In July of 1866, pioneer preacher David Lipscomb held an eight day Gospel Meeting at Cold Springs School here in Portland. Sixteen precious souls were baptized into the Kingdom of God signaling the beginning of what is now the Portland Church of Christ. Only 15 months removed from the horrors of the Civil War (1861-1865), the Gospel message of peace, hope, and love must have been a comfort to those in attendance.
The original 16 men and women who obeyed the Gospel in that 1866 meeting were as follows: M. R. Stovall, Polly Stovall, George P. Blain, Mary Blain, Harriet Blain, Rebecca Berryman, Lou Berryman, Litha Berryman, Elizabeth Buntin, Mary Lovell, Abner Baskerville, Jonathan Ray, James Pearson, J. O. Blain, P. M. Blain, and Mrs. Hasseno Moore. Later that same year, Dr. Warton baptized 5 more into Christ including Dr. E. M. Durham.
In addition to the successful Gospel Meeting here in Portland, two other significant events took place in July 1866: 1) David Lipscomb and Tolbert Fanning restarted publication of the Gospel Advocate and 2) the 14th Amendment was ratified and Tennessee became the first Confederate state to be readmitted to the Union.
One of those first 16 converts in 1866 was Elizabeth Buntin. Brother J. O. Blain said this in the February 29, 1872, Gospel Advocate, “Brother Lipscomb will remember Sister B. as one of the first fruits of his labors at Cold Springs.” Sister Buntin died on Christmas Eve of 1871.
Brother J. O. Blain was an early leader and positive influence on the Portland church. A recognized Bible scholar and student of Tolbert Fanning, Brother Blain would sit in a chair on the pulpit and preside over the services in those early days. He was highly respected in the community having the railroad crossing over Victor Rieter named in his honor, Blain’s Crossing. He also served as president of Stonewall College in Cross Plains, Tennessee.
The church continued to meet in the Cold Springs schoolhouse for the first 30 years (1866-1896). Then in 1896, a new one room frame building was constructed on the corner of Old Franklin Road and Russell Street, our present location, at the cost of $1,017.63. This land was donated by J.O. Blain as part of the Blain estate. Brother Blain lived in a house on the property until his death.
The first sermon preached in the new building was on the 5th Sunday of May, 1896, by Brother E.A. Elam. This new building would serve the congregation for the next 52 years. Charlie Dowel framed and supervised all the work on the house, and he and Joe Hempel made the seats. By 1898, the membership had grown over eight fold to 135.
The bell which hangs above our church sign has quite a history of its own. The story goes that Miss Willie Pond and Miss Emily Gibson rode on horseback through the community collecting funds from church members for the purpose of purchasing a bell. The bell was purchased through David Lipscomb for the cost of $36.20 and was used to summon people to worship. The 1896 building included a belfry, but by the 1930’s the bell was removed from the belfry due to rotting timbers.
According to Brother J.O. Blain’s detailed records, David Lipscomb held another July meeting in 1899. It lasted six days and yielded six baptisms which prompted Brother Blain to write, “this was a good meeting”. In November of the same year, F.B. Srygley held a ten day meeting that resulted in nine more responses. Brother Lipscomb was paid $16 for his efforts while Brother Srygley was paid $31.
In the early days, members would either walk or ride in a horse drawn buggy to services. They would tie their horses to one of several trees on the church grounds. The women made the unleavened bread for the Lord’s Supper. The fruit of the vine was poured into two silver goblets from a glass decanter. That same decanter can be seen on display in the vestibule.
The weekly contribution in those early days was collected in velvet pouches hung from long poles. After the men extended the poles to the middle of the pews, they would slowly pull the pouches across the pews as people dropped their offering into the pouches. Baptisms were done in Drake’s Creek. Often weather conditions dictated when those baptisms would take place. Therefore, it was not unusual for several to be baptized on the same day.
On the 5th Sunday in May, 1896, the Portland Church of Christ met for the first time in its new building here on our present site. The podium in our foyer was among the furnishings used at that first service. From 1896 to 1948 many “Giants of our Brotherhood” including David Lipscomb, E.A. Elam, A.G. Freed, N.B. Hardeman, B.C. Goodpasture, G.C. Brewer, and J.A. Harding stood behind this podium and powerfully proclaimed the word of God.
In the early days of the Portland church, Sally McNeil, a school teacher by profession, served as the Sunday School teacher for the smaller children while Eunice Hardison taught the young people’s class. Even though the church was growing, Elders were not appointed until 1926. On the occasion of his 80th birthday (Dec. 4, 1915), Brother J.O. Blain wrote a letter that was reprinted in the January 6th, 1916, Gospel Advocate. Here is an excerpt from that eloquently written letter:
“Many long years ago I heeded the devine admonition, “remember thy Creator in the days of thy youth,” and I have never regretted, for one moment, the step then taken. I gave my young life to God at the tender age of sixteen, and I have always been thankful for the decision of that hour when I confessed my faith in the world’s Redeemer and enlisted as a soldier under the blood-red banner of the cross. I need not say that I have stumbled often; I need not say that my sins of omission and commission have been many; I need not say that my mistakes have been as the sands of the seashore; but I must say that the Mercy of God has never failed me. Through all the years of my life it has covered me as with a garment. Because I am now an old man, without family ties, a withered leaf on the tree of life, perhaps some have thought my fate sad and lonely; but, taken all in all, it has been one of the blessedness and peace.”
The first Elders for this congregation were appointed in 1926. The four men appointed were as follows: T.W. West (Sam and Al’s great-grandfather), D.B. Turner, J.S. Donoho, and W.T. Hardison who served as an Elder until 1974, some 48 years. These men oversaw the work of the church here for many years. From 1914 till 1941 there were several Gospel Meetings held by many dedicated preachers, but there were two outstanding preachers who were very popular speakers here in Portland. G.C. Brewer held meetings in 1914, 1921, 1922, 1924, 1927, and 1940 while B.C. Goodpasture held meetings in 1918, 1919, 1920, 1930, and 1941. On December 13th, 1928, Brother D.B. Morehead, a missionary in Japan, sent a postcard to Paul West thanking him for our support of $5. Here is the message in its entirety:
A missionary must know just the amount he is to receive in order to plan his work in a systematic way. I appreciate your willingness to send $5.00 to Brother R.S. King in care of the Central Church of Christ, Nashville, Tennessee monthly. Please send your $5.00 at the first of each month so I may receive it about the middle of the month.
P.S. We, Mrs. Morehead, Miss Lankford and I are sailing tomorrow.
The original church building that was built in 1896 was sold in 1948 for $1,525.00 to be torn down and moved to make way for a new building on the same site. The last sermon preached in the old building was by Brother Jack Gaw on June 13, 1948. The new building seated 477 and had 10 classrooms in the basement. This building was completed in the spring of 1949 at the cost of $46,000. The first sermon preached in the new building was by W.C. Reeder on May 29, 1949. In 1949 Brother Blaine Donoho was elected chairman of the building fund. The debt was paid off in 1951. In July of 1950 the first Vacation Bible School was held. The week long VBS averaged 176 in attendance. Also, in 1960 the first directory was published in memory of John S. Donoho who served faithfully as an Elder for over 30 years until his death in 1959. Due to the continued growth of our congregation, it became necessary to construct additional classroom facilities. Our present educational building completed in 1966 contained 14 classrooms, minister’s office, and 2 restrooms. The total cost of the educational building was over $92,000. This addition was greatly needed as the Sunday morning attendance regularly exceeded 400. On Family Day in 1966 there were 737 in attendance. This was probably the largest crowd at a worship service in our history. Of course, 1966 marked our 100th anniversary as a congregation. Some think that the largest crowd ever assembled in our building was over 800 for a baccalaureate service after the auditorium was renovated. An eight day Gospel meeting was held in July, 1966, by Brother Willard Collins. The average attendance was over 450 for the entire meeting including 600 on the final night. There were 53 responses during those eight days including 24 baptisms. Among those who gave their life to Christ and still attend here are Ken Wilber, Jim Donoho, Theresa Levatino, Mack Curtis, Janet Hunter Jones and Jackie Bunch Wilber.