The first white settlers entered into the community now known as Santa Fe at the turn of the 19th century. Originally called Pin Hook, the settlement became part of the newly-formed Maury County in 1807. The name Pin Hook didn’t last long as the community soon became known as Benton, after Thomas Hart Benton who lived for a time near Leiper’s Fork and was elected to the Tennessee State Senate in 1809. Benton would go on to fight alongside Andrew Jackson in the War of 1812 before relocating to Missouri where he attained national fame as statesman and long-time U.S. senator.
Early in its existence Pin Hook attracted the attention of Methodist circuit riders and, in 1808, became part of the Duck River Circuit with Zadoc B. Thackston as its first preacher. The first Methodist church, or society as it would have been called in those days, was organized in Benton around 1810-1811. The original building was a log structure erected on the lot on which the Santa Fe United Methodist Church now stands. Meanwhile, the first post office at Benton was called the Snow Creek Post Office because there was already one in Tennessee named Benton. When, in 1849, the designation of the post office was changed to Santa Fe, the community adopted the new name and the church became known as the Santa Fe Church on the Duck River Circuit. In 1857, the Santa Fe Circuit was created which also included Goshen and Bethel. R.G. Linn was the circuit’s first preacher.
In 1882, Reverend J. Wesley Irvine, the owner of the lot on which stood the original log church building, deeded the property to the church, paving the way for the construction of a new house of worship which was completed in 1886. The first board of trustees as named in the deed was John W. Hulme, John H. Cook, Thomas C. Gaskill, John W. Kinzer, and Watson P. Cook. R.W. Seay was the preacher at that time, though J.W. Hensley was the pastor when the construction project was completed. Watson P. Cook’s youngest son, Watson Marvin Cook, was born in 1880 and was a small child when the new Santa Fe Methodist Church opened its doors, but he was destined to play a large role in its subsequent history.
In his later years, Watson Marvin Cook, or “Brother Marvin,” as he would become known in the community, remembered the Santa Fe of his youth as an “educational and industrial center,” boasting a lumber and a flour mill, a cotton gin, a pump factory, a tannery, a drug store, a general store, a Masonic Lodge situated next door to the Santa Fe Methodist Church, and various churches and schools. There was even a Santa Fe College chartered by the state and authorized to award baccalaureate degrees.
Young Marvin joined the church in 1892, a month after another event that that was “indelibly imprinted” in his memory – the “Big Snow” of March 16-17 which left twenty inches of snow on the ground. Another development of note that same year was the organization at the Santa Fe Methodist Church of a woman’s missionary society. Its original officers were Mrs. W. H. Hulme, President; Miss Rebecca Adkisson, Vice President; Mrs. J.A. Satterfield, Corresponding Secretary; Mrs. A.C. Allen, Recording Secretary; and Mrs. R.D. Adkisson, Treasurer. The society, now known as the United Methodist Women, has been a continuous part of the Santa Fe United Methodist Charge since its founding.
Marvin was admitted to Vanderbilt in 1901 and, over the next decade, earned a B.A. at Vanderbilt and a degree from the college’s Divinity School, married, started a family, taught school, preached on various Tennessee circuits, completed an appointment from the Home Mission Board to Redlands, California, and returned to Tennessee to resume his career as the horse and buggy-riding preacher of the Liberty Circuit near Watertown.
For the next 35 years Brother Marvin served the Tennessee Conference in various churches and capacities but, by 1946, he was anxious to return home and “spend some years at work in the Santa Fe Church” for which he had big plans. He had managed to set aside $1,000 and he offered it to the Santa Fe Methodist Church on the condition that the members would raise an additional $10,000 for the purpose of refurbishing the original sanctuary and adding an educational annex. When his proposal was accepted “with much enthusiasm,” Brother Marvin asked to be transferred from the Pulaski Methodist Church to the Santa Fe Circuit in 1947, which then included Santa Fe, Goshen, Bethel, and Godwin Chapel.
Returning to Santa Fe almost a half century after he had left, Brother Marvin found that “it had changed over the years, but I can hardly say it had grown.” The “square” was no longer surrounded by places of business as it had been when he was a boy. The public school now sat on the spot of the old college. There was only one store with the post office adjoining it. But the Santa Fe Methodist Church was still there, and Brother Marvin happily threw himself into the challenge of overseeing its renovation.
In addition to being the inspiration and architect, Brother Marvin did much of the work with his own hands. He built new steps, put in a new water system and electrical wiring, and put down a floor in the corner vestibule in which he embedded a mosaic Greek cross in the center using broken, colored tile. Inside the sanctuary, he chose all the wall colors and the materials and furnishings. He built an alter divided by three six-foot wide steps leading up to a platform with a pulpit on one side and a lectern on the other. On the back wall of this platform in between the pulpit and the lectern he placed a shelf on which still rests a six foot cross covered with twenty-three carat gold leaf. Behind the cross is a velvet drapery. Below the cross are the words “HOLY HOLY HOLY” and on the communion table below the shelf are the words “IN REMEMBRANCE OF ME.” Brother Marvin sawed the letters to make these words with a jig-saw, carved them with a knife, and had them covered with the same gold overlay as the cross. All of this, and more of Brother Marvin’s handiwork, can still be admired in the Santa Fe United Methodist Church.
The addition of the educational annex transformed the original one-room building into an L-shaped structure with the sanctuary and annex joined by a corner vestibule with double doors opening into the sanctuary and steps leading to classrooms above and a social hall and kitchen below. Having completed this renovation, Brother Marvin retired from the full-time ministry in 1952 after five happy and productive years at his home church.
During Brother Marvin’s retirement years he purchased the home next door and continued to enjoy preaching on a regular basis at the Santa Fe United Methodist Church. However, on a cold, rainy Monday afternoon in late November of 1972, disaster struck the beloved church. A fire that apparently began in the downstairs kitchen ran up the back wall into one corner of the sanctuary and a classroom. A hose connected to a well on Brother Marvin’s property was turned onto the fire and neighbors attempted to help with buckets and pans. Nevertheless, the situation looked hopeless when, after a loud crackling sound, the fire broke through the roof of the structure. But the Columbia City Fire Department arrived just in time and somehow managed to save the church.
Despite extensive fire, smoke, and water damage, the Santa Fe United Methodist Church never missed a service. Sunday school and preaching continued to be held in two upstairs classrooms that remained usable. Through insurance and generous donations from church members and many others, the church was restored. By the following summer, Brother Marvin could joyously proclaim that the Santa Fe United Methodist Church was “better than ever.”
Brother Marvin passed away in 1976, but the church, to which he gave so much, lives on. In addition to Brother Marvin, the Santa Fe United Methodist Church proudly claims for its own five other Methodist ministers who, in their youth, were nurtured there: J.R. Holmes, Classie B. Cook, Woodrow W. Johnson, Robert Holmes, and James W. Gardner.
The Santa Fe Circuit now consists of Santa Fe, Goshen, Godwin Chapel, and Theta. The Reverend Joe Bowers is currently the preacher on the charge.
Cook, Watson Marvin. “Santa Fe: Columbia District” in History of
Methodist Churches and Institutions in Middle Tennessee, compiled
and edited by Cullen T. Carter.
Fox, Horace G. “History of the Santa Fe Methodist Church” in
Churches of Maury County, Tennessee, Prior to 1860, compiled by the Tenassee Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, 1980.
Sanders, Lera Cook, editor. One Man’s Century: The Life and Work of
Marvin Cook, 1979.
Sealy, Mrs. Eugene, and Stevenson, Mrs. John. “Santa Fe United
Methodist Church – History,” 1986.
Woody, Burton. “Santa Fe, Tennessee” in Penhook, Benton, Santa Fe:
A Century of its Education and Culture, Tennessee Homecoming