our history

Who are we?

First Baptist Church of Somerville has a rich history in Fayette Country. We have labored during our entire history to serve our community and preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As a church, we seek to continue the legacy of those who came before us to continue the duty that Jesus gave us in Matthew 28.

Our Story

The earliest predecessor of the present day First Baptist Church of Somerville, Tennessee, is traced to the Somerville Missionary Baptist Church, which petitioned to join the Big Hatchie Association in 1836. The congregation met at the courthouse and/or the Male Academy, but plans were soon underway for growth. 

On August 21, 1836, a 50 x 60-foot lot on North Street was purchased from E. S. Tappan for $350. The first known pastor was Neville H. Lumpkin. His congregation probably met in the first building which is presumed to have been erected in March 1839. The trustees were Henderson Owen, James B. Ruffin, and John Blackwell. Other prominent members were A. W. Appleberry, H. W. Tharp, Benjamin R. Herndon, L. H. Milliken, John Wilfong, William A. B. Jones, Minerva Jones, Sandel Humphries, Eliza Ball, Cynthia Reed, Grizza Salusen Lucado. Between 1850 and 1865, such men as N. S. Bastion, S. H. Bundy, William Nolan, Moses Green, and Francis M. Freeman stood in the pulpit and preached the word of God to the faithful Baptist of Somerville. 

The first of three (3) fires occurred in July of 1859, when the original church building was partially destroyed, forcing the congregation to rent space over the Odd Fellows Hall on the Old Stage Road (present day Market Street), one block east of St. Thomas Episcopal Church. 

Unfortunately, this was just the beginning of the trials to be endured during the War Between the States. Although Brother Freeman continued to hold services, they were sporadic at best, being marked by the loss of membership as a number of the young men marched off to war and many families migrated south behind Confederate lines in a vain attempt to avoid the cruelty and uncertainty of the struggle of brother against brother which lasted four long years. Also during that period, if war was not disaster enough, the Somerville community was scourged by at least two (2) major outbreaks of Yellow Fever which resulted in the deaths of an undisclosed number of church members. The Baptist of Somerville did not return to their house of worship for almost fifteen years. 

With the close of the war and the subsequent reconstruction, it was not until 1874 that an attempt was made to rebuild. A lot was purchased on South Main Street adjacent to “Frogmore” (present day Middlecoff House) from Ms. Mollie Jo Burton, which was part of Lot 5, Block L. The purchase price of the lot was $500. The trustees at the time were J. R. Hendon, W. B. Dortch, and W. A. Milliken. A building was erected, but misfortune struck again under the guise of a mechanic’s lien for the amount of $194.05, filed by R. Winsett. The building was lost on January 6, 1881, at the sheriff’s sale and the congregation once again found itself homeless. 

Later records show that on November 27, 1881, an additional adjoining lot on Marginal Street, west of South Main Street was purchased from Mrs. Elizabeth Ford and Mrs. Ann Henry Green, and a new building was erected there in 1884. The trustees at this time were John R. Hendon, E. W. Tatum, William Tharp, and Mrs. Agnes Bumpass. The pastors of the 1880s were Enoch Windes, T. J. McCandless and W. L. Brown. Very little is known about the Somerville Baptists during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. What is known is that the church very nearly ceased to exist and most likely would have, had it not been for the faithfulness of three (3) ladies who refused to give up. First Baptist Church of Somerville owes a great debt of gratitude to Mrs. Sallie Hilliard, Mrs. Mattie Mitchell, and Mrs. Sallie Locke. Due to their steadfastness, the membership showed sufficient gains to call Reverend J. H. Oakley to the pulpit in 1907 after that position had remained vacant for many years. 

The church weathered another Great War, World War I, followed by the “Great Depression”. The fortunes of the local Baptists seemed to be on the mend. However, such was not the case; during the night of November 27, 1941, another blaze reduced the church house to smoke and ashes, leaving nothing but the front steps. These steps remained in place for nearly fifty years as a reminder of what had been. These steps were relocated, installed and dedicated at the back of the new addition to the church located at 12685 South Main Street on November 13, 2011, during the 175th Anniversary Celebration. A time capsule filled by the children and youth of the church was buried next to the steps, to be opened in 25 years at the 200th anniversary. 

The next building site was at the corner of Church and Charleston Street, which was purchased on March 3, 1942, from Mrs. Annie Mae Mitchell. Progress was slow from this point and only the basement of the proposed building was completed. World War II intervened this time and the rest of the building had to await the end of the hostilities. 

It was under the leadership of Pastor Jonas L. Stewart, and beginning on June 13, 1948, that the congregation was rejuvenated into the church’s most ambitious building program to date. On September 29, 1948, a new auditorium, nursery, office space, and Sunday school rooms were dedicated. 

Dr. Stewart was followed by O. M. Dangeau in 1956 and by William R. Dunning in 1965. During this time two major purchases were made – The Old Memphis and Charleston Depot property was purchased from the Church of Christ, and the Issac McClellan house and two (2) acres were purchased from Mrs. Paul A. Weiland. 

The Old Depot was renovated and converted into a Youth Center. In 1966 the church expanded with a two-story Educational Building constructed adjacent to the church auditorium and dedicated in August of 1966. It happened for the third time, on a cold night of January 25, 1972, the church faced another devastating fire that destroyed the sanctuary. The Educational addition and the Youth Center were saved and remain today. 

With their eyes on the Lord, the church was rebuilt. The present house of worship on South Main Street was built on the site of the McClellan House, and dedicated on April 28, 1974, while Thomas Pope was pastor. In September 1978, the property on the corner of Charleston and South Main Street was purchased from Mr. and Mrs. Otis Ozier on which the Christian Activities Center was built in 1981 while Fred C. Tubbs was pastor. Adjoining parcels of land were also purchased in 1983 and 1984 for future expansion. 

Dr. Jonas L. Stewart returned as pastor in May 1982, where he remained until his earthly death in October 1985. His influence remains through the loving attitudes he promoted, such as the special time for friendly handshaking at the beginning of Sunday morning services. 

In 1970, Carlton Morris became the Minister of Music and served for 16 years. He continued to be appreciated as a talented and dedicated church servant and leader of the Royal Heirs Choir until his death in 2012. After Carlton retired as Minister of Music, Rev. Philip R. McKibben became the Minister of Music and Education. The music program continued to grow under Philip’s leadership for the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ and continues today under the leadership of Dr. Stephen White. 

Future expansion began to be dreamed of during the pastorate of Dr. Paul Williams, who served from April 1986 until his retirement in 1992. Brother Phil Lovelace responded to the call in June 1993 and served until September of 2001. Dr. Roy G. Elliott “Bro. Bob” began as the Interim Pastor in September 2001 and was called as Pastor on February 1, 2002. Under Dr. Elliott’s leadership, the dreams of the 1990’s were fulfilled by “Project 700” in the construction of a two-story educational wing, large fellowship hall and new office space which was completed and dedicated on September 23, 2003. 

Dr. Elliott was succeeded by Dr. Frank Crawford in 2008; followed by Dr. Ken Story in 2011; with Bro. Stan Smith serving as current Pastor since 2015. Pastor Stan Smith, under the leadership of the Holy Spirit, guided First Baptist Church to become the “Mother Church” for a New Church Plant for Rossville, TN, March 2018. Bro. Toby Stone was hired as the Pastor for the new church plant. In three short years, Rossville Baptist Church was constituted on July 4, 2021, with Bro. Toby Stone, Pastor; Chuck Smith, Worship Leader; with 48 Charter Members.