Category Archives: History Leaves of the Methodist Tree

History Leaves of the Methodist Tree – August 2019

History Leaves of the Methodist Tree
Compiled by Johnny Cordell
“John Henniger, Builder of Churches”

August 2019

     In 1817 Circuit Rider John Henniger was assigned to the Sequatchie Valley where he served present day Chapel Hill community that was the northern end of Marion County which was also created in 1817.  Before 1807 the Sequatchie Valley was part of Roane County until Bledsoe County was formed that year with Brush Creek as its southern boundary.  The lands south of Brush Creek was generally regarded as the Indians Lands of the Cherokee and were protected by Federal Troops until 1817 when the Cherokee were pressured to cede their lands with the Jackson-McMinn Treaty.  It was against this backdrop that the Reverend John Henniger was assigned his charge.

     John Henniger was born in Virginia in 1784.  He joined the Western Conference in 1807.  He served charges in Mississippi, Ohio, and Kentucky as well as Tennessee, where he was very popular.  John Henniger was a member of the western, Tennessee, and Holston Conferences without transferring, serving each as it was carved out of the former.  He did his most important work as presiding elder.  In this capacity, he served French Broad, Knoxville, and the Washington Districts.  He was presiding elder of the Washington District from 1830-1834 and again in 1835-1937, where he finished his faithful and brilliant career.  He died December 23, 1838.  His loyal wife had died six days earlier on December 17th.

     The Washington District covered Sequatchie Valley; hence John Henniger was well known and beloved there.  He lived for a few years near Pikeville.   Four of his daughters were married there.  Five of his grandchildren resided in Bledsoe County and one granddaughter lived in Chattanooga.

     The wife of John Henniger was formerly Jane Anderson of Virginia, aunt of Louise Anderson Kirklin.  The Kirklins resided in the house currently occupied by Lynn and Katherine Allen.  Mrs. Kirklin was the daughter of John Anderson, Jr. (who was a brother of Jane Anderson) and Elizabeth McNair Anderson of Bledsoe County, where Mrs. Kirklin was born September 8, 1806.  She was the first child of European descent born in the Sequatchie Valley.  Jane’s brother was Col. Josiah Anderson, a member of Congress; and two of Jane’s great nieces were married to circuit riders, John Alley and Mitchell Swaim.  John Alley was the longest serving minister of Henniger’s Chapel and Chapel Hill until that record was broken by Tom Tucker in 2018. 

     In 1852, the Kirklins donated land for a new church.  Adding to the popularity of John Henniger, these blood ties helped to determine the name of the church fourteen years after his death.

Compilers note:  During my research, I found 4 different spellings of this individual.  Mary Thomas Peacock  “The Circuit Ride and Those  Who Followed” list him as Henninger.  Edna Susong Jackson “Chapel Hill” list him as Henniger, which is the spelling I utilized in this article.  The history of Beth-Car Methodist Church list him in 1814 as John Hennigar, known as “builder of churches”.  However John Henniger is interred in Fort Hill Cemetery in Cleveland, Tennessee where the family name is listed as Henegar.


Next month’s question:  Who is the longest serving pianist/organist in Chapel Hill history?



History Leaves of the Methodist Tree – July 2019

History Leaves of the Methodist Tree
Compiled by Johnny Cordell
2019 July, Part 2

Civil War came to this area in full force in the summer of 1863 when the Union Army invaded the Sequatchie Valley.  This area was utilized as a campground by troops under the command of General Crittenden.  They cooked with fires built on the rock slabs that covered the early graves.  They removed the planks from the church and transported them to Bridgeport to construct barracks.  The remaining log church was burned by accident or on purpose, and the structure smoldered for over a week.  After the defeat of the Union Army at Chickamauga, General Rosecrams was bottled up at Chattanooga where the federal troops were literally starving on a sustenance of one small piece of bread and one ounce of pork a day.  The only supply route was East Valley Road and Anderson Pike which ran by this church.  On October 2nd, Confederate General Joseph Wheeler sweeping down from the northeast on a cavalry raid surprised a union supply train stretching over ten miles, hence this area became the scene of the largest military raid of the Civil War.  A skirmish took place here around this cemetery site, and the soldiers who were killed are buried in this cemetery.  The citizens of this area endured unimaginable hardships as armies of both sides plundered and ravaged the countryside taking all animals and food.  Most of the people survived on a cake like mixture of cornmeal and sorghum.

In 1864 a young girl was praying in her family’s apple orchard when she was converted by the spirit.  When word of this experience spread throughout the community, a great revival broke out, and when it surpass the capacity of the house of Josiah Rogers, the meeting was moved to Liberty Union Presbyterian Church.  It lasted for three weeks resulting in over 200 conversions.  Although several years passed, this event led to the rebuilding of this church in 1884 under the leadership of Holston Conference Rev. Absolom Deakins Stewart.  Since that time approximately 54 ministers have served this church now known as Chapel Hill.  Chapel Hill was on a circuit with Dunlap and Welch Chapel until 1954 when Dunlap became a station.  In 1968 Chapel Hill became a station.

The vestibule was added in 1930’s.  For several years a non-denominational Sunday School was held at the Center Point School building and then they attended church services at Chapel Hill.  However, due to an official ruling that the school house could not be utilized for religious purposes, Chapel Hill agreed to build Sunday School rooms and move Sunday School services to this building with the understanding that the Sunday School would continue to be non-denominational.  This understanding has been adhered to and is still in effect.  In February 1983 a steeple was erected.  In 1984 additional Sunday School rooms and a fellowship hall was added.  And now 167 years later Chapel Hill Church is embarking on a new vision with construction of a family life center and future sanctuary and fellowship hall on the drawing board.  If our ancestors of 1852 and 1884 had not stepped out on faith, I obviously would not be here today in this church.  But, I am here today and our circuit riders heritage and mission are still intact.  Psalms 145:4 states that “One generation shall praise thy works to another and shall declare thy mighty acts.”  One hundred years from now, what will our descendants say or write about us concerning our faith, determination and perseverance?

References: Chapel Hill by Edna Susong Jackson and committee
                    Sequatchie by Leonard Raulston & James Livingood     
                    Military Records & Articles
                    Oral Histories

Last month’s question:  What military training does our current Pastor Jared Wood have?  Jared graduated from Virginia Military Institute (VMI).  Notable alumni of VMI are General George Marshall (WWII and later Secretary of State and Defense), General George Patton (famed tank commander WWII), and Marine Corps General Lewis “Chesty” Puller (Most decorated Marine in history)

History Leaves of the Methodist Tree – June 2019

History Leaves of the Methodist Tree
Compiled by Johnny Cordell
“Brief History of Chapel UMC”
Part 1   June 2019

The history of Chapel Hill cannot be conveyed in five minutes or five hours.  The history of Chapel Hill is not necessarily about a building.  It is about people and events.  It is a story of courage, hardship, separation, faith, grace, sin, and absolution.  It is a love story.  A love story among its people and their creator.  Before any church was built on this site in 1852, Methodism was prevalent in this community for at least 25 years.  The Methodist Circuit riders were fervently preaching the gospel and constantly facing the dangers of man and nature.  In the earliest days Indians were a possible threat along with attacks from wild animals and the ravages of winter.  Circuit riders would sometimes find themselves frozen to their saddles at the end of their destination.  For some circuit riders, the average life span was less than seven years.

Although this area was still Indian land, white settlers were constantly encroaching upon their land.  The Cherokee in this area had sizable holdings with houses, barns, and rented land to the whites or employed sharecroppers.  This ended in 1817 when the Cherokee were pressured to cede this area with the Jackson-McMinn Treaty thus creating the new County of Marion.  The Jasper circuit assigned circuit riders to minister this area.  One of the most important religious and social events was the annual camp meeting.  Since young people had difficulty meeting future marriage prospects that were not close relatives, this annual meeting provided opportunities for young couples to meet and court.  There were camp meetings that lasted several days and led to many future marriages.  My research indicates, but not definitely proven, that the Methodist campground known as “Richland” was located at a spring presently located near the farm of Tommy and Martha Austin or approximately ½ of a mile south of present-day East Valley Baptist Church.

One of the most prominent area circuit riders was John Henniger and in 1852 the first church was erected on this site was called Henniger’s Chapel.  Allen Kirkland donated the land and Norman Mansfield and his son constructed the building.  The first pastor was the Rev. R.N. Price and a great revival was conducted here in 1853.  Large family connections such as Kirklin, Deakins, Stewart, Barker and Anderson were brought almost entirely into the church to join other families such as the Rogers, Johnson, Thurman, Hatfield, and others.  These family connections eventually produced seven ordained ministers, and indirectly from the Stewart Family, one United States Senator.  The first community Sunday School was led by William Rogers who was the first individual to be buried in the cemetery in 1849.  (Headstone replaced in 2018)

In 1855, a plan was devised to create a third county in the valley, aptly named Sequatchie, by taking part of Marion and Bledsoe Counties.  However, the Tennessee Constitution stated that “no part of a county shall be taken off to form a new county or a part thereof, without the consent of a majority of the qualified voters in such part taken off.”  Affected Bledsonians did not agree with the proposal.  At this point Neill Brown, Speaker of the House of Representatives and later Governor of Tennessee, discovered an interesting loophole in the constitutional requirements.  The Constitution made no reference prohibiting taking parts of counties and attaching to existing counties.  Brown enlisted the help of an influential legislator to enact such a plan with the understanding that the new county seat would be named after him.  William Dunlap agreed to this proposal, and on February 25, 1856. A law was enacted attaching the 1st and 2nd civil districts of Marion County and the 10th civil district of Bledsoe County to Hamilton County.  On December 9, 1857, the Tennessee Legislature passed an act creating Sequatchie County by detaching the three aforementioned civil districts from Hamilton County.   Bledsoe County was vehemently opposed and took the matter before the state Supreme Court to disallow the creation of Sequatchie County.  The Civil War interrupted and delayed for many years a hearing on the matter.  After the war the court basically refused to hear the case due to a statute of limitations.  It would seem that Bledsoe County was the victim of a classical “Catch 22”.  This might explain, over the succeeding years, the rivalry between the two counties, especially the athletic teams.  This also explains how the church was located in three different counties from1852 through 1857.

(Part two continued in next article)

Sources and questions available in July article

History Leaves of the Methodist Tree – May 2019

History Leaves of the Methodist Tree
Compiled by Johnny Cordell
“Veterans Among Us”
May 2019

     This article is dedicated to Veterans Memorial Day.  I was born in 1947, a baby boomer.  “Baby Boomers”, for the most part, were a product of the World War II veterans that had returned home after the war, or anyone born after 1945.   So, it wasn’t until I was almost five years old that I began to comprehend somewhat about war.  I would overhear my Daddy and his friends talking about a place called Korea, and if it was mentioned at the dinner table, my momma would start nervously fingering the ends of her well-worn apron.  It wasn’t until later years that I learned that her nephew had persuaded his mother into signing his enlistment papers, but she wasn’t truthful about his age.  He was not 17 but 15, and at the age 16, was in the thick of combat in Korea.  In the succeeding years and in adult life, I began to realize that many or most of my neighbors, relatives, and church members were WWI, WWII, or Korean veterans.

     The following is a sample list of veterans.  Some are local, others are listed from information provided by USMC Chaplin Denis O’Brien.  I will not list names since I don’t have permission from individuals or families to do so. 

  • One of my church members, who in the trench warfare of WWI, ripped off his black uniform buttons because he thought they were illuminating his position at night.  He came home shell-shocked but received no counseling, and dealt with it the rest of his life as best he could.  Today it is known as PTSD.  (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder).  In America we lose 22 veterans a day to suicide.
  • Twenty-five years ago it was the aggravatingly slow old guy bagging groceries at the supermarket who in WWII had helped liberate a Nazi death camp and now wishes his wife was still alive to hold him when the nightmares come.
  • He is another church member who falsified his age and went to WWII at the age of fourteen.  My research indicates that he was the youngest Tennessee Veteran of that war.
  • Sixty seven years ago it was a teenage high school dropout who subsequently began to have problems with law enforcement officials.  By the age of seventeen, he was in court with the judge offering him a choice of jail or military service.  His momma signed his papers and was sent to Korea where his overgrown juvenile behavior was outweighed a hundred times on the cosmic scale by four hours of exquisite bravery near the 38th
  • He is a best friend and neighbor who in high school was not a star athlete or a member of the academic honor court.  Yet, in the misty steamy terrain of the A Shau Valley, this reluctant hero invoked the scripture of John 15:13 by willing to lay down his life for his friends, thus receiving our nation’s 3rd highest award.  He would become Sequatchie County High School’s highest decorated Vietnam Veteran.
  • She is the surgical nurse who fought against futility and went to sleep sobbing every night for two solid years in DaNang.
  • He is a Tennessee Nation Guardsman who spent 10 months in Saudia Arabia sweating two gallons a day making sure the M-1 tanks didn’t run out of fuel.
  • Or an IED disposal expert in Afghanistan who several years ago was disposing of running backs as a linebacker on the high school football team.

These are just a few of the “Veterans among us”.  Some volunteered, many were drafted, but did their duty anyway in the service of their country.  These veterans are ordinary and yet extraordinary human beings, individuals who offered some of their life’s most vital years and sacrificed their ambitions so others would not have to sacrifice theirs.  So remember, each time you see someone who has served our country, just lean over and say “Thank you”.  That’s all most people need, and in most cases it will mean more than medals.  Two little words mean a lot. 


Last Month’s Question:  Where did Francis Ashbury do most of his reading and rehearsing of his sermons?  In the saddle of his horse

Next Month’s question:  What military training does our current Pastor Jared Wood have?

History Leaves of the Methodist Tree – April 2019

History Leaves of the Methodist Tree
Compiled by Johnny Cordell
April 2019

     Cartwright was considerably older than Abraham Lincoln but in the 1850’s, Peter continued on the fringes of politics, backing Senator Steven Douglas in the election of 1858 in which Douglas prevailed.  But Cartwright’s attitude toward Mr. Lincoln mellowed with age, in 1862, Cartwright visited New York where he spoke before a dinner of New Yorkers unfriendly to the Presidency of Abraham Lincoln: “Once we were opposing candidates for a seat in Congress, and measured up in the ballot-box, I went down in defeat.  But it was defeat by a gentleman and a patriot.  I stand here tonight to commend to you the Christian character, sterling integrity, and far-seeing sagacity of the President of the United States, whose official acts you have, your blind money-madness, so critically assailed tonight.  I am confident he is the man to meet and go forward in this crisis to lead his countrymen amid and through the terrible strife in which we are now engaged.  He is a cool-headed, God fearing, and unselfish love of his country, and knows from the top to the bottom the life and spirit of men both North and South.  When you go from here to your homes tonight, I want you to bear with you the assurance of his neighbor and once political opponent that the country will be safe in his hands.  I wish to have you understand that back of him will stand an unflinching host of Western men, who have no financial ghosts that terrify them and who are destined to rescue this nation from the perils now before us.  We have got the men who have got the right-kind of grit in them out West.  Why stand ye here idle?  My God send patriotic light into your stingy souls.”
     Peter Cartwright’s style of preaching is characterized by William Henry Milburn, a fellow Methodist circuit rider who saw him frequently and claimed him as a friend.  Milburn gives this description of Cartwright’s preaching:  “  A voice which, in his prime, was capable of almost every modulation, the earnest force of homely directness of his speech, and his power over the passions of the human heart, made him an orator to win and command the suffrages and sympathies of a western audience, and ever through the discourse, came, and went, and came and went, a humor that was resistless, now broadening the features into a merry smile, and then softening the heart until tears stood in the eyes of all.  His figures and illustrations were often grand, sometimes fantastical.  Like all natives of a new country, he spoke much in metaphors, and his were borrowed from the magnificent realm in which he lived.  All forms of nature, save those of sounding seas, were familiar to him.  You might hear in a single discourse, the thunder tread of a frightened herd of buffalo as they rushed wildly across the prairie, the crash of a window as it fell smitten by the breath of the tempest, the piercing scream of the wild cat as it scared the midnight forest, the majestic Mississippi as it harmonized the distant East and West.  Thunder and lightning, fire and flood, seemed to be old acquaintances, and he spoke of them with the assured confidence of friendship.  Another of his attributes was the impulse and power to create his own language; and he was best lexicon of western words, phrases, and proverbs, that I have ever met.”

       Peter died at 87, leaving behind an autobiography which has become a classic as much for the exploits it recounts as for the pictures of frontier life.  Cartwright summarizes his life stating “That with all the losses and crosses, labors, and sufferings peculiar to the life of a Methodist traveling preacher, I would take the same track over and over again with the same religion to bear me up rather than be the President of the United States.  I ask your prayers that you remember an old man who has spent life in the service of the church, and I would do it again.”


*Compiler’s Note:  At the completion of this article, I realize that today’s Methodist of settled denominations may not approve of the methods of Peter Cartwright.  However, he possessed the needed qualities to survive the harsh and dangerous world of the American frontier.  The Reverend Cartwright possessed three things: (1) a Bible (2) a horse (3) a gun…and he knew how to use all three.  During his ministry, he baptized 10,000 converts and preached almost 15,000 sermons.

Sources:  (1) Dan Graves, MSL “Colorful Peter Cartwright, Circuit Rider” (2) Rev. Alfred Day, (3) Robert Bray, Illinois Wesleyan University “Beating the Devil: Life and Art in Peter Cartwright’s Autobiography” (4) Leewin Williams and Kenneth Alley:  “The Encyclopedia of Wit, Humor, and Wisdom” (5) The Gilder Lehrman Institute “Mr. Lincoln and Friends”

Question: What pastor instituted the first Christmas Communion at Chapel Hill?  Tom Tucker

Next Month’s Question:  Where did Francis Asbury do most of his readings and rehearsing of his sermons?


History Leaves of the Methodist Tree – March 2019

History Leaves of the Methodist Tree
Compiled by Johnny Cordell
(continued from last month)

March 2019

This encounter with General Jackson would lean one to believe that Preacher Cartwright and General Jackson did not know each other, however in 1814 Cartwright was reportedly a Chaplin in the War of 1812, and present at the Battle of New Orleans.  Before entering the battle, General Jackson called his Chaplin’s together and exhorted them “to preach to the soldiers of the cause and assure them, if they die in battle, they would go straight to heaven.”  Cartwright replied, “General, I can’t quite go that far, but I can say I believe our cause is of God, and that any of them should be killed, God in that last account would give any of them credit for their sacrifices.”  Apparently in the 1818 church encounter, Jackson and Cartwright already knew one another, and imposing their little joke on the “city preacher” and his credulous congregation.

Rowdies often interrupted Peter’s meetings.  When one thug promised to whip him, Peter invited the man to step into the woods with him.  The two started for trees.  Leaping over a fence at the edge of the campground, Peter landed painfully and clutched his side.  The bully shouted that the preacher was going for a dagger and ran away.  Once, on a ferry boat, Cartwright overheard someone denounced him as a “Methodist horse thief” by a man who promised him a good liking should they ever meet.  “Come” said the preacher, making himself known, “I am the man you propose to trash.  Either whip me as you threaten, or quit cursing me, or else I will put you in the river and baptize you in the name of the devil.”  The sinner quailed, and became converted to Methodism under the grip of the compelling Cartwright.

Such events gave him a name.  A story spread that he even confronted legendary river boatman Mike Fink.  Cartwright claims this encounter never happened, but stories kept cropping up in newspapers and books from Georgia, to New York, to Illinois State Journal.  According to the article, Fink appears with his gang and attempts to disrupt one of Cartwright’s meetings in Alton, Illinois.  Cartwright soon grows tired of the rowdies and descends the pulpit in order to “make the devil pray.”  He quickly fells the riverman with a “prodigious punch of his herculean fist,” then pins him by the windpipe until Fink agrees to repeat the Lord’s Prayer after Cartwright, line by line.  Thereafter, the rowdies behave with “exemplary decorum” throughout the remainder of the meeting.  The story was repeated by James B. Finley, another gifted and famous Methodist circuit rider.

Peter Cartwright tells the story of two fashionably dressed sisters that attended one of his meetings in 1804.  Their brothers, who didn’t attend the meeting, but stayed outside, saw their sisters get the jerks.  This greatly disturbed them, and they determined to horse whip Cartwright outside the church.  They said they had seen him take something out of his pocket and give to their sisters and that’s why they got the jerks.  What they didn’t know was Peter Cartwright often carried a tin of peppermints in his pocket and would put one in his mouth before he spoke.  Peter, trying to diffuse the situation, answered them directly.  “I need not deny it,” he said, “Yes, I gave them the jerks and I can give them to you.”  Fear struck the brothers and they ran away yelling at him not to follow them or they would kill him.

Cartwright also demonstrates his humor when he relates a story of a woman in one of his parishes who often annoyed him by going off on a high key.  One day in class meeting, with her soul in ecstatic emotions, she rapturously cried out, “If I had one more feather in the wing of my soul, I would fly away and be with my savior.”  “Stick in the other feather, Lord” interjected Cartwright, “and let her go!”

(To be continued next month)

Sources: Dan Graves, MSL “Colorful Peter Cartwright, Circuit Rider”
                Robert Bray, Illinois Wesleyan University “Beating the Devil: Life and Art in Peter Cartwright’s Autobiography”
                Leewin Williams and Kenneth Alley: “The Encyclopedia of Wit, Humor and Wisdom”


History Leaves of the Methodist Tree – January 2019

History Leaves of the Methodist Tree
Compiled by Johnny Cordell
January 2019

I am writing the January article on December 7th which many of our older church members will remember as a day in “infamy”, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, eighteen days before Christmas.  One of our former deceased members, Commander Henry Hollingsworth, was probably the last surviving naval officer of that battle, however, there are a few Pearl Harbor enlisted personnel still living.  Many may not know that the Commander had requested that his remains be interred amongst the Civil War Soldiers buried at Chapel Hill Cemetery.  That request was granted.

By the time this article is published, Christmas 2018 will be over and 2019 will begin another year of potential resolutions.  The reason that I have mentioned Christmas is that many of our veterans since the birth of our nation have been absent from their families during this time.  From Valley Forge to Afghanistan, the home sickness and memories of family, community, and church  are basically the same for the many generations of veterans that have answered the call of duty.  I know that in my case, one of the comforting factors was my faith, remembrances, and loving affinity for the people of a small chapel sitting atop a countryside hill.  I suspect that many of our veterans within our congregation today can identify with this observation regardless of the church they attended.  In retrospect, I realize that some of my fellow comrades did not have these particular reflections in their life experiences, and thus had a more difficult time. 

Christmas of 1958 was a very difficult time for my family.  At the age of eleven and mid-December, our family home was totally consumed by fire including all contents.  It occurred at night and we were fortunate to have survived without any loss of life.  It was an old two story farm house which included hand split wooden shingles for a roof, providing perfect material for a gigantic bonfire.  When my Daddy realized what was happening, he yelled for everyone to “get out of the house.”  When we went outside, the second story was totally involved turning nighttime into daytime.  Years later momma told me what she did that night which we laughed about for years.  With the house fully engulfed, she ran back into the living room of the house and turned down the damper on the furnace.

As a young Marine in a foreign country during Christmas, I contemplated and treasured the memories of a church that responded to our unfortunate circumstances.  Our church family provided shelter for a few days until we could move in with another church member Elizabeth Johnson.  She was one of the older members of the church who was a widower living in a house with plenty of room for six people.  She was actually a cousin by marriage, but she insisted we call her “Aunt Elizabeth” which we did.  Aunt Elizabeth drove a “T-Model Ford” and I rode to church with her on many occasions.  The old house is gone now, but church member Janet Johnson currently lives in a home that replaced the old farmhouse.  Due to the generosity of the church and neighbors, we were able to rebuild within a matter of months.  I can’t name all the individuals who helped my family in our time of need, but I vividly remember the next day at school my teacher and church member Edna Jackson took me to Wade Swanger’s store and bought me a set of clothes.  The only clothes that I had at the time were the ones that I had on when I ran out of the house the night before.  That made quite an impression on me, and I have been blessed to “pay it forward” many times since. 

I can relate many similar stories, but space does not make that possible.  Many have passed on with their mortal remains being reverently entombed beneath a garden of stones adjacent to the old historical chapel, forever reminding me of these dear saints of a faithful and generous heart.  Recently departed President George H.W. Bush talked about “a thousand points of light”.   I can say today that unequivocally Chapel Hill Church is definitely one of those points of light; may it continue to be so.

Last month’s question:  What are the two oldest Methodist Churches in present day Bledsoe County?  Pikeville United Methodist church and Wesley Chapel (today the church is non-denominational and Ronnie Colvard is the current pastor)

Next month’s question:  What pastor instituted the first Christmas Communion at Chapel Hill?

History Leaves of the Methodist Tree – December 2018

History Leaves of the Methodist Tree
Compiled by Johnny Cordell
December 2018

“Christmas at Chapel Hill”

    In the 1950’s Christmas was a special time for the children at Chapel Hill Church.  About ten days or so before the Christmas program, one or more of the adults would select and harvest a large cedar tree to be located in front of the sanctuary behind the pulpit.  The tree would reach to the ceiling and the aromatic cedarwood fragrance would waft gently upon the air as it moved among the parishioners.  We knew that Christmas was just around the corner with the advent of traditional Christmas carols, the reading of the Christmas story about the Baby Jesus in the manger, and memorization of Bible verses and short stories to be recited in front of the congregation.  Also the secular songs such as Gene Autry’s “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” and “Frosty the Snowman” were favorites on the radio, or Mel Torme’s  “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire”.  The 1950’s unveiled a new medium with television featuring crooners Bing Crosby, Andy Williams, and Perry Como singing “White Christmas”, and who could forget the many poetic renditions of “’Twas the Night Before Christmas”.  My friends and I had our own version of “Jingle Bells” which I remember went something like this:

Jingle Bells, shotgun Shells
Rabbits all the way.
Oh what fun it is to ride
In a brand new Chevrolet.

Oh well, we didn’t copyright it, so I guess we missed our opportunity for fame and riches.

     In those days all of the Sunday School Classes picked names to exchange Christmas presents.  Occasionally if a young child’s family could not afford a gift or the child would forget to bring a gift, the Sunday School teacher would always have backup presents so no child would be without a Christmas gift.  When Santa Claus was not able to personally attend   our program, one of the adults would don the appropriate attire as a surrogate Santa.  One of our favorite substitute Santa was T. H. Austin who I think enjoyed the activity just as much as the kids.  Some of the adults enjoyed the gift swapping as well, especially the class known today as the “Kenneth Wilson” class.  I always wondered what the merriment and laughter was about, but we were never allowed to see those particular Christmas gifts.  Maybe Liz Wilson and Betty Jones can enlighten us on that subject today?

    One year the Children’s Choir wore all white and red.  The girls wore white blouses and red skirts and the boys wore white shirts and red pants.  Claudia Rogers provided the outfits from her “Dress Shoppe”, and again those who couldn’t afford the apparel were taken care of in a quiet and respectful manner.  One year we were convinced that Santa was not an imitation and because there was a two inch snow on the ground, we rushed outside after the program to check for reindeer and sleigh tracks.  We could not locate any evidence on the ground so we checked the roof.  The heat from the church had melted the rooftop snow so we concluded that Santa must have utilized this area for his landing and takeoff.  The mystery was solved and all was right with the world.

    Today in a pessimistic and uncertain world, I harken back to those days and although Santa may not be a physical manifestation, he exist as certain as love, generosity, and devotion.  You know that they abound and give your life its highest beauty and joy.  As the New York Sun Editor Francis Church stated in response to a query to eight year old Virginia O’Hanlon, “Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus”.

    May he continue to make glad the heart of childhood!

Last month’s question:  in 1952 Chapel Hill celebrated its centennial and Col. Creed F. Bates assisted in the church service.  What was his historical connection to Chapel Hill Church?  He was the grandson of John Henniger, the namesake of the original church.

Next month’s question:  What are the two oldest Methodist Churches in present day Bledsoe County?

History Leaves of the Methodist Tree – November 2018

Compiled by Johnny Cordell
November 2018
(Continued from last month)

After Sunday dinner, the remainder of the day was invariably reserved for visitation.  Daddy would never do any work on Sunday except for normal farm chores, or unless the Biblical Donkey was in the ditch.  As I alluded to previously, Daddy enjoyed stimulating conversation and gospel music.  If there was “a singing” at another church on Sunday afternoon or evening, we would most likely be counted among those present.  Daddy sang in a quartet when he was a young man, and they traveled about the countryside whenever they could.  One time he said, “we even went all the way to Spring City”.  I guess in the 1920’s that was a considerable distance.

     Our visitations were normally confined to immediate family and sometimes cousins.  Family being Aunt Beulah and Uncle Hugh Mabry, Aunt Janie Hartman brood, Uncle Frank Cordell, Aunt Bessie Easterly, Momma’s brother George Smith and Aunt Ruth.  Aunt Ruth was also Daddy’s first cousin.  There are others too numerous to list, but we rarely missed our Hartman cousins when they were having dinner and music on Signal Mountain.  Earl Hartman, who sang many a solo at Chapel Hill Church was a product of those family musical productions, as well as Norma Narramore, who was one of the best piano players to ever tickle the ivories.  She played for many years at the Chapel Hill Homecoming Church Service each 3rd Sunday in May.

     The Sunday morning that we would have the circuit church service was rather normal for most of my friends and myself.  We would sit in the pews away from our parents when possible and pass notes to each other or surreptitiously play tic-tac-toe.  I enjoyed music, so I remember the old hymns such as, “The Solid Rock”, “Blessed Assurance”, “What can Wash Away My Sins”, “Into the Garden”, “Are You Washed in the Blood of the Lamb”, “Bringing in the Sheaves”, “The Sweetest Name I Know”, “Just Over in the Gloryland”, “Near the Cross”, “Take Time to be Holy”, “When the Roll is Called Up Yonder”, “We’re Marching to Zion”, and many more including Christmas and Easter songs.  Unfortunately, I don’t remember much about the content of the sermons, but that was probably normal for a pre-teen boy except on a couple occasions.  In those days the basement of the church was used to house the oil burning furnace and to collect whatever was not needed upstairs.  There was not a stairway to the basement, only an entrance on the south side of the building.  It was not locked, but that was not unusual since no door in the church was ever locked.  Since there was a ten or fifteen minute break between Sunday School and Church, a friend and I decided to spend our time in the basement during the church service.  Since we had not been under direct parental supervision for several Sundays, we felt we would not be detected, besides there were a lot of kids, so who would miss two of the flock.  We didn’t worry about the other children telling on us, because the code of “no tattling” was quite prevalent.  So, for a couple of those Sundays we pretended the church was a ship and we became stowaways within its hold.  We sat on an old short pew that had been discarded several years before.  The pew was located under a heating air ventilation opening, and we could hear plainly every word of the preacher’s sermon.   We listened intently so if questioned about not possibly being topside, we could quote scripture and verse.  During this time my mate (sailor slang) had a pen knife, so we scratched our initials on the pew so someday posterity would know of our great adventure.  I think my friend’s mother became suspicious, or we felt guilty, I don’t know, but it seems we were absorbing more from the ventilation duct than we were from the pews in the sanctuary.  However, I did pay more attention to the sermons after that, so maybe God does move in a mysterious way?

     Several years ago I discovered the old short pew in the small building next to the cemetery, and yes, it had the outlines of two sets of initials.  I will be refinishing the old pew and it will occupy a place in our mountain home.  And no, the initials will not be removed, and yes, God does move in mysterious ways!  Postscript:  My friend is still attending Chapel Hill Church, but I will not reveal his identity.  My advice to him is that Brother Jared is always receiving confessionals.


Last month’s question:  How many times has the original Chapel Hill Cemetery been enlarged? 
Four times – 1905, 1935, 1956, 1996


Next month’s question:  In 1952 Chapel Hill celebrated its centennial and Col. Creed F. Bates assisted in the church service.  What was his historical connection to Chapel Hill Church?

History Leaves of the Methodist Tree – October 2018

History Leaves of the Methodist Tree
October 2018
Chapel Hill 1950’s

    I don’t remember the first time I ever attended Chapel Hill Church. I don’t remember the first sermon, but I suspect it was the   Reverend Carmack Morris about 1951. I do remember the short tenure of Pastor Virgil Hale (1952-1953), but I don’t remember any physical characteristics.  The first preacher that I distinctly remember was Jacob (Jake) Ramsey (1954-58).  He was a tall, dark haired, angular individual who had a commanding presence in the pulpit.  This bearing, poise, and confidence could have been affected to some degree by his Navy service in World War II.  His wife and partner, Evangeline, was outgoing, attractive, and extremely intelligent.  “Vangie” as she was called, had a talent, among many, for literacy composition, and I was told had a great influence in her husband’s sermons. Their daughter, Phyllis was in my Sunday School Class although I was about four years older.  Ms. Louise Johnson was our teacher and Phyllis had her own distinct personality and could be a hand full at times.  I suppose this would   bode well for her in the future since she followed in her father’s footsteps and became a minister in her own right. 

    One of the humorous episodes that I remembered involved one of Pastor Ramsey’s sons during the middle of his sermon.  I believe it was his oldest son, Scott, who was not behaving in the proper manner within the congregation.  Brother Jake, departed the pulpit, took Scott outside the church, administered a spanking, returned the repentant offspring to his pew seat, and without hesitation, strode back to the pulpit, continuing his sermon, not missing a beat or a word.  All this in full view of everyone.  This certainly had an effect on me and other children who might have had similar notions.

    During this time Chapel Hill was on a circuit with Welch Chapel and the minister would rotate each Sunday between the two churches.   If Chapel Hill had a morning service, then the minister would conduct an evening service at Welch Chapel.  The next Sunday this process would reverse.  A typical Sunday morning would be Sunday School at 10:00, however the members would gather first in the sanctuary, sing one song, followed by brief remarks from the Sunday School Superintendent, and then dismissed to respective Sunday School Class.  Sunday School would last about thirty-five minutes and then reconvene in the sanctuary, sing a song, and
dismiss about 10:50, with church service commencing at 11:00.  On the Sunday that there was no church service, many of the members would remain at the church after Sunday School and socialize.  My Daddy, who enjoyed good conversation, would stay as long as there was someone to talk with, which could last as long as an hour.  Sometimes I would get impatient and walk home.  If there was no one to converse with at church, Daddy would stop at Wade Swanger’s store where there was always a group of men regaling each other with stories and sometimes outright fabrications.  We usually returned home around 12:30 as Momma would have dinner ready.  (To be continued next month)

Last month’s question:  After the close of the Civil War, the oldest minister in the conference was appointed
to manage the reorganization of Southern Methodist Churches from Ashville, NC to Chattanooga, TN.  He
went further and spent time in reorganizing the Methodist in his own community of Henniger’s Chapel/Chapel Hill.  Who was this venerable and iconic minister?  Rev. Absolom Deakins Stewart.

Next month’s question:  How many times has the original Chapel Hill cemetery been enlarged?