history of the Fruitland Presbyterian Church
by, L. E. "Red" Anthony
For my Mom, who has attended the little Church for over fifty years and the rest of the Faithful Few that have managed to keep it open for worship.
In growing up in the little town of Fruitland, on highway 45, between Humboldt and Trenton, in the 1940s and early 50s, we attended the Fruitland Presbyterian Church. An old sign on the Church building stated, Est. 1825. The date didn't mean anything to me at the time, and never even asked about it. A few years ago when I caught the genealogy fever, times and places in history became more important to me. The process of tracing my family roots, caused me to study the history of Tennessee and more so of Gibson County. I then realized what a significant part this little Church and its members shared in the early history of this County.
Some of those original twenty members that listened to Rev. Hodge preach the gospel at the McLeary Camp Ground, probably were in attendance at the first court held in the new log courthouse at Trenton in April of 1825. Some of them were counted in the 500 residents of this area in 1823 when Congressman David Crockett introduced the bill to established Gibson County. Thanks to Mr. Johnny Mathews of Fruitland for helping with this information.
"The first Church of any denomination established West of the Tennessee River"
In 1825, Rev. Hodge, a Presbyterian Minister, organized a Church at McLeary Camp Ground, about 2 and one half miles Northwest of what is now Humboldt, Tennessee. Humboldt wasn't established for over 30 years later. The Church was called Shiloh, but was changed when moved to its present location at Fruitland.
From the 1818 Treaty of Isaac Shelby and Andrew Jackson with the Chickasaw Indians, the first White settlers had been allowed in this area for about 5 years when this group met to start the little church. Gibson County was just 2 years old at this time, being established in 1823. The little town of Gibsonport, on the Forked Deer River, which was later changed to Trenton, was started about this same time ( 1825).
About 1836, the Church was moved from the McLeary Camp Ground to another site where a Cemetery was also started, now known as "Old Shiloh burying ground ". It remained here until 1886, then moved a short distant to another location and renamed "New Shiloh Presbyterian Church." In the fall of 1911, a lot was purchased at Fruitland for 100 dollars. A contract was given to M. Thompson for 500 dollars to move the building to this lot. It was used for worship services until the night of March 20, 1913, when the Church was completed demolished by a storm. The present building was completed for use in July, 1913. It has been in continuous use since that date. Some of the same family lines have worshiped in this Church since it was established at the old McLeary Camp Ground in 1825.
On Friday, October 23, 1925, The Church celebrated its 100th anniversary. Mr. Hugh T. Bennett was Clerk of the Session. The following is his account of the celebration meetings.
Friday, October 23, 1925, was a memorable day in the history of our church at Fruitland. For on this day we celebrated our 100th anniversary. It was indeed an unusual occasion. Vistors came from Presbyterian churches all over Gibson County. The Humboldt Presbyterian church was well represented by its pastor and members, many of whom were former members of our church, then known as Shiloh Presbyterian church. As we consider our church the mother church of Presbyterianism in West Tennessee, we invited Memphis Presbytery to be represented at our centennial celebration. Presbytery appointed a committee consisting of Rev. H. S. Henderson, Moderator, Hickory Withe, Tn.; Rev. A. B. Curry, pastor of the Second Presbyterian, Memphis,Tn.; Rev. J. W. Orr, pastor of the McLemore Avenue Presbyterian Church, Memphis, Tn.; and Elder John Johnson of the Second Presbyterian Church, Memphis, Tn.. The committee was instructed to devise a stone monument or marker to be set up in the church yard near the new concrete highway. Gibson County, proud of this historic landmark of "frontier days", will aid Presbytery in this worthy enterprise.
The program was carried out as follows:
From 10:30 AM, until noon: Welcome address by the pastor , Rev. W. E. Powell. Reply by H. S. Henderson. Solo, "Hold Thou My Hand", by Mrs. W. E. Powell.
Reminiscences, by Rev. A. B. Curry: Volunteer remarks by Esquire W. F. McRee of Trenton Presbyterian church, Mr. Alvin Hassell of the Concord Presbyterian church, and Honorable Charles Rooks of Humboldt, editor of the Courier-Chronicle newspaper.
From 2 to 3:30 PM--"Historic Presbyterian Churches in West Tennessee," by Rev. A. B. Curry: Solo, "The Heart that was broken for me," by Mr. John Sharp of the Humboldt Church. Sermon by Rev. J.W. Orr.
Evening service: Duet, "There is Room in God's Love," by Misses Finleys, of Humboldt. Sermon by A. B. Curry.
Below is a historical sketch prepared by Mr. Hugh T. Bennett, Clerk of the Session.
We have invited you here today to celebrate with us the 100th anniversary of the organization of this church. We are 100 years old and very pleased to have so many friends and relatives of former members with us on this occasion. It is almost impossible to give a full history of this church due to the fact that about 40 years ago the records were destroyed by a fire in the home of Rev. F. L. Goff. Therefore, I am going to give just a sketch of the history of Shiloh church. Having been one of the earliest and we claim the first church of any denomination established west of the Tennessee River, this church has been a nursery to many other churches and denominations. She has been almost a mother to the Humboldt and Brazil churches, for both these churches were organized by former members of the Shiloh Church, but she has given of her noblest and best without a murmer. Those who have been reared within her bounds and who have worshiped in her courts are now scattered thoughout many states of the union. The states that have profited most by our loss within the past years are the states of Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Oklahoma and Texas.
From information and memory we have, this church was organized in the year 1825, by Rev. Hodge, a Presbyterian Minister, at McLeary camp ground about two and one half miles northwest of Humboldt, now known as McLeary burying ground. Twenty members composed this organization. We do not have a complete list of these members, however, some of them were as followers: Joseph McKnight, Nancy, Polly and Gale McKnight. John C. Gillespie and wife, Andrew McLeary and wife, Henry Allison, Jane Allison, William M. Allison, Hugh Allison and wife and Mrs. Isaiah Penn.
A deed was given to this property by Andrew McLeary, who has three granddaughters now living, two of whom are members of this church, Mrs. Mattie Bennett and Mrs. Rebecca Powell. It will be of interest to state that our present pastor, Rev. W. E. Powell, is a great grandson of Andrew McLeary who deeded the first property to Shiloh church, and together with Mr. Powell there are 27 grandchildren and great-grandchildren members of this church.
About the year 1836, the church was moved from McLeary camp ground to a site three miles northeast of Humboldt. It is now known as Old Shiloh burying ground. It is impossible to give the membership at that time due to the fire of 1886. However, from county records, I found that John M. Becton deeded this property to Shiloh Presbyterian church and the trustee's named were: Henry Allison, James M. Sharp and William M. Becton, and dated May, 7, 1836. Rev. Hodge was the first pastor of the church, and was followed by Rev. Becton. Dr. E. S. Campbell preached there for 25 years, followed by Revs. B.M. Faris, McNutt, Sloan, A.E. Graves, Ware, Anderson, Caldwell, Morrow, Stephenson, McNeilly, and F.L. Goff.
In september, 1885, Presbytery held its regular meeting in Shiloh church. On Sept. 11, 1885, session and congregational meetings were held and the subject of repairing the building was discussed and plans proposed. These plans were not carried out, and on Nov. 3, 1885, a meeting was held with Rev. Goff as Moderator. Elders present, A. W. Sloan, E.S. Campbell, and Dr. J. W. Penn, of Humboldt church. A meeting was called to be held on Nov. 21, 1885 to vote on moving the church. At the meeting was a written statement from W. N. Bennett, that he would donate two acres near the High Hill public school on which to build a new church. The offer was accepted and a building committee appointed, namely, the Elders of the church with A.W. Sloan as chairman. The committee to solicit funds was: James A. Sloan, George A. Campbell, W. J. Penn, Mrs. Mattie Bennett and Mrs. W.J. White. The first services were held in the new church in October, 1886 by Rev. Goff, with Rev. J. T. RothRock present.The new church was known as New Shiloh Presbyterian Church.
Ministers serving the New Shiloh church were, Revs. F. L. Goff, H. Petry, S.H. Spencer, J.G. Garth, R.I. Long, J.E. Berryhill, F.L. Allen, and J. Marion Stafford. One hundred and three members were recived into full fellowship and communion of the church while it was near High Hill school.
In the fall of 1911 and the early part of 1912 the church was moved from New Shiloh to Fruitland on the present site, a distant of about one and a half miles. The committee in charge was composed of N.W. Stewart, chairman, L.C. Cooper, R.T. Powell, and Hugh T. Bennett. The lot was purchased for 100 dollars and a contract let to M. Thompson for 500 dollars to move the building to Fruitland. Immediately after the church was moved to this site a Sunday School was organized, there was preaching on the second Sunday by Rev. J. Marion Stafford, with many additions to the church during the first year. On the night of March 20, 1913, the church building was completely demolished by a cyclone. We found that we had cyclone insurance in the amount of 800 dollars, and this enabled us to rebuild. Mr. J.E. Campbell, a former member and elder but at this time a member of the Humboldt church, was given the contract to build this, our present house of worship, being ready for the regular appointment in July, 1913.
Ministers serving this church are, Revs. J. Marion Stafford, F.G. Mason, E.S. Brainard, A.E. Grover, and W. E. Powell. One Hundred and eight members have been received into full fellowship and communion of the church at this location. Elders serving since 1886 are; J.D. Carne, A.W. Sloan, E. S. Campbell, W.P. Barnett, J.E. Campbell, W.J. Penn, A.C. McLeary, W.N. Bennett, N.W. Stewart, G.A. Campbell, W.L. Hassell, J.T. Stewart, T.F. Campbell, Hugh T. Bennett, R.T. Powell, W.A. Cooley, and Chester Penn.
This is complete to the 23rd day of October, 1925.
Ministers serving the church from 1925; Revs. W. E. Powell, William Orr, W.F. Patch, W. E. Powell, J.C. Hines, R.W. Hudson, Joe C. Gardner, and Glenn A. Williams. Elders ordained since 1925: L.W. Wood, J.M. Mathews, Lon B. Lett, and Claude Hicks, Sr.
Deacons ordained since 1889: George A. Campbell, W.N. Bennett, T.F. Campbell, Chester Penn, Hugh T. Bennett, Robert T. Powell, James T. Stewart, L.C. Cooper, Joe Lett, Ralph Powell, W. E. Powell, Walter Cooley, C.H. Lewis, Lon B. Lett, I.K. Hardison, Hugh T. Bennett, Jr., Grady Cooley, Roderic Hardison, Clayton Powell, Jerry Hardison, Fred Payne, Johnny Mathews, and Cordie Reeves.
This is to December 10, 1949.
*This church was thought to be the oldest church in Gibson County. On June 23, 2015, a lightning strike caught the church on fire and it burned almost to the ground. The remaining congregation of about 8 people held their last service on the church grounds on Sunday, June 28, 2015, disbanding the oldest church in the area.