HOW TO HELP
Hiwassee Baptist Church is seeking stories or artifacts of the congregation's history for its bicentennial celebration this year. Anyone with artifacts or stories is asked to call Michael and Nancy Liner, 423-336-2008, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
CALHOUN, Tenn. -- They are a history buff's gold mine.
The Hiwassee Baptist Church's 200 years of history are recorded in books detailing every meeting.
On Sunday, members of the Charleston/Calhoun/Hiwassee Historical Society met in the old church for a look at events taking place when McMinn County was on the western frontier of the United States.
The earliest book church members have is from 1824, bound in wood, with a hand-stitched burlap cover.
Joe Bryan, vice president of the Charleston/Calhoun/Hiwassee Historical Society, slowly is reading the continuous record that reaches the present day. He is up to the Civil War years.
One 1863 monthly notation simply reads, "church did not meet because of war."
Bryan's goal is to have a website where the records are available to everyone. Those church books, historical society members agreed, could contain links to many families across the United States. This area was, after all, where the Trail of Tears, pioneer trails, Civil War routes and railroads intersected.
The present church is only the second structure the Hiwassee congregation has had. The 1812 building was destroyed when TVA came through in 1939 and the church had to move to higher ground.
"This is a landmark. A very important landmark," said Faye Callaway, society president.
When the church started in 1812, Bradley County, just across the Hiwassee River, was part of the Cherokee nation. But Indians and settlers, black and white, crossed the river into the United States for church, or the other direction as missionaries.
The church held its "devine worship" once a month, followed by a business meeting.
It's the business meetings that get attention. From land disputes to somebody getting drunk, it all came before the church board and it all was recorded.
Membership was recorded, too. Some startling entries list a name, then note that the person is "a person of color" or a "free person of color." They all gathered in the same one-room church.
"This is 1824. Think about that," Bryan said. "No doubt some of them were slaves. But that's not the way it usually was in the South."
Nancy Liner, a church member, said the congregation will celebrate its bicentennial in October. Details will be announced later.
"We are looking for old photos, old documents, any other items that we can display for the anniversary and record on a DVD," Liner said.
"Everyone who has ever passed through the doors of Hiwassee Baptist Church and is still able, is invited to come," she said.
Randall Higgins covers news in Cleveland, Tenn., for the Times Free Press. He started work with the Chattanooga Times in 1977 and joined the staff of the Chattanooga Times Free Press when the Free Press and Times merged in 1999. Randall has covered Southeast Tennessee, Northwest Georgia and Alabama. He now covers Cleveland and Bradley County and the neighboring region. Randall is a Cleveland native. He has bachelor’s degree from Tennessee Technological University. His awards ...