|City/Town: • Birmingham|
|Location Class: • Religious|
|Built: • 1930 | Abandoned: • N/A|
|Status: • Abandoned|
|Photojournalist: • David Bulit|
Mount Vernon Methodist Church
Mount Vernon Methodist Church was organized in 1884 in a small frame structure located at 23rd Avenue and 22nd Street in Birmingham, Alabama. The church was served by the following men as pastors: J. D. Simpson, A. J. Copeland, G. L. Jenkins, J. W. Carey, George Stoves, C. M. Hensley, W. P. Blevins, and J. L. Ferhuson. The board of trustees consisted of C. W. Green, J. D. Ragen, E. J. Orr, L. E. Price, J. H. Berry, and Dr. Black.
In 1902, Reverend J. W. Johnson was appointed pastor. On March 8, 1904, a mass meeting was held at the church and was called to order by Johnson who briefly stated its purpose; that purpose was to raise funds for a new brick church edifice. Reverend James H. McCoy, pastor of the Five Points Methodist Church, whose congregation was in process of erecting the monumental structure located at 1045 20th Street South, was introduced and addressed the crowd on behalf of the movement. Presiding elder of the Birmingham District, Reverend John Dixon Simpson, was the next speaker and upon closing his address, he began accepting funds, and in a short time, $2000 had been raised towards the construction.
A building committee was organized and composed of R. M. Johnson, C. M. Green, J. H. Berry, L. P. Howell, J. O. Ragen, E. J. Orr, and L. E. Price.
A new location was chosen just two blocks from the old church which was deemed more convenient as it was closer to the car line. The cornerstone was laid on June 26, 1904, and witnessed by a crowd of 400 people. Reverend J. D. Simpson acted as master of ceremonies and was assisted by several other pastors of the district. The exercises were opened with the hymn, “How Firm Our Foundation.” Reverend E. H. Mabry read the prayers which were followed by the reading of the lesson from the discipline by Reverend J. H. McCoy.
Inside the cornerstone was the name of Elizabeth Truss who named the church in 1884. Along with her name were the names of the pastors, trustees, the building committee, copies of the Alabama Christian Advocate and the Wesleyan Advocate, and the discipline of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. The exterior was inscribed with “Mt. Vernon Methodist Church, A. D. 1904. The Rev. J. W. Johnson, Pastor. R. M. Johnson, Architect.” Johnson was the city inspector of weights and measures whose father was a well-respected doctor in Ensley, and a licensed minister of the Methodist Church.
The church was built of sandstone brick made by the Birmingham Lime and Cement Company. The brick was said to resemble white marble. The building consisted of the main auditorium with a seating capacity of 700, a gallery, and three Sunday school rooms. The final cost of its construction was $6000. The following preachers served the church as pastors: Hoyt M. Dobbs, Dr. Francis Woodward Brandon who also served as the first pastor of the Fountain Heights Methodist Church and was instrumental in its construction, J. S. Glasgow, J. L. Britain, L. F. Stansell, E. M. Glenn, George Boyd, and Dr. William Monroe Harris.
Dr. William Monroe Harris
When Reverend William Monroe Harris first came to Mount Vernon Methodist Church in 1923, he expected to stay for about a year. In the North Alabama Methodist Conference, it is customary for pastors to be moved frequently, but in Rev. Harris’ case, he would serve at Mount Vernon for 21 years.
Before Mount Vernon, Rev. Harris served four years as a pastor at East Gadsen Methodist Church and another four years in Collinsville. It was here in Collinsville where his first son, William Monroe Harris Jr., would be born and would later serve as a surgeon at Carraway Methodist Medical Center. Rev. Harris also served three years at the Eleventh Street Methodist Church in Gadsen.
Rev. Harris served at Mount Vernon from 1923 to 1930, and it was under his ministry that a new church and parsonage were constructed at a total cost of $160,000 with an indebtedness of $60,000. In the Fall of 1930, Harris became the presiding elder of the Gadsen District and served in that position for four years before returning to Mount Vernon. When he returned, he found the church was still in debt and had accumulated interest. Under his leadership, the church was able to pay off the debt, and on September 15, 1940, the handsome Mount Vernon Methodist Church, which still stands there today, was officially dedicated by Bishop J. L. Dercell.
Since its construction, the church has been served by several pastors including Dr. Joe E. Morris, Dr. William Graham Echols, and Dr. Arthur N. Nabels. By 1940, the church’s membership had grown to 1,250, and to 1,600 by 1948. It was this same year that Rev. Harris moved to Gadsen to become the district’s superintendent. During his time in Birmingham, he not only built up the congregation at Mount Vernon but also gave back to the community which supported them. He helped organize the first Lions Club in North Birmingham and also helped organize the North Birmingham Merchants Association. He was also active in establishing a day nursery in the area.
The church continued to grow after Harris’ departure and continued giving back to the community. The church adopted the slogan, “The hand that gives is the hand that gathers.” In 1957, a $210,000 youth center and education building was constructed in order to provide a program throughout the entire week. In July 1963, a new Activities Building was completed at a cost of $150,000, located just north of the church; a building which still stands to this day.
Gardendale-Mt. Vernon Methodist Church
By the 1970s, many of the church members had moved to Gardendale due to what was described as a “changing neighborhood,” and formed Gardendale Methodist Church. Mount Vernon’s membership was dwindling and Gardendale Methodist was faced with the eventual loss of the building due to the construction of Interstate 65. On June 1, 1975, it was decided to merge the two congregations to form Gardendale Mt. Vernon United Methodist Church, and a new church was to be built.
Some parts of Mount Vernon Methodist Church were salvaged and used in the new church including the pipe organ and stained glass windows. The architectural style of the new church was Colonial and very early on in the design process, the idea of changing it to Gothic was floated so that the windows from Mount Vernon could be used, but no changes were made. The sale of the former Mount Vernon Methodist Church was up to the congregation with some sources stating it could be turned into a funeral home or could be used for office space, or simply sold to a black congregation.
The property was later sold and used by Faith, Hope, and Charity Ministries and the King Kids Academy. By the 1980s, the neighborhood had declined with one incident occurring just outside the church in 1981. Reverend J. King Chandler III was giving 22-year-old Willie Maybes Mobley and another man a ride when the three got into an argument, resulting in Rev. Chambler being shot in the chest and killed. Mobley was initially placed under 5 years probation, but would later serve 10 years in prison for violating his probation by giving a police officer a false name and attempting to flee.
Today, the property is owned by Equivest Financial LLC, a Michigan-based financial investment firm. The structural integrity of the church is likely compromised and would require demolition if purchased due to multiple collapses throughout the building.
Birmingham Post-Herald. (June 27, 1904 p. 3). CORNER STONE OF NEW CHURCH LAID
The Birmingham News. (June 27, 1904 p. 10). CORNERSTONE OF NEW CHURCH PUT IN PLACE
The Birmingham News. (March 9, 1904 p. 5). NEW BRICK CHURCH WILL BE ERECTED
The Birmingham News; Danny Danenburg. (January 4, 1948 p. 2). Mount Vernon Congregation Proud of Dr. Harris’ Service
The Birmingham News. (September 14, 1940 p. 6). Mount Vernon Methodist Will Present Dedication Program
The Birmingham News; Claude Keathley. (November 16, 1956 p. 24). Mount Vernon Methodists plan $210,000 enlargement
Birmingham Post-Herald. (June 1, 1963 p. 3). Mount Vernon To Consecrate Building
Birmingham Post-Herald; Leonard Chamblee. (June 28, 1975 p. 3). Two Methodists churches merge