A Brief History of First United Methodist Church, Charlotte
In the early 1920’s Mr. James B. Duke built a fine home in the newly developed suburb of Charlotte, Myers Park, and he and Mrs. Duke and their small daughter Doris lived there for a few months each year.
In the Duke University Library there is a transcript of an interview with Mr. E.R. Bucher, an influential member of Trinity and, later on, of First Methodist Church. This was tape-recorded in 1963 and consisted of Mr. Bucher’s recollections of Mr. Duke’s association with Dilworth, Trinity, and Tryon Street Methodist Churches.
Mr. Bucher was associated with Duke Power Company and one day Mr. Duke said to him, “You know, I’m going to spend a great deal of time in Charlotte. I think I ought to do something for Charlotte Methodism.”
Dilworth Methodist Church had outgrown its small brick building by this time and Mr. Duke said if they would build a new church out of stone he would give them $50,000. It was during this conference with Dilworth Methodists that something was said about a possible re-consolidation of Tryon Street and Trinity Methodist churches and if these two churches went together it would make a large church with 3,500 or 4,000 members. Mr. Duke said that he didn’t like churches that were too big for the people to know the preacher.
Later on, Mr. D.E. (Zeke) Henderson, who was superintendent of the Tryon Street Methodist Sunday School at that time, took Mr. Duke over to the Tryon Street Church building to discuss the building of a new Sunday School building definitely or alternatively to merge with another church and build one large city church. The upshot of this was that Mr. Duke said, “If you will build a representative downtown stone church, I’ll give you $100,000 toward it.”
The first official discussion of uniting the churches was at a joint committee meeting on February 14, 1921. After Walter Clark’s motion to merge, it was decided to submit a definite merger proposal to the members of both congregations, and within a few weeks committees to work out details of the merger were appointed. Representing Tryon Street were Dr. A.M. Whisnant, Attorney James A. Bell, J.A. Russell (Assistant Clerk of Superior Court), Arthur Wearn (later to become Mayor of Charlotte), and businessmen W.W. Hagood, Sr., and Munsey Smith. Representing Trinity were banker Julian H. Little, E.R. Bucher of Duke Power Company, Attorney Paul C. Whitlock, Dr. J.A. Elliott, and businessmen George W. Patterson and Keely Grice.
Building of The New Church in 1927
The former Oates home on the corner of North Tryon and West Eighth Streets was purchased for $140,000. The land fronted 110 feet on Tryon Street, 396 feet on Eighth Street, and 108 feet on North Church Street. As the years have passed, adjoining property on North Tryon Street and on North Church Street has been purchased for use as parking lots and a children’s play yard.
First Methodist Episcopal Church, South
Tryon Street and Trinity Methodist churches were officially united by Bishop Edwin D. Mouzon at a joint meeting of officials of the two churches in Quarterly Conference on October 28, 1927. This conference took place in the “Adult Sunday School Auditorium,” later to be used as a chapel and now called “Founders’ Hall.”
At this time the sanctuary was not finished and the first church service was held in what is now known as Founder’s Hall on Sunday, October 30, 1927, with Bishop Mouzon conducting the service. The evening service was held in the Carolina Theater because installation of lights had not been completed in the new church building. Bishop Mouzon also conducted this service.
The new sanctuary was first used on March 11, 1928 and Bishop Mouzon preached. (A charter member remembers that the bishop preached for one hour and the service lasted two hours.) There was a week-long celebration and on March 15, 1928 there was an organ concert played by Harold Gleason of the Eastman School of Music. It was reported at this concert there was standing room only with an estimated audience of more than 2,500 people.
The Gold Wedding Ring
Mrs. C.B. Reeves was a small, soft-spoken, gray haired lady, as delicate looking as a fine piece of china. She was a widow, and she and her two maiden daughters, Bertha and Ethel, would always sit on the right side of the church near the “amen” corner. They were always there, and they would always put their offering envelopes in the collection plate each Sunday with their small contributions. They loved their church.
An announcement was made on March 4, 1936 about an anonymous gift of $100,000 to our church. We desperately needed to reduce the indebtedness on our building and went immediately into a campaign to raise another $100,000 from our people to match the anonymous gift. It was during the depression and many had lost their jobs, others had mortgaged their homes, and some had used funds they had saved for their children’s education for the church. These were sacrifices of love.
When she learned about the campaign, Mrs. Reeves came into the church office and offered to give the only thing that she had—her gold wedding ring. Mr. H.B. Simpson, our Business Manager and Treasurer, accepted her gift in the same spirit that it was given. She wanted to have a part in this, and this was all she had to give.
Mr. Simpson framed the $8.00 he received from the sale of the ring. On the Sunday the $100,000 campaign was presented to the congregation, Mr. J. Wilson Smith, teacher of our Men’s Bible Class, showed this to our people and gave the story of the gift of the gold wedding ring as an example of the love and sacrifice we would need to raise $100,000. Needless to say, the campaign was a success and the money was raised.