June 15, 2021
Johnson Architecture and The Christman Company have earned an East Tennessee Historical Society (ETHS) Award of Excellence for the $10 million renovation of the historic First Presbyterian Church in downtown Knoxville.
The architectural and construction firms combined extensive experience to design, preserve, renovate and build additions to the 68,000-square-foot church, which was founded in 1792, just one year after Knoxville was founded in 1791.
The ETHS presented the award during the organization’s annual meeting held virtually on May 20, 2021. The project was named among the winners in the Award of Distinction category. The annual excellence awards recognize individuals and organizations for significant contributions to the preservation, promotion and interpretation of the region’s history.
“Our team is honored to be recognized for our contribution to extensive renovation of First Presbyterian Church,” said Daryl Johnson, founder and president of Johnson Architecture. “We were able to make the space more functional, highlight original elements and beautify through new areas while keeping the tenets of responsible preservation top of mind. We want our vision to help First Presbyterian endure for the next 225 years.”
The Christman Company preserved historic elements during construction, including the iconic rock at a redesigned entrance at 620 State St. The sanctuary, designed by the highly regarded Baumann Brothers of Knoxville, opened in 1903. A stained-glass window – covered during a renovation in 1920 – was revealed as part of the new design. Discovered unused granite was also incorporated into the project.
“The First Presbyterian Church project renovation required the expected updates and repairs to the building and systems but revealing, preserving and highlighting the original elements that give it so much charm made the project that much more meaningful,” said Marty Gibbs, vice president and general manager for The Christman Company’s Knoxville operations. “We successfully unified a labyrinth of areas and made the needed technology and structural updates, all while maintaining the existing character and structural and historic integrity to accommodate guests and parishioners into the future.”
In addition to the building, enhancements also were made to the church’s graveyard including the addition of a columbarium for funeral urns. The graveyard is the oldest in Knoxville and is the burial place for James White, the founder of Knoxville who provided the land for the church; William Blount, the governor of the Southwest Territory; and Samuel Carrick, the president of Blount College, which would become the University of Tennessee.
New construction included an elevated outdoor deck and a reflection garden designed and built to blend with the other church spaces.