Beech Cumberland Presbyterian Church, which is now recognized as the oldest church in Middle Tennessee, was organized as a Presbyterian Church in 1798. The Rev. Hugh Kirkpatrick and his wife, Isabella, along with William and Jane Montgomery and Mrs. Frances Ketring were charter members. According to the earliest session book, elders serving in 1831 were: Robert Taylor, James Kirkpatrick, Benjamin Taylor, Christopher Ketring, Alexander Hogan, Alexander K. Taylor, Andrew H. Guthrie and Thomas Hudson. Two more elders, William Smith and Samuel Kirkpatrick, were ordained in 1838, and James K. Taylor was ordained in 1850.
The founder, Thomas Craighead, was born in Sugar Creek, North Carolina. He graduated from Nassau College (now Princeton University) in 1775 and was ordained by the Presbytery of Orange in 1780. He came to Nashville in 1785, where he served as an early pastor of First Presbyterian Church. He operated an academy at Spring Hill, north of Nashville, and served in 1803 with James Robertson, Andrew Jackson and others in the establishment of Davidson College in Nashville. Finis Ewing, one of the founders of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, married the daughter of General Davidson. The Ewings were members of Craighead's congregation before their removal to Logan County, Kentucky.
William McGee, the first pastor of Beech Church, was born in Guilford County, North Carolina in 1768. He was educated for the ministry by his pastor and ordained by the Presbytery of Orange before 1796, when he was sent west as a missionary. He served as pastor of Shiloh Presbyterian Church, north of Gallatin, and Beech Church while living in Sumner county. His wife was Anna King, a sister of the Rev. Samuel King who was one of the founders of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. In October 1810, William McGee and the congregation united
with the Cumberland Presbyterians.
The first Synod of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church was constituted at Beech Cumberland Presbyterian Church on October 5, 1813. It was ordered that a revision of the Westminster Confession of Faith be made to conform to the beliefs of the new church. Finis King was clerk and William McGee was elected moderator of the Synod. These two, with the Rev. Hugh Kirkpatrick, helped with the revision. The name "Cumberland Presbyterian" as applied to a denomination appears for the first time in connection with that meeting.
The "camp meeting" was a unique part of the great revival which swept across the American frontier of 1800. The camp meetings at Beech were held on the land which William Montgomery and Francis Ketring sold to Trustees, John McMurtry and James Kirkpatrick, for fifty cents. Hugh Kirkpatrick gives an account of one camp meeting on the site which resulted in 500 conversions and 125 additions to the Beech Church. The people came from distant communities and camped in the grove of Beech trees that stood immediately in front of the present building. Methodists and Presbyterians both worshiped in the old log church situated on the campground. Bishop Francis Asbury may have preached here, for the Bishop's journal has an entry on October 21, 1800, which gives an account of attending a camp meeting on Drake's Creek. He says, "Yesterday and especially during the night, were witnessed scenes of deep interest. In the intervals between preaching, the people refreshed themselves and horses, and returned upon the ground. The stand was in the open air, embosomed in the wood of lofty Beech trees. The ministers of God, Methodists and Presbyterians, united their labors and mingled with the childlike simplicity of primitive times. We suppose there were at
least 30 souls converted at that meeting."
In 1828, the Cumberland Presbyterians decided to erect a new building. They rejected the gift of another site and chose to build near the campsite because of the cemetery which was nearby. In 1828-1830 the stone building was erected on land just back of the campground. William Montgomery gave the land to Hugh Kirkpatrick and Robert Taylor in trust for "said Society of Cumberland Presbyterians, for the purpose of having a permanent place of worship for the Society of Cumberland Presbyterians to convene for that purpose, and where they will feel themselves free to manage to life of the congregation in their own way." He stipulated that "within seven years the congregation was to build a suitable house of permanent materials, say brick or stone, and put a wall around the yard of brick or stone of a proper height to keep out stock." Robert Taylor was the builder, and laborers were paid twenty-five cents a day. John Clendenning carried up the last stone for the church walls. The stone walls are three-feet thick and survived the fires of 1940 and 1951.
The first manse was built on ground given by Mr. & Mrs. W. C. Patton. The manse was dedicated on December 25, 1903, and was first occupied by the Reverend Thomas Buchanan. In 1961, a new manse was built on the site of the old manse, with a $15,000 bequest from the estate of the late Mr. J. P. Wilson.
The cemetery was deeded to the church in 1799 for a community burying ground by Francis Catron (Ketring) and William Montgomery. Another plot was given in 1830 by William Montgomery and James Kirkpatrick. In the cemetery are the graves of John McMurtry and Francis Ketring, both of whom fought in the American Revolution. The old box tombs of the Ketring, Montgomery and Kirkpatrick families are especially interesting. Rev. Hugh Kirkpatrick, who wrote the first Confession of Faith of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, is also buried here. In 1963, the church initiated a cemetery association for perpetual care. A new cemetery operated by Beech Cumberland Presbyterian Church, with over 1,000 plots, was opened on the grounds
northeast of the church in 1981.