One of the earliest accounts of a circuit rider coming to Maryville is that of Methodist Lorenzo Dow in 1804. His dynamic preaching, said to attract 1500 listeners from many denominations, rang from the heights of Mt. Gilead hill, about a half mile beyond Maryville’s Main Street (now Broadway) In the first decade of the 19th century, many camp meetings were held on Mt. Gilead.
Bishop Francis Asbury (1745-1816), the most famous of all circuit riders, came to Maryville at least twice. It is generally believed that he spoke at Mt. Gilead both times. Although no church building had been constructed, a brush arbor likely served the large congregations who came to hear him, the first time in a heavy downpour of rain, the second on a “balmy day.”
Through the persistent efforts of the circuit riders and local leaders, Methodism soon took a firm hold in Blount County. Worshippers met under the brush arbor or in the case of overflow crowds, sat on tree stumps or crude benches while listening to the exhortations of the preachers, urging them to renounce their sinful ways and accept the Christian faith. Those who had traveled several miles pitched their tents side-by-side in a wide circle surrounding the place of worship. Or, if they had no tents, they pulled their wagons into the circle and slept in them. The days were filled with prayers, sermons, exhortations, and confessions.
On October 18, 1819, the five-acre tract on “Methodist Hill” was placed on auction and bought by the trustees of Mt. Gilead Church for 77 cents plus all accrued interest and principal. It was then deeded to Mount Gilead Methodist Episcopal Church with one acre set aside as a cemetery, which still stands on the site today.
In 1824 when the Holston Conference of the Methodist Church was organized, Mt. Gilead Methodist Church sent delegates and was named part of the Maryville Circuit. The first pastor was Thomas J. Brown appointed by the conference in 1825. When the Methodist Church broke into two divisions in 1844 over the ownership of slaves by two pastors, one from Maryland and the other from Georgia, the Holston Conference voted to align itself with the southern branch of the church.
Subsequently, Mt. Gilead Methodist Episcopal Church became commonly known as Maryville Methodist Episcopal Church, South, even though on record it was termed Mount Gilead M. E. Church, South. Sympathizers of both the southern and northern branches of the church continued to worship together on Mt. Gilead.
In 1860 the church had outgrown its walls on Mt. Gilead. The members bought land and constructed a new church building on Church Street in downtown Maryville on the very spot where once stood the home of Rev. Isaac Anderson, founder of Maryville College. By 1864 it was evident that the ravages of the Civil War which had pitted many of the families of the church against each other would indeed split the church. As a result, the Holston Conference did not appoint a pastor to the church in 1864. In 1865 when the Holston Conference reorganized in Athens, Tennessee, the Maryville ME Church was also reorganized. The ME church broke ties with the ME South church and met at different places before constructing their own building in 1871. The Southern church continued worshipping in the building on Church Street until 1899.
It was 1890 before the Methodist churches in Maryville began to recover from the ravages of the Civil War with Northern sympathizers set against Southern sympathizers. By this time there was only one ME South pastor, at the Maryville ME South church, while there were six ME Church pastors throughout Blount County. During the 1890’s, the Maryville ME South Church on Church Street outgrew its building and, in 1899, the congregation relocated at the present site, 309 East Broadway.
By the 1920’s, it was evident that additional educational facilities were necessary. Consequently the present education wing was built incorporating a third floor which was used for basketball, tennis, the Boy Scouts, and, at one time, a bowling area sponsored by the Kiwanis Club. Due to the depression era, the building was not dedicated until 1943.
By the mid-1950’s, the congregation had outgrown the sanctuary, and, in 1959, the present new structure was completed. In 1973, the stained glass windows were installed in the sanctuary and chapel areas.
Throughout the 1980’s and 90’s, Broadway embarked on several renovation projects to improve the flexibility of both the education program and worship opportunities. The children’s division was upgraded with the walls in each room decorated in a different motif by Beverly Baker; the second and third floors were upgraded to accommodate a more diverse adult and youth program and to make room for the newly developed hand bell program; and the chancel area of the sanctuary was renovated to open up space for more contemporary styles of worship, including an overhaul of the Wicks pipe organ.
In 1998, Rejuvenation Station, a contemporary service was launched and continues to present a dynamic service of modern music, more casual dress, and the use of multimedia to enhance worship.
To make the church more accessible to physically challenged people, an elevator was added in 2003.
The Church Council, in 2002, affirmed Broadway’s role as a downtown church and future dreams for witness, evangelism, and outreach now focus on its challenge to minister to the needs of a growing community.