Monday, May 16, 2016

Historic Preservation

The other day a friend in Georgia posted a photo of an historic LDS church in his area that was really deteriorating. Honestly, I'm not sure I would be willing to walk inside. But it got me thinking about the condition of some of the historic LDS Churches in Tennessee.

Sadly most of them have been torn down. A few burned down. I was looking at a photo of one in Nashville that is now a multi million dollar home (photos of that one to come later). Probably the oldest still standing is in Northcutts Cove. Built in 1909, it was replaced by a stone church in the late 1940's. It too was replaced with a more modern structure in the early 80's that is still used today.

So this weekend I took a trip to Grundy County. It is only about an hour from my house. But it feels like it is so much further.
It was a gorgeous day. Perfect for photos. Also perfect for checking out the damage. You see, last year, there was a terrible ice storm in this part of Tennessee. And I heard that this chapel had sustained more damage than the owners were capable of repairing themselves. Efforts were made to raise money for repairs. I wanted to see how they went. Right away I didn't see anything. I compared it to to some photos I took on my last visit. It looked pretty good. There were big cracks in the steps, but those have been there for years.

I had heard that the owners keep it unlocked so people can visit and look around whenever they like. I guess it is easier than trying to run over there to open it up for every one who wants to stop by. So on this trip I went up to the from door and sure enough, it wasn't locked. Not that there is anything inside worth taking, but where I come from, everything is locked.

Immediately the ceiling lights jumped out at me. I can't help but think they are original. Others lights have been added along the side walls are obviously not original.
Stories are told about how the pews were hand made, so I had to take a picture of them too.
It is a simple building, with nothing more than the absolute essentials. A raised section at the far (east) end of the building. A podium, which looks newer than the rest, and a wood burning stove. It does get cold in Tennessee. Remember the ice storms?
I did find some holes in the wall, and in the ceiling. None of them appeared to go all the way through to the outside. It is an old building, so that doesn't surprise me. It does appear that someone has been doing enough work to keep the elements at bay. In 1979, thanks to efforts of the owners the building made it on the National Register of Historic places.

It is perhaps an example of preservation that is working. I know that the owners are descendants of the original converts who donated the land. Ownership reverted to them once the church replaced the church in the 40's. They should be commended for keeping it as it was. I can cite another church the was in a similar situation that did not survive. The owners tore it down to build a new home.  And another that is being used as a personal storage shed. But those are stories for another day.


Dustin said...

Where do you go to find records when you research on the histories of wards or branches in a specific area?

BruceAllen said...

The best sources are original documents. Newspapers and newsletters that were published at the time. I also use journals and letters written at the time. The Church has a great cache of these at the Church History Library, even for local spots like Grundy county Tennessee. The trick is finding them, since they are not really well indexed yet. It's better than it was, but it still has a way to go. I also use the archives here in Tennessee, and talk to local historians.

I wont reveal all my secrets, but here is one. I start with people who served a mission in a specific area, and find references to them in church records. That can lead to mission reports and local baptismal records. With local member names I can track down family biographies, and maybe talk to some descendants. From there I just follow what trail there is. It is different every time.

Dustin said...

wow, very interesting. Thanks for sharing a little. It's interesting to follow church history in a place away from church headquarters like Tennessee that is usually ignored.

BruceAllen said...

You are very kind. Thanks.

Michelle Ganus Taggart said...

What a beautiful building and thank you so much for sharing. I am really glad I don't have to sit on benches like that every week!