Woodland’s History

Woodland today.

A Brief History of Woodland Presbyterian Church

by Tom Eldredge

May 8, 1858    Edgefield Presbyterian Church grew from home based Sunday Schools and was formed with members from First and Second Presbyterian Churches. First building was built on Woodland Street between Fifth and Sixth Streets for a cost of $5,433.26.

1863 There is no mention of the war in the session minutes of the period. Sources report that the session gathered every Sunday and services were held with the help of chaplains and Christian Commission Agents.

Nov. 7, 1867   Rev. James Hugh McNeilly served as pastor from this date until March 11, 1877. Rev. McNeilly had served as a Confederate chaplain. He fought the carpetbagger mayor of Nashville in the years after the war. The church grew in membership and stewardship during his time.

1868   The first manse was built at 601 Fatherland at a cost of $12,000.

1873   A cholera epidemic killed over 1,000 people in Nashville. Rev. McNeilly was prominent in ministering and tending to the sick and dying.

July 28, 1873  Rev. McNeilly was chosen to lead a service of Thanksgiving at Woodland. It was attended by a huge interdenominational crowd. During Dr. McNeilly’s term, the church “sent out” two colonies – Madison and Second Edgefield.

Jan. 24, 1875  Second Presbyterian Church of Edgefield was formed in a meeting on this date. A building was built on the corner of North Second and Mark Streets in 1880 and re-named McNeilly Presbyterian Church. McNeilly Pres. was discontinued about 1909. The site is now the McNeilly Center for Children (McNeilly Day Home).

March 2, 1885 During this time there was no official woman’s organization in the church. However, they worked very well behind the scenes. The women decided that the church needed to enlarge the building. The women of the church approached the pastor to present to the session the idea of building a new building. The session answered with a no, but said the ladies were authorized to use their efforts to raise funds for this purpose. It did not take long for the men to succumb to the wishes of the women. In June a building committee was formed, composed entirely of men.

Nov., 1887  The new building of Romanesque style was completed on the same site as the original chapel. It cost $17,110.88

April 17, 1889 The session overtured the Presbytery to change the name of the church. Edgefield had become a part of Nashville and some thought it confusing to have two First churches. The session minutes has the new name written as THIRD, but then scratched that out and wrote WOODLAND STREET.

Nov. 5, 1890   Session gave permission to begin a Christian Endeavor for young people. Youth societies were revolutionary developments in those days and this was approached with caution.

1891  There is mention in the session minutes of a Colored Sunday School. Miss Sallie White had an afternoon sewing class and told the girls Bible stories while they sewed. After her death, the church paid rent on the meeting room and the Black minister in Nashville, the Rev. Spencer Jackson took over the work.

Aug. 13, 1911 The congregation called Dr. Walter L. Caldwell from Third Presbyterian Church of Memphis.

March 22, 1916 The great East Nashville fire consumed over 500 homes with a loss of 1.5 million dollars. Many residents brought their belongings to Woodland hoping that the brick structure would spare their treasures. Other belongings, such as bedding were deposited in the yard as word spread that the church had been spared. Some say the Woodland building caught fire because the bedding on the lawn burned and the winds blew the flames into the building. Others say the pigeon nests in the tower caught fire. Someone ran in and saved the minutes books, saving history from the beginning of the church. The Woodland Street church and manse were destroyed beyond repair.

March 23, 1916 The session and deacons met to appoint a committee to investigate a location for rebuilding. The church worshiped in the Seventh Day Adventist Church on Fifth and Fatherland Streets until a new building could be erected.

March 28, 1916 The relocation committee reported three possible sites for the new church – a 150 ft. lot on 11th Street at Gartland Ave. for $3,000; a 100 ft. lot on Gartland and 12th Street for $1,800 and one at Fourth and Woodland for $2,650. The selection of the site for the church is no surprise. The site at 12th and Gartland was chosen as the site for the manse.

June, 1916 Architect C.K. Colley presented plans for the new building estimated at $38,120. At first, it was approved minus the dome, but later it was restored.

October, 1916   The cornerstone was laid with these words facing 11th Street:


1858 A.D.


1916 A.D.




1917 A.D.

On the Gartland Ave. side:



(I will arise, God willing)

Nov. 10, 1918 Dedication service was held.

1918 Woodland women in conjunction with women from First Presbyterian begin working at a settlement house which later relocated to East Nashville and became the Martha O’Bryan Center. From this point on for many years, the Women-of-the-Church took over the preservation of the church’s history.

March, 1933   A tornado did about $2,000 damage to the church and manse.

July 11, 1940  The Bell property next to the church was purchased for $3,700. The Bell residence was renamed Fellowship Hall.

1940-1945   Many of Woodland’s young men and women served during World War II. Contact was maintained with them by regular letters from the church under the direction of Mrs. P.G. Tucker.

Sept. 1, 1945  Dr. W.L. Caldwell retired after 34 years, the longest service in Woodland’s history up to that time.

June 9, 1946   The church voted to petition Presbytery to drop the name ‘Street’ from the church name. Many members and others in the neighborhood continued to call the church Woodland Street for many years after this change.

Nov. 2, 1952   Woodland organized the Inglewood Presbyterian Church in a house at 1440 McGavock Pike. Before this development, Woodland’s membership stood at 578, but after dismissing members to the new church and placing a number on inactive, the membership dropped to 436. As Woodland’s one hundredth year approached, many felt that the old Bell residence was not serving its purpose well. A centennial project was purposed to build an expansion of the present building. The Centennial building contained a basement recreation room, classrooms, a parlor and a chapel to be named Caldwell Chapel.

The membership of Woodland began a steady decline in the 1960’s, as did most other inter-city churches.

Mid 1960’s Woodland joined with other area churches to form the Edgefield Cooperative Church Council, in an effort to join forces in ministering to the often overwhelming needs of the East Nashville community.

1978  The Edgefield Council merged with the East Nashville Cooperative Ministry, a United Methodist Cooperative. ENCM provided food, clothing, free eye, ear and dental clinics and free legal aid.

July, 1979  The Rev. John H. McCullough accepted a call to Woodland. He became the longest serving pastor upon his retirement in May of 2016. He directed Woodland to become a more inclusive church where it is today.

1982   The Woodland Easter Egg Hunt in 1982 included 115 children, 90% of which were non-members from the neighborhood.

Early 1980s  Only a few months after Room in the Inn was started in 1986, Woodland joined in providing food and shelter for homeless men and women at the church.

June 10-12, 1983 Woodland celebrated its 125th anniversary. Rev. Joseph B. Ledford, Rev. C. Thomas Baker, Jr., Rev. Henry R. Mahler, Jr., Rev. Robert G. McGehee joined Rev. John McCullough for the celebration. Many previous members and friends attended.

1994   Woodland provided space for the day care of the Martha O’Bryan Community Center after a fire destroyed their facility. It was after Martha O’Bryan left that Woodland started the practice of allowing community focused groups house offices and services in our underused building.

April 16, 1998 The “Nashville Tornado” came through downtown Nashville doing extensive damage. It then crossed the river and hit East Nashville with a tremendous force. Many homes were damaged and hundreds of trees were uprooted. The tornado hit the West side of Woodland and broke out many of the stained glass windows. Much of the roof was damaged and the basement was flooded as more windows were blown out.

July, 2003 Woodland began sharing the building with the Village Church that continued until 2015.

2007 Woodland becomes a More Light Congregation, working for greater inclusion of LGBT persons within PCUSA.

May 4, 2008  Woodland celebrated its 150th anniversary. Again, many previous members and friends attended.

2010   El Jardin de los Ninos/ The Children’s Garden, a mother’s day out program started at Woodland.

May 2016   Rev. John McCullough retired after 37 years at Woodland.

Today, Woodland Presbyterian Church continues to be an inclusive community of faith seeking to share God’s love for all Creation, welcoming everyone to full and equal participation in the church, promoting deep concern for the ecology of the earth, seeking to embody in our lives the love of God embodied in Christ Jesus.