South Knoxville is a mixed bag architecturally, with everything from log homes to mansions and bland strip malls to bohemian-looking boutiques.
One category that often stands out is our church buildings. And some of the most beautiful and historic feature the output of South Knoxville’s famed quarries.
Graystone Presbyterian Church was founded 131 years ago, but it didn’t start out at the lovely building at 139 Woodlawn Pike in Lindbergh Forest. In fact, it didn’t even begin as Graystone Presbyterian.
I found a good bit of its history in a 2010 piece by Barbara Asbury, my dear late friend and mentor, from when she was writing a weekly column for the daily newspaper. She was South Knoxville’s premier storyteller and a magnet for news and gossip from the community.
She was contacted by the church’s historian, June Edington Cely, in advance of Graystone’s 120th anniversary. Cely, who grew up in the church, passed away in May 2018. Asbury died in January 2011.
Some of their information conflicts with the history on the church website, but – no offense – I trust Asbury’s journalistic chops more than a church’s media committee.
In 1890, the church was formed as South Knoxville Presbyterian, with the Rev. Dr. W.R. Dawson serving as pastor from the beginning – in his first ministerial position – until 1927. Dawson was a Tennessee native who earned degrees from Maryville College and the Union Theological Seminary in New York.
The charter members included former parishioners of New Prospect and Second Presbyterian churches and the Pilgrim Congregational Church. Cely told Asbury that the founders cited winter weather and the difficulty of traveling the side roads to their former houses of worship – their wagon wheels would get stuck in the mud.
The church met in Parker’s Schoolhouse, which was probably on Sevier Avenue, while a two-story wooden church building was erected on Martin Mill Pike. The congregation grew and by 1916 began to make plans for a move.
The church purchased land at the corner of Blount Avenue and what was then Vestal Street but now is part of Chapman Highway. Construction started in September 1917 on a structure made of stone from such South Knoxville marble companies as Candoro. The church was renamed Graystone Presbyterian in reference to its structure.
Those familiar with the intersection today will not be surprised to learn that this second location – situated with railroad tracks behind it, a fire hall nearby and eventually traffic noise from Chapman Highway and the Henley Bridge – eventually became undesirable.
Seeking a quieter meeting space, the 525-member church purchased eight acres on Woodlawn Pike, just off Chapman Highway, in 1956. Stones from the Blount Avenue building were incorporated in the modified Gothic-style new church building along with gray Crab Orchard stone and Indiana limestone. Construction was completed in 1960.
The church is a member of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the Presbytery of East Tennessee.
Betsy Pickle is a freelance writer and editor who particularly enjoys spotlighting South Knoxville.