ROGERSVILLE — Work has begun to refurbish the roof and exterior of St. Marks Presbyterian Church, a historic African-American church at the intersection of Kyle and Hasson Streets.
On Tuesday, March 26, 2019, workers from RJR Construction were busy removing old shingles from the church building’s steeply peaked roof and preparing for the installation of new shingles.
Watching the work was Nancy Barker, who leads the Rogersville Main Street program and is executive director of the Rogersville-Hawkins County Chamber of Commerce.
Barker said she was acting in her Rogersville Main Street program capacity on Tuesday, and as she watched the work get underway, told the Review that the proceeds from two different grants will be used pay for the roof replacement and for other repairs and upgrades to the exterior of the building that are designed to bring it back to the way it looked in the early 20th century.
The exterior work, Barker said, is expected to be finished in September of this year.
The church building dates back to 1912, according to Barker who has been working with others for years to get the church building restored to its former glory.
The St. Mark’s Presbyterian Church congregation was established in about 1875. Rev. William H. Franklin, DD, was its first minister, serving until 1926. Franklin was also the president of Swift Memorial Junior College, which was adjacent to the church.
Rev. Franklin and his wife are buried on the former Swift Memorial Junior College campus near the church.
“The church was closely associated with the college,” Barker said. “Swift students and faculty were required to attend worship services at St. Marks twice each week.”
The church building site, she said, was purchased some time after 1885 for the campus of Swift Memorial Junior College. The sanctuary, which was built in 1912, is a on a brick foundation. Its exterior walls feature patterned wood shingles, a characteristic of Shingle Style architecture. The building is believed to be the only example of Shingle-Style architecture in downtown Rogersville.
The building has a high peaked roof with a bell tower on one side. Stained-glass windows were a prominent feature of the sanctuary although those on the Hasson Street side of the structure were removed after the building sustained severe damage from a 1970 wind storm, according to Barker.
She noted that all the existing stained-glass windows were saved, although some are damaged. Plans are to have all the windows restored by a craftsman in Jonesborough and then reinstalled.
Barker recalled that, as a young girl, she noticed that a stained-glass window above the church’s main entrance doors on Kyle Street featured sheep. Later, as an adult, she said she mentioned the sheep in the stained glass window to others and was told she was wrong. But, as she pointed out to a Review reporter on Tuesday, there is, in fact, at least one sheep in one of the windows above the church’s main entrance doors.
As Barker pointed out on Tuesday, there are two front entrances to the church building. The western door was originally for women and the eastern door was for men, according to Barker. She noted that men and women formerly sat separately during services at the church, according to the customs of the day.
Swift Memorial College closed in 1955, and St. Marks Church and other properties associated with college were sold to Hawkins County the following year, but the St. Marks congregation was permitted to continue using the church building. A day care center operated in the church basement between 1973 and 1979.
With dwindling membership, the St. Marks congregation stopped holding regular worship services in 2000 and the congregation dissolved in 2002, according to Barker.
The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2006 for its importance to the local African-American community and as a “fine example of 20th-century Shingle Style architecture.”