Designing Chattanooga: old downtown churches

Photo by NOOGAtoday

It’s been a minute, but today, we’re back with Designing Chatt: a series in which we dive into the history + architecture of Chattanooga’s iconic, historic, and just plain beautiful buildings.

Inspiration for today’s Designing Chatt piece comes from one of you — reader Kevin G., who suggested that we explore some of Chattanooga’s old downtown churches. 

According to a Flickr post, this stone was carried across the TN River by ferry. | Photo by NOOGAtoday

First Methodist Church (now Old Stone Church Tower)

While it’s no longer a full church, there still remains an old church steeple on Georgia Avenue that serves as a reminder of Chattanooga’s first Methodist church. Known by many as “Stone Church,” the now-historically marked church was one of the earliest stone buildings in Chattanooga. Fun fact: it also worked with city members to found UTCoriginally Chattanooga University — in 1886. 

After growing in size for many years, First Methodist Church eventually joined Centenary Methodist Church to become what is now First-Centenary United Methodist Church.

After merging in 1967, most of the stone church was demolished in 1977. At the remaining steeple is a sign that reads: “This tower, steeple and wall were part of the First Methodist Church started in 1881 and dedicated in 1885 by the congregation. Worship services were held here until January 1967 when the congregation merged with Centenary Methodist Church.

These columns were influenced by Roman and Greek architecture. | Photo by NOOGAtoday

First Presbyterian Church

According to its founding date in 1840, First Presbyterian Church is Chattanooga’s oldest and first Christian church. It was designed by notable New York architecture firm McKim, Mead & White, whose other works include the original Penn Station, Columbia University’s library, New York City’s Brooklyn Museum, and even a renovation of the White House. (And if you live for the drama + find architecture a bore, you can do some research on Stanford White, who was shot by an ex-lover’s jealous husband).

The church’s grand columns are characteristic of the prestigious firm’s work, which was inspired + influenced by Roman and Greek architecture. Thanks to this influence, the firm is known for bringing classicism to America — an architectural style characterized by features like symmetry, columns, rectangle windows, and marble, many of which were used in the downtown church.

While no longer an official church, the space does host The Relevant Church Congregation on Sunday mornings. | Photo by NOOGAtoday

The Church on Main Street

Though more an event venue than church these days, this building formerly served as St. James Methodist Espicopal Church from 1904 through the 1950s. After that congregation moved to East Ridge, it also served as a space for New Hope Baptist for a time before being renovated into an event venue in 2012.

The space — which kept “church” in the name, since that was how people often referred to it — also retained many of the old church’s original elements, including the hardwood floors and high wood beams. As John Shearer noted in his 2019 article discussing the old church, some characteristics of the Richardsonian Romanesque architectural style are also visible — like semicircular arches + the square tower, for instance

Though not visible here, there is a small cross located atop the church that can be see amongst Chattanooga’s skyline. | Photo by NOOGAtoday

Basilica of Sts. Peter + Paul

This downtown basilica has undergone many changes during its life, but remains an impressive architectural building in Chattanooga. The church was once made completely of stone before being demolished during the Civil War, but in 1890, the basilica was created into the Gothic piece of architecture we see today.

While the church later underwent other renovationsseveral times, in fact: 1997, 1998, 2016, and most recently from 2018-2019 — its Gothic elements are still present in the basilica’s stained glass windows, vaulted ceilings, and ornate decorations inside. It was conjectured that the church was “likely inspired by England’s York Minster cathedral.”