LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — Even before the official beginning of Laurel County, churches had been established that were to serve the area for many years. Much has been written on these early congregations – from several sources – so I will begin with an overview in this week’s column and be more specific in future columns as I progress through the material.
Russell Dyche says in his “Laurel County History” the first church in what became Laurel County was “undoubtedly Hopewell, the first church property of record in all Southeastern Kentucky, which was already built when a deed to the land on which it stood was made to the Methodist Society in 1810 by George and Patsy McNeill Farris.” I wish Dyche had specified where this church was located but from other mentions in his writing it seems to have developed into Bethel Church in the 1840s, and then eventually into the East Bernstadt Methodist Church where, incidentally, (in the old frame building, not the present-day brick) I was married in June of 1958. I am still looking for further information on the Hopewell Methodist Church of which Dyche wrote.
Thomas D. Clark, in “A History of Laurel County” names another Hopewell church on a list of Baptist churches of a later era. And in a small book titled “Laurel County History of Churches and Schools” written around 1900 by Thomas J. and Henry S. Tate, Hopewell Baptist Church at Lily is said to have been constituted in 1895. A few years ago, Jerry Gregory copied and republished Tates’ book into a more readable version but the information about this church is the same. There is still a Hopewell Baptist Church in the general area of Lily.
Baptist churches were far more numerous than any other denomination, though they were not the first in the county. The Tates claim that Providence Baptist Church is the oldest in the county, but if we compare the dates of establishment for Hopewell Methodist (1810) and Providence Baptist (1819), we see that Hopewell was the oldest. Providence is the oldest Baptist Church. It first met in the part of Knox County that became Laurel in 1815, according to the Tates and Gregory. Since London was not established until 1826, none of the town’s churches, though some are very old, were the first to welcome the earliest settlers to the county.