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Chapel and Church History

If we consider that the word "Church" means people and not buildings, the Presbyterian Church of Franklin was organized in 1833 by settlers fresh from Scotland. The minutes of the Presbytery of Concord, meeting in Bethany Church on October 2, 1833, contain the following statement:

"A communication was received from the Rev. Christopher
Bradshaw informing Presbytery that at the request of certain
citizens of Macon County, he had regularly organized a
Presbyterian Church to be known as the Franklin Presbyterian
Church, where upon it was resolved that said church be taken
under our care and enrolled on our minutes."

     The place or places of worship for those earliest years is unknown, but their first building ... now known as "The Chapel" ... was erected in 1854.
     
     The twelve inch thick walls of the Chapel are made of native red-clay brick. There appears to be no foundation, so it is presumed that the bricks were simply laid on top of the solid red clay.

     The roof was originally of hand split shingles and held up by an ingenious truss system. The early settlers devised trusses that were pulled taut by a steel screw device. A ridge pole, a single poplar log, runs the entire length of the building, even out over the front porch. For anyone interested in the origin of some of our familiar sayings, the entire roof system is held together by "square pegs driven into round holes!"

      The original wood ceiling was discovered when the restoration of the Chapel began. Only a single coat of paint and a few tin patches have been added.

      The windows of the building are the original. The windows operate well and are counter balanced by large cast-iron weights inside the walls. The window panes are of "hand blown" glass, since no machine-made glass existed at that time of construction. There are imperfections and distortions in the windows that are typical of such glass.

      The original steeple was quite large and octagonal in design. However, it was destroyed by lightning and, after a number of years, a smaller steeple with a square design was constructed on the Chapel.

     The bell in the steeple is thought to have entered this country at the Port of Charleston, South Carolina and hauled into Franklin by oxcart. When the original steeple was destroyed, the old bell was salvaged and safely stored by long-time member John Bulgin. Upon completion of the new steeple, the bell with a new clapper made in the Bulgin Forge was carefully placed again high above Franklin. The old bell is still rung to "make a joyful noise" every Sunday morning.

     In sharp contrast with the other local churches in the mid-1850's, the sturdy little Presbyterian Church building at the corner of Church Street and Harrison Avenue was very plain. No stained glass windows. No pipe organ. Music for the most part was provided by the playing of local musical instruments. Later on, an old-fashioned reed pump organ and a piano were added. Without purposely trying to do so, the builders gave the Chapel great acoustics ... the old building still "sings good."

      Heat was provided by a pot-bellied stove in the center of the Chapel. Unfortunately, the brick chimney was built on top of the wooden ceiling joists that expanded and contracted with the weather. Over time, the masonry of the chimney disintegrated, it was condemned, and the pot-bellied stove was moved. A second stove was also installed and connected to the chimney with rather unstable stove pipes. To everyone's chagrin, members report that one day, when the people were gathered for worship, those stove pipes fell.

      Light in the Chapel was provided by oil lamps on the walls and two brass oil lamps on the pulpit. In 1909, electricity came to Franklin. It was provided by an electric generator on a water-powered grist mill. The power was wavering and unreliable. The Presbyterians responded by wiring the wall lamps for electricity. John Bulgin later made the chandelier with electric lights. He saved one pulpit lamp that has been given a permanent home in the Chapel. The pulpit, originally wide enough to accommodate two brass oil lamps, was cut down to its present width.

      The Chapel was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985.

      In 1993, a Chapel Committee began to restore the old building. The original windows are now protected by solid glass sheets on the exterior, a new heating and air-conditioning unit was installed, new insulated interior walls were constructed with a two-inch air space between the new and old walls for ventilation, and all new electric wiring in conduit was installed.

      The Chapel is now used on special occasions and, especially, for the Informal Worship service each Sunday morning at 9:00 AM ... the "Come As You Are ... Kids Too!" service.

      In retrospect, the "Chapel" building will never again be the same as the original structure. But, we have and will continue to preserve this valuable part of our Presbyterian heritage in order "growing in Faith, serving with Hope, sharing God's Love."

      In 1975, the congregation voted to build a new, 350 seat sanctuary that was dedicated on August 29, 1976 along with classrooms and office space.

      On June 17th and 18th, 1989, there was "A Celebration and Dedication of The Great Hall and Its Tartans." This building, now called "Tartan Hall," was constructed behind the Chapel and sanctuary. It is extensively used by the congregation for fellowship, classes, meetings, luncheons, and much ... much ... more.

      Tartan Hall and all rooms in the church complex can be used by the general public and community groups. Please call the church office at (828) 524-3119 to inquire about reservations.

      In 1991, the congregation voted to change the name of "Franklin Presbyterian Church" to "First Presbyterian Church."
 © 2011. First Presbyterian