Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Methodists Are Coming

Today, our class went on another excursion. We got to spend some time knocking around Jonesborough - the oldest town in Tennessee (more on that later), and then on to the Blountville/Bluff City area, where we checked out some very old, and very cool log structures with integral ties to the establishment of the Methodist Church in Tennessee.

Though Presbyterianism was the first to hit Tennessee with the early push of large numbers of Scots-Irish pioneers into the Western frontier in the 1770s, Methodism followed closely behind, and according to modern estimates, fairly quickly surpassed and established itself as one of the largest Christian denominations in the state - where it continues to stand today - second only to the Baptists.

This time capsule, located at the base of the chimney outside of the chapel shows the date of the establishment of this, the earliest Methodist church in Tennessee - 1784.

The structure of the chapel itself is interesting. It has three doors, which in an early log structure like this was not exactly common. The only conceivable purpose for this, at least to me, is that two doors were used to facilitate the entrance of male and female congregants separately.

The heavy stone slabs used for the stairs were impressive to me because of their sheer size and the fact that men, and not hydraulic machines had to move them and place them. Ouch.

Wooden pews are not the first name in comfort, that is true, however, they are very serviceable, and as these pews demonstrate, they also last. It turns out that these pews were not original to this chapel, they were actually moved from the Adams Chapel which was built to replace Acuff Chapel in 1887. 

The front of the chapel as seen from the front door. The altar, or chancel rail running in front of the pulpit separates the chancel of the church from the rest of the structure. It also serves as a place where congregants would kneel in order to receive Eucharist, or Communion.

There are two things worthy of notice in the above pictures. First, is the fireplace. The location of the fireplace, at the front of the chapel, was supposedly chosen to encourage congregants to sit in the forward section of the congregation, rather than further back.

The second point of interest is the slab of stone that you can see resting against the fireplace. It turns out that this is the original headstone of Timothy Acuff, who, along with his wife, Anna Leigh, donated the land upon which this chapel was built. His replacement stone can be seen in the graveyard just outside the church.


The graveyard is populated with many headstones that are no more than field stones. The markings, if there ever were any, have long since disappeared from the face of most of them.

I had to take a picture of Micajah Adams' headstone, not only because he was one of the founding members of the Acuff Chapel, but also because he was a veteran of the Revolutionary War.

And then there was the grave of Timothy Hamilton. I couldn't pass this one by because of the BIG HOLE where the body of Mr. Hamilton should be resting. You can't see it very well from this angle, but the hole was quite impressive in size. It really kinda looks like this guy tried to get out! Ha ha!

The next stop on our trek was the Edward Cox House near Bluff City. This home was built (as you can see on the sign) in 1774 by the aforementioned Edward Cox - a convert to Methodism who immediately began to host Sunday meetings in his home upon its completion.

This house has two separate sections joined by a walkway on each level. This was a very rare structural style in early log homes in East Tennessee built during the early frontier push of the late 18th century.

Here's a view from the second story. Not a bad view - especially if you consider that a paved road and power lines would not have been muddying it up then like they are now.

Apparently people were considerably shorter than me back in the late 18th century - I had to duck quite a bit to get through the second story doorways of this home. Thanks to my professor, I also remembered to duck on my way OUT - something I had apparently quite forgotten needing to do during my brief explorations of each of the upstairs rooms.

From the outside, this structure appears to be in excellent condition, with even the chinking (that beige-colored stuff you see between the logs) appearing quite new. Well, if it looks new, it's because it is. The United Methodist Church is actually currently working to renovate and restore this landmark which they consider a shrine of their faith due to its significant involvement in the early Methodist movement in Tennessee.

This picture shows an open space where the chinking has not been replaced yet. I don't have a picture of it, but before putting in the mud, the contractors put pieces of wood in at an angle so when the space is full, it looks like a series of half-tipped dominoes. That makes for a pretty substantial foundation for the mud to cling to.


The interior of the rooms were in complete disarray because, as I said, the home is currently undergoing extensive renovation. 

Oddly enough, Edward Cox's headstone was sitting in the middle of the floor in the ground room on the side of the house that was presumably used for church meetings.

I like this old iron eye hook and padlock that was hanging on the wall. They reminded me of the fact that for a pioneer in the 18th century, there would be no Ace Hardware or Lowe's to run to and buy things like this when you realized you needed them. The frontiersmen had to make everything that they would have need of unless they brought it with them, or were fortunate enough to live near a town, which in the frontier does not seem likely at all. That is, after all, why they call it the frontier, right? :o)

I had to take a picture of the log joins because each side was done differently. I thought that was a bit odd since the home was supposed to have been built all at the same time. I don't know the reason for the disparity - it makes me wonder if Cox had help building his home, and if perhaps a different group took responsibility for completing each side.  On the side of the house shown in the left-hand picture, the builders seem to have used a diamond join. The side of the house pictured on the right appears to use a v-notch for the most part, though you'll notice that there is a spot in the middle where the two beams just lay on top of each other. Both styles of notching were very popular among the early settlers to this region, as it was a style often employed in Pennsylvania from whence many of the settlers originally migrated.


The Cox family was very fortunate to have a natural spring so close to their property. This saved them the back-breaking task of attempting to sink a well in a terrain riddled by rock and clay.

Lastly, when a fellow student and I headed across the street from the Cox house to investigate the spring, we noticed this modern "artifact" nearby. After being dared to open the outhouse, I cautiously approached the door - images of snakes streaming out the second the door opened a crack filling my head as I crept closer and closer. I turned the wooden latch and the door creaked open and... no snakes! Whew! 

There also were no facilities. Turns out our outhouse was nothing more than a prop. Though it was not, as one might reasonably (if in this case incorrectly) assume, uninhabited. It was in point of fact, rather full of wasps. While I was busy bemoaning the lack of equipage in this faux outhouse, my classmate had the presence of mind to close the door, thereby limiting our chances of getting stung before we could beat a retreat back to the rest of the group. 

And that's it for now. Happy exploring!

No comments:

Post a Comment