Written by Tom Eldridge
It was an especially windy morning on March 22, 1916. It is said that a small boy was playing with a ball of yarn when it caught fire from a nearby stove. He tossed the burning yarn out the door where it caught the grass on fire. The wind did the rest.
As the fire spread, neighbors noticed that a church building at 5th& Woodland had been spared. Many brought their belongings and left them on the lawn of the Woodland Street Presbyterian Church. As the wind continued to rapidly move the fire along, somehow the church building begin to burn. Some say it was due to the matrasses on the lawn, while others say the straw of the pigeon roosts in the bell tower caught fire.
By that evening, the main building of Woodland Street Presbyterian Church was a burned out shell. Over 500 homes and buildings had burned. In addition to these homes and Woodland Street Presbyterian, the Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged, Warner Public School, St. Columbia’s Church, Woodland Street Christian Church and Engine Company Number 5 were all destroyed or heavily damaged.
By the next week, the Woodland Street Presbyterian Relocation Committee had found three possible sites for rebuilding the church. These sites for the new church were: 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.
Although a sizable portion of the congregation wanted to rebuild on Woodland Street, the siteeventually selected for the church is no surprise. The site at 12th and Gartland was chosen as the site for the manse (presently Gartland Child Development Center). At that time, the church site was considered to be on “the edge of town”.
Architect C.K. Colley designed the building in a neo-classical style. Mr. Colley was a Nashville architect noted for many institutional designs, most in the Classical Revival style. Many of his buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. These include the East Branch Carnegie Library (across 11thStreet from the church), the North Branch Carnegie Library, The Westboro, Wellington Arms and Sterling Court apartment buildings, all in Nashville. He also designed two buildings on the Middle Tennessee State University campus, the President’s House and Kirksey Hall. The Commons Building at Austin Peay State University and the Madison County and Perry County courthouses were also designed by Mr. Colley. He also designed the First Presbyterian Church of Columbia, built in 1916, and the building is very similar to the Woodland building.
The estimated cost of the original building was $38,120 ($738,000 in today’s dollars) and construction was started in 1917. The original design was approved without the dome, but it was added before construction was started.
The cornerstone is laid in 1917 with these words facing 11th Street:
Organized 1858 A.D.
Destroyed by fire 1916 A.D.
This building erected to the glory of God 1917 A.D.
And on the Gartland Avenue side:
Resurgam Deo Volente
(I will arise, God willing)
The Dedication Service for the new building was held November 10, 1918. The Woodland Presbyterian Church building has been an icon in the East Nashville Neighborhood for 100 years.