Located in Crockett County, two miles north of the town of Crockett Mills in a rural community is the Providence Baptist Church. This church was organized in 1854 by members from Johnson’s Grove Baptist Church. The need for a place in which to worship was realized by the people in this community. The first worship house was a large log structure with a stick and dirt chimney. the building was constructed at a log-raising occasion, having two windows with wooden shutters and three doors, which were hung on wooden hinges. The seats were crude, split logs with peg legs. No known means of lighting the building are known, except for the large fireplace, which was over 4 feet wide. Two front doors were used, one by the women and the other by the men. Also, there were two separate sides of the church, with men on one side and women on the other. Their attendance was strictly for purposes of worship. The people came in ox carts and wagons to worship. Many of them came several miles through the woods.
Luke Tatum and J. F. Robertson donated one acre each to the church for a cemetery, which was recorded on May 27, 1874. Timber covered this land, as well as the surrounding area, with only a few small clearings where homesteads were established.
At this time money was very scarce, so the people grew sheep for wool, which was spun into thread to make woolen clothing to pay the preacher. He had no fixed salary and received such items as socks, shirts, corn and many other agricultural products. Preaching service was held the fourth Sunday each month on Saturday morning and Sunday morning.
The area increased in population, and the need for a better and larger church was at hand. About the time our county was formed, the people met and built a large frame, white building with glass windows. This building faced the south, had two front doors and one side door, with two rows of large white columns that reached from the floor to the ceiling to support the joists. Inside were kerosene lamps, a wood-burning stove, and benches made by hand from poplar lumber.
A committee was appointed to buy an organ, for they had no musical instruments. The membership was now about two hundred, which was a large percentage of the community, and most of these attended every meeting. A large church bell was bought, and before worship or a funeral, the tones from the bell could be heard for miles around.
The following minutes were written by K. S. Peal in the church record book in 1910: “Voted to pay the pastor the sum of $150 salary for 1/4 time for the year. Rev. J. T. Barker called to serve as pastor for the following year.”
In 1919 the building was moved south to give more room in the cemetery. Members were not satisfied because they wanted the building to face the east. They decided to build a new church instead of repairing the older one, using some of the lumber in the new building. During the construction of the building, regular worship services were carried on in the Methodist Church at Crockett Mills. This building, completed in 1923, now stands on the grounds at the present time. It is a large, brick veneered one facing east, with beautiful oak trees on the grounds and is near a hard-surfaced road. It has four large brick columns in the front. Inside the building are 312 comfortable seats, a rostrum for the chair, and a piano which was bought to replace the organ. The cemetery was not well kept and was growing up in briars and bushes. The third Sunday in May was set for Homecoming Day and a special donation made for upkeep of the cemetery. People from far and near come, bringing their lunch for the all-day affair. After the usual morning services, dinner placed upon a huge table under the trees, where all enjoy good food and good preaching, after which a donation is taken for the cemetery. Someone is hired to keep the cemetery mowed and beautiful.
Another big event is the annual revival which starts on the fourth Sunday in July. This was at one time a great meeting, according to old-timers. Many nights the church would not hold the crowds that gathered to worship.
Vacation Bible School is held for one week each summer, in which the superintendent is sometimes the pastor. On Saturday before the school starts, a parade is made through the community, which aids in getting children of ages 3 through 16 to attend. The study consists of singing, studying the Bible, and handicraft. Commencement is held on Sunday evening, after a week of study, where diplomas and awards are presented.
People from surrounding communities buried their relatives in the cemetery; therefore, it grew rapidly. In 1943 Mrs. Rosa Hamlett donated two acres of land south of church for a new cemetery, in which there are now three graves.
In 1953 four new Sunday School rooms and a hall were added to the building. People donated money, and most of the work was done by members. When the rooms were completed, they were paid for. The former pastors, Bro. Melvin Williams and Mrs. Clyde Mayfield preached the dedication service. Bro. Mayfield said, “This is only the passing of another milestone; let us keep working until more goals are reached.” Some other improvements are electric lights, gas heat, polished floors, painted inside walls and window fans.
This year Mrs. Effie Williams donated a new piano to the church as a token of remembrance and Mrs. Ruby Laster donated a new communion table in memory of her husband, Mr. Clarence Laster.
Providence is now a full-time church with 334 members, a standard Sunday School, B.T.U. services, and Wednesday night prayer service. Some important achievements of the past year were sending the pastor to Cuba for a week of missionary work, buying 60 new song books, donating a love offering for the pastor and buying a new pulpit.
The present pastor, Bro. Ted Wimberly, lives in the community, enabling the members to observe his words, actions, sincerity and closeness to God.
The Providence Community has prospered much since the first settlement, thanks to this as well as other churches. Today the soft tones of the church bell may be heard, not as they were years ago when they echoed in the woods, but drifting over cultivated fields. The church has stood the test of time for more than a century, and in the future will continue to be of importance to this community. Visitors are always welcome at Providence Baptist Church.
The preceding article was contributed, with permission of the Crockett County Historical Society, by Natalie Huntley.
This article was compiled and written by Wayne Redmond, and published in the book Crockett County Courthouse Centennial, 1874 – 1974, prepared by the Crockett County Historical Society.