1906. The denominations had separated in 1810. Ironically, this reunion was opposed by a substantial minority of Cookeville Presbyterians and a split ensued. A local judge ruled that property and buildings be retained by those resisting reunion.
In 1909, we secured property at 20 North Dixie Avenue and dedicated a cornerstone in 1910. We became the First Presbyterian Church of the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. Our sanctuary walls remain from that time. From a pulpit in the northwest corner, preachers faced pews to east and south in an Akron-style, L shaped room. In 1952, an education wing was added and a sanctuary, remodeled to its present form, was dedicated in 1954.
We briefly called ourselves the First United Presbyterian Church in our 1958 union with the United Presbyterian Church of North America. In 1985, the UPCUSA reunited with the Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS), sundered by the secession of the Confederacy. It had taken 120 years to adopt procedures that would allow the two to form the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (PCUSA), our present denomination.
Due to a 1988 fire, we replaced our education wing with a large fellowship hall, kitchen and lower level dedicated to classroom and office space. We also gave our red brick exterior its present appearance of gray with white trim. In 1993, we modified our chancel to house a pipe organ imported from a church of the same vintage in Georgia. Our 1999 addition, a playground at the west side of our property, serves our church family on Sundays and Wednesdays.
Buildings give us power to gather as a community, an extended family of members and friends. Our purpose is to know Christ and make Christ known.