The first Cumberland Presbyterian Church in this area of North Jackson County, Alabama was in the old Bolivar Community, which was near the present site of the North Jackson Hospital. The Bolivar Cumberland Presbyterian Church (which is known today as the Edgefield Church) was started about 1871.
Our present Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Stevenson is a branch or an outgrowth of that Bolivar Cumberland Presbyterian Church, according to the minutes of the Union Church in town of Stevenson, February 28, 1891 Minute Book, Bolivar congregation, beginning December 1882.
Session met at the Union Church in the town of Stevenson, and on motion of Rev. J. A. Whitener being present, was invited to act as moderator. Ruling Elders present: G. H. Kimbrough, John F. Vaught, James H. Cowan, and T. Boyd Foster. Absent: J. E. Wall, William McMahan and William U. Jacoway.
The meeting was opened with prayer by moderator. The following preamble and Resolutions were offered by T. Boyd Foster:
Whereas the constitutions of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church empowers the church session to take the general oversight of their respective congregations, and to correct or adopt such measures as shall be for the spiritual good and edification of said congregations.
Whereas the Bolivar and Stevenson congregations has two separate places of worship: one in the town of Stevenson, and one at Edgefield about three miles from the first named place.
And whereas the said congregations has increased in number sufficient to constitute a congregation at each of the aforesaid places, and as there is a desire manifested on the part of a majority of the members of said congregations that there be a separate organization at each of said places: one at Stevenson and one at Edgefield. Therefore be it resolved:
1st--the Bolivar and Stevenson Congregations of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church is hereby divided into two separate congregations, one to be known as the Bolivar Congregation and the other to be known as the Stevenson Congregation.
2nd--That each officer and member whose name is now enrolled on the church record of these congregations shall be allowed to choose to which of the said congregations he or she shall become a member or to neither if anyone or more shall so elect.
3rd--That the Elders and Deacons of these congregations shall continue to hold the same office in their respective congregations in which their names are enrolled until an organization is fully completed and so continue afterward unless their congregation may see fit to order otherwise.
4th--That the action of the present of the Elders of these congregations be transferred to the next session of the Robert Donnell Presbytery for its adoption or rejection.
On motion of Elder James H. Cowan the foregoing Preamble and Resolutions were adopted and order to be spread upon the minutes of the old Church Record and a copy of these be laid before our Presbytery.
On motion session adjourned. Closed by prayer.
J. A. Whitener, Moderator
T. Boyd Foster, Clerk
And so they divided and the officers and elders chose to which congregation he or she would become a member and should continue to hold this same office until their congregations saw fit to order otherwise.
The Stevenson Cumberland Presbyterian members first worshiped in a building that was built for a combination church and school building. It was later used as a hospital by the Northern soldiers during the Civil War (from notes by Mrs. R. H. Smith). A community church was built in 1875 for the Baptist, Methodist and Stevenson Cumberland Presbyterian churches. These people worshiped together for almost 30 years in the same building on "Church" street and were the beginning of these three strong churches still here even to this day. They gathered in the little red brick church for worship, funerals, weddings and women's groups.
In 1904 the Methodists withdrew to build their first church in Stevenson. Then in 1907 the Cumberland Presbyterian and the USA Presbyterians divided into separate congregations and "our" Cumberland Presbyterian Church's part of the Stevenson members went to the USA Presbyterians. Then in 1915, due to the lack of local members to support a church, the USA Presbyterians sold their interest in this union church back to the Cumberland Presbyterians.
Copy of a resolution re. the purchase of one third interest in the church property from the Presbyterian Church of Stevenson dated, June 30, 1915:
To whom it may concern,
We the undersigned citizens and members of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Stevenson, Ala. where we have a fairly good membership, while the U.S.A. Presbyterians have only 2 families who belong to that church. The Union Church house in Stevenson is in a dilapidated condition. The said Presbyterian Church there owns one third interest in that property, with a claim based on a Supreme Court decision, decision of one third interest owned by the Cumberland Presbyterians. Information has reached us through a brother who does not belong to either of these churches that in as much as the said Presbyterians have not a sufficient membership there to organize and run a successful congregation, and for the good of the cause of Christianity and for the betterment on the citizens of Stevenson that the Presbyterians will entertain a proposition pertaining to the sale of said church property. The Cumberland Presbyterians make to them the following proposition that they will refund to them the amount paid by them to the Methodist Church for said property on the condition that they make a deed to the Cumberland Presbyterians to that third interest with a quit claim deed against any claim they may hold against any Cumberland Presbyterian property claimed by them at Stevenson, Alabama. We the undersigned agree to and desire the above arrangement to be made.
A. J. Grider
G. W. Foster
A. B. Jacoway
G. H. McMahan
Elders at that time for the Cumberland Presbyterian Church were: Dr. G. W. Foster, A. B. Jacoway, and G. H. McMahan.
In about twenty more years, after an increase in membership and spiritual growth, the Baptist members decided they wanted to establish a church of their own and offered to buy or sell the present building on Church Street to the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. In 1925 the Cumberland Presbyterians decided to sell their interest to the Baptists and moved into the building on Main Street owned by the Bolivar Lodge 127, (Masonic Lodge) and the Lodge met in the upstairs rooms and the church met across the hall. The downstairs was used for years to house the city fire engine.
At this time, the Rev. James T. Barrow of Knoxville, Tennessee was pastor. J. Z. Schultz was superintendent of the Sunday School. A building committee was soon appointed and enthusiastic plans were made for a new church building.
Members, Mrs. R. L. Alston and Mr. G. H. McMahan, both very generously offered to donate building lots for the new church, and after much consideration it was decided to accept Mrs. Alston's offer because it offered more space for parking and was located a little further from the noise of the railroad. The lot offered by Mr. McMahan was located about where the present branch of the First National Bank is built.
Work was soon begun and it was indeed a labor of love. The men of the church under the direction of Mr. Houston Davis, started the construction. Since the depression was felt in Stevenson, as in the rest of the country at this time, labor was donated instead of money. The crews of church men were working testimony of the great desire they had for a church. Most of the brick work on the new building was done by Mr. Dick Smith, Sr. Teams of mules for heavy loads, were furnished by farmer members.
Rev. Barrow worked tirelessly, right along with these men, and with a group of high school boys built the first altar furniture. This was made from a walnut tree from the Burch family. (This farm was where Mrs. Audra Thomas now lives in 1976.) The lumber was dried by the Chickamauga Cedar Company. This furniture is still in use today in the assembly room of our church. Elders at this time were: B. B. Davis, A. J. Grider, G. A. Henninger, A. B. Jacoway, E. L. Knox, and J. Z. Schultz. Deacons were: G. H. McMahan, and J. R. Potts.
Final touches were being added in May 1926 when the ceremony of "laying the cornerstone" was held in the yard of the new building on the corner of College Street and Cynthia Place. Laster Willis, a young member of the Boy Scout Troup which had been organized by Rev. Barrow unveiled the stone before a small group of proud members. The building at this time consisted of the sanctuary with two Sunday School rooms on either side of the choir loft in the front of the sanctuary and two Sunday School rooms at the rear. The basement was used as Sunday School rooms for the Primary Class and Junior Department, with movable partitions dividing the rooms.
After completion of the building, Rev. Barrow returned to Vanderbilt University to complete his education. He commuted for church services here until spring of 1928 at which time he resigned as pastor of Stevenson Cumberland Presbyterian Church. Thus ending a dedicated and loving work for God.
Now the women of the church stepped into sharing the labor of love, just as the men had done. They worked diligently in many tiring and backbreaking jobs to raise money to help pay the yearly interest on the debt of money owed by the church. They picked peas and cotton, gave luncheons in an empty store building downtown, quilted and made wool comforters giving all the money earned to the church treasurer. If it had not been for their efforts we might not be enjoying this beautiful church today, according to Mr. George R. Allison, Sr.
Another list of elders of this church are: (as listed above with two deacons added) E. L. Knox, Jr., and Ben Rudder.
Following the ministry of Rev. Barrow, a young ministerial student by the name of Sigmund Christian of Cowan, Tennessee served until late fall of 1928.
The first wedding in the new church was that of Miss Kate Willis to E. L. Knox, Jr. The first funeral was that of Miss Kate's mother, Mrs. Tom Willis.
In October of 1928, James T. Jones, of Chattanooga, Tennessee became the pastor of this church and in 1932 he married Miss Elizabeth Legg. Rev. Jones continued his education at Bethel College and the University of Chattanooga and later received his B.S. degree from Vanderbilt University. For several years he served as pastor of both the Scottsboro and Stevenson Cumberland Presbyterian churches and was greatly loved by both congregations. Their children are Mary Catherine and James Alston.
Elizabeth Jones and Mr. Davis drive around and asked for pledges from church members to finish paying the debt owned on the church building. In 1941 the debt owed on the building was paid in full and the dedication service was held on June 29, 1941. They had the dedication service and invited other Stevenson churches, about 225 guests attended. The hard work and many prayers that went into this church building are a memorial enough for those who have gone on to their eternal reward and to those we still have here with us today. They are a part of the blessings that this church has been granted and we thank God for their diligent service and bright lives.
The elders in 1941 were: B. B. Davis, Oscar F. Davis, A. J. Grider, G. A. Henninger, A. B. Jacoway, and J. F. Rudder.
The deacons were: George R. Allison, Sr., A. L. Knox, Sr., E. L. Knox, Jr., and Ben Rudder.
Rev. Jimmy Jones had a dream for this church in his twenty-four years as its pastor, and although he did not live to see it realized, a well-equipped educational building was built in his memory in 1954 and named the James T. Jones Educational Annex. The builder of this annex was a member of this church, Eugene Henninger.
The next minister to fill this pulpit was another young Bethel College student, Charles Hughes. He served until accepting a call to Camden, Tennessee. He served here from 1952-1956. Charles married while at Bethel and his wife was Jean. They had a son born here named Guy, and later John Edwin was born to this couple.
Rev. Sam Estes, a retired minister from McKenzie, Tennessee served here until Rev. Walter James came to accept this pulpit. His wife, Carolyn played both the organ and piano beautifully. Their daughters were named Danny and Donna. Then Rev. James resigned to go to a new church in Tampa, Florida. He served from 1956-1962.
Our next minister was one of our old members, Dr. Ernest R. Knox (son of the late Mr. and Mrs. A. L. Knox), and he filled the pulpit until a full-time minister could be found. "Rudder" had chosen to enter the field of education and was selected to become the first president of Northeast Alabama State Junior College at Rainsville, Alabama. He still makes his home in Stevenson with his wife, Pauline, and has been so faithful to help out as a minister anytime he is needed.
Dr. George E. Coleman became our next pastor in 1962 and served this church faithfully until his retirement in 1972. It was under his leadership that it was decided to remodel the sanctuary and front of the church with the addition of a steeple. Many of the men who served as elders and deacons at this time were descendants of the former members of the session. The elders were: George R. Allison, Sr., Edwin Allison, Clyde Foshee, A. L. Knox, Jr., Neil Knox, R. L. King, G. R. Grimmett, Charles Search, and Eugene Henninger. The deacons were: C. H. Bramlett, Jr., James I. Edwards, Guy A. Harris, Porter Arnold, and Laster Willis. Dedication of this sanctuary was on July 18, 1965 and it has been enjoyed every day since that time.
Dr. George Coleman and his wife, Rouene, moved from here in 1972 to Houston, Texas to be near his daughter and son, and to enjoy his retirement. However, he has remained very active still filling a pulpit almost every Sunday.
Rev. David R. Smith, (wife Betty and two daughters, Becky and Susan) served as our next minister, serving from 1972-1975. He resigned to join the armed forces as a chaplain in Fort Polk, Louisiana in 1975.
Dr. John David Hall, Scottsboro, Alabama, served as our supply pastor for several months until our next pastor, Rev. John Malone and his wife, Mary, and daughter, Lisa came to our church from Mississippi.
God has been most loving in His blessing of this church. We must never forget the devotion of early members and ministers, but just as we all know it is not a building that makes a church, but the people who worship are the church. God has also blessed us through the lives of members, present and past.
The early families who will always be remembered when the Stevenson Cumberland Presbyterian Church is mentioned, bear the distinction of being truly a "faithful few." They had a dream and they worked hard to fulfill that dream. It is with a deep love and respect that we mention them here: Jack Foster family, Ben Rudder family, Horton Rudder family, B. B. Davis family, J. Davis family, R. L. Alston family, G. H. McMahan family, Mrs. Emma Wimberly, Claude H. Bramlett family, W. W. Sanders family, A J. Grider family, J. R. Potts family, Mrs. R. H. Smith, Mr. Leal Sanders, J. Z. Schultz family, Ernest L. Knox family, Tom Willis family, A. B. Jacoway family, Miss Emma Fennegam, Mrs. Mary Driskell, George R. Allison family, John Burch family and the G. A. Henninger family.
The people of this church have a rich, rich heritage of which to be proud. May the next fifty years be as full of the joy of God's work as these first fifty years have been.
This history was taken from the notes of Mrs. Betty Ruth A. Henninger. She presented this history on the 50th Anniversary of the present church building, July 4, 1976 during the 11:00 a.m. worship service.
To the above history of Stevenson Cumberland Presbyterian Church, these notes are added April 1982 by Betty Ruth Henninger, CPW Historian.
Rev. John Malone resigned from the pulpit of our church in 1977, having served from 1975 to late 1977 to go to a mission church in Oklahoma. Later John entered the United States Air Force as a chaplain.
Our next minister to come as full-time pastor while still attending Memphis Theological Seminary was James Matthews. His family consisted of Linda, and sons Ryan (aged five when they came) and twin sons, Brett and Blake just babies. Jimmy served here for three years, 1978-1981. He left to go to Lawrenceburg, Tennessee.
He was followed by David Watson, who came to use from the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Lexington, Tennessee. His wife, Leota, became our choir director. They had two grown children, Michael and Lorie. Lorie was attending college. He served from 1981-1983. He went to Longview, Texas after leaving here.
Elders serving from 1981-1984 were: Edwin Allison, George R. Allison, Sr., Clyde Foshee, Dr. Joe Hall, Buddy Harris, Gene Henninger, and C. H. Bramlett, Jr.
Elders serving 1984-1986 were: Edwin Allison, George R. Allison, Sr., Clyde Foshee, Buddy Harris, Dr. Ben Koepke, Michael Lott, William Scott.
Deacons serving 1984-1986 were: Porter Arnold, Charles William (Bill) Hall, Alston Jones, Bryan Kays, Michael Ragan, and Michael Scott.
The rotation system of local church government was introduced into our church about this time of our history. This is a combination of the boards of elders and deacons into a Session which began during the interim period between ministers David Watson and Jimmy Matthews' second term here.
In 1984 James Matthews and his family returned to serve our church again. On October 28, 1984 when they appeared at worship service we were all delighted to see this sweet family again. The twin boys, Brett and Blake were growing into school-age boys and Ryan was almost a grown young man. Jimmy Matthews served from October 1984 to April 1987.
During the interim period after the Matthews' left, our church was able to worship under the leadership of several dedicated ministers, namely: Dr. E. R. Knox, Dr. John David Hall and Dr. Ed Herring. We were grateful to these men of God who guided us through these difficult times of "a flock without a shepherd."
Then from Paducah, Kentucky came our next pastor, Rev. W. Edward Jenkins and his wife, Brenda and their young son, Matthew. They brought enthusiasm and warmth to the pulpit. Brenda soon joined our choir and her voice and smile were enjoyed every Sunday. Eddie resigned in May 1990 to go to a Florence, Alabama church.
Under Rev. Jenkins' guidance in December 1988 ground was broken for a new fellowship hall and pastor's study and parking lot to be erected at the back of our education building. The land for this project was donated by Mr. Rosser Alston, son of Mr. and Mrs. Russ Alston, who had given the property on which our church is built. In October 1989 the Rosser Alston Building was dedicated in a ceremony which was attended by several members of the Alston family.
Contributions by members of the Jack F. Rudder family and the David Smith family furnished most of this beautiful building so it was appropriately called the Rudder Family Fellowship Hall.
In August 1990, Rev. Scott Fowler and his family, wife, Linda, and daughter, Hannah arrived to become our new minister. They added a youthful expression of an eagerness to serve God and his people here. We again felt God's touch at Stevenson Cumberland Presbyterian Church through these dedicated young Christians. In a few weeks a baby Joshua was born to Scott and Linda and to our church. Indeed, "our cup runneth over!"
Elders serving in 1991 were: Edwin Allison, Clyde Foshee, Dr. Joe Hall, Jane C. Tipton, Buddy Harris, Gene Henninger, Mike Scott and Clara Scott served as session clerk.
Here at Stevenson Cumberland Presbyterian Church (September 27, 1992) for our second "Homecoming" celebration we find ourselves again--a church in "interim" or between full-time pastors.
Rev. Scott Fowler and family with new daughter, Rebekah, moved to Tuscon, Arizona the end of August to fill the pulpit in a new mission church. We wished them the best and everyone hated to wave goodbye.
During these months of struggle we have all felt frustration, disappointment and uncertainty over our empty manse and pulpit--but as always, God's presence is comforting and again we are blessed by the wonderful, wise direction of our interim pastor, Dr. Morris Pepper and his wife, Ruth. Their devotion and experience of years in Cumberland Presbyterian Church work has softened the sense of loss and given light to our path. Thank God for these two well-rounded Christians to guide us.
On January 1, 1993 our new minister, Rev. Samuel Lewis Foreman and his wife, Jan, have come to us from Madison, Tennessee. They have three young daughters, Rebekah 11, Stephanie 5, and Abigail 2. Our manse is again alive with children's voices and activities. This happy family will surely be a great blessing to our congregation and to the town of Stevenson. Thank you, Father God, for your response to our prayers!
In rereading this history as I have brought it up to date, I find that I failed to mention two of our best loved customs. First, our wonderful church suppers and secondly, the Men's Fellowship suppers. Both of these have no planned menu, but they always amply cover every thing needed for a well-rounded meal.
Church suppers are now called Fellowship suppers, and have been enjoyed by every member of all ages, and great numbers of invited guests. This custom has been ongoing for over 45 years and has now been made a monthly event of the church by the session. Somehow food and Stevenson Cumberland Presbyterian Church blend well. The great amount of food served on these occasions is absolutely unbelievable. The reputation of the women of this church for being good cooks has spread all over the USA where every member from here has gone. The spirit of good fellowship, love and friendship only add flavor to this greatly loved culinary accomplishment of the women of this church . . . our suppers have no peers and very few equals.
The Men's Fellowship organization has been active for many years also and their accomplishments are quiet and heartwarming. They host the annual Easter Sunrise Breakfast following the early morning service, and always come through with a good meal to feed a large crowd. They organized in the early 1950s.