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