175th Anniversary of New River Church
(EDITOR’S NOTE — The following article was compiled by the New River Church Anniversary Committee: DIANE SMITH, Chrm., Gary Lowe, MARY HELEN SEXTON, FLORA BLAKLEY, TERRIE PHILLIPS, HERTIS PHILLIPS, Rev. JOHNNY ZACHARY, EDITH SEXTON, JAMES BURCHFIELD, HAZEL CUNNINGHAM, ODELL BRUMMETT and many others in the church).
If we could turn back the pages of history, we could find a small community of people that settled along the banks of New River. The settlement came to be known as New River, Tennessee.
Maybe they chose this location because of the life sustaining water provided by the river. For whatever reason, they came and built a community. The people, like our forefathers, were God-fearing people and faith in Him was the center of their life. Survival depended on their strength which came from faith in God.
As time passed, people realized that the life sustaining river also provided a means of economic opportunity. The economic growth came mainly from the lumber business. With the lumber business growth, the community also grew and prospered.
In time, New River Church located in Huntsville was relocated to the town of New River. The original location is not a known fact but later a building on the hill above the river was used to hold church services. The "meeting house", as it was called, was an important addition to the small community. It was welcomed by the people.
They could meet at the church to worship God, exercise their faith and fellowship with their brothers and sisters in Christ. To them, this spiritual river was much more important than the natural river that provided physical needs. Unlike the natural river, the spiritual river gave the people eternal hope through Christ their savior. It taught people the real values of life. Even with the hardships of life they enjoyed happiness and peace of mind. There were many other blessings from God as a result of their devotion and dedication to Him. Their children followed in their footsteps and passed their Christian values to future generations.
According to records in Campbell County, Tennessee, the New River Church was given a deed from THOMAS LAWSON in 1826 for land in the area that came to be known as Huntsville. The church had been given the land seven years before in 1819, but Mr. LAWSON stipulated that the site had to be used for a church for seven years before the deed would be executed. For reasons unknown, the deed was not recorded until 1842.
To get a perspective on the time this all took place, it was during this time that DAVY CROCKETT was elected to Congress, ANDREW JACKSON defeated JOHN QUINCY ADAMS for President of the United States and the infamous "trail of tears" for the Cherokee Indians had begun in 1838. The Mexican War, Tennessee’s Volunteers and the Alamo were followed by the Civil War that ended in 1865. The little church of New River was a spiritual stronghold during the time of all these historical events.
A Legislative Act of December 17, 1849 created Scott County, Tennessee from parts of Campbell County, Morgan County and Fentress County. The lines on the north were to run with the latitude line, which in 1861 was moved back toward Kentucky seven miles. The first survey of the county/state line ran approximately south of the Scott County Hospital and the Burchfield School.
A cross-section of representatives in the area were appointed to help with the founding of the county. WILLIAM CHITWOOD of Winfield, WILLIAM WHITECOTTON of southwest Oneida, WILLIAM MASSENGILL from near the Anderson County line, "Red" DREWEY SMITH of Smith Creek, JOHN TIPTON of Straight Fork, WILLIAM RICH of lower Glenmary, THOMAS LAWSON of the Brimstone Community, and WILLIAM CARNEY and J. W. KERNS of the Huntsville Community.
The first court for Scott County, Tennessee was held in the New River Church in Huntsville on Monday, July 22, 1850. According to the minutes of that meeting, "Be it remembered that in pursuance of an act of the General Assembly passed at Nashville on the 17th day of December, 1849, there was held a (term) of the circuit court in and for the
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County of Scott in the State of Tennessee at the Town of Huntsville, which had been selected and designated by the commissioners as appointed by the said Act as the seat of justice for the said county and in the meeting house belonging to and owned by the New River Baptist Church which building has been procured and designated by the County Court of said County for the purpose of holding the various courts until such time as a suitable court house has been erected . . ."
An election was ordered held at the New River depot on April 26, 1884 by the April term of court "for the purpose of ascertaining the will of the voters as to whether New River should or should not be incorporated". The result was 28 in favor of incorporation and two opposed. The petition and certificate of election of the incorporation of New River were filed in the Scott County Register’s office on April 29, 1884. It’s unclear if the town actually incorporated, if it still is incorporated or when it was changed back to unincorporated.
The New River Church joined the Clinton Association of the United Baptist Association during the Association’s 18th annual meeting by letter dated August 18, 1870. The New River delegate was Daugherty. The New River Church was a member of the Clinton Association for 17 years and in 1886 was represented at the 34th annual session of the Clinton Association by S. REED and B. THOMPSON, and the New River Church along with churches at Jellico, Straight Fork, Smokey Creek, Sugar Grove, Winfield and Pleasant Grove were dismissed to form a new association to be known as the New River Baptist Association. Also joining the New River Association were Black Creek, Glenmary, and Clear Creek Churches which were previously members of the Big Emory Association. Minutes of the New River Baptist Association show that the organizational meeting was held at the New River Baptist Church Saturday, April 3,1885.
All the areas in and around Scott County experienced a great economic boost in the late 1800s and early 1900s with the advent of timber logging, coal mining, oil exploration and the influx of industries related to all these natural resources. Pictures accompanying this story of the New River Lumber Company date back to the late 1800s and indicate an extensive sawmill operation on the banks of the New River. This mill’s prosperity led to New River becoming a thriving community, complete with a soft drink bottling company. Company housing, called "camp houses", sprang up along Rough and Mud Street and across the railroad tracks overlooking the lumber mill is where the company store, boarding house and superintendent’s home were located. Business thrived for many years but began to wane in the late 1920s and in 1928 the W.M. Ritter Company of Columbus, Ohio came to New River, taking over the operations from the bankrupt Thomas Hall Lumber Company. The Ritter mill provided employment to between 275 and 300 persons. When the original mill burned in 1946, it was replaced by a circular mill which turned out from 18,000 to 20,000 board feet per day. In the late 1950s, the circular mill was replaced by a six foot band mill, which cut from 25,000 to 28,000 board feet per day. On October 1, 1960, W.M. Ritter Lumber Company merged into the Georgia Pacific Corp., and after about a year the New River mill was closed for good.
A fire burned most of the records of the New River Church, but from the memories of present church members, as well as records and pictures of descendents of former church members, the content of this history of the church was drawn together.
In 1890 the New River Association voted to build a high school in New River and called it the New River Academy. The first class of the school in 1893 had an enrollment of 171 students. P. A. OWENS was the principal and C. C. CROSS was assistant principal. The school was located a mile east of the New River Station. In 1896 WILLARD KEEN became the principal of the school and, in 1900, the school was closed because there wasn’t enough money to run it.
The building that served the church until 1950 was first a school, then several church denominations began using the building for church services. It was the typical one-room structure, complete with pot-bellied stove, tin roof and windows with wooden shutters. The shutters were closed when commotions outside the windows, such as rough housing and cavorting, interfered with the services inside the church. With several denominations using the same building, "union" Sunday School was held. That was where all denominations met together. The preaching afterward, rotated from Sunday to Sunday with a different denomination preacher preaching to the congregation. This must have been confusing because minutes in 1910 of the New River Baptist Association reflect that the pastor of the New River Baptist Church was to be investigated for baptizing members into the Methodist Church!
In the late l940s the church members decided to build a new building, since the old one was in bad condition. The new church was at a location nearby on Highway 27 on land donated by GEORGE CECIL. Later, through a gift from DON STANSBERRY, additional property was acquired for use by the church.
Brothers R. S. VOILES, CLIFFORD POTTER, JOHN PARTON and the pastor, Rev. SAM GARRETT, served as the Building Committee.
Times were hard and the building progressed slowly. On July 8, 1950, the first service in the partially finished building was the funeral of Brother CLIFFORD POTTER. Since the seats were carried from the old church to the new one especially for this service, it was decided to continue with services in the new building even though it wasn’t finished.
With much hard work from the young people, the church began to grow as they worked to raise money for chairs for classrooms and furniture for the pulpit. The women had raised enough. Money by late fall of 1950 to buy new seats for the church.
As with all churches, the New River Baptist Church fondly recalls members whose mannerisms made them stand out in our memories. One such member was NELLS (NELSON) REED. He was paid about 50 cents a week to perform a few janitorial duties, to keep the fires going and ring the bell. Another important and self-appointed duty for Bro. NELLS was to noisily wind his loudly ticking pocket watch when he felt the preacher had preached long enough.
Church members also fondly remember Bro. COLUMBUS LOWE who would attend the first part of the evening church service at the Low Gap Church, then run as hard as he could down the short cut through .the woods to the New River Church to attend the later service there. Neighbors remember seeing Bro. LOWE’s flashlight swinging wildly as he ran, more often than on the ground, the flashlight was shining high in the
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tree limbs. They’d say, "There goes Bro. LOWE, trying not to miss any preaching at New River tonight."
The church was dedicated June 12, 1955 with Dr. T. C. WYATT, the chaplain of East Tennessee Baptist Hospital, as the main speaker. Rev. JERRY ZACHARY was pastor and Rev. CARL JEFFERS assisted. Brother LOWELL LAWSON was the Associational Missionary.
During the past years there have been many improvements made to the church and grounds. It’s estimated that close to $200,000 has been raised by church members through donated labor and materials and having fundraisers such as auctions, yard sales and chicken and dumplin’ dinners. Very little debt was incurred because church members and the community were generous in contributing to the betterment of the church. A new parking lot has been added, classrooms have been added, new bathrooms were built, new stained glass windows and carpet were added, the choir loft was enlarged and a piano and organ were donated. Just to show the foresight of the folk who designed the church, the footer for the brick that was added later was poured at the time the church was built in the late 1940s. They knew that eventually they would cover the concrete blocks with brick and planned accordingly.
A new fellowship hail will be built next to the church in the near future. The church also supports a missionary and supports the Baptist Children’s Home.
We are proud of the church leaders who have worked long and hard to assure the church’s success. But most of all, we thank God for all his many blessings and guidance, without this, nothing could have been done. Brother JOHNNY ZACHARY has been pastor since 1973 and has provided untiring service. New River Missionary Baptist Church presently has 449 members.
Many years have passed since the beginning of the New River Community. The river still flows as it did then. Today it still has the role of life sustainer since, much of Scott County depends on it for drinking water. The church is also alive and doing well. The original founders of 1819 would be proud to know that the church has prospered and grown through the years. The spiritual water, even in a world filled with troubles, still offers the same eternal hope through Christ.
FNB Chronicle, Vol. 5, No. 4 – Summer 1994
First National Bank
P.O. Box 4699
Oneida, TN 37841
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