THE HISTORY OF CAHABA HEIGHTS UNITED METHODIST CHURCH
It has been said that Methodism has made more history and recorded less of it than any denomination in America. This is certainly true of “Cahaba Heights Church”, though not always by design. Twice in the years of this church, fire has destroyed the majority of the records kept until those times. Very little has been done to achieve the recovery of these records, again, not necessarily by design, as the early history of the branch of Methodism to which this Church belonged has been badly recorded.
Our church beginning was way back in 1879. That year a handful of residents in the little Cahaba Valley community gathered together with their pastor, the Reverend Robert Lender, to form a church. The group banded together into a congregation of the “Methodist Protestant Church”.
A log cabin was built near the Cahaba River located on the Dodd Ford Road. The church was soon nick-named the “Dodd’s Church.” The area grew and with it the church also grew. In 1884 the church members purchased a lot in the eastern section of our village to better serve the community. A building was erected on the property near the intersection of what we now know as Cahaba Heights Road and White Oak Drive. Because no paint had been used on the exterior of the frame building, and the weather roughened the boards as seasons passed, the church became known as the “Rough Edge Church.” But formerly, it was known as the “New Hope Methodist Protestant Church”.
New Merkel Methodist Church
In honor of the supervising engineer, the community became known as “Merkel.” But due to sanitary conditions and flooding, the employees moved their families about one-half mile to the west and in 1909 the area became known as “New Merkel.” The community continued to grow in 1890, and to properly serve its increased membership, the church decided to enlarge. As the present property was not sufficiently large enough to allow for needed expansion, it was traded in on a larger tract up the mountain on Pipeline Road near the standpipe which was used in helping to pump the water to Birmingham. This area is still referred to as The Standpipe, but it was dismantled in 1980. A two- story building was built near where our organist, Ginger Dismukes now live, not only to house the church but also fulfill the need for a public school in the community.
In 1897, a cemetery was started in the area. Since our church was located in the same area, it became our church cemetery. According to the markers, there were six people buried that year. With the move up the mountain, all seemed to prosper, until the winter of 1904, when the building was completely destroyed by fire with all of our church records.
Between the years 1904, with the disastrous fire, and 1908, the congregation of “The Methodist Episcopal Church, South”, also represented in the community at that time, shared their building with our congregation. Then in 1908, the first structure on our present property was built. The church, roughly thirty by sixty-three feet was built in the location of our present Narthex and kitchen. This building was known as “New Hope Methodist Protestant Church”, but more commonly called the “Old Plank Church.” The “Old Plank Church” is romantically linked to my family. One Saturday evening, Miss Ola Wright was sweeping out the church to help prepare it for Sunday Services. Louis Brasher stopped by and proposed marriage and she accepted and the event took place on July 15, 1923, with Reverend J. P. Morgan, then pastor officiating.
Continuing progress found church members embarking on another building campaign in 1925. The results was a modern red brick building — this one called “New Merkel Methodist Church.” This church was located in the area of our office and choir rooms on the west side.
In the year 1927, is revered in this church’s memory as it marked the official Dedication of the new Sanctuary — which indicated the building was debt free within two years after its completion. Offsetting the glory of the Dedication Ceremonies however, was another disastrous fire in 1928, which completely destroyed the parsonage and most of the church records. Immediately the parsonage was rebuilt.
In 1931, is remembered at the “New Merkel Methodist Church” with the passing of a beloved former minister, the Reverend W. D. Stewart, who had served as the first pastor in the “Old Plank Church”. Reverend Stewart is buried in our church cemetery, and is the only former minister of this church to be buried there.
The year 1939 is an historic year for all Methodists, as the Uniting Conference brought together the Methodist Protestant Church, the Methodist Episcopal Church and the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, into one unified body, known as The Methodist Church. Each of the three branches held individual Conferences in 1939, prior to November; each affirmed merger, and the first Annual Conference of the Methodist Church, North Alabama Conference, was held at First Methodist Church in Woodlawn on November 2-6, 1939.
Another name change came in 1953 when the community changed its name to “Cahaba Heights” and the church’s name became “Cahaba Heights Methodist Church”.
In 1957 the congregation again proposed a building program — far more impressive — much bigger than anything ever before conceived for this church. The work proceeded satisfactorily for a time, but as the funds available seemed to be going out faster than anticipated, other arrangements had to be made. The men of the church took over the physical construction of the church themselves to completion.
Later, an educational wing was added on the south end of the building. With this being completed, the old red tile brick church was dismantled in 1967 making way for the construction of a new two story addition on the west side, consisting of the church office, pastor’s office, chapel, library, and a classroom on the ground floor with choir rooms and Parlor on the second floor. The corner stone from the old red tile brick church has been installed in the wall by the table where the bulletins are located in the Narthex. In the year 1968, the Annie T. Jones Memorial Tower was completed, bringing the proposed plans to a state of near completion. The stylized “Crown of Thorns” design of the tower was further enhanced when the twenty-five foot cross was added to its height. Presently, our tower houses the bell from the old red brick church.
In 1969 offered Methodist historians another opportunity in recording events of great historical importance, as during that year, the “Methodist Church” completed the plans for, and merged with the “Evangelical United Bretheren Church” to become “The United Methodist Church”. So now we are the “Cahaba Heights United Methodist Church”. In 1981, the Fellowship Hall was named the Brasher Fellowship Hall in honor of Louis and Ola Brasher. They both became members in the early 1900 as their parents and grandparents were charter members of the church.
Finally in 1990, the sanctuary was refurbished. The front of the church and choir loft was moved from the west end of the sanctuary to the south side of the building and a hall extended all around the sanctuary.
At present, we have around 375 members on role and growing, with over 100 in regular attendance.
This is the history of our church as I was able to compile from several different sources and pictures. Over approximately130 years, my mind becomes sort of fuzzy with remembering some dates and places.