A History of Dodson Chapel

Hermitage, Tennessee

1812 – 2012


How does one determine when a church began?  Many accomplish this task by referring to the date on which a building was begun or put into use, but a church is not a building.  It is a group of people by Biblical definition: “Wherever two or three are gathered in my name.”

The term “Methodist” was first applied to a group at Oxford, in England, in 1729.  In a very real way, the roots of Dodson Chapel United Methodist Church go back to that group, but it was not a church.  Indeed, the acknowledged founder of the movement, John Wesley, did not consent to its being a separate church from the Church of England until after the American Revolution.  Prior to that time, he considered it to be a movement within the Church of England that sought to revitalize that church.

Anglican clergy in America found themselves in an untenable situation when the American colonists revolted against King George.  King George was the head of the Church of England.  How could they remain faithful to the head of their church and not incur the wrath of their rebellious parishioners.  Most of them decided they could not do this, so they returned to England, leaving the colonists without ordained clergy to meet their spiritual needs.  Methodists had been working within the colonies since the late 1760’s, when lay preachers Philip Embry and Barbara Heck began to work in New York.  In 1770, Wesley had sent Frances Asbury to organize the work and superintend it, but he was no more ordained than were Embry and Heck.

In 1784, Wesley recognized that he must do what he was loathed to do if his preachers were to meet the needs of the Americans.  He ordained the Rev. Dr. Thomas Coke and sent him to the United States with instructions to ordain Asbury, as well. Once that ordination had taken place, a new denomination had been born.  It would be known as the Methodist Episcopal Church.

In 1802, there were sufficient Methodists west of the Appalachian Mountains for a Western District Conference to be held at Strother’s Meeting House in Fountainhead, Tennessee. At that conference, Rev. William McKendree was appointed Presiding Elder of the Kentucky District. In 1808, McKendree would attend a conference in Baltimore, where he was elected to serve as Bishop.

Methodism had been in the Tennessee area long before 1812 as some of the first settlers in the Tennessee area were Methodist. The Tennessee Conference was organized at Fountain Head, Tennessee, on November 12, 1812 (1) by two great bishops of the Methodist Episcopal Church in America, Bishop Francis Asbury and Bishop William McKendree. One wonders if the signs of the times did not play a large hand in the apparent ease with which the Tennessee Conference was organized. Considering the momentous events of the years 1811 – 1812, one can begin to see how it was that the soil was properly prepared to receive organized Methodism in Tennessee.

Tradition tells us that one of the early families to come to this area bore the name of Wright. Someone in this family gave the land for the Methodist Episcopal Church known as Wright’s Chapel. This was an early predecessor of Dodson Chapel United Methodist Church. This building was situated on the Wright property, 200 yards back of the Mark Baker land, just above the Pugh property on Old Lebanon Dirt Road (2) next to Wrights Cemetery. Several members of the Wright family have continued their membership in this church through the years.

Sometime during the period 1812 – 1830 Wright’s Chapel was superceded by Stoner’s Lick Methodist Episcopal Church.  It was a log structure that stood on the west side of Dodson Chapel Road across from the present building. It received the name Stoner’s Lick because at the point where a stream which flowed under the Swift property and a stream from a spring on the Dodson property merged and flowed into Stoner’s Creek, a salt lick was formed (discovered by early explorer, Michael Stoner in 1767) – thus, Stoner’s Lick Methodist Episcopal Church. (3)

Tradition also tells us that the church was concerned with the educational needs of the community as well as its spiritual needs. Therefore, the Stoner’s Lick Methodist Episcopal Church building was also used as a school as early as 1815. (12)

In 1844 the Methodist Episcopal Church split due to differing opinions over slavery. At that time Stoners Lick Methodist Episcopal Church had “South” added to its name.

Tradition tells us that General Andrew Jackson and his wife Rachel Donelson Jackson attended Stoner’s Lick Methodist Episcopal Church. This was before he built the little Presbyterian chapel on his plantation, named The Hermitage. (Andrew Jackson later became seventh President of the United States.) As in other communities, Stoner’s Lick became the voting center for the Hermitage community. It was here that ex-President Jackson cast his final national vote for one of his successors, James K. Polk, a fellow Tennessean in 1844.

Around 1808, Timothy Dodson came from Virginia to the area around Stoner’s Lick. (11) He started by renting seventy-five acres along Stone’s River adjacent to Mr. Jackson’s property. He prospered and later owned around one thousand acres.

The first Methodist church to receive the name Dodson Chapel was erected and the deed was recorded in 1859.(4)  The land upon which this church was built was given by the Dodson family, who resided in the community. Dodson Chapel Methodist Episcopal Church, South was located a short distance east of Stoner’s Lick Church. Several years later a frame structure, the previous one having been constructed of logs, was erected across the road from the old Stoner’s Lick building. This site was nearer the road than the present location of Dodson Chapel.(5)

The L & N Railroad ran back of this property on what was Chandler Road and is now Dodson Chapel Road.

Beginning in 1878, Dodson Chapel was part of the Hermitage Circuit, comprised at different times of Andrew Price, Pleasant Grove, Old Union, Union, Pennington Bend, Berryville, and Dodson Chapel. After Andrew Price withdrew from the circuit, the parsonage in Donelson, was sold for $6,750. Dodson Chapel Circuit used their part of the money which was $4,050 to build a brick parsonage on Dodson Chapel Road.(6)

The present building was erected in 1906 (7) and is a solid brick structure with the Sanctuary floor laid to incline slightly toward the chancel. This was the first church in this area to have an inclining floor and people came for miles around to see this novel innovation. This 1906 structure with it’s 17 inch thick brick walls has burned twice. In 1917, lightning started a fire, which burned the interior. In 1935, a second disastrous fire resulted from an overheated furnace. This fire occurred on a Sunday morning shortly before services were to begin. Enough people got there in time to save the furniture by getting it out through the windows and doors. However, hot nails falling from the ceiling had left their marks. The furniture had been purchased and placed in the church between 1928 and 1933. This is the same furniture we are using in the Sanctuary today. Dodson Chapel must certainly have been a beautiful edifice prior to the 1935 fire. After the 1917 fire, beautiful memorial stained glass windows were installed and destroyed by this 1935 fire.

The churches in the north and south rejoined in 1939 and our church’s name became Dodson Chapel Methodist Church.

The Fellowship Hall was added in 1953. Before this addition, it is remembered that the Sunday School classes met in the two narthexes at the front of the church. Other classes were held in the room behind the choir loft and the small room next to it that is now used as a History room. (8) The Baldwin organ was presented to the church in 1959. At that time Mrs. H. E. Swift was organist and Mr. Felix Hoots was Director of Music.

The Education Wing, consisting of classrooms was completed in 1962 at a cost of $21,000. This wing is currently used as a church office, pastor’s office, church library, nursery, and pre-school childcare rooms.

A Wurlitzer piano was presented to the Sanctuary of church in 1966 by Mrs. Roxy Shelton, a long time Dodson Chapel pianist. Mrs. Roxy is the adoptive mother of Bailey Kissner, our current pianist. The Sanctuary was remodeled and redecorated in 1967. At the same time, air conditioning was installed for both the Sanctuary and Fellowship Hall.

Through a merger in 1968 of The Methodist Church and The Evangelical United Brethren Church, our local church name became Dodson Chapel United Methodist Church. In 1969 Dodson Chapel became part of the Nashville – Cumberland District with Dr. Farris Moore as District Superintendent. Also, by action of the Annual Conference in June of 1969, Dodson Chapel has shared their pastor with the Pleasant Grove United Methodist Church.

The parsonage on Dodson Chapel Road was sold in 1972 for $21,000. A new parsonage at 624 Topeka Drive in Tulip Grove Subdivision was purchased at the same time for $31,500. This property is currently rented to help pay the pastor’s housing allowance.

The marbled stained glass windows (pink and blue) were added in 1972. They sustained some damage in the 1980’s and had to be repaired. (9)

In January 1976, the Baldwin organ was replaced by a Hammond organ. Mrs. Ann Meador was the organist. Vandals tried to burn the church in June 1976, causing several thousands of dollars damage, mainly to the Educational Wing.

In 1980 a Childcare was started. The first professional childcare director was Judy Johnson Taylor. She served from 1983 to 1988. This childcare was one of the smallest in the state, so Judy and the board of directors were determined to make it a highly rated and respected one. Soon other childcare organizations were coming to them for leadership information. (9) This high rating still continues today. Betty Beardsly was the next director, but stayed less than a year. Rev. Norman Webber served for 4 months before Frieda Hayes became the director. She served until 1996. At that time Barb Samaray & Pam Robinson became co-directors and are still here.

The new Childcare was instrumental in helping to purchase the first van for the church,(9) as well as the Swift property next door to the church in 1984.(13) The Swift house is now a rental to preserve its history to the church area. At present our caretaker, Freddie Clark and his wife, Cheryl live there. Cheryl helps out in the nursery on Sundays, among other things. Freddy takes care of the lawns and is also a good handyman around the church, along with Bailey Leon Kissner and Billy Tindall, just to mention a few who help out.

The Childcare Wing of the church was open in June of 1987, and the steeple was added in late 1987.(10)

Our pastor from 1994-1997, Rev. J.C. Lawson was a descendent of the Cherokee tribe of Native Americans. This is interesting because President Andrew Jackson, who once attended our church, ordered the forcible removal of the “Indians” from their native lands in Georgia in 1838. About 18,000 Cherokees were forced to travel through Tennessee and Kentucky, into the Indian Territory west of the Mississippi River. About 4,000 Cherokees died from starvation, exposure and disease. The Indians have named the long journey the “Trail of Tears.” Thank God for showing us that His Love is for all people.

The sanctuary has been remodeled several times, the latest being January of 1994. At this time, all electrical wiring was changed, pews repaired and carpet installed. On November 17, 1996, the beautiful stained glass window at the front of the church was added by the William Asbury Reese Family.

In August of 2001, two stained glass windows were added to the sides of the sanctuary. They were added through donations to our Memorial for Windows Fund. In 2002, we obtained a Bell from Castillian Springs United Methodist Church, when that church closed. The Bell dates back over 100 years to possibly the 1800’s.

On Easter Sunday of 2002, the Educational Wing was flooded due to heavy rains and a flat roof. Ceilings, floors, and walls had to be repaired, painted, and new tile and carpet installed. A new gabled roof was placed over this wing. On March 23, 2003, two more stained glass windows were added to the sides of the sanctuary by the Lampley family. Two additional stained glass windows were placed in the sanctuary in 2008 with money from the Memorial for Windows fund.

Dodson Chapel United Methodist Church has had it’s own pastor for several years. Starting in June, 2004 the current pastor, Rev. William (Bill) Reding, shares his services with Ruth Ensor Memorial United Methodist Church in Old Hickory, Tennessee.

On September 24, 2006, the church celebrated the 100th Anniversary of our Sanctuary. Past and present members and friends gathered for the celebration. Ben West Jr., from the State House of Representatives, attended our celebration. He presented the church with an official proclamation of commendation and thanks to the historic congregation of Dodson Chapel United Methodist Church for their estimable commitment to the needs of their community and notable service to the State of Tennessee. Also at this celebration, the newly refurbished playground was dedicated as the Thomas Hagar Playground, in honor of his lifelong service to Dodson Chapel U.M.C. and physical fitness. At that time, Mr. Hagar was 93 years of age.

On June 17, 2008 Dodson Chapel United Methodist Church purchased  property from the Metropolitan Davidson County Board of Education. It consists of the closed Old Dodson Elementary School building and land for $443,000. It will be used to expand our present Childcare Center, which has been highly rated by the state for over 25 years. The Dodson Chapel Childcare had been renting the gymnasium in the Old Dodson School since the 1991-92 school year for after-school care. This area is referred to as Center 2. We were able to add infant and toddler care in Center 2 on November 29, 2010.

The church became home to two Cub Scout Packs starting in August 2009. They are Pack 335 from Tulip Grove Elementary and Pack 701 from Andrew Jackson Elementary. We received the official Charter January 1, 2010. They now meet in the Old Dodson School building.

During the big Nashville flood of May, 2010, the church basement area beneath our sanctuary was under water. The heating & cooling elements in this area were a total loss. The worst part of the damage was that one of the support walls in that area crumbled away, destabilizing our sanctuary structure. The repair time was uncertain, because Dodson Chapel’s resources had been drained by the purchase and renovation of Childcare Center 2. However the churches of the Cumberland District and others gave Love Offerings which paid for the re-stablizing expenses.

A huge fundraiser was held on September 26, 2010 to raise the money for the cost of the remaining repairs. Many churches and groups of people pitched in with money, as well as labor to help return us to the use of our Sanctuary. We held services in the Fellowship Hall until it was safe to conduct services in the sanctuary again.

Through the years our church has tried to help those in need. A Food Ministry existed for many years under the leadership of Hugh Douglas and his wife, Alice, affectionately called Granny. Another help with the Food Ministry was Benson’s Food Market. Benson’s is one of the oldest retailers in Hermitage and owned by the Benson family since 1942. Our Food Ministry has changed, but still helps the needy. Another help to our community was offering necessary items at low cost at our annual Labor Day Bar-B-Que and Flea Market. It continued for 26 years, before it was changed. In recent years, the United Methodist Women of Dodson Chapel have conducted a Rummage Sale and Bake sale in the spring, which has continued this service. Of course, our Childcare facility is of great help to families of our community. Our greatest gift to the community at any time has been our Church, where all can come to worship our LORD and SAVIOR, JESUS CHRIST.


When one begins to search out old records for information to compile such a document as this, one becomes increasingly aware of the vital role that has been played by this church. Names of people who have influenced this church and its relationship with the community are too numerous to mention; events, many of them long ago forgotten, fill the pages of Dodson Chapel’s history. But these names and events have left a record that we could do well to follow. Dodson Chapel’s history is an illustrious one and we hope that future generations in this area will be able to rise up and call us blessed because of the history we are now making.

We began this writing with a question which we can not definitively answer. When did the congregation known as Dodson Chapel United Methodist Church begin? We do know that tradition and previous writings say that there was a church called Wright’s Chapel in 1812. This, we know, was the earliest predecessor        to Dodson Chapel. Members of the Wright family remain part of our church today. So, we choose to celebrate the 200th anniversary of our church in 2012. We have a long legacy of service to God and our community. We hope that you and your family will consider helping us continue this legacy of service for the next 200 years.



  1. Carter, Cullen T., History of the Tennessee Conference, Nashville; 1948, pp 48-53.
  2. This information was given by Mr. W. C. Dodson to Dr. Farris Moore, who related it to Mrs. Hubert E. Swift; also, Mrs. Flora Pugh, whose homeplace on Old Lebanon Dirt Road is a part of the Wright property, told Mrs. Swift that her father, Mr. Joe Wright has told her that Wright’s Chapel stood just to the Northeast of her property as had been described by Dr. Moore. This property was owned by her grandfather, Mr. Jimmy Wright. Her father, Mr. Joe John Wright, spoke of having attended church there. At the writing in 1975, Mrs. Pugh was 80 years old.
  3. Information given by Dr. Farris F. Moore to Mrs. Hubert E. Swift.
  4. Existing record of infant baptism establishes this date. This deed is recorded at the Court House: Book 29, page 546. The church has a copy in its possession in 2011.
  5. The deed to this land is to be found in the Court House in Book 29, page 546 – filed 1859.
  6. Information contributed by Miss Bettie Hagar and Mrs. Sarah Dodson Stanford
  7. The deed to this property is to be found in Book 350, page 416 – verified by Mrs. H. E. Swift. 1907 copy of filing of deeds given to Mrs. Swift by Mrs. Sarah Dodson Stanford, daughter of W. C. Dodson. The church has a copy in its possession in 2011.
  8. Information contributed by current member Jo Ann Cone Nicholson, a decendant of the Wright family.
  9. Information contributed by Judy Johnson Taylor, Childcare director 1983-1988.
  10. Dodson Chapel U.M.C. Administrative Council minutes from 1984-1987
  11. According to genealogical work done by Ed T. Hunter into his Petty family tree. Timothy Dodson was the son of Revolutionary War veteran, Caleb Dodson and his wife, Elizabeth Petty.
  12. History included in a cookbook published in 1980 by the Dodson School Parent Teachers Association.
  13. The deed to this land is to be found in the Court House in Book 6285, page 307 – filed 1984. The church has a copy in its possession in 2011.


*We are indebted to the Reverend Farris F. Moore, who helped in assembling material contained in the older part of the history of our church, along with Rev. Robert H. Parker, Rev. Harrison O. Anderson, Rev. William V. DeRamus, and Mrs. H. E. Swift. We were saddened by his death in 2011, at almost 101 years of age.


We thank contributors to this writing of our history who are The Tennessee United Methodist Archives, newsletters from the church from 1989 – 1994, as well as Bailey & Myra Kissner, Maurice Jackson, Rev. Norman Webber,  Rev. Jacqueline Sojourner, and many others.


This writing of our church history in November of 2011, has been researched and compiled by Rev. William Reding, Annette Dorris, and Wanda Lyonhurst. At the time of this publication, it is as current and accurate as we were able to report it.