BAPTISTS' GREW OUT OF CIVIL WAR STRIFE, SHAPING, CHARACTERIZING SOUTHERN SOCIETY
By Dallas Bogan
Reprinted with Permission from Dallas Bogan. This
article was published in the LaFollette Press.
The history of the First Baptist Church of Jellico, Tennessee, is an important account of the settlement of the town. We will begin in the year 1881 when we find a small settlement nestled in the arc made by Pine, Indian and Jellico Mountains. It was then called Smithburg, with the state line placed in the north portion of Whitley County, Kentucky. The name points out that the town basically consisted of Smiths with some Archers, Silers and Perkins residing in the settlement.
It seems that farming was the chief occupation of the residents until the year 1881 when some stimulating events began to take place. It appears that the towns of Knoxville and Louisville had long felt the need for a relationship with one another. Reasoning for this statement was that the adjoining hills around Smithburg were loaded with giant virgin timber, with the hills abounding with coal deposits. A quick answer was the railroad.
The deafening sound of the whistle of the locomotive, the buzz of the giant saw mill, along with the clatter and bellowing of the coal as it rushed down the newly constructed chutes into the waiting railroad cars, all to the tune of a newly developed town.
Coal production became extremely important as it was in great demand around the world. An early operator by all accounts called it "Jellico Coal" because of its proximity to the Jellico Mountains. The small town, because of its coal production, was renamed Jellico.
Soon, outsiders were racing to the small area of Jellico to engage in the lumber and coal business that quickly flourished. These unknown folks quickly set up stores and businesses up and down the lengthy main street. Through all this sudden development, the world of business had been busily received in the quite little settlement. Money and prosperity had now enveloped the community to no end.
The likes of Tom Smith, his brother, Josiah, Sr., hard-working Adam Siler, and Tom Mahan, still retaining the stature of community leaders, met and couldn't quite decide what was to be done with 'these outlanders.' Saloons, possessed with outsider's gambling habits, were being built on every corner. Fighting, shooting, cursing and just plain troublemakers were destroying the principles that the pioneers had fought to sustain.
A decision was made which encompassed the building of a church, their thoughts being that a place of worship would rid the community of Smithburg of evil. Prior to this event most of the community attended church at Good Hope Meeting House, located five miles south of Smithburg, or to Boston Church House, which was located five miles to the north. Of Course, attending these churches was made possible when the streams were fordable and the road was absent of mud.
Thomas M. Smith, ordained minister of the gospel, merchant and landowner, made the future church possible by donating the land on which the facility was to be built. Those who had agreed to join the organization performed work on the new structure. Adam Siler was the overseer of the project as well as leading the choir after the finalization of the church.
The new church house was a one-room structure, which cost $400 to build. It was sealed with weatherboard, which was painted white. The inside wall had ceilings and candles were used for light the first few years. The new church house was opened on August 24, 1884. It was simply built but filled the needs of these sincere Christians.
The church was respectfully united into a Church of Jesus Christ. A Presbytery, composed of Jesse Lay, Moderator; R.O. Medaris, T.M. Smith, Michael Davis, and Adam Siler, Clerk, were called upon by the organization to pray and lay hands on the kneeling candidates. This act was received and promptly pronounced a United Baptist Church.
A list of the original 16 charter members are: William Snyder, Adam Siler, John Milton Smith, Thomas C. Mahan, Thomas M. Smith, Jesse Lay, Josiah Smith, Sr., S.A. Bryan, Susan Meadow Smith, Nancy Snyder Siler, Mary Siler, Delphia Hackler Smith, Delphia Lay, Cynthia Archer Mahan, Polly Smith, and Virginia Young - eight men and eight women.
The first convert to Christ in the new church was J. Wesley Mahan. A few days later, Lee, his brother also converted. Both these gentlemen served the Lord in their full capacity.
With the old church membership growing by leaps and bounds a new church was greatly needed. On September 24, 1893, a need was fulfilled when a second church building stood ready for worship. The cost of the new building had been $2,824.42 with a balance due of $1,200. Dr. W.P. Harvey of Louisville was to officiate at the dedication but the indebtedness had to be justified before he could continue. Those present finalized this matter with the amount of each gift being recorded.
The 'Panic of '93' set in and the little church, built for the Glory of God, stood abandoned as poverty struck at most every door. However, the ladies of Jellico banded together and rallied through that dark time, and with sincere devotion they joined forces and kept a candle burning in the little church house until better times. Brother Baker resigned during this time and the church was without a pastor for about a year and a half.
W.H. Cornelius was called as the next pastor. He came in April 1895 and stayed almost a year. He made his home on Jellico Creek. The Church gave him a good horse to allow him transportation to and from church.
On June 23, 1895 the first collection for Foreign Missions was taken to the amount of $2.58.
A sad occasion occurred on the evening of April 21, 1897; the Church was completely destroyed by fire. The fixtures and furniture, however, were saved, but no insurance had been secured. Children were sad because their Sunday School had been destroyed. A few days later a building committee was organized, and very quickly an effort for the preparation of a third church was underway.
In the meantime, the Methodist brethren approached the Baptist members and asked that they use their facilities until things were finalized. The Baptists held their Sunday School and preaching services in the Methodist church house on Sunday afternoon for about three weeks, or until Deacon William Elison could arrange the hall over his store for regular church use. The Baptist members continued the use of the Methodist church for their funerals, since the Deacon's upstairs hall was inconvenient for such gatherings.
Dr. F.H. Kerfoot, of Atlanta, dedicated the new church building on Sunday, Dec. 3, 1899. The congregation enthusiastically accepted a brick building, complete with a separate Sunday School room and electric lights. Cost of the project was $5,000. The first marriage ceremony in the little brick church was that of Poppie Elizabeth Trammell and W.N. Proctor. It was described as: "there had never been a more beautiful one."
The church again outgrew itself and on May 4, 1913 a new building was dedicated by E.F. Wright of Williamsburg, Ky. Everyone, including folks from Williamsburg, drew deep down into their pockets for the offering.
In April 1917 the country was drawn into war across the ocean. The boys of Jellico rushed to enlist and answer to conscription. Mothers and wives tried to hide their emotions as they sat alone in the church house suffering the anguish of their sons and husbands who had gone off to war. Outside the church a massive flag flowed in the breeze in remembrance of the brave.
There is much more to this gallant story of the Jellico First Baptist Church. We should all stand in awe of our country's freedom and the devotion of its churches to exalting God.