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That magnificent voice: Rev. G.W. Perryman, Russell Co. KY - V

In this installment Part V, "That magnificent voice:" The life and times of Rev. G.W. Perryman, late of Russell County, Kentucky" - Without a doubt, Rev. Perryman's years in Knoxville, Tenn., and Norfolk, Va. -- early 1905 through the latter part of 1914 -- were the busiest and likely from his viewpoint, the most productive of his 31 years as a full-time pastor.
Next earlier installment: 'That magnificent voice' - G.W. Perryman, Russell Co, KY - IV


Rev. Perryman took over the pastorate of Centennial (soon renamed Deaderick Avenue) Baptist in Knoxville in mid-February 1905 and preached his first sermon there on the 19th. He soon followed the pattern set at many of his earlier churches: start (or take over editorship of) a newspaper; grow the congregation; expand or replace the physical facilities; and actively engage in civic matters.

In a letter published in The Baptist Argus (Louisville, Ky.) in early March 1905, Rev. Perryman reported he had received "a royal welcome" from his new congregants and from Knoxville Baptists in general. He also wrote, "My first Sunday was snowy but great crowds assembled and wonderful enthusiasm was manifested...At 2:30, an immense throng gathered for a welcome service..."

By late April of that year, he had a church newsletter, The Herald, in print, and in the first issue, he wrote (in part),

"I would not be out of place to say that no pastor ever had a warmer welcome than our church has given us, and then we can say that we know of no pastor who has a more royal and loyal people. These people come nearer knowing just how to treat a pastor and how to stand by him in all the work than any we have ever known. Twelve deacons all line up in Sunday school and prayer meeting, teach, talk, and pray. Oh, what a burden that lifts from the pastor's shoulders."

In early August, less than half a year after his arrival in Knoxville, the Paducah Sun, quoting from a Knoxville paper, stated that already, "his large auditorium is always crowded and about seventy people have joined his church." (A few years later, just before he went to Norfolk, the Baptist and Reflector of Nashville remarked in passing there had been 527 in Sunday School recently.)

Not long into his stay in Knoxville, attendance swelled to point of necessitating the construction of a huge Sunday School addition that opened into the main auditorium; the city marking street cars that made stops near the church for the convenience of those wanting to attend; and several street cars lining up on Sunday evenings to help disperse the crowds when services let out.

That first summer, he also led a revival in a nearby town, and in advance of the meetings, the Knoxville Journal and Tribune remarked that

"The different churches in and near Fountain City [now part of Knoxville, Tenn., proper] have arranged for a great tent meeting commencing August 20...When the question of who would be invited to do the preaching came before the large committee, Rev. G.W. Perryman, D.D., pastor of Centennial Baptist church, this city, was selected. He has great gifts as an evangelist as his great audiences will testify..."

So pleased was the church with Dr. Perryman near the end of his first year there, five hundred dollars was added to his annual salary in January 1906. By that time, reported an unnamed Knoxville paper, nearly two hundred members had been added to the church and on a recent Sabbath day, Sunday School attendance was five hundred sixty-three.

At the dedicatory service of the annex in the spring of 1907, Rev. J. Pike Powers, the church's first minister seventeen years earlier, said of the current pastor (as reported in the Baptist and Reflector of Nashville),

"Dr. G.W. Perryman is a born leader. God gave him a great big body to hold his great big heart, he puts soul and body into his work, and thus brings things to pass. He was successful at Newport and Owenton and Middle[s]boro and Paducah, Ky., but his crowning work is at Knoxville, Tenn."

Although he likely was involved in the temperance movement prior to his removal to Tennessee, it was in Knoxville that he seemed to hit stride in fighting what he deemed to be a menacing scourge on the face of the land and successfully led the charge for the city to vote itself dry a baker's dozen years before prohibition became the law of the land.

During the run up to that election of 1907, he "poured the panic" on those who might not back his stance. On one occasion he told his congregants, "I want you one and all to understand that if any of you are for the saloon, high or low license, that I will make is so warm for you that you will not have to sit close to the registers in this church." (Quoted by Joe Coker in Liquor in the Land of the Lost Cause: Southern White Evangelicals and the Prohibition Movement, 2007, p 59.)

Earlier in the year, the Journal and Tribune quoted him as saying, "What kind of fruit is the saloon bearing. Look around and see, and behold poverty, wretchedness, ignorance, despair and death. Who fills our jails? The saloon. Who fills our work houses? The saloon. Who at last fills hell with perishing souls? The saloon."

Between the completion and dedication of the church annex, the installation of a magnificent Hook & Hastings pipe organ in the new structure, and the looming wet-dry election in addition to his regular pastoral duties, 1907 was a busy time for Rev. Perryman. Still, he found -- or maybe simply took -- time to make the trek home to Russell and Adair Counties. He and his son, George Waters Perryman, arrived in Columbia on August 7th and on Sunday the 11th, reported the Adair County News that week, he "preached at old Liberty Church, Russell county, the building in which he was converted and where later he was ordained to preach the Gospel."

On the 18th, he "preached two entertaining sermons" -- forenoon and evening -- at the Columbia Baptist Church. Said the News, "Every body here calls Dr. Perryman 'George,' as he is one of our 'boys'...Dr. Perryman is a Biblical scholar and a very forceful speaker." His evening sermon in particular drew "a crowded congregation."

The Russell Springs letter in the August 21st edition of the News noted simply that "Rev. George Perryman will preach the Baptist church next Sunday," but no didn't specify a date. Newsletters lagged several days behind publication, so he probably has spoken there on the 18th.

Little came to light about what 1908 held in store for Rev. Perryman, but in the forepart of 1909, he announced his resignation from Deaderick Avenue to take leadership of the First Baptist Church of Norfolk, Va. Days before his departure, a banquet was given in his honor. An article in the March 6, 1909 Paducah Sun, republished from the Journal and Tribune of the 3rd, stated in part:

"As evidence of the esteem in which he is held, and of appreciation for his works while a resident of this city, seventy-five citizens of Knoxville gathered about the banquet board at the Colonial hotel last evening and broke bread with Rev. G.W. Perryman, who is soon leave for Norfolk to take up his work in that city, following his years as pastor of the Deaderick Avenue Baptist Church in this city and in quite recent years he has been a potent factor in shaping the destinies of the city. To a large extent he bore the brunt of the prohibition fight here and did great work in making Knoxville a saloonless city.

"It was fitting therefore, that when he is about to conclude his work here, that those who have worked as his aides and have been drawn to his side where the battles were sternly waged, should honor him with a farewell banquet..." --

In noting his pending departure from Knoxville, The Baptist World of Louisville remarked that during Dr. Perryman's years at Deaderick Avenue, the church had received 550 new members.

From the time Norfolk welcomed Rev. Perryman with a fete in the Lynnhaven Hotel shortly after his arrival there in the forepart of March 1909 until a similar gathering at the Hotel Monticello marked his departure in the autumn of 1914, he held the attention of the citizens, and Norfolk equally held his attention.

To be continued.

(The foregoing is adapted from "That Magnificent Voice: A Word Sketch of Rev. George W. Perryman, a Man of His Convictions," (c) 2017. Material adapted and used with permission.)

This story was posted on 2017-04-09 05:26:26
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