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
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
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
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.