The roots of Jarvis Memorial United Methodist Church go back to the settlement of this area and the first "Methodist Society" to exist here. Greenville was founded in 1771 as "Martinsborough," after the Royal Governor Josiah Martin. In 1774, the town was moved to its present location on the south bank of the Tar River, three miles west of its original site. In 1786, the name was changed to Greenesville in honor of General Nathanael Greene, the Revolutionary War hero, and later shortened to Greenville. During Greenville’s early years, the Tar River was a navigable waterway; and by the 1860’s there were several established riverboat lines transporting passengers and goods. Cotton was the leading agricultural crop, and Greenville became a major cotton export center. Before the turn of the century, however, tobacco surpassed cotton and became the leading money crop. Greenville became one of the State’s leading tobacco marketing and warehouse centers.
Bishop Francis Asbury (1745-1816), one of the fathers of American Methodism, visited the Greenville area a number of times. In his journal, he recalled that a Methodist Society was active here as early as 1782, and it is to that year we trace our beginnings.
Today, when one can visit nearly any community and find a United Methodist church nearby, one needs to be reminded that it wasn't always that way. It wasn't that way in 18th century England where John Wesley preached often out-of-doors and where groups of like-minded Christians met in homes to study and grow spiritually. Nor was it that way in eastern North Carolina, where revivals and camp meetings on the banks of the Tar River were the norm led by itinerant Methodist circuit riders assigned to the Pitt County Circuit of Roanoke District of the Virginia Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church of America.
It wasn't until 1833 that, with the growth of Methodism in the area, the need for a church building became evident. A small forty by sixty foot chapel was constructed within the front, left corner of the present site of Cherry Hill Cemetery on 2nd Street and was given the name St. Paul's Episcopal Methodist Church. St. Paul's did not have a full time minister. It was simply one stop on the circuit. When ordained clergy were not available, laity carried on the work of ministry.
By the 1870's, Greenville's Methodists had outgrown their church building, and it was in serious need of repair. The porch across the front of the building sagged, the roof leaked, and loosened plaster regularly fell on the heads of congregants. Under the leadership of the Rev. L. L. Nash, a decision was made to rebuild St. Paul's nearby at the corner of Greene and 2nd Street. The new church would reflect the growth of the congregation and the prosperity of the region. For the first time the church would have a proper steeple; and the gallery, which in the old church had been reserved for slaves and black church members, now housed a church choir and a new pump organ. Adding to the excitement was the announcement at Annual Conference in 1884 that St. Paul's would be appointed its first full-time minister, the Rev. C. M. Anderson.
It is during this era of the 1870's and 80's that we first become aware of Jarvis Memorial Church's namesake. Thomas Jordan Jarvis (1836-1915), the son of a Methodist minister, was born in Currituck County, North Carolina, and attended Randolph-Macon College in Virginia. Jarvis enlisted in the military at the beginning of the American Civil War and served in the Eighth North Carolina Regiment. Captured and exchanged in 1862, Jarvis, by then a Captain, was injured and permanently disabled at the Battle of Drewry's Bluff. Jarvis was elected to the State House in 1868, and opened a law office in Greenville in 1870. Shortly after his arrival, Jarvis became a member of St. Paul's Church and, for the rest of his life, was a leading member of Greenville's Methodist community. Jarvis was elected lieutenant governor of North Carolina in 1876 on a ticket with Zebulon Vance. In 1879, when Vance resigned the governorship to serve in the U. S. Senate, Thomas Jarvis filled the vacant position. He won election in his own right in 1880. Following his term as governor, Jarvis was appointed by President Grover Cleveland to be United States Minister to Brazil from 1885 to 1889. He then was appointed to the United States Senate to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Zebulon B. Vance. He served in the Senate from April 19, 1894, until January 23, 1895. Jarvis then resumed his law practice in Greenville, N.C., and died there June 17, 1915; interment in Cherry Hill Cemetery.
St. Paul's, by this time, had become one of Greenville's most prominent churches and intimately connected to Greenville society. Its growth was only intensified by the dedication of a new building, and within two decades it became clear that a much larger facility was needed. Through the visionary pastoral leadership of the Rev. J. A. Hornaday, and Thomas Jordan Jarvis, then serving as Building Committee Chair, an ambitious plan was set in motion for a great new church at the present location of Washington Street and Reade Circle.
The new church's design would be influenced by the so-called "Akron plan" churches of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Akron Plan churches were conceived with the main auditorium or sanctuary being encircled by or adjacent to Sunday School classrooms with sliding doors. These rooms were usually situated above the main floor sometimes even on the gallery level, and often the floor was tiered. Thus, when the sliding doors were left open, the classroom could be used for overflow sanctuary seating. The new church would have a sanctuary seating capacity of 300 plus overflow seating for about 400 (see photo for plan view with overflow seating in use) . There were many other innovations including a large choir loft, multiple parapets, and a fine electro-pneumatic organ.
The new church was consecrated March 10, 1907, and the decision was made to change the congregation's name to "Jarvis Memorial" in honor of Thomas Jordan Jarvis who had provided such strong leadership throughout the years.
Jarvis Memorial Church had now become one of the leading churches in eastern North Carolina Methodism. Beginning in 1917, it hosted the first of many Annual Conferences within its walls. The first Boy Scout troop at Jarvis was initiated that same year. Building plans, of course, did not end with the new sanctuary space. A long-term commitment to Christian Education demanded that new space be added for a growing church school, and, as a result, an Educational Annex was added in 1922 and then a large attached educational building in 1952 (Picture shows entrance to ed building at far right). It now houses our Jarvis Pre-School as well as the church's administrative offices.) The church hired its first "youth activity coordinator" in 1936 and for decades has maintained a full-time Director of Christian Education (or related title) on its staff.
Jarvis Memorial Church experienced uninterrupted growth throughout the first half of the 20th century. The membership roll in 1917 listed 400 members, but by 1936 that number had exceeded the 1100 mark. In 1950, average attendance on Sunday mornings had increased to 900 and, even with every bit of available overflow seating, it was often not possible to seat latecomers. To address this, the church strongly supported the establishment of St. James Church which was dedicated in 1955, and introduced a second 8:30 a.m. worship service. However, it was clear that a major renovation was needed to increase the size of the worship space. This work was completed in 1957, lengthening the old sanctuary and increasing its seating capacity to 800 on a single floor. The old adjacent Sunday School rooms were replaced by new space in the new education building, allowing for the construction of a chapel next to the sanctuary. Included in the project was the installation of a new Tellers pipe organ (fully restored in 2005), an altar, and the divided Chancel which is the focal point of the space as it is today.
With the dawn of the 21st Century, Jarvis's ministry needs continue to expand. A burgeoning youth program and a third worship service featuring contemporary, youth-oriented music was introduced. The commitment was to stay in downtown Greenville and to develop a ministry to college-age young people, various sports activities and a new emphasis on the dramatic arts. None of this would have been possible without additional dedicated space, and the decision was made to build the Taft Christian Life Center on property adjacent to the church in 2000. The new building would contain a full gymnasium with stage plus classrooms, meeting rooms. and office space dedicated to family ministry. The new building was dedicated in 2001.
Thomas Jordan Jarvis for which the congregation re-name our church in 1907 to "Jarvis Memorial" in honor of Thomas Jordan Jarvis who had provided such strong leadership throughout the years.
We offer historical tours as requested by individuals and at different times each month. If interested in taking a historical tour, contact Kristen Evans at 252-916-3897 or by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.