By Jan Sparkman
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — The Christian Church had eight meeting houses in Laurel County in 1900 when Thomas and Henry Pate wrote their “Laurel County History of Churches and Schools.”
The church that eventually became Locust Grove Christian Church at Keavy began, according to the Pates, about 1820 at a place called Pleasant Springs. It was built of logs and was destroyed by a forest fire. Preaching was then held under “Meeting House Rock” on Laurel River. Three pioneer ministers served this church during this period. Their surnames were Storm, Mitchell, and Steele. After their deaths the church became dormant for a time until it was organized as Locust Grove Church about 1863, making it the earliest church of the Christian denomination in the county.
Laurel Chapel, in its present form, was established in 1899 but the Pates indicate that it also had an earlier congregation (ca. 1840) who met at a “Rock House” on Laurel River with Elder Jimmie Storm. There is mention of Hendricks Church as well, but no particulars are given.
According to the Pates, Mt. Carmel Christian Church was officially organized just after the Civil War in 1866. It had some scattered history prior to that. They say: “Worship was held in the oldest church house called Independence, which stood opposite the building now at Oakley. The church moved to London just after . . . the War . . . but in a short time returned and organized the church at Mt. Carmel, the same as we now see.” (A sign on the grounds of the present Mt. Carmel Church gives the date of organization as 1893. That agrees with the Pates’ mention of a church called ‘New Mt. Carmel’ which was established in 1893.*)
London Christian Church was the first church to be erected in the town of London. It was organized in 1856 but had no building until 1867. Its members met in the courthouse before that time. The 1867 church building was still being used in 1900.
Other Christian churches listed as serving Laurel County in those early years were: Pleasant Valley, 1891; *New Mt. Carmel, 1893; Bush, 1899; Pittsburg, (no date given).
Early Methodist churches (mostly called Methodist/Episcopal at that time) in Laurel County were: Bethel Church, East Bernstadt (originally Hopewell), organized as Bethel in 1839; Shinkles Chapel, Boreing, 1851; Twin Branch, 1875; New Bethel (Feltz – or Felts - Chapel), near Corbin, 1878; Wyatt’s Chapel, 1891; Old Union consolidated with Foster Chapel ca. 1881 and for more than a dozen years shared its building with a Baptist congregation. They built their own church in 1893; First Methodist, London, 1894; Mt. Olive, 1894; Macedonia, 1895; Warren’s Grove, ca. 1896; Pleasant Grove, Pittsburg, ca. 1896; Slate Ridge, 1897; Mt. Gilead, 1897; New Sharon, London, was in the process of building a church at the time of the Pates’ writing; M.E Church, South, at Pittsburg, originally part of Bethel Church (old Hopewell) at East Bernstadt, no organization date given; M.E. Church, South, London, first building was in 1885, destroyed by fire in 1892, rebuilt on Main Street and was standing in 1900; The African Methodist Episcopal Church (A.M.E.) had two churches in Laurel County in 1900: The London church was organized in 1887; the Altamont church, near East Bernstadt, that same year.
The only Catholic Church in Laurel County in 1900 was St. Sylvester Catholic Church, East Bernstadt. It was organized ca. 1886 by Rev. Father Paul Volk; its building was completed about 1888.
A Presbyterian Church was established at Pittsburg in 1889 by Wm. E. Hamilton, D.D. and Rev. B. B. Van Nuys.
Mention is made of the two Protestant churches that came into being after the arrival of the Swiss colonists, ca. 1881. The first of these was at Bernstadt in 1884. A church building was erected there by 1886. The second was in the East Bernstadt area in 1887. This church met for several years in the old Helvetia schoolhouse. I believe this was the forerunner of St. John Swiss Reformed Church, non-denominational, which is still active and is located off north Highway 25, a short distance beyond its intersection with highway 490.
I discovered that the Pates had listed two early Baptist congregations (what they called ‘colored’ churches) at the end of the section listing the A.M.E. churches instead of putting them with all the other Baptist churches. These were: Shiloh Baptist Church, Altamont, 1888; and First Baptist Church, Altamont, no organization date given.
The Pentecostal movement is not mentioned in the Pates’ book, but I will be writing about that next week, via information from another source.
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The Laurel County Historical Society is located at 310 W. 3rd St., London, (formerly the Laurel County Health Department). The library is open on Mondays and Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and on Saturdays from 9 a.m. until 12 noon. For further information, contact 606-864-0607 during library hours, or 606-224-3767 at other times. Email the society at firstname.lastname@example.org or Jan Sparkman at email@example.com.