There’s 200 years of history at West Emory Presbyterian

Beth KinnaneOur Town Stories, West Knox County

It’s not unusual to find *west* in the name of anything west of downtown Knoxville. Because, well, it’s west. But in the case of West Emory Presbyterian Church, the moniker has nothing to do with geography. That part of the name is an homage to the Rev. Samuel West. There isn’t much to find out there about the good Rev. West, other than he preached at several other churches in Knox County (as pastors often did).

The Emory part of the name is more well known, for the Rev. Isaac Emory. Several locations across the county are named after him and his family: Emory Place between downtown and Old North Knoxville (see Dr. Jim Tumblin’s story here), Emoriland Boulevard and Emory Road. The Rev. Emory died in the New Market Train Wreck of 1904 and is buried in Old Gray Cemetery. He was known for establishing churches and Sunday schools across the state but particularly in East Tennessee.

West Emory’s roots are found in the first organization of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in East Tennessee around 1822 and given the name Concord (before there was a town). It is one of the oldest congregations in West Knox County. The church first met in a log building about a mile west of I-140 and two miles southeast of Old Concord along Westland Drive. By 1858, the “Old Meeting House,” as it was called, was replaced with a wood frame building.

But another thing happened in the 1850s: the railroad came to what is now Concord and in the ensuing years, the marble industry began to boom there. Many of the congregants had moved to the area that became Concord and wanted a church closer to home (a couple of miles was a lot to do on a Sunday morning in the horse and buggy days).

So by 1870, a new church was built at the Masonic Cemetery and opened as the Concord Cumberland Presbyterian Church (the building was used by other congregations as well, see Mona Smith’s stories here and here), not to be confused with Concord Presbyterian. Suffice it to say, there were A LOT of ways to be a Presbyterian in the 19th century.

While the splits of some Presbyterian churches occurred over issues of theology, the split of the Cumberland Presbytery in West Knox County was simply one of logistics for the congregation. The members of the church who wanted to remain near the original church built on the current location at the intersection of Westland Drive and Emory Church Road and renamed it West Emory Presbyterian. The congregation dismantled the wood building from the first site and reconstructed it at the current location. It burned in 1941 and was replaced by a brick building in 1944. The present sanctuary was dedicated in 1983. Adjacent to the church is a graveyard. A good number of the graves are unmarked or simply marked with just an uncut marble slab.

In 1906, West Emory left the Cumberland Church and is presently a member of the Presbytery of East Tennessee, in the Synod of Living Waters, within the Presbyterian Church USA.

To learn more about the church, go here.

Beth Kinnane is the community news editor for

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