Bethel Baptist Church
To accurately trace Bethel's history one must go back to January 22, 1814, when fourteen members of West Fork Baptist Church were "constituted into an arm of that church to organize another church". This separate church was constituted on March 22, 1816, after receiving letters from the mother church and adopting the articles of faith of the Red River Association. Taking part in this service were Jesse Brooks, who became the first pastor; Lenard Page; Reuben Ross; and lay people from sister churches. The name given to this church was Bethel (House of God), and it was located near Salubria Springs in Christian County. This building was used until 1823, when the church was relocated between Pembroke and Fairview in a new brick building which was used for sixty years.
From the beginning Bethel began to mother and organize other churches. In 1818 Bethel "dismissed fifteen members to form a new church at Hopkinsville", then called New Providence, but now known as First Baptist Church. In 1825 Bethel mothered a church at Elkton; the next year she sponsored one at Little River. In the year 1821, Bethel had 107 members. Many of these, the descendants of which are still members, came from as far away as the Carolina's and Virginia.
As a result of a doctrine difference, Bethel Church was instrumental in the formation of Bethel Association in 1825. Bethel was a member of this association until 1923; and her pastor was moderator for 26 years. Through the years there have been several namesakes of Bethel; one was Bethel Female College in Hopkinsville. During the time funds were being raised to establish this college, Bethel Church granted her pastor "half of his time" to help with the task. The following year J. M. Pendleton was called at the salary of $100 per year. Bethel declared herself in favor of Foreign Missions as early as 1818. In 1836 Bethel resolved to raise $50 for foreign and $50 for home missions. The records show their first Sunday School was started in 1845. During the war, Bethel's pastor, Rev. A. W. Morehead became Chaplain of Capt. Leavell's Company in the Confederate Army, a capacity in which he served until 1863.
In 1870 Negro members, numbering around 62, asked to be dismissed in order to organize at Pembroke; and Bethel agreed. It is told that Old Bethel had a balcony used by the negro membership.
A discipline committee was formed in 1880 "to report on members who attended theatres, dances and other places of vice". Many offenders pleaded guilty, repented, and were restored.
Since population had increased around Pembroke and Fairview, it became the desire of many to build churches at Pembroke and Fairview. At the business meeting of April, 1884, Bro. W. W. Garrott offered a "resolution to dissolve the Grand Old Church and build two houses, one in Pembroke and one in Fairview". Seventy members were granted letters to organize at Pembroke on July 3, 1884. The remaining members decided to purchase property in Fairview. A tract of the original Samuel Davis homestead was purchased, including the house where "Little Jeff" was born. This land was deeded to Jeff Davis with the understanding that he would "donate it to the church for a building site". This was all completed and the Gothic style brick church was dedicated November 19, 1886, with Mr. Davis present and taking part in the service. Although already feeble, he was led to the pulpit, which is still in use today, and presented to the church a silver tray and a cup which were engraved with his name and the date. His brief address was concluded with these remarks: "May God of heaven bless this community forever and may the Saviour of the world preserve this church to His worship for all times to come". A marble slav, commemorating this event, remains in the left vestibule.
The parsonage which was built next door to the church in 1898, is now being used for Sunday School and recreation.
On August 23, 1900 lightening struck and burned the building. Some of the windows, pulpit stand, three chairs, and two marble top tables were saved and are still being used. By the end of that year another identical building was completed on the same foundation. Portions of the walls which were not completely destroyed were also used. Standing on the exact spot where Jeff Davis, the only Confederate President, was born, this building was formally dedicated on September 29, 1901 at a total cost of $5,925.52.
According to old records, the early 1900's were hard times. The church seemed to have trouble "keeping the pastor's salary paid and the coal bin full". Nevertheless, the Lord blessed in the many "protracted meetings" which were held in those days. One such revival began a week earlier than planned "due to the arrival of the evangelist a week too soon". Dr. Sisk preached a revival in 1929 resulting "in seventy-two being saved and fifty uniting with the church". For twenty years Bethel helped to support a Baptist Mission at Mannington, Kentucky.
There have been many beautification and convenience improvements over the years. From the years of 1948-1969 the church saw the addition of Sunday School rooms, a new baptistry, and a heating and cooling system. From 1969 - 1970, under the direction of its' present pastor (in 1973), Bro. Al Grounds, new carpeting, a new piano, and an organ were purchased.
List of Pastors:
|Jesse Brooks 1814||H. O. Nicely 1917|
|William Tandy 1823||T. Y. Maddox 1918|
|J. M. Pendleton 1833||L. Miller 1922|
|Reuben Ross 1834||W. B. Hammock 1924|
|J. M. Bennett 1852||C. E. Hutcherson 1925|
|R. W. Morehead 1860||E. G. Sisk 1928|
|A. W. Meacham 1861||Marvin Stinson 1932|
|George Hunt 1863||H. O. Niceley 1934|
|T. G. Keen 1867||W. W. Johnson 1938|
|E. N. Dicken 1870||J. H. Lyon 1943|
|R. D. Peay 1881||E. C. Brewer 1948|
|D. S. Baker 1885||J. H. Lyon 1950|
|E. N. Dicken 1886||Charles Woodburn 1953|
|R. N. Barrett 1890||Leon Goodley 1956|
|J. A. Bennet 1892||Delmar Rice 1958|
|W. H. Vaughan 1902||Stanford Simmons 1961|
|C. E. Hutcherson 1908||Roy Francis 1965|
|W. R. Goodman 1909||Al Grounds 1969|
Minutes from Bethel Baptist Church
Excerpts from 1814-1866
Contributed by ©Dan Vass
The following are Newspaper abstracts from the Kentucky New Era concerning the dedication of Bethel Church:
Jeff Davis Will Attend the Dedication of the Fairview Baptist Church Tomorrow
The dedication of the Fairview Baptist church has been looked forward to with unusual interest, and, now that Jefferson Davis will be present, the occasion will be one full of memories and honor. As has been already stated Dr. Strickland, of Nashville, will preach the dedicatory sermon. Dr. Strickland wore the Grey during four years of civil strife and was promoted for gallantry in battle. With the hero of the lose cause at hand and with one who served him valiantly to offer to god this temple for His worship, the ceremonies will be grandly solemn and imposing. Mr. Davis and party will arrive at Pembroke on the 10 a.m. train today. They will spend the day and night at the residence of Mr. William H. Jesup and go to church Sunday morning by private conveyance. His letter signifying his attention of being present is given below and it shows the lofty impulse and strong faith that has sustained him through later years.
BEAUVOIR, MISS 14th Nov. 1886
R.W. Downer, Esq.
Your letter of the 9th inst. Has been received. The day fixed for the dedication of Eethel church, at Fairview, though later than was anticipated, may not be too inclement for the old to attend. I have looked forward with earnest hope to see a house for Christian worship stand on the spot where I was born. If it be practicable, you may expect me to be present at the ceremony of dedication to our father in Heaven, this temple built by His children on earth.
November 23, 1886
Fairview dedicates Her Beautiful House of Worship
Dr. Strickland’s Sermon and the formal Gift of the Church Lot by Mr. Davis.
A handsome frame Methodist church with tapering spire crowning the hill on the left tells us that we have reached the western limit of Fairview, a village on the line of Todd and Christian counties, situated on the old State road, once a great thoroughfare for stage-coaches between Elkton and Hopkinsville. Fairview situated 9 miles from the former and 11 miles from the latter places, is the scene of unwonted stir and activity today, occasioned by the dedication of the New Bethel Baptist church, built on the site of log-cabin where Jefferson Davis was born 78 years ago, just eight months before the birth of another illustrious Kentuckian, Abraham Lincoln, his determined adversary in the greatest civil war which the world has ever seen. The cabin was pulled down soon after its cession to Bethel Church, and rebuilt a short distance from the old site, which is now occupied by the handsomest and bet appointed church of its size in Kentucky. The cabin-lot, containing nine acres, was purchased some time since by Capt. Louis Clark, a prominent tobacco broker of Clarksville, with several other gentlemen, and presented to Mr. Davis, who thereupon deeded his old homestead to Bethel church. The early date of settlement is shown by the size of an old seedling pear tree which stood in the yard, having a girth of seven feet nine inches around its trunk, and wearing the leafy honors of at least seventy years. A slab of violet-gray finely polished Tennessee marble set in the wall has this inscription in Roman capitals:
OF MISSISSIPPI, WAS BORN
June 3, 1808,
ON THIS SITE OF THIS CHURCH
HE MADE A GIFT OF THIS LOT
March 10, 1886,
TO BETHEL BAPTIST CHURCH,
AS A THANK-OFFERING TO GOD
There are ten other richly stained glass windows, besides the inscripted slab, as follows, all having Gray, gree, or purple-tinted centers, and donated by members or friends of the church. In the western wall, first window with a green and purple border, donated by Dr. E.S. Stewart; second window, blue and gold border, from R.T. Chilton, Fairview; third window, crimson and gold, Mrs. Jennie W. Rodman, Hopkinsville; fourth window, blue and gold, S.E. Trice, Hopkinsville; fifth window, green and purple, Mrs. Sudie B. Jesup, Fairview. On the eastern wall, first window, green and purple, N. Long, Russeliville; second window, blue and gold, Dr. S.M. Lowry, Elkton; third window, crimson and gold, Miss Lucy C Mosely, Fairview; fourth window, blue and gold, Rev. Samuel Baker, Russellville; fifth window, green and purple, Miss Sada Downer, Fairview. The total cost of the church is over $8,000. For comfort, convenience, symmetry and elegance it is, for its size, the finest piece of ecclesiastical architecture in the State. It marks a new era in the building of a village churches, and has already given a vigorous stimulus to various improvement in its vicinity.
The gentlemen of the Building Committee have stinted neither time, labor nor expense in completing this beautiful structure. Their names are R.W, Downer, Chairman; B.C. Eddins, Treasurer; Matthew Layne, J.L. Moseley, R.T.
Chilton, J.W. Fuicher, J.W. Moodie, W.W. Garrott, J.D. Tandy and Jackson Vass, all leading farmers of Fairview neighborhood.
There is no public burial ground in Fairview, and the church Trustees have wisely determined to set aside a portion of their ample church-yard f or a cemetery, after the ancient custom of keeping the silent dwellers of ‘God’s Acre,” as the German’s poetically call the grave-yard, under the shadow of the church spire.
Sunday was ushered in by lowering southwestern clouds which shook down a continuous warm drizzle in a temperature of 58 degrees, making the roads heavy and the out-look gloomy for the multitudes far and near who had been planning to witness the dedication. Nevertheless horsemen, carriages and buggies began to arrive early, covered from top to bottom with mud. The ground in front of the church had been graded only a day or two previous, and next to the road there was a fill of earth and rubbish from the building, which was soon kneaded into a horrible mire, as deep as Bullyan’s Slough of Despond. Carriages labored and groaned and their occupants exclaimed with Jacob, although for a very different reason, “How dreadful is this place! About ten o’clock Mr. Davis, the guest of the day, attended by Captain Lewis Clark, of Clarksville, was driven down from Elkton, whither he had gone the day before, in the carriage of Mr. William Jesup, a leading farmer of the vicinity, and stopped at the residence of Rev. E.N. Dicken, pastor of Bethel church, where he was met by Dr. Strickland, Mr. L.B, Eastman, Chief Clerk of the First National Bank, Nashville, and other visitors. After a brief consultation to arrange the order of exercises, the
party repaired to the church which was already packed to overflowing, by an anxious assembly which crowded every nook and corner in aisles, vestibule and doorway. Many went away, unable to get admittance. There were numbers of visitors from Elkton, Clarksville, Hopkinsville and Pembroke.
At the close, after the choir had rendered the beautiful anthem “I will not give sleep, etc.” Mr. Davis was invited to the platform by the pastor. He went forward supported by Mr.. Downer, seemingly in much feebleness and spoke in substand as follows:
“It is with heart full of emotion that I thank you for cozmneznorating the spot of my nativity by building this temple to the Triune God. In reply to the question why I am not a Baptist I would only say that my father who was a much better man than myself was a Baptist. I left this place during my infancy, and after an absence of many years revisited it on a previous occasion. On both visits I have felt like saying, “This is my own, my native land.” I see around me now in this beautiful house of worship, the most gratifying use to which the spot of my birth could be devoted. It speaks highly for this community that the most commodious and handsome of all its buildings belongs to God. It shows your reverence and love for your Creator. I rejoice to hear of the continued progress and prosperity of my old home. I am not here for the purpose of making a speech nor would I mar the effect of this solemn dedication, nor of the beautiful and eloquent sermon to which you have listened, by attempting one. I came only to tend to you formally the site on which this building stands. May He who rules the heavens bless this community individually and collectively and may his benediction rest upon this house of worship always. I thus leave it with you. More than this it would be improper for me to say.”
Rev. E.N. Dicken in reply thanked Mr. Davis heartily for his valuable gift.
“As it has been granted we propose to keep it, as an offering to God in the beauty of holiness during our lives, and when we shall have passed over the river and rest under the shadow of the trees, we shall transmit it unsullied and in gospel purity to those who shall come after us. I will also venture, Mr. Davis, to thank you for another welcome gift, which your modesty kept you from naming; the beautiful silver communion service, received at your hands for the use of the church.” The service consists of a solid silver salver and chalice, the latter of which is inscribed, “Bethel Church, Fairview, Ky.” Dr. Baker than offered the dedication prayer.
The following are Newspaper Abstracts about Bethel Church burning August 23 of 1900:
Stood on The Birthplace of Jefferson Davis
Struck by Lightning on Last Tuesday and Completely Destroyed Thursday afternoon about 5:30 o'clock the Bethel Baptist Church at Fairview, Ky., was struck by lightning and destroyed by fire. The citizens fought hard, but the building could not be saved.
The Review with commendable enterprise issued an extra, from which the following is taken.
"The church was a handsome brick structure and was built on the spot where Jefferson Davis was born, and was bought by his old comrades in arms, headed by M. H. Clark, of Clarksville, Tenn., and presented to Mr. Davis by them and he to Bethel Baptists, when the church was completed in 1886. The church, when completed cost $10,000. There was $5,000 insurance on it while the --- will not begin to cover the cost. It is thought that the membership will build again at an early date.
When the church was dedicated in 1886 Mr. Davis was present and presented the lot to the trustees. Rev. A. H. Strickland of Nashville, Tenn preached the dedicatory sermon in the presence of one of the biggest crowds ever assembled in the town.
This is the third church burned here in three years. The Methodist church was burned by lightening striking on the morning of November 16, 1897, which was a total loss. The colored Baptists lost their church last fall by a defective flue and the Baptist the 23rd day of August past.
The citizens and the town did all in their power to save the church and it seemed at times that they would succeed but by the time the fire was put out in one place it would break out in another and finally they had to give up and stand and see the beautiful structure burn.
However the organ and most of the memorial windows were saved. The members of the other churches sympathize with their Baptist brethren in their loss. The Methodist and Cumberland Presbyterians will render them the use of their churches till they can build a new house of worship. It was thought at one
time that the parsonage would burn from the heat of the church, but as the wind was favorable it was saved without much trouble.
Work to Begin As Soon as Arrangement Made
The members of Bethel Baptist church will rebuild their church that was burned on the evening of the 23rd, at Fairview, says The review. The work will be begun just as soon as all arrangements can be completed, which will be done in the next month. It seems to be the wish of the membership to
duplicate the one that was burned in very respect.
Minutes from Bethel Baptist Church
Excerpts from 1814-1866
Contributed by ©Dan Vass
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