First United Methodist Church to celebrate 125th anniversary

fr FUMCFirst United Methodist Church in Sylva will celebrate its 125th anniversary with a Homecoming on Sunday, Oct. 6. Bishop Larry Goodpaster will deliver a sermon at a 10:30 a.m. church service in the sanctuary, followed by a luncheon in the Christian Life Center. All are invited, whether church members or not.


The church has been an integral part of Jackson County since 1888. In 1897, the congregation built a small white, wooden structure on Jackson Street in downtown Sylva. The current church is built on that same site.

In December 1888, the Rev. G.W. Spake led a revival meeting in Sylva. Afterward, a group of 11 met in the home of John and Estella Divelbiss to form the Methodist church.

During the early years of Sylva Methodist Church, the congregation met wherever space was available, but by 1897, construction of a frame church started. The Ladies Aid Society was able to raise funds to get the building project underway.

In 1912, this small building housed a very active Sunday school with enrollment exceeding 100 students. The congregation quickly outgrew the original building, and in 1917, the frame church was demolished and construction of a larger, brick building began. During the construction, church services were held in the Sylva school building.

The brick structure accommodated the Methodist congregation through the decades of the 20s and 30s and continues to house the church sanctuary, which was remodeled during the summer of 1950 by volunteers. New lighting and a new heating system were installed. The interior floor plan was renovated to finish the sanctuary.

In 1942, a growing Sunday school and congregation necessitated additional classrooms for Christian learning and a larger space for Christian fellowship, so the Charles L. Allison Educational Building was erected. The building was named after Allison who served as the Sunday school superintendent for thirty years. It is still in use today as the home of our Early Learning Center and children’s activities. 

Between 1950 and 1978, Sylva First United Methodist Church continued to grow. Anticipating future expansion, adjoining property was purchased from the Cowan family in 1955. The two-story home on the property provided classrooms for adults and teenagers for a few years.

By 1975, a long-range planning effort determined that Sylva First was in need of additional classroom and office space as well as a larger fellowship hall. In the years following the addition of the Allison Building, the Dillsboro Methodist Church had been dissolved and many of the Dillsboro congregation started attending the Sylva church, enriching the congregation.

On the occasion of Homecoming 1978, ground was broken for the new education building. Built by Don Buchanan, a local contractor, and overseen by two members, Mr. Raymon Stovall and Mr. Asbury Carden, the construction was completed in March 1980 with only painting, laying of carpet and landscaping remaining to be done.

The fellowship hall was named The Asbury Room in honor of Carden, who had dedicated the preceding two years to acting as supervisor of the work. Within three years, the $378,000 indebtedness was retired, and Rev. Terry L. Hammill, pastor during the building process, returned for the dedication ceremony during September 1983. First United Methodist Church was able to serve the community with a new educational building, large fellowship hall with a new kitchen, and renovated children’s department.

Submitted by Lou Ann Carden of Sylva

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