A Brief History of the Christ Chapel Building
The original portion of the church building was first constructed in 1895, and a Sunday School addition was completed in 1898.
A front entry wing originally faced Highland Avenue, and the windows above the present front entry extended to the ground. This entry wing was destroyed by fire in 1929. When the building was rebuilt that same year, the stonework which had been on the entry was moved to the front of the building to form the present façade.
Two cornerstones are located on either side of the front entrance. The northeast cornerstone gives a date of 1895 and the inscription, "This stone was removed from corner of Highland Ave. and Ninth St. Aug 24 A.D. 1907." The other cornerstone (pictured) refers to rebuilding after the fire of 1929.
There was an additional entry on the right side of the building facing Sixteenth Street. A single door from that entry is now bricked up, but can be seen in the current sanctuary. The original stained glass windows were removed and replaced by leaded glass windows the size of the current windows. The brick wall on the left side of the sanctuary was patched after those original windows were removed, but their original shape can still be seen.
The architecture of the building is best described as simplified gothic due to the imposing entry façade, but with an English Tudor interior by virtue of the balcony design
Like most of the buildings in the historic Fort Sanders neighborhood, the church at 1538 Highland Ave. has a history extending back more than 100 years. In May of 1890 and June of 1891 respectively, lots #212 and #213 of Ramsey's Addition to the City of Knoxville were conveyed to the Elders of Ramsey Memorial Methodist Church. At that time, the property description said that the lots were located on the corner of Highland Avenue and 8th Street which the city later renamed as 16th Street.
Congregations and Other Occupants
From 1895 through 1969, the building housed congregations under the jurisdiction of the Holston Conference, Knoxville District of the Methodist Episcopal Church. The original church was called the Highland Ramsey Methodist Episcopal Church, South, and after the turn of the century, the church was renamed the Epworth M. E. Church, South. Although the Epworth congregation ceased to exist sometime during the 1950s, the building was still known as the "Epworth Church" up until the 1970s.
In the 1960s, the property was used and abused as a coffeehouse, with rumors of it being a place of drug dealing and other unsavory activities. By the 1970s, while the building itself was falling into disrepair, its spiritual renovation was beginning by its use as the headquarters of Knoxville Urban Ministries, an inter-denominational group concerned with conditions in the inner city.
In the early 1970's, Christ Chapel, a church located on Cedar Lane in north Knoxville, began ministering to students on the UT campus. In 1979, arrangements were made for Christ Chapel to lease and renovate the building and use it as a place of worship and campus outreach.
By the summer of 1981, the older part of the building was restored and regular worship and ministry were reestablished. In October of 1981, the property was purchased by Christ Chapel from the Holston Conference and a congregation of about 50 members began meeting in March of 1982.
The Modern Renovations
After purchasing the building, Christ Chapel completely refurbished the interior, installing new windows, flooring, lighting, electrical, plumbing and HVAC. The original plaster on the sanctuary walls had crumbled, so the remaining plaster was also removed, followed by patching, sanding and painting. The brickwork was sandblasted, tuck-pointed and sprayed with an acrylic sealer. All of the woodwork on the first floor and balcony was stripped and refinished.
The front exterior façade anchors had separated from the building structure, and it too was crumbling. Each stone was numbered, photographed and taken down to be cleaned and reconstructed piece-by-piece. The renovation took approximately four months and was completed, for the most part, by volunteering church members.
In 1989, construction was completed on the two story building addition at a right angle to the original structure. This addition comprises the entry foyer, kitchen, fellowship hall and a number of upstairs classrooms. Also that year, the interior of the original building was redesigned to enlarge the sanctuary, and the original basement coal furnace and kitchen were converted into classrooms for children's ministry.
Just as the Lord continues to build His church, so the church building on the corner of Highland Avenue and 16th Street continues to be built and rebuilt by those people who have made up this church down through the decades. And now, with more than a century of history behind her, the old building serves as home for the active ministry of the interdenominational congregation of Christ Chapel and stands as a testament to the faithful activity of a timeless God.