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Dr. William Henderson Franklin founded St. Marks Presbyterian Church August 20, 1875. He was the first ‘black’ man to study and receive an Honorary Doctorate from Maryville College, Knoxville, TN. Dr. Franklin was the first Pastor of the Church and served the congregation for 40 years. After his death in 1934 he was buried alongside his wife, Laura, near St. Marks Church on the Swift Memorial College Campus.
This small Church located in Rogersville, Hawkins County Tennessee, has a simplistic demeanor that is a classic example of the Shingle Style and Queen Ann styles of architecture during the early 19th century. At this period in history, churches of these styles were not typically found in the churches build in the area for the use of African American congregations.
St. Marks Church was the first “colored” Presbyterian Church in the area. At first, it was located in the Tenth Civil District of Hawkins County, (now McKinney Avenue) in Rogersville, Tennessee. St. Marks Presbyterian Church was built and chartered in Tennessee on May 15, 1912 by Dr. William H. Franklin, Pastor of St. Marks and President of Swift College. W.C. Watterson, Houston Williams, Frank Caldwell and William Richmond were also instrumental in seeing the church built. A new church building was erected on the southwest corner of lot 46 through the efforts of the local congregation and the Board of Missions for Freedmen of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. The congregation previously worshipped at the Second Presbyterian Church on McKinney Avenue and moved into the new church building shortly after its completion. Dr. Franklin was the pastor of the church from its inception until his retirement from Swift College. Watterson, Alf McKinney, William McKinney, and Robert White were the first Trustees.
Dr. Franklin believed the church would greatly enrich the lives of Swift Memorial College students and community residents. When the church was moved to the Swift College campus location, classes were held there for a period of time. St. Marks Church has remained at the present location for nearly a century.
St. Marks Church and Swift Memorial College was of equal importance to Afro American students in the quest for an education beyond the 8th grade. All Swift students and faculty were required to attend church services during their stay at Swift. In the early years, the students wore uniforms, but on Sunday, young men were required to wear a shirt, tie and dress pants. They entered the church using the stairs on the right. Young ladies were dressed in what was considered appropriate attire for ladies, which consisted of dresses, dress shoes and hose. All ladies used the church entrance to the left. Men and ladies were seated on opposite sides of the sanctuary. Socializing was not permitted during worship service.
Swift College closed n 1963. Hawkins County purchased the property in 1964 for an all-black high school. After integration of schools, Swift High School closed. St. Marks Church was included. Three buildings of the college became the main office complex for Hawkins County School System. The church was salvaged by a small local congregation that was given permission to continue meeting at St. Marks church. Through death and attrition, the membership declined. St. Marks closed July 21, 2002.
The simplistic style of the church is a classic example of the Shingle style and Queen Ann styles of architecture during the early 19th century. The gable roof is clad with asphalt shingles. A rectangular bell tower emerges from the southwest corner of the building. It is topped with a pyramidal roof. At one time, a small spiral was located at the apex of the tower. The spire was removed during a re-roofing project circa 1990. The south and west sides of the tower each have rectangular louvered vents.
The outer walls of the sanctuary and the bell tower are covered with painted wood shingles. The lower edges of each row of shingles have alternating shapes. The front gable roof is clad with black asphalt shingles.
The front of St. Marks Church faces Kyle Street. This façade features to main entries to the sanctuary. Each entry has two-seven panel wood doors with stained glass transom windows above them. Each entry is flanked by paneled posts which support a small gable roof above each entrance. A central set of sets leads from the Kyle Street sidewalk to a concrete landing. Two sets of stairs lead from the landing to the two entries. Three sets of window units are located between the entries in a bay that projects slightly from the wall.
A pair of historic “one-over-one” double hung sash, plain glass windows is located at the basement level. A rectangular stained glass unit is located above, in the lower half of the wood-shingled wall. This unit is composed of a large central stained glass window flanked by two smaller ones on either side. A third window unit is located directly above the stained glass unit. This third unit has two fifteen pane plain glass windows and is flanked on either side by rectangular-shaped stained glass windows. A small attic vent is located in the gable end.
The north façade has two arched windows at the sanctuary level. The windows are separated by a brick chimney leading from the basement well above the rooftop. One original stained glass window has Dr. Franklin’s name as founder and the date 1912 etched in the glass. Another window is partially covered with plywood and has an air conditioner that was installed in 1982.
The east façade lies adjacent to the main offices of the Hawkins County Board of Education. This site is the former Swift College Campus. Window spaces include four regular arched single pane windows with plain glass. All but one of the windows on this side of the sanctuary was damaged during the tornado on April 4, 1974.