Union City was staked out and so named on Wednesday, February 22, 1854. The name was chosen because of the union of two railroads. Union City was surveyed in 1855 and some months after, the first lot was sold for $300.00.
In the spring of 1856, the Methodist Episcopal Church, South was organized in the home of Rev. Issac C. Foster, a local preacher, and Rev. Wade H. Frost, a traveling preacher. Also attending were Mrs. I. C. Foster, Miss Fannie Foster, Martin Shackles, Rev. Hutchison, Rev. Flack, Mrs. John Bates (Sarah Ann) Harrison, Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Curlin, Robert Curlin, Eliza Curlin, Dr. E. L. Bynum, and Mr. and Mrs. Green Kimberlin.
The Foster home was located on the present site of what is known as the J. P. O’Bannon residence at 1615 East Main Street. This property is now owned by the Sunswept Baptist Church.
The first meeting place was a small frame building near the present site of the Obion County Courthouse. Rev. Issac C. Foster was the local preacher in 1856-57, D. D. Leech in 1857-58, James M. Flatt in 1859-60, James Pirtie in 1860-61, Wade Frost 1856-57, Simpson Weaver 1857-58 and D. C. Johnson, M.D. 1858-59. There are no records of the church from this time through 1868. When the church was organized it was on the Hickman Circuit of the Paducah District of the Memphis Conference.
Union City was made a Camp of Instructions during the Civil War by Confederate authorities. This was due to its excellent railroad facilities, and at times was occupied by 5,000 to 20,000 soldiers. At the close of the war Union City was in the hands of Federal troops. Many churches were used as hospitals.
Wade H. Frost, known as the fighting parson, was Captain of Co. D, the Forest Rovers, 33rd Regiment of Tennessee Infantry Volunteers of the Confederate Army. Frost served from September 9, 1861 until March 24, 1862, and then resigned his position.
This first church building was erected in 1867. This structure was located at the northeast corner of the intersection of Church (formerly Mary Street) Street and Second Street. First Methodist has the first Sunday School in Union City with about 300 enrolled. Other denominations attended because they had no place of worship or had no Sunday School. The first Sunday School superintendent was D. D. Bryant. Robert T. Curlin was the assistant superintendent.
Our church has been host to the Memphis Annual Conference five times, 1883, 1895, 1916, 1932 and 1945. The first annual meeting of the Women’s Society of Christian Service and the Wesleyan Service Guild in April, 1969. The Women’s Society has been a very vital part of our church since its beginning in 1878. The Women’s Society of Christian Service and the Wesleyan Service Guild were united in January of 1973 and became the United Methodist Women.
The 50th anniversary of First Methodist was celebrated in 1906, with Rev. Henry B. Johnson as pastor. A small, concise booklet was published listing membership, officers and various departments of the church. It is interesting to note that at the time there were 3 Epworth leagues; senior, intermediate and junior, 3 missionary societies, foreign, home and junior. There seemed to be an awakening or renewal that year as more than 200 persons united with the church. There were 650 members with a budget of $2,440.00.
We are justly proud of all the fine people who have gone from our church to serve as missionaries and teachers. Rev. Clough Anderson Waterfield, who died 10/20/1967 at age100, served many churches in the Methodist Conference. Rev. John Harrison was a minister in the Arkansas Conference. Rev. S. A. “Gus” Neblett served for 47 years as a missionary to Cuba, and later taught at Scarbitt College in Nashville.
Mrs. Florence Kieser Nance taught at Laura Haygood Methodist School in China for many years. Gordon Morrison, a former youth minister, served as teacher and missionary in Isfahan, Iran for several years. Raymond Council served many churches in the Memphis Conference. Lowell Council, Whitesell Harris Harpole and William Howard Mann were all ministers in the Memphis Conference.
Robert Harper Luton was admitted as a Probationary Member of the Memphis Annual Conference in 1974 and ordained to the Office of Deacon in the Church. Rev. Clifford C. Wright, Jr. was ordained in 1985 and is now serving in the Louisiana Conference.
In 1939, our church became the First Methodist Church when three branches of Methodism united at the Kansas City, Missouri Uniting Conference. On Tuesday, April 23, 1968, in Dallas, Texas, the Methodist Church united with the Evangelical United Brethren Church. Our church then became the First United Methodist Church.
In 1884 a brick building was erected on the northwest corner of Main and Ury Streets, the site of our present church. Rev. Grant T. Sullivan was pastor when the new building was dedicated on October 20, 1889. There is a painting of this church building in the foyer. This building was replaced by our present building, which was erected 1914-1915. During the time of construction, church services were held in the courthouse. The building was erected during the ministry of Rev. Willard W. Armstrong and opened on Sunday, July 11, 1915. The building was constructed by T. L. Bransford & Sons of Union City, and the architect was H. A. Heavener of Jackson, Tennessee. The final cost was $31,616.64, dated August 12, 1915. An agreement was signed, with the church withholding $150 because the cellar was leaking. Eighty-seven years later, the cellar is still leaking. One hundred and fifteen persons united with the church. The building was officially dedicated on Sunday, November 16, 1915. The dedication was conducted by James Atkins, the presiding Bishop of the Tennessee Conference.
This building was constructed in the “Akron Auditorium” style that was popular among Methodist churches at that time. This style allowed the sunday school rooms to open directly into the sanctuary. In the original layout, the pews face the northwest corner of the sanctuary and the floor sloped to that corner. There were sliding doors between the sanctuary and what is now the chapel. There was a pipe organ where the choir now sits, and the choir sat in front of the pipe organ.
In 1949, during the ministry of Rev. James A. Fisher, the church was extensively remodeled and redecorated at a cost was about one hundred thousand dollars. This renovation consisted of the construction of a wall on the west side of the sanctuary and the chapel was constructed on the other side of this wall. The floor of the sanctuary was leveled and the pews were changed to face toward the front. The original pews were used and laid out in of 3 rows. The pipe organ was removed and either given or sold to the Methodist church at Troy. An electronic organ took its place. The organ space was used for the choir loft. There was an aisle in the choir loft that lead to the altar. The altar was against the north wall. The choir faced the aisle and each other, half on the east side and half on the west side. The pulpit and lectern were in front of the choir loft. Central air conditioning was also installed, making this one of the first buildings in Union City to have air conditioning. No more need for the funeral home cardboard fans.
Our original Youth Center and a large parking lot were purchased during the ministry of Rev. James D. Jenkins. The building was remodeled and was dedicated on March 17, 1957. Rev. Jenkins also dreamed of an educational building. Plans for an educational building were drawn and a large part of the construction cost was raised during the ministry of Rev. James E. Wilford.
The educational building was constructed in 1966-1967 and again the church was modernized and redecorated. The project cost was about $200,000 and was completed in April of 1967. Rev. C. D. Goodwin was the pastor at the time of completion, and the building was consecrated on Sunday, October 29, 1967.
In December of 1972 a new parsonage was purchased. This is our present parsonage and is located at 1449 Forest Drive in Union City. The Rev. Williams S. Evans family were the first occupants of this new parsonage. The old parsonage, located just north of the main church building, was torn down prior to the 1980 remodeling of the church.
The original Youth Center building was destroyed by fire on May 3, 1969. A new building was constructed on this site during the winter of 1973-1974, and was called the Activities Building.
The sanctuary and other portions of the main building were extensively remodeled in 1980, under the leadership of Rev. James Mulroy. The layout of the choir loft and altar area was completely changed and new pews were installed. The Ladies’ and Men’s restrooms were up-dated and a drive-through ramp with canopy, was constructed at the rear of the building. The ramp allows easier access to the sanctuary level. The total cost of this renovation was $207,000. The architect was Dean Hill, Hill-Armour Associated Architects, Memphis, Tennessee. One thing that has never changed are the beautiful stain glass windows on the east side of the sanctuary.
In 1999 a new Family Life Center building was constructed at a cost of about 1.8 million dollars. The architect was Anderson-Vaughn, Jackson, TN and the contractor was Allen Searcy, Union City. This building contains classrooms used for Sunday School and also for our day care center, First Friends. The building also has a craft room, an activities room, a kitchen, a conference room and a gymnasium. The church presently owns the entire block bounded on the south by Main Street, the east by Ury Street, the north by Vine Street and the west by Division Street. The church also owns 3 lots on the north side of Vine Street.
In 2005 new pews and carpet were installed in the Chapel. The old pews (circa 1884) in the chapel were from the original building at our site and were sold to members. A few of the old pews have been restored and are in the halls of the main building.
We did extensive re-decorating in the sanctuary – paint and new carpet, which was completed in the late fall of 2005.. Also, new carpet was installed in the halls of the main building and in the entire educational building. The exterior trim on the main building was painted and the parking lot was sealed.
A video system has been installed in the sanctuary and became operational in January of 2007.
Mrs. Sarah Ann Harrison, wife of Dr. John Bates Harrison, in the only charter member who has living descendents as current members of the church. They are her great-grandchildren, Mrs. Seth Harper and Bill Massengil, Bill’s daughter, Judi Pitts, Judi’s daughters, Angie Worley and Piper Worrell, Angie’s children, Jordan, Jacob and Sydne Kate, and Piper’s children Caleb Lemons and Kallie Worrell.
This history was from Mrs. Seth Harper, Church Historian, with additions by Bob Nichols.