I have a lot of interesting friends. Jonathon Fagan—a neighbor for a decade before both of us moved house—is a reporter for a local paper, in law school, and does remodeling construction to keep hearth and home (and Ashley!) together. A lot of that remodeling is actually historic preservation—and that’s how I happen to have this story of yet another old church.
Yeah, you don’t have to go to Europe to find interesting old churches. 🙂 Here in the American South we have plenty of ’em—and plenty of amateur historians too. Recently Jonathon got to work on a little historical mystery.
The story starts in Fosterville, Tennessee, an unincorporated community in Rutherford County with a post office, two churches, a couple dozen homes, and not much else. The Church of Christ there needed some restoration work, which has recently been completed and was ongoing for six months. “The church was built in 1886 and survived a pair of tornadoes in 1890 and 1923, which devastated the surrounding railroad community and killed one of its prominent founding elders,” the Murfreesboro Post reports. My friend Jonathon was doing the work.
We found some of the most interesting artifacts and inscriptions in the building’s iconic steeple, and tracked down their source in the Fosterville Cemetery. It’s quite rare for a Church of Christ of that era to have had a wooden structure with so many unique design elements, and the congregation has done a fine job of preserving it for more than 135 years.
What they learned was so interesting they got the Rutherford County Historical Society and the Association for the Preservation of Tennessee Antiquities involved, then planned a big fish fry on the grounds. The choir would sing songs from the 1860–1890 era and tours would be given.
On the day, the Nashville Scene tells us,
Adcock spoke movingly about the ways that faith and family intertwine with location to give the church a rich history that is built right into the shape of the building. He knew which timbers for the building had come from which local farms. And he and Fagan spoke about how they’d found the metal apparatus earlier church members had attached to the building after the tornado in order to attach their oxen to the building and pull it mostly square again. …
While Fagan and Adcock were restoring the steeple, they found a small Masonic charm nailed into the wood, with a set of initials written in pencil by it. They also found another bit of carpenter’s graffiti with the same initials and the name of his wife and their wedding day. They were able to find the dude, Horace P. Edwards, in a nearby cemetery.
And then it appears that Fagan gave some thought to the steeple, which is unusually elaborate for a Church of Christ church built in the 1880s. Just a quick perusal of Google images for Church of Christ churches will show you how odd this steeple is. (There are some fancy downtown church steeples, but in general the Churches of Christ that have steeples tend to have ones with more simple designs.) Fagan and Adcock, though, seem to have had a hunch based on the presence of that Masonic symbol, and they went and measured the angles of the steeple. The top part of the steeple has a 33-degree angle. The pointed bits are at 90-degree right angles.
I think that’s just fascinating. Jonathan posted all this on Facebook, and a friend of his reminded interested parties (moi) that those two angles not only represent Masonic symbols, but are based on the mathematical equation known as the golden ratio, “which nature itself mimics in everything from snowflakes to flowers.”
My father’s father, Harry, was a Mason. Daddy wasn’t, but he had great respect for them, and he told me once, in my teens, if I ever got into trouble, bad trouble, “and I’m not here to help you,” the Masons would because of my connection through my grandfather. Daddy was dead serious when he said this. (To this day I can’t imagine what he meant by bad trouble, nor why he thought I might get into any, but in any event, I haven’t had occasion to call on the Masons.)
I’m sorry I learned about this after the fact. The church is only about eight miles from the house, and I would’ve loved to run out there and take the tour and a few pictures. There are some photos in the two articles linked here, though, and the link below is the Google Maps location. Wait for it—they even have street view out there!