Memphis Historic Churches

   ... in the downtown and mid-town areas


It seems that Memphis was always known as the "City of Churches" or "City of 1000 Churches."  Yet that wasn't always the case.  The earliest settlers - frontiersmen, gamblers, and river men, certainly had little time to devote to religion.  This was a rowdy town and they were far more interested in liquor and the numerous local brothels.  But as more settlers began arriving, religion became respectable, and the first religious congregations began meeting in private homes.  During the middle 19th century, churches of every denomination were being built - one more grand than the other.  As more and more churches were established, the saying "A church on every corner" became very popular, with folks in later years adding "...and a gas station on the other corner."  By the beginning of the 20th century, Downtown Memphis was well established with a distinguished group of 90 churches and synagogues that presented a dignified profile to the city's landscape.  Today, fewer than 20 of these churches remain.  Like so much of the Downtown area, many of these early historical architectural gems have become part of "Lost Memphis."


This page will not include all of those "1000 churches".  Only a selection of the historic churches in the downtown area, and  a few in the mid-town area will be featured.  If you have information and a photo of any church that should be included please contact Gene Gill <>


June West, director of Memphis Heritage says, "If you look at the houses of worship built here in the 1800s and early 1900s, you perceive a sense of pride, a grandeur of faith you don't see anymore.  It's in the stone that was used, in all the architectural elements, the balance and composition."


Click on small the photos to enlarge them. 


Anshei Mischne Synagogue   ... 112 Jackson Av

The Memphis Jewish Community dates back to 1840 when immigrant German Jews came to the city as peddlers from New Orleans and St. Louis.  Among these early immigrants were the Goldsmith's and the Lowenstein's who opened small shops and eventually became leading merchants.  Most of the early Jewish immigrants settled into the Pinch District.  The first Synagogue was established in 1853 in a bank building on Market Square and soon many additional synagogues began to dot The Pinch.   The congregation of this Synagogue  broke away from  another synagogue in 1900 and built

this Synagogue in 1927.    Orthodox Jews need to be within walking distance of their synagogue in order to adhere to traditional strictures against driving or riding on the Sabbath.  Thus there have been numerous mergers, synagogue name changes, etc. as congregations migrated from their original "Pinch" locations.  This synagogue has had several names.  After it ceased to be a Synagogue, it was converted into a nightclub, but it is now vacant and boarded up.  It is on the list "to be demolished".



Bellevue Baptist Church
 ...  70 N. Bellevue

Bellevue Baptist began in 1903 as a small mission of the Central Baptist Church.   The sanctuary shown in the postcard was enlarged many times and a new one was built in 1952.  The growing congregation became one of the largest in the South, and relocated to eastern Shelby County.  Mississippi Blvd Christian bought Bellevue Baptist and this location is now their mid-town campus.


Bellevue Baptist Bellevue Baptist Sanctuary Vintage photo Demolition

75th Anniversary

Interior postcard

1950s Postcard of the interior


<= Bellevue Baptist is now located at I-40 and Appling in Cordova and is known to truckers of the area as "Mile Marker - Fort God."  The church moved here in 1989.

"We were members for 35 years - of the old, but not the oldest Bellevue.  But I did go to the oldest Bellevue to hear Dr. Lee preach, and also for BTYU (Baptist Training Youth Union).  We, as a young group from Hollywood Churches, would board a bus to Bellevue and attend BTYU (party time), and then skip around the corner to the drug store and be back on the steps of the church when the church services were over."        - Elaine McAdams


Beth El Emeth - PLUS
Beth El Emeth Synagogue  ...  Poplar Av between 2nd and 3rd

and B'nai Israel ... Children of Israel ... Temple Israel ... Baron Hirsh ... Anshei Sphard

Orthodox Jews need to be within walking distance of their synagogue in order to adhere to traditional strictures against driving or riding on the Sabbath.  Thus there have been numerous mergers, synagogue name changes, etc. as congregations migrated from their original "Pinch" locations.   The changes are far too complex to cover on a page like this.


Children of Israel  built the synagogue (above) in 1884 and occupied it until 1916.  Beth El Emeth occupied it from 1916 to 1957.  It was demolished in 1957.   An office building now occupies the site.   Children of Israel  moved into a new synagogue also on Poplar Av (below) in 1916.   Baron Hirsh purchased a former African-American church at 4th-Washington in  1912 and remaimed there until their new building was built in the 1950s. 


Children -Israel

Temple of Israel Temple of Israel Samfield Baron Hirsh

Calvary Episcopal Church   ...  135 N. Second

Calvary Episcopal church was consecrated in 1844 and is the oldest Memphis Building in continuous use.  The design was by Rev Philip Alston, the minister, who was an amateur architect.  There were renovations in 1881 and the building has remained virtually unchanged since that time.  It was once covered with a stucco veneer which, in 1961 was removed from the outer walls to expose the clay bricks that were underneath.


Post Card     Interior Calvary Entrance Calvary Parrish House

Vintage Photo at Calvary   



Central Baptist Church  ...  2nd Street, between Beale-Gayoso

This structure stood above all others.  Built by Edward Culliatt Jones between 1868-85, the church was best known for it's 125 foot steeple - the tallest in the city.  Central Baptist was demolished in 1937.  For many years the lot was used for a gas station and parking lot.  Today, there's a parking garage built for Peabody Place in the 1990s.


...with Steeple

Without steeple


Edw C.  Jones




Clayborn Temple   ...  280 Hernando at Pontotoc

This building housed the Second Presbyterian Church until it was sold to the African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1949 and the name changed to Clayborn Temple.  After the name change, the church became an important center for the black community during the Civil Rights Movement.  Martin Luther King spoke at Clayborn several times and the sanitation worker marches started and ended there.  The Temple has been inactive since the 1980s, and was originally on the market for one million dollars - later reduced to $600,000.  It is now being renovated and is scheduled to reopen in 2017 ... and a new "I Am A Man" plaza is being built next to it.  (See Second Presbyterian  - below)


Boarded Interior Decay Interior Decay Interior Decay Vintage

Clayborn today Historical Marker   I am a Man Plaza I am a Man Plaza

Collins Chapel CME Church  ... 678 Washington

This is the oldest African American religious congregation in Memphis, dating back to 1841, when parishioners of First United Methodist at 2nd and Poplar, invited a group of slaves to join Sunday services.  Four years later the number of blacks at the church grew to over 500 and the church deeded its basement to them for separate services.  By 1859 the congregation purchased this lot on Washington and held services outdoor  until the chapel was built in 1860.   It was named for the Rev J. T. C. Collins, the congregations white minister.  Over the years, the congregation has included civil rights pioneer Ida B. Wells, and W. C. Handy.



First Baptist Church 

       ... Second Street & Adams ...Linden & Lauderdale... Parkway and Poplar

The First Baptist has been serving Memphis and the Mid-South since 1839.  In 1845 the church acquired a lot on the northeast corner of Second Street between Adams and Washington where their building was constructed in 1847.  During the Civil War this building was used by the Union Army as a gangrene hospital from 1862-63 and was heavily damaged.  The Second & Adams building was remodeled between 1886-1888 and was subsequently sold in 1905 as the new site for the Shelby County Courthouse. 



First Baptist



In 1907 First Baptist moved to a new location at Linden and Lauderdale where it remained until moving east to Poplar and Parkway in 1951.  This campus was expanded in 1958, 1964, 1983, and 1998.  The First Baptist building at Linden and Lauderdale (See postcard) is still standing and is now Mt. Olive Cathedral C.M.E. Church. 




1846-1886 1887-1906 First Baptist 1906 * 1907-1951

* FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH ...I was just going through photos on the website tonight ... and started trying to identify the church photo.  It is the First Baptist Church that was at Second and Adams (Torn down for the Court Building.  I located the Lowenstein Warehouse building (in the background) first, then compared to the Sanborn map of 1907 (where it is removed as the future site of the Court Building), and then the 1897 Sanborn map, which has it and the walled church yard outlined.  I looked up First Baptist on the website  Churches Page and it is definitely a match!... Phoebe Moore 10/3/2021



 Postcard -First Baptist First Baptist First Baptist

First Beale Street Baptist  ...  379 Beale

This is the first brick church in the south built by and for former slaves to serve their community.  The congregation originated in 1849 in the home of a white Baptist minister.  A city ordinance at the time prohibited blacks from preaching to a congregation and required a white man to be present during all services.  After Memphis fell to Union forces in 1862, these regulations were dropped, but the church continued under the leadership of a white minister until 1864. 


In 1865 the church raised enough money to purchase their lot on Beale.  It then took them more than 22 years to raise enough money to build the magnificent church designed by Edward Culliatt Jones and Mathias Baldwin.  The cornerstone was laid in 1871 and the building finished in 1885.  The twin towers were originally much taller and more ornate.  One tower was damaged during a windstorm in the 1880s and the other was struck by lightning a number of times.  But it remains a graceful and imposing structure.   Ida Wells published her newspaper from here and W. C. Handy's memorial service was held here in 1958. 


First Beale St Baptist

Rare full side view Original towers Towers 1910 Statue 1938

Edw C. jones



First Church of Christ Scientist  ... Dunlap & Monroe


The beautiful church was built around 1911, across from Forrest Park.  The building was sold to the UT Medical Center, who demolished the building in 1961 to build a new structure for their Medical Center.


First Congregational Church   ...  234 S.  Watkins St  ... 1000 S. Cooper

The church was founded in 1862 with 25 members.  Originally known as Union Church, the name changed to Strangers Congregational Church.  It was founded by people who believed that slavery was wrong.  The name was changed to First Congregational in 1909.  In 1991 the church became an "Open and Affirming" congregation by stating that gays and lesbians were welcome into the church.   They celebrated their "Centennial" in 1963.  Their classical modified Ionic building on S. Watkins was designed by Walk C. Jones and dedicated in 1910 and entered the National Register in 1980.    This building may be saved the fate of it's neighbor, The Nineteenth Century Club.  Plans are to preserve the 103 year old building and turn it into seven upscale apartments.  The congregation has now moved to the former Temple Baptist Church at 1000 S. Cooper and today the building is home to over twenty different organizations. 


1st Congregational 1st Congregational Historical Marker

Walk C. Jones

1st Congreg. Plate



First Congregational on Cooper First Congregational on Cooper Temple Baptist 1956



First Presbyterian Church  ... 166 Poplar-3rd

Built in 1884 by Edward Culliatt Jones.  It originally had a large steeple - one of the tallest and most graceful in the city.  It was lost in the church's early years and replaced with a square tower.  Today, the church's weekly Sunday Soup Kitchens feed the needy in downtown Memphis, and the ministry programs help families throughout the Mid-South.


Early Photo Vintage Postcard Souvenir Plate 1st Presbyterian Edw C. Jones


First United Methodist Church   ...  204 N. Second

In 1832 the Methodists built the first religious building in Memphis at this location.  In 1843, they began construction on a larger church which was replaced by a 3rd building in 1887 - the first all-stone church in Memphis.  It was completed in 1893.  This church burned to the ground  in one of the most spectacular fires in the city's history in 2006.  A new Gothic-style church, similar in appearance to the old structure is expected to be completed in 2011.



2006 Fire Ruins after the fire   New Plans

First church in Memphis-1832

Sunday School

First Preacher

First Pastor

John Pepper




History - 1985


Certificate 1900s



A souvenir booklet "The Evolution of a Sunday School" (below) was published in 1924 to celebrate the opening of the Pepper Memorial Sunday School Building next to the First Methodist Church.  The Pepper Building suffered smoke and water damage in the 2006 fire but is still in use.  This very rare booklet is posted in its entirety below:                                                              ... Collection of Dave French.                                                                




1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12




15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28

29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42

43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56

Grace-St. Luke's Episcopal Church  ...  1720 Peabody

Grace church dates back to 1852 where the congregation met in a rented downtown room.  They eventually had their own downtown home at Vance and Lauderdale.  St. Luke's Episcopal Church was founded in 1894 and had a fine home at Union and Idlewild.  In 1912, they moved to their new building at 1720 Peabody.  (Their previous building at Union-Idlewild became the famous Helen of Memphis Shop in 1937).  By The late 1930s, Grace Church had a strong congregation, but found itself without an adequate building.  St. Luke's church had their new church in the heart of Memphis, but had a declining membership.  The two parishes merged in 1940.  The architect of Grace-St. Luke's is Bayard Snowden Cairns of Hanker-Carirns.  He also designed several important downtown buildings, including the Chisca Hotel, St. Mary's Cathedral, and Tech High School.


Grace St. Luke's Grace St. Luke's Rev Allison Interior Memorabilia 1914

Grace St. Luke's has seven extraordinary Tiffany stained glass windows dating back to 1889.  That year, one of the benefactors of the Grace Church, Mrs. W. A. Gage, met a Tiffany Glass representative at the Paris Exposition, and personally underwrote three windows, including the glorious window depicting Christ's ascension.  The church commissioned four more windows during the building of it's new church.  All the windows were installed under the direction of Louis Comfort Tiffany himself.  When Grace merged with St. Luke's in 1940, it brought the windows and they were installed throughout the building.  They are the largest collection of Tiffany windows in the south, and prime examples of Tiffany's stained glass art.


Tiffany "Christ's Ascension"


EMAIL:  "The building that eventually became the Helen of Memphis shop was the former home of St. Luke's Episcopal Church, founded in 1894, which built its first church home at Union and Idlewild in the early 1900s before it moved to a new location in 1912 at Peabody and LeMaster. Its sister congregation, Grace Church, founded in 1852, eventually moved from its downtown home at Vance and Lauderdale, and the two congregations merged to become Grace-St. Luke's Episcopal Church on Thanksgiving Day 1940.  GSL was at one time the largest Episcopal parish in the state"  - Skip Howard, Church Archivist, First Baptist Church of Memphis, 3-23-2013.


Idlewild Presbyterian   ...   1750 Union

The Idlewild congregation was formed in 1891.  This building was officially finished in 1928, just before the Great Depression.  It's considered one of the city's most majestic churches.  It was designed by architect George Awsumb.  The impressive complex of buildings includes the main church, cloistered walkways, a chapter house, and a massive bell tower.  The interior features a French Gothic nave with carved dark oak beams. 


Idlewild Presbyterian   Architect's Drawing  

Geo. Awsumb

1892 Idlewild Presbyterian Cook Book     1920s May Day

Mississippi Blvd Christian Church  ...  974-978 Mississippi Blvd.

Founded in 1921.  It was the first African-American congregation in the city of Memphis to belong to the brotherhood of Christian Churches.  This congregation purchased the old Bellevue Baptist Church at 70 N. Bellevue and that has now become their mid-town campus.


Second Presbyterian Church  ...  280 Hernando at Pontotoc.

Organized in 1844, the church was built in 1891.  Design was supervised by Edward Culliatt Jones.  When the steeple was intact, this had to be one of the most beautiful churches in Memphis.  The Romanesque Revival exterior enclosed an unusual interior that's dominated by the sanctuary.  The building was sold to the African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1949 and the name was changed to Clayborn Temple.  (See Clayborn Temple - above).





Dedication 1893

2nd Presbyterian

2nd Presbyterian


E.. C. Jones


St. John's United Methodist  ...  1207 Peabody

The history of this church parallels the history of Memphis.  St. John's began in the downtown area in 1859 as "Central Church Mission".  By the end of the century it was bursting at the seams and the members built this new sanctuary further out on Peabody.  At the same time they chose to affiliate with another denomination, becoming St John's United Methodist Episcopal Church.  The new church opened in 1907.



St. Luke's United Methodist ...  480 S. Highland

This church has a long and distinguished history.  It was first known as Bethel Methodist.  In 1888 the church moved to Semmes and Southern and was renamed Buntyn Methodist Church.  Then in 1925 the church moved to its present location and became St. Luke's.  The sanctuary was built in 1930 and the Educational wings were added in 1948 and 1955. 



St. Mary's Catholic Church  ...  155 Market

This church, organized in 1862 to serve the German Catholic population of Memphis, was dedicated in 1870.  Services were conducted in the German language.  A steeple was finally completed in 1901, but was removed shortly afterwards for structural reasons.  The interior was modeled after the interior of St. Peter's, though it is much smaller and more brightly painted.


St. Mary's Episcopal Church  ...  692 Poplar near Alabama

St. Mary's Episcopal Church is one of the oldest cathedrals in the South.  This church was the Episcopal Cathedral for Tennessee.  It was begun in 1895 and completed in 1920.  The Diocesan House to the left of the church was built in 1902 as the home for the bishop.  St. Mary's was the third parish organized in Memphis, with Calvary in 1832, and Grace in 1853, being Mission Churches.  The marble altar is a memorial to the Episcopal sisters and priests who died in the 1878 yellow fever epidemic.


Original church 1871

Cathedral-School-Bis House Demolition 1898 School - Cathedral





Souvenir Spoon


St. Patrick's Catholic  ...  277 S. Fourth

The church was established in 1866 at the corner of 4th and Linden.  The first St. Patrick was a two story structure with a school on the first floor and the church on the second floor.  From that time on, St. Patrick's has included education as a significant part of its mission. 

         1906 Postcard      


St. Peter's Catholic Church  ...  190 Adams at 3rd

This is the oldest Catholic Congregation in Memphis.  Designed by Patrick Keely, the building was begun in 1852.  There was already a church here, so the new building was built around the old.  Upon completion, the older building was broken up and carried through the front door, one piece at a time.  It's a Gothic fortress-like building.  There have been additions and improvements over the life of the church.  St. Peter's became the city's first air-conditioned church in 1934.


St. Peters 1892 St. Peters Interior Architect

Temple Baptist Church   ...  986 S. Cooper

Temple Baptist Church opened July 1952...1800 seats.  No other information.  The building is now occupied by the First Congregational Church (See their listing, above)


Temple Baptist 1956 Temple Baptist Sanctuary Temple Baptist Building

Temple Baptist Building


Trinity Lutheran Church   ...  210 Washington Av

Memphis had a wave of German immigrants in the early 1800s.  In 1871 they purchased a lot on Washington Avenue, which was "little more than a cow path with hitching posts and cobblestones".  Because the site was on a bluff, much excavating was necessary.  They completed the first story of the two story building and held services there.  Completion of the building was delayed by the yellow fever plagues of the 1870s and the second floor remained unfinished and unused until 1888. 


Trinity Lutheran


75th Anniversary   Rare photo of the "first story" Trinity Lutheran today  Interior 1930

Union Av Baptist  ...  2181 Union


The church began in 1902 and purchased the land for their church in 1904.  It's known as a very traditional Southern Baptist Church.


Union Avenue Church of Christ   ...  1930 Union

The original group forming the Church of Christ in Memphis first met in homes, but, according to an article in The Christian Chronicle, by Ealon V. Wilson, the small congregation moved to more adequate facilities in The Woman's Building in the late 1890's. Comparatively soon thereafter, it moved into its own building on Gaylord Avenue. The name of the street was later changed to Harbert Avenue.  In 1905, the group moved to this building at 1930 Union Avenue.   The congregation is now Midtown

Church of Christ.  The original congregation now meets at Woodland Hills Church of Christ out east.

Union Av Methodist  ...  2117 Union at Cooper

Built in 1914 in the Classical Revival Style.  The architect was John Glaisford.  Although on the National Register of Historic Places, this Memphis Landmark was no longer in use as a church.  It was sold in 2011 to CVS Pharmacy with the intention of demolishing it to build a pharmacy on the corner.  After losing a legal battle in mid 2011, the building was demolished.



Union Avenue Methodist

Union Avenue Methodist

Demolition 2011


EMAIL:  "I was baptized as a baby at Union Avenue Methodist and was a member until the late fifties.  My father attended until his hundreth year, sitting on the back row where he could 'nod off' occasionally.  The minister there went with me daily to visit Daddy during the month he was in the hospital where he died at 103 years.  I was really angry when they decided to tear the church down to build another drug store, and I wrote a letter of support to June West, at Memphis Heritage."   - Sarah Barrett Cave





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