NEW SALEM UNITED METHODIST CHURCH
(I’m not sure who wrote this but there are some parts that I think is not correct. Alice)
The story of New Salem United Methodist church begins before the settlement of the New Salem Community. The Cherokee Indians lived primarily in Southeast Tennessee and Northwest Georgia at the beginning of the nineteenth century. The Cherokee were a people of the forest who tried to adapt to the incoming whites in the early years. Methodist work among the Cherokee began in 1824 when Richard Riley invited Richard Neely, a Methodist preacher, to preach in his home which was near the present day Guntersville, Alabama.
At the next meeting of the Tennessee Conference in 1824 Neely asked that a mission to the Cherokee be established. The conference responded by appointing Nicholas Scales to “work among the Cherokee.” This work grew rapidly, expanding into several circuits in a matter of four years. The Methodist success was due largely to a willingness to use native Cherokee as interpreters and preachers. Turtle Fields, John Boot, William McIntosh, and Weelooker are among the most prominent Cherokee to be Methodist preachers.
By 1828, there was a Will’s Valley Circuit. Will’s Valley is the valley in which the present-day Trenton and Fort Payne are located. John B. McFerrin gives the following description of the boundaries for the Will’s Valley Circuit when he served it in 1829:
“A line from Chickasaw Island in the Tennessee River to the junction of the Coosa River with Wills Creek; thence along the Coosa River to the junction of the Etowah and Oostanaula Rivers’ thence to the point of Lookout Mountain; and thence along the Tennessee River to the starting point at Chickasaw Island.”
This was a total circumference of over four hundred miles.
A Lookout Circuit was established among the Cherokee in 1830. The work with the Cherokee included schools as well as churches. There was a concern for the whole person. Children were taught to read and write as well as to love God. John Ross, the principle chief of the Cherokee for many years, was converted by Methodist preaching as were other prominent Cherokee.
A black page in the history of this area is the treatment of the Cherokee at the hands of the whites. After many treaties and betrayals the Cherokee were forcibly removed to west of the Mississippi in 1838. Georgia distributed the land by lottery. Although Cherokee had lived in the area, whites had been passing through for a number of years. The following account of William Garrett’s tells of one trip through this area in the early:
“… Bishop Roberts must needs pass from the session of the Mississippi Conference (1823, I think), through the Cherokee Nation, to East Tennessee, and Abel Gilliland, knowing the best route, undertook to accompany him through. The Bishop knew his companion was a Methodist, without however, knowing his eccentricities, or rather impulsiveness. One day they were traveling along Will’s Valley threading a narrow bridle-way in a drear forest. The Bishop was ahead some twenty yards, and happened at the moment to be impressed with the loneliness of the path. He heard Gilliland scream at the top of his voice, and supposing he had been assaulted, turned his horse as rapidly as possible and rode back. Gilliland continued, with his hand to the side of his head. As soon as the Bishop got near enough he inquired earnestly, ‘Brother Gilliland, what is the matter?’ Gilliland replied, at the top of his voice, ‘My soul is happy, Bishop!’ and he continued for some time to give loud expression of his feelings. The Bishop was taken aback’ for the alarm at such a time, and in the state of his feelings, rather disconcerted him as his thoughts were at the time of Indians and danger.”
The whites were drawn to this area by its natural beauty and the lure of gold and cheap land. According to the census information, the earliest settlers came from Tennessee, North and South Carolina and Virginia. Most were of Scotch-Irish or English descent.
Art Moore, in writing of the early settlers had this to say in 1946, “In reviewing the lives and reputations of some of our first settlers we are reminded of a story that was told of a city out West:
‘It seems that the newswriters, discussing the leaders of their city, suggested the past life of most were probably a little shady. To prove his point, he picked out ten men who were prominent in civic affairs, and sent each a telegram reading” ‘All has been found out. Flee at once.’
‘The next morning nine of the men had left the city, and the other one had committed suicide.”
Actually very little is known of the first settlers who moved to the mountain in the late 1830’s and early 1840’s. Most of them remain nameless forebears. A second wave of settlers came just before the Civil War. Among these were John Gray, James Bradford and his son, Jackson Bradford, Robert Boatman, H. D. Stephens, Francis McKaig of Ireland, and J. W. Moore and his brother William Alexander Moore. Many present day residents of New Salem are descendants of these early pioneers.
Originally Trenton was called Salem. The name was changed in December 1841. The mountain residents dubbed their community New Salem to distinguish themselves from the “Old Salem” of Trenton.
The earliest records of Methodist work among whites in the area are in 1839 when a Dade Mission was established as part of the Jasper Circuit in the Washington District of the Tennessee Conference. This mission had around 130 members by 1840. There is no indication if a preaching place was established on the mountain at this time. However, local tradition has it that a church was begun in the early 1840’s which had a brush arbor as a preaching place.
On January 12, 1861, Jacob Sitton sold 318 ½ acres of land to Robert Boatman. In this deed the early church is mentioned. Sitton sells the acreage “with the exception of one and a half acres of the south west corner of one of said lots known and distinguished as the place where the arbor for a campground now stands.” Obviously, by the early 1860’s the place where the arbor stood was well-known enough to be mentioned in a deed.
A brush arbor was simply a shed made of branches and limbs to keep the sun and rain off the worshippers. “Campground” refers to the way Methodist gathered in the nineteenth century. When crops were planted and before they were harvested, people of the area would gather at a spot to hear preaching for two weeks or so. Everyone would camp at the place for the duration of the services. Associated with the early camp meetings are good singing, fellowship and food.
“Lookout Mountain Mission” is first mentioned in the Conference records of 1856. In 1859 Goodson McDaniel and Daniel R. Reagen were appointed to Dade Circuit and Lookout Mission. There were about 50 members at this time. Although the Civil War interrupted the 1860’s, the work of the church continued during this tumultuous period.
Many stories survived from the war years. A part of the Union Army under Major General George H. Thomas marched through Newsome Gap on the way to what became the Battle of Chickamauga in September 1863. There were divided loyalties within the New Salem Community which caused some divisions and hard feelings. Many of these were not healed for many years. There is the story of one reconciliation after the turn of the century when a man in the front of the church fell under conviction during preaching one evening in a revival. He walked to the back of the church and asked another man with opposite loyalties for forgiveness, whereupon the two embraced.
Once the war was over the work of the church continued. On July 26, 1866, Jacob Sitton gave one and a half acres to the Methodist Episcopal Church, South”… for and in consideration of the love I have for the cause of Christ.” The trustees who received this donation were H. D. Stephens, Robert Boatman, John Gray, James Bradford and W. J. Bradford. In the deed they were charged to “… erect or build or cause to be erected and built thereon a house or place of worship for the use of the members of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South…”
The tradition has been that Robert Boatman gave the land for the original church. However, the deeds are clear that Jacob Sitton gave the land and Boatman was one of the trustees who received it. This legend may have come into being because Boatman owned all the land surrounding the church. Also, Sitton was not of the community, living in the valley at the time.
When this deed of 1866 was recorded the clerk put the land in the “South east corner” of the land lot. The deed of 1861 had placed it in the “South west corner.” This confusion required a deed to correct the error in 1949 when the B. C. Moore family, who are descendants of Robert Boatman.
It is not known exactly when the first church building was built. It was erected sometime after 1866. It was a one room log building with split log benches. Men of the community hewed the logs and erected the building. It stood near the Northeast corner of the present Larry Abbott house about one half mile east of the current New Salem United Methodist Church building.
The school met in the church building. There was another earlier school in Fryer Hollow, near Newsome Gap. Mr. George H. Nesbitt and Miss Jennie Stiff were teachers in the Fryer Hollow School. The school term in the early schools were three months long and was usually taught in July, August and September between planting and harvest.
Some of the early school teachers at New Salem were Burt and Nelle Chambers, Harvey Quinton, Mrs. Georgia Driggs, Miss Jessie Henderson, and Misses Johnnie & Clark Cole. The church building fulfilled this dual role of church and school until a school was built around 1910.
The Dade County area is rich in coal. Small amounts of iron ore were at one time also present. An iron furnace was built in the late 1850’s on the side of Lookout Mountain on Lookout Creek just north of Rising Fawn. The Confederacy used the furnace during the Civil War until Thomas’ troops put it out of commission. After Reconstruction in the 1880’s and 1890’s, Dade County became a coal mining boom area. Investors from up North and from overseas, primarily England, opened mines and coke furnaces. The Durham area, just north of New Salem, were two areas that flourished after the Civil War. Many New Salem residents worked in the mines as miners and as carpenters. Others supplied lumber for the mining companies.
In 1877 Rev. W. J. Drinnon, an ancestor of Mrs. Clara Denham’s was serving the Lookout Mountain as pastor. He received $23 for his annual salary. Over $300 was raised for missions in that year from the Lookout Mountain Mission. There were about 160 members at this time. It is recorded that there were about 100 volumes in the library at the church. The next year the salary was raised to $175.
1879 saw 48 adults baptized into the church to bring the membership to 202. These were not all at New Salem but were on the Lookout Mountain Mission Circuit which included Paynes Chapel, Mt. Pleasant, Pine Grove, Durham and Summer Town at various times.
Records show that H. D. Stephens was a local preacher in the 1880’s. Mr. Stephens is an ancestor of the late Elda Bradford Neal. A local preacher lived in the community and received a license from the annual conference. He assisted the regularly appointed pastor in his duties. Usually the local preacher would conduct services on the Sundays that the appointed preacher was at other points on the circuit. Early conference records do not record who these local people were. However, it is known that John Gray was probably New Salem’s first local preacher.
Around the turn of the century a frame building was built. This one room building was a few hundred yards southwest of the log building. The late Claude Bradford and Jack Neal remembered attending school in the log building before moving to the frame building. Around 1909 or 1910 the state constructed a two story school building on land given by Miller Brothers. This school stood across from the present-day home of Mrs. H. C. (Inez) Moore. It served the community until it burned down in the spring of 1947. The school term during the time of the two story building had been extended to five months.
The church continued to grow and to serve the community. Records from 1909 to 1912 reveal typical Sunday gatherings. One example from June 7, 1909 reads:
Religious Services conducted by W. A. Moore
Opening Song “Look Away from the Cross”
Officers and Teachers present 6 Absent 0
Scholars present 47 Absent 3
Scripture Lesson James 3:1-12
Subject of Lesson “The Power of the Tongue”
School addressed 35 minutes by J. Drennon, A. Kelley and A. Thomas
Collection – Weather Clear and warm
School closed by W. A. Moore
The Quarterly Meeting was held on this day in connection with the Sunday School.
Three years later on June 30, 1912 the record reads:
Religious Services conducted by P. A. McKaig
Opening Song #43 Closer
Officers and Teachers present 4 Absent 1
Scholars present 33 Absent 8 On roll 41
Scripture Lesson Acts 1:4-9
Subject of Lesson Our Unfinished Task
School addressed by P. A. McKaig
School closed by song “#86 Leaning on the Everlasting Arms
Music has always been an important part of the history of New Salem. An annual all day sing was established in 1921. Since that time the all day sing has been on the second Sunday in August. There were all-day sings before 1921, but not on a regular date. The all-day sing has been a time of spirit-filled music and fellowship. It has traditionally been a day on which old friends and family return to New Salem.
Singing schools were an important shaping influence on the tradition of music at New Salem. These week to two week long sessions taught children, youth and adults the rudiments of singing to shaped notes. Also, many new hymns were learned. Marshall Bradford taught many of these schools as did his sons, Grady and Shorty Bradford.
From this musical heritage come many good singers. Grady and Shorty Bradford sang in many parts of the country. The Billy Gray Trio has sung in singings throughout the South for a number of years. The Adkins Family Band is a group which has performed widely in the area. Mark Gray is currently a top young country music star. The Forester Sisters are a rising group on the country music scene. All these have roots deep in the musical tradition of New Salem. The church choir and congregational singing are excellent present-day examples of a long history of singing and music.
The one room church building which was constructed around the turn of the century was not able to meet the needs of the growing congregation. The records of the Holston Conference show that 21 youth and adults were baptized in 1930. This almost doubled the membership. During the 1930’s a Sunday School annex was added on to the back of the frame building. This addition had three rooms which could be opened into one large room. The labor and lumber were donated by people of the community.
In 1938, the state of Georgia established Cloudland Canyon State Park. This park, which includes scenic Sitton’s Gulch, has attracted tourists from all over the United States. It is now one of the largest state parks in the Georgia Park System. Each summer for a number of years New Salem United Methodist Church has conducted an early Sunday morning worship service for campers.
Community life was again interrupted by war in 1941. Many young men of New Salem served valiantly in Europe and the South Pacific. Some gave the supreme sacrifice of life for their country. Upon their return from combat these men became the driving force in the church.
A school bus was purchased in 1935 to transport the high school students to Trenton High School. The school bus had to go by way of Rising Fawn down the Newsome Gap Road, a distance of twenty-five miles over an unpaved road.
The two story school house burned in 1947. The school finished the term in the church building. Then the school met in the old CCC Camp, which is now a part of Cloudland Canyon State Park, until the brick school building was built. The brick school, which is now the property of the New Salem Improvement club, served the community until the early 1960’s. The school was then moved to the “old radar site” near the present-day Covenant College.
Highway 136 was built over the mountain in 1947-48 by convict labor. This highway provided, for the first time, a direct link of Dade County to the rest of Georgia. Prior to this the only highway route from Georgia into Dade was either through Alabama or Tennessee. Money was first appropriated for this project in 1849.
In 1947 Miss Fannie Mennen held the first Plum Nelly Clothesline Art Show. This annual show of arts and crafts was held on the second weekend of October. The members of the church raised money by running the food booth. This traditional fund-raiser continues at the New Salem Mountain Festival each fall at the Community Center.
In the early 1950’s the church was moved to its present location on Highway 136. The present building was built from donations of materials and labor, money from the Plum Nelly food booth and sacrificial giving on the part of the members. The present facility, which was completed in 1953, was begun in May of 1951. The church began worshipping in the yet uncompleted building in August 1953.
Bishop Roy H. Short and Dr. Clyde Lundy, Superintendent of the Chattanooga District, led in the Service of Dedication on May 4, 1958. The pulpit furniture was made at the Methodist College Furniture Shop at Hiwassee College. Writing in 1958 Art Moore said, “Raising the money for construction was a task in which everyone joined. Help came from pledges, donations, the District Superintendent, and others. The men and women of the community joined efforts in the sale of barbecue at the Plum Nelly Art Show as a Lord’s Acre project, while the women of the church had quiltings and suppers. Indeed most of the actual work of construction was done by the men of the church as a work of love.”