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        First United Methodist Church

1928 

The significance of the First United Methodist Church should be understood within the overall context of the history of Methodism in Charlotte.

In 1814, David R. Dunlap, a physician and native of Anson County , settled in Charlotte and invited itinerate Methodist ministers to come here and preach.  It was not long before a Methodist Society was formed in town, primarily attracting Presbyterians who had become disgruntled with their churches.  The Methodist preachers spoke out passionately against what they considered the Presbyterian Church’s inappropriate tolerance of such vices as dancing, swearing, and imbibing alcohol; and many former Presbyterians applauded and heeded such messages.1 

Dr. David Dunlap, the father of Charlotte Methodism.

Charlotte’s oldest Methodist Church, purportedly established in 1832, stood at the corner of North College St. and E. Seventh St. or where the First United Presbyterian Church is now located.  Initially, whites and blacks worshiped together, but in 1859 the white members built their own sanctuary, Tryon Street Methodist Episcopal Church, at North Tryon St. and W. Sixth St.  The cornerstone for a replacement house of worship at the same site was laid in 1891. Most members lived within walking distance of the church. 

Charlotte experienced substantial growth in the 1890s, primarily because of the expansion of the local textile and textile-related industry.  This influx of new residents led to the establishment in 1896 of a second Methodist Church.  Named Trinity Methodist Episcopal Church, it stood at 401 South Tryon St.   

Discussions started in 1920-21 about the prospect of uniting Tryon Street Methodist Church and Trinity Methodist Church into a single congregation.  Two considerations were paramount in giving rise to this consideration.  First, the advent of electric streetcars and the concomitant rise of suburbs led to the creation of  several outlying Methodist churches, including Dilworth Methodist Church (1896) and Hawthorne Lane Methodist Church (1915).  The sentiment existed that Charlotte needed an uptown church that could compete in terms of influence and size. Second, James B. Duke, who had purchased and enlarged a home in Myers Park and who had begun residing in Charlotte several months each year, shared these feelings and was willing to contribute $100,000 toward the  erection of an imposing uptown sanctuary for Methodism.   “If you will build a representative downtown stone church, I’ll give you $100,000 toward it,” he told a member of Tryon Street Methodist Church.2

Members of Trinity Methodist Church gather in front of the church shortly before it merged with Tryon St. Methodist Church in 1927.

Tryon Street Methodist Church and Trinity Methodist Church officially merged and formed First United Methodist Church on October 28, 1927.  The first service was held in the new Gothic Revival style church on March 11, 1928.  The architect for the building was Edwin Brewer Phillips of Memphis, Tennessee.3  “The stately Gothic architecture is the first point which strikes the eye of the visitor,” proclaimed the Charlotte Observer.4  In keeping with Duke’s wishes, stone was selected as the building material for the structure.  The Indiana Limestone Company of Bedford, Indiana quarried and produced the limestone for the First United Methodist Church.  “Unselected as to color and texture, it embraces the gray, buff, and variegated stones with texture varying from fine to coarse,” the Charlotte Observer reported. 

First United Methodist Church under construction.

Renovations were made to the building in the 1970s and 1980s under the direction of Ferebee, Walters, and Associates, Architects/Engineers/Planners.5 First United Methodist Church continues to occupy a prominent place in Center City Charlotte, both in terms of physical presence and in terms of ministry.


 

1 The most complete history of First United Methodist Church is found in McEwen, Mildred Morse.  1983.  First United Methodist Church Charlotte, North Carolina.  Charlotte:  Heritage Printers. 

 

2 McEwen, 57.  Mr. Duke had not written the check before he died in November 1925, but his daughter, Doris Duke, was eventually willing to honor her father’s pledge (see McEwen, 82-83).

 

3 Wright, Chistina and Morrill, Dr. Dan L.  1994.  Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Tours Driving And Walking.  Charlotte:  Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Preservation Fund, Inc., 64.  Charlotte Observer.  March 11, 1928.  The Memphis firm was known as Spencer and Phillips until September 1927 when Spencer retired.  Phillips was the architect for the project, and Carl B. Dippel was the supervisor.

 

4 Charlotte Observer.  March 11, 1928.  Phillips was noted for designing churches throughout the Southeast, including the Lutheran Church in Concord, N.C.

5 McEwen,  99.