"The oldest meeting house within the original town limits"
Exactly when a Methodist Episcopal congregation began meeting in Odenville is unknown, but it was prior to 1908. Items from 1908 newspapers show that Rev. J. W. Lee of Asheville was pastor of the Odenville Methodist congregation that year. One entry records that Rev. Lee “…will preach at Liberty church every first Sunday in each month. (9:1) This item shows that Liberty was still used by different denominations as late as 1908. The Methodist met for services in the Odenville Elementary School as well, for a 1909 church directory gives the school as the meeting place. (9:6)
In September, 1908, the Cumberland Presbyterians and the Methodists met for “protracted services” and had “interesting services and appreciative audiences.” It seems that from this revival grew the desire for the Methodists to erect a church building of their own in Odenville. This would be the first church built in Odenville proper. The newspaper announced that “Subscription to build a $1500.00 Methodist church is now being taken which is a certainty. This is just the thing to do. No town is complete without good churches.” (9:5)
By April 1909, the contract for the building had been let, and the paper gives specifics. “Among the many good things coming to Odenville, the latest is the contract for the new Southern Methodist Church. So quietly had this business been projected, the public was hardly aware the enterprise was underway. The contract for the brick was let last week to the Wilpicoba Clay Works at Ragland and the contract for the brick work was awarded to Jas. M. Heard. The brick will likely be on the ground this week and work will commence at an early date. The contract for the lumber was given to the well-known firm of Nelems and Son. of Branchville…."
Murchison and George will superintend the erection of the building while friends of the church of the surrounding country have generously donated work sufficient to practically guarantee its erection, these donations to count as much as money.
The lots, two in number, are 1 and 2 in Block 11, facing Inzer Street, the generous gifts of the President of the Land Co., W. T. Brown, [and] are in the choicest location in Odenville.
“The plan of the build is by Price and Co. of Newark, N. J. through the church Extension Society. The main Auditorium will be 32 x 50 with a Lecture Room 15 x 18 connected by folding doors. The main room will seat 260, the lecture room 60. The seats will be in a semi-circle placing the audience in close proximity to the speaker . The tower will be 9 x 9, 50 feet high. The walls will be 14 feet high, the ceiling 21, finished in native pine and hard oiled. When completed, it will be indeed a handsome and modern building."
“The Building Committee is composed of J. L. Maddox, P. W. Shockley, W. T. Brown, W. R.George, and H. W. White. They are under many obligations to Griffin Bros. for a generous donation of lumber for the new church. This enterprise has the hearty and enthusiastic support of its members [who are] counting it a work of love. A more aggressive body of people cannot be found than this company. Although the youngest denomination to commence work in Odenville, none can surpass them in aggressive work, in hope and pluck. A resident pastor this year and a new Church enterprise underway, should command the admiration and hearty support of all people who admire a Church that undertakes great things for humanity. The ladies of the church have recently organized a Home Mission Society and will undertake the seating of the new church.…They invite the cordial support of the Odenville people, believing as they do that the enterprise is worthy of the hearty aid of all those who love all things good and high.”(9:8)
It seems the money to erect the structure came in slowly. In early September 1909, the newspaper reported that after Sunday worship those present “…were asked to subscribe what they felt willing to give on the structure, and the building fund was brought to $1,000.00.” (9:9) By mid-September, material had been ordered, and the members hoped that the work would begin shortly. (7)
Most of the foundations had been completed in October, and the carpenters were expected to begin around the fourteenth. The newspaper reported that the church “…will be finished up with high grade materials and workmanship and will, when completed, add much to the looks of the section of the town where it is located, just north of the bank building, nearly in the center of Odenville.” (9:10)
The drive for a building had begun late in 1908, but 1909 was a wet one and the crops were poor; therefore funds were slow in coming in. The following three reports in the St. Clair County News indicate the difficulty in getting the building completed.
AUGUST 8, 1910. “The M. E. Church building is growing a little more lately, and if it continues like this a few more days, the meeting can be held in the new building this fall.”
MARCH 10, 1911. "It is said that the Methodist church, started sometime since is now to be completed.”
APRIL 6, 1911. "The Methodist church at this place is being completed. We are certainly glad to see this as it is badly needed."
No other entries are found about the construction of the church; therefore, it seems probable the sanctuary was completed in 1911.
Rev. Charles Wolford is spoken of as the first pastor. The first mention of the Odenville Methodist Church in the North Alabama Journal in November 1911 when the pastor is listed as T. B. Middlebrooks for 1911-1912. A comprehensive list of ministers is on file at the church.
Rev. Sturdivant of Bessemer conducted the 1913 revival. The news reported that he “preached to a large congregation Sunday afternoon at 5 o’clock. He delivered an able sermon which impressed the people very much.” (8:2)
After the Methodist church was completed, other denominations used the sanctuary for their worship services, for it would be several years before the Presbyterian U.S.A. or the Baptist would erect buildings of their own.
The Methodist congregation has grown over the years, and additions and modifications to the building have taken place, although the original structure remains much as when it was first built. Two pieces of furniture original to the church, an oak table and a chair, are in the narthex today. Sunday School rooms were added by Gus Blankenship, Hop Watson, Milton Taylor, Carl Riddle, and Lawrence, Terry, and Richard Blankenship, and Phillip and Donald Staggs.
Some of the church furniture has special significance, having been crafted by Gus Blankenship in memory of people special to him and to the church. The communion table in memory of D. J. Bartlett, the pulpit in memory of Verd Riddle, and the pastor’s chair in memory of Terry Blankenship.
Because of increased membership, it became necessary to rearrange the seating in the sanctuary in 1989. All of the old pews were used, but they were positioned so that there is a single center aisle rather than the two side ones. Wall-to-wall carpet was installed in the church for the first time. The original windows had worn out but were replaced with frames of the same Victorian Gothic shape and with glass a much like the original as possible. In November 1989, two light fixtures from the old Acmar School were donated by Mrs. Garland Fortson and were install in the church.
In 1990, the pews were upholstered, a sound system was installed, and ceiling fans were hung in the choir loft. A portico has been built, its roof line following that of the bell tower so that the new ties in nicely with the old. The Odenville Methodist Church, the oldest meeting house within the original town limits, continues to be a center of Christian activity in our community, reaching out with the message of Christ’s love to a needful world.
From Odenville, Alabama: A History of Our Town.1821-1992
By Joe Whitten, Reprinted with his permission
NOTE: Stained glass windows were added to the sanctuary in 2005.