The site of Wiley Memorial United Methodist Church, formerly Wiley Memorial Methodist Episcopal, at 500 Lookout Street has been significant throughout the history of Chattanooga. The site served as the center of community life for Ross’s Landing before the name was changed to Chattanooga in 1838, and during the 1863 Civil War battle of Chattanooga, the “pepperbox” church was used as a hospital and prison by the Confederate army and later as a military prison by the Union army. The church received such extensive damage that it was sold in 1867 for one thousand dollars to the African American Methodist Episcopalians, who established the first black congregation in East Tennessee. Their first pastor was Reverend Houston.
Foundation for a brick building was laid in 1886. When arson destroyed the structure in 1887, the reconstruction became a joint effort of all the membership: women cleaned and men laid the brick. In 1901 the congregation purchased a large pipe organ, believed to be one of the first in an African American church.
In 1978, fearing a potential roof collapse, the City Commission’s Building Inspector ordered the building closed. The congregation used other buildings until 1979 when Wiley Memorial was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and city officials issued a certificate of occupancy allowing worship services to resume in the building.