HISTORY OF "OLD" BETHEL
MISSIONARY BAPTIST CHURCH

by Kathy Niedergeses (1995, additions 2012)

The following is a history of "old" Bethel Missionary Baptist Church compiled from various sources of information. It is referred to as "old" Bethel Church, since there is another Bethel Baptist Church today in southeastern Lawrence Co.

I have found two references that state "old" Bethel Missionary Baptist Church was started in 1846 about 4 miles north of Lawrenceburg. Neither of these give their source of information and I have not found a deed for the property or church when it was first started. I did find a deed dated 9 February 1846 from T. D. Deavenport to J. C. Sparkman, Thomas Pullen and J. I. Foster, Trustees & Co. of the Bethel Baptist Church, approximately five acres of land on the ridge between the waters of Shoal Creek and Buffalo River. The property joins Mary Jane Wasson and J. C. Sparkmanís property [Deed Bk. I, p. 134.]

I do also have a copy of a letter written by Hattie E. Alley of Trenton, Tennessee to her cousin, Thad Ashmore in Manor, Texas in 1908 and an obituary for the Reverend J. N. Bell, who was a pastor of "old" Bethel church. The obituary states that J. N. Bell was baptized at "old" Bethel Church in 1845 by Elder James C. Sparkman. How much prior to this date the church was in existence will probably never be known, since no records can be found to confirm the date. Deavenport may have been letting them use the building before he deeded it to the church.

The little log church was located on the present Park Grove Road several yards east and a little south of the two-story house where Lincoln and Geneva Putman still lived in 1995. Going from Lawrenceburg, the Putman house is on the right hand side of the road, just past a sharp curve to the right. (This property is now, 2012, owned by Herb McGee, Jr.) The old road used to turn before the current curve in the road, and came by the church and across the front yard of Mr. Putman's house. The "old" Bethel Cemetery was close to the church and enclosed in a fence east of the Putman house beyond a pasture. There have not been any burials in the cemetery for years and it is very grown up with only a few markers still standing with some of them being unreadable. There was also a school located here. The church was probably used as the school, as many were in those days. According to some old school records, John R. Williamson, Esquire Buchanan, Andrew J. Hall, and Sallie McLean were teachers here in the 1880's.

According to the minutes of the Indian Creek Baptist Association, "old" Bethel Missionary Baptist Church was a member of this Association. The Indian Creek Baptist Association was organized in 1837, but how long afterwards "old" Bethel Church came into existence is not known, since there are no records of the Association prior to the 1870's. The Association consisted of parts of Giles, Lawrence, Wayne, and Hardin Counties in Tennessee, and sections of northern Alabama.

The first trustees were Thomas Pullen, J. J. Foster and James C. Sparkman. The church did not have a regular minister for many years, but depended on circuit riders or lay persons to conduct services, as many churches did in early years. In 1867, J. N. Bell was ordained a minister. Both he and J. C. Sparkman were ministers at various churches in the Indian Creek Baptist Association.

Some of the earliest members of the church were Ashmore, Bell, Alley, Foster, Sparkman, Stewart, Anthony, Guthrie, Holtsford, Burch, Moore, Starnes and Nixon. There were probably others whose names have long been forgotten.

On September 27, 1884 the 47th Indian Creek Baptist Association meeting was held at the Rock Springs Church in Giles County, Tennessee. J. N. Bell was listed as pastor of the "old" Bethel Baptist Church, which had 20 members at that time. Thomas Parham was the Clerk. The two messengers sent to the Association meeting were Rev. J. N. Bell and P. Hutson (Hudson ?).

The following year, on September 26, 1885, the Association meeting was held at the Philadelphia Church in Wayne County, Tennessee. There was no specific pastor listed for "old" Bethel Church, but J.N. Bell was still a pastor in the Lawrenceburg area. Twenty members still attended the church.

At the Association meeting September 25, 1886 at the Hopewell Church in Hardin County, Tennessee, "old" Bethel Baptist Church was dropped from their roll, along with two other churches. According to a note at the bottom of page 11 of the minutes, this is when the church was dissolved. We know this just lasted for a short time and, as far as anyone knows, the building remained empty during this time. Since there were only twenty members, some of them most likely died, moved away, or started going to another church, so there were probably not enough members to continue services at "old" Bethel.

It is not known if the building was still standing or had already decayed beyond use when in February of 1901, after meeting with the Reverend R. A. Fitzgerald, who was a missionary from the Ebenezer Association, two members of the "old" Bethel Baptist Church and seven members of the Union Hill Baptist Church, reorganized the "old" Bethel Church. At this time, they received four new members into the church, and became a member of the Ebenezer Association. (J. N. Bell was once a pastor at a Union Hill Baptist Church in the Ethridge and Marcella Falls area, and this church was still in the Indian Creek Baptist Association as late as 1892. It is not known if this is the same church.)

In July of 1901, the Reverend Fitzgerald held a tent revival for thirteen days and fifty-six new members were added to the church. These people were all baptized in Crowson Creek where the present bridge is on the Ethridge-Redhill Road close to where this road intersects the Redhill-Center Road. At the time, Haygood Wright wrote the names of all of those baptized, but the list has long since been lost. A picture was taken at this tent revival and Ida Mae Hudson Bennett, mother of Virgil Bennett, was one of the people in the picture. She told the names of these people to Mrs. Nettie Dooley many years ago, but she has forgotten them. After this revival a building committee was appointed. Soon fourteen other people joined the church. Later new members were baptized in Little Shoal Creek on Buffalo Road just below the old Sanitarium and Hospital.

On November 26, 1901, Frank Irvin and wife, Ella T. Irvin, and G. O. Timmons deeded land to J. P. McCaleb, James Hudson and Walter Buchanan, Trustees of the Missionary Baptist Congregation of the "old" Bethel Church. The deed states "that in consideration of their kind feelings for this congregation at Bethel Church, we do by these presents give, transfer and convey to the forenamed trustees two acres just north of the Waynesboro-Shelbyville Road" (on the northwest corner of the present Ethridge-Redhill Road), and mentions some graves near the site. (These graves were of a family that was passing through when some members of their family died. They were unmarked, but located close to the present Ethridge-Redhill Road.) "The church and officers are also given the right to the use of the water from the well for both man and beast, said well being about 100 yards east of land conveyed." (The well was on the Irvin property.) The deed was notarized at Ethridge by J. L. Speegle December 11, 1901 and filed with the Register of Deeds September 30, 1902. A frame church building was soon built on this property.

No one knows for sure when the name of the church was changed from Bethel to Park Grove, but it has been handed down through the years by word of mouth, that the church was abandoned for a while and the Methodist held services in the building from about 1915 to 1919. It is possible that (1) the name was changed after the new church was built by the Baptists, (2) the name was changed by the Methodists while they were using the church, or (3) the name was changed when the church joined the Lawrence County Baptist Association in 1919 because there was now another Baptist Church near Leoma with the name of Bethel. I do know that there was a school named Park Grove built in 1900 and located on the northeast corner of the intersection of the Ethridge-Redhill Road and the Park Grove Road. According to school records, Jessie McArter was a teacher here between 1900 and 1905. Teachers in the 1920's were Alonzo Brewer, Louise Crane, E. W. McAnally, E. H.McAnally, Mrs. Maude Wilde, Lillie Mae Carrell, W. E. Perry, Mrs. N. C. Kidd, Maude Lee Killen, Mrs. Laura Haggerty, Myra Baxter, and C. W. McAnally.

On August 3, 1919, the Baptist met in conference with Brother W. A. Barnett and with two members present received five new members. On August 15, 1919, R. M. Henson and wife, Nola Henson, for the sum of $1.00 deeded an additional one acre tract of land to the church with the stipulation that no other denomination or sect shall at any time claim any interest in, or any right to hold services in the church or on this land. This was probably to prevent just such an occurrence as had already happened with the Methodists using the building.

Over the years as membership grew in the Park Grove Church, a larger and better building was needed. A new brick building was started a little southwest of the old frame church. When the basement of the new building was completed, it was used for church services and Sunday School classes until the rest of the large sanctuary was finished and dedicated in 1953.

In 1962/1963 a fellowship hall, restrooms, additional classrooms and a baptistery were added. In 1982 an upstairs was added over the fellowship hall with classrooms and an office. The fellowship hall was then enlarged and a covered drive-thru breezeway built over the entrance on the south side.

On May 18, 1995 a devastating tornado struck the Park Grove community, destroying everything in its path. The Park Grove Church suffered heavy damage as a result. The steeple, along with sections of the roof, a drive-thru breezeway, and nearly all the brick on the west side of the church were ripped off. Several of the beautiful windows were destroyed also. This resulted in a lot of water damage to the inside of the sanctuary. A majority of the hugh old trees in the church yard were up-rooted.

But the faithful members of the church did not let this get their spirits down. Clean up was started immediately with members and friends working tirelessly for many days. Through the efforts of many caring people the church has been totally restored.

All records for "old" Bethel church prior to 1901 have been missing for many, many years. There are sketchy records of minutes from 1901 to 1919. No records of any minutes have been found from Sept. 1904 to Nov. 1906. After 1919 the records are more complete. The following have been pastors at "old" Bethel/Park Grove Church: (* indicates interim pastor)

Rev. J. N. Bell 1884

Rev. R. A. Fitzgerald Sept. 1901 - 1904

Rev. J. K. Bone (Bonee?) 1906

Rev. Ernest Merrell 1911

Rev. S. B. Ogle 1915

Rev. J. W. Barnett 1919

Rev. Huckaba 1919

Rev. Simon Casteel

Rev. F. M. Speakman

Rev. Max Love 1940

Rev. S. H. Lewis 1942

Rev. M. H. Love 1944

Rev. H. D. Mote 1945 - Oct. 1949

Rev. Edd Croslin 1949 - Aug. 1951

Rev. S. H. Lewis Oct. 1951 - Sept. 1959

Rev. Cleo Bunt Oct. 1959 - July 1962

Rev. W. F. Cox, Jr. Sept. 1962 - Aug. 1966

Rev. Cleo Bunt Sept. 1966 - March 1969

Rev. Ernest E. Mosley Dec. 1969 - May 1970*

Rev. Thomas Blankenship Oct. 1970 - 1972

Rev. Kenneth Brewer July 1972 - Jan. 1980

Rev. Pete Roberts April 1980 - June 1985

Rev. Tom Kinder Dec. 1985 - June 1986

Rev. Frank Proffit 1986*

Rev. Christopher Spurlock Dec. 1986 - Feb. 1987

Rev. Frank Proffit 1987*

Rev. Chris Gowen July 1987 - Oct. 1993

Rev. J. C. Carpenter Feb. 1994 - Sept. 1994*

Rev. James Lee Oct. 1994 - Feb. 1995*

Rev. Lawrence Harris Feb. 1995 - present (1996)

Rev. Ricky Cox is the current pastor (2012).

Researched and compiled by Kathy Niedergeses

Last Updated July 15, 2012                                            Return to Lawrence Co. Archives Web Page