Hallowed ground

Tyson Temple in Versailles
has unique history

It was inspired, built
with money from James Tyson

Debra Maylum
Staff Writer

VERSAILLES, Ind. (January 2005) – Administered by the National Park Service, the National Register of Historic Places is the official listing of districts, sites, buildings, structures and objects found to be worthy of preservation due to significance in American history, architecture, archeology, engineering and culture. The list includes approximately 78,000 sites, several of which are found in the Southeastern corner of Indiana.

James Tyson
James H. Tyson

The Tyson Temple United Methodist Church in Versailles, Ind., is one of the few churches, especially locally, listed on the National Register.
According to the National Parks Service National Register of Historic Places criteria, properties owned by religious institutions or used for religious purposes are not ordinarily eligible for the National Register. The architectural and artistic distinction of Tyson Temple United Methodist Church, however, creates an exception under which this religious institution qualifies.
The church, built in 1937 with the funding and inspiration of James H. Tyson, was listed on the National Register on Sept. 8, 1995, because of its unique art deco architecture.
Tyson was born in Versailles, where he lived until age 15. He pursued a career as a printer. His family remained in Versailles, however, he eventually settled in Chicago. Tyson roomed in Chicago at the same boarding house as Charles Walgreen, a local drug store owner. According to church records, one evening Walgreen said that if he had $1,500, he would buy another store nearby. Tyson said that if Walgreen wanted the store, he had the $1,500. That, in essence, was the beginning of the Walgreen Drug Co. and an investment that made Tyson a rich man.
In 1926, Tyson created a trust fund of 18,000 shares of Walgreen stock for the community of Versailles. Terms stipulated that the trustees of the Versailles United Methodist Church, where his mother was a charter member, would administer the fund. The money was used to benefit the town of Versailles with the construction of the Tyson Library and Tyson Waterworks. Another stipulation of the trust agreement stated that the community must build a new church in memory of his mother, Eliza Adams Tyson. Tyson’s ideas from his trips around the world were inspiration for much of the construction of the new building, which became Tyson Temple United Methodist Church.

Tyson Church

The Tyson Temple United Methodist Church is on the National Registry of Historic Places.

The churches unique features include a continuous flow of rounded corners, arches, columns, windows and roof, all built with no nails. The church is called Tyson “Temple” because no hammers were heard during the construction just as none were heard in the construction of the temple in Israel. The aluminum spire is a rounded, inverted cone rising 65 feet, with a base eight feet in diameter. It was only the second aluminum spire in the United States at the time of its construction. The copper roof was also the second of its kind at the time of construction.
The unique beauty of the church includes a basement floor made of marble and pillars framing the altar that duplicate those found at the Taj Mahal. Among materials imported from around the world, church members find themselves sitting right at home. Furnished with Oak from Ripley County, Ind., the church pews were constructed and finished at Batesville, Ind.
The unmatched beauty of the church attracts many visitors. According to church literature, the exterior was renovated in 1994 and 1995, and the interior in 1997. Church officials say the building was restored as near as possible to the original finish each time.
Listing on the National Register requires that a location meet certain criteria, however, anyone may prepare a nomination to the National Register if he feels the location may qualify. According to church officials, church members Sally Stegner and the late Betty Furguson and Neva Hill felt that their church was special enough to meet National Register qualifications and completed the work and research required for the application.
The art deco design and high artistic values of the church were distinguishable enough to qualify through the state of Indiana and the National Parks Service for a listing. The result is recognition of the church’s importance to the community, state, and nation.
Hill, who died this past fall, was well known throughout Ripley and Jefferson counties, as well as nearby Trimble County, Ky., where at one time she taught school and Sunday School at the Milton United Methodist Church. Her funeral was helt at Tyson Temple, a place she held dear.

• Tyson Temple United Methodist Church is located at 324 W. Tyson St., Versailles, Ind. For more information, call (812) 689-6976.

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