Editor’s Note — In recent months, the Focus On: Religion page has taken a look at the histories of some of Scott County’s oldest churches. The Corinth United Baptist Church at Smoky Junction is no longer, but it was a vital part of the coal community along the Tennessee Railroad for decades. Much of the information in this article is taken from a Winter 2008 edition of the FNB Chronicle, and was compiled by Josetta Griffith, the publication’s editor.
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If worship services were still being held today at Corinth United Baptist Church at Smoky Junction, it would be that community’s second-oldest church.
Formed in 1887, Corinth was preceded only by Smoky Creek Baptist Church, which was founded 14 years earlier.
For many years, the Corinth United Baptist Church was a cornerstone of the Smoky Junction community, and of the community’s faith. But its membership slowly dwindled, and in 1987 services were discontinued entirely.
With a foundation dating back to the late 19th century, the church predated Smoky Junction itself. It wasn’t until the early 20th century that the Tennessee Railroad would be extended from Paint Rock Creek near Oneida through Norma and on into Anderson County.
As time passed and coal industry sprang up, Smoky Junction and its neighboring settlements and coal camps became quite a bustling place. And, then, as more time passed and the coal industry slowly declined, many of the area’s residents began to move away. But some stayed, and services continued at Corinth Baptist Church well into the modern era.
In latter years, Corinth United Baptist Church was housed in a two-story, wood-frame structure just to the south of the old railroad junction and Hembree’s Store that is still there. That church was the third of three buildings used for worship services during the life of the church.
Back in 1887, the Smoky Creek area was still in its infancy. It would be some 30 years before the Tennessee Railroad would be purchased by the New River Lumber Co. and extended southeast through the New River Valley. It would be 34 years before the world’s first fully-electric coal mining operation was established at Roach’s Creek, back to the north near Montgomery Junction.
But it had also been more than 80 years since Mikel Low Sr. had migrated to Smoky from Tulpehocken Township in Pennsylvania, the first white settler of what would become Scott County.
That year, the 25th anniversary of “Grand Mikey” Low’s death, four men met to establish the Corinth United Baptist Church. One of them was Tom Anderson (1863-1935), the son of Phillip and Nancy Tackett Anderson and a part of the Anderson family that was so prominent in the early days of the Smoky Junction community. He would’ve been just 14 at the time. He would go on to serve as a deputy sheriff in Scott County, and also owned a store at Smoky Junction.
The church’s original meeting house was located along Shoal Creek, which flows through the valley dividing Poor Mountain and Anderson Mountain and empties into New River just north of the railroad junction.
Some 20 years later, between 1908 and 1910, the church moved to a new meeting house that was built on property Anderson owned near Hembree’s Store, closer to the railroad junction. Still later, the congregation moved into the two-story building that served the church until it disbanded in 1987.
The latter structure, located near the Riverview Cemetery south of the junction, was donated by Enmon and Kizzie Owens.
Kizzie (1897-1963) was a great-great-granddaughter of Mikel Low, the daughter of Ewell Lowe and Melvina Cross Lowe. One of her aunts was Motlaney Low Adkins, the wife of Sterling Adkins, who had founded the Baptist church further up Smokey Creek and would later organize the church at Upper Jellico Creek.
Enmon (1898-1990) moved to Smokey from Jellico Creek, a descendant of the Adkins family that was prominent there (his maternal grandmother was Caroline Adkins Owens).
Kizzie had originally been a member of Smoky Creek Baptist Church, before joining Corinth Baptist Church in 1932. Enmon became a deacon of the church in 1936.
In the home that Enmon and Kizzie Owens donated, the lower floor served as the church sanctuary, while the upper floor was used by the Junior Order of the United American Mechanics, as well as a work room for the ladies of the church, who made mattresses and quilts during World War II.
“One weekend a month, church was held at Corinth Church,” Martha L. Wilson — Tom Anderson’s granddaughter — later wrote. “How the women would cook and bake, because they never knew how many would show up for dinner! Granddad gave everyone an invitation. There would be table after table. We kids would get worried that there would be nothing left for us, but there always was. The women probably enjoyed showing off what good cooks they were, even if it were a lot of work.”
In 1937, shortly after the Corinth congregation moved to the two-story building on the property of Enmon and Kizzie Owens, the couple’s only son — Walter (they also had a daughter, Opha) — was baptized and joined the church. That same year, he married Pearl Cross, the daughter of William F. Cross and Mary Massengale Cross, who were members of the church. Walter and Pearl were both 16 at the time. Although Walter and Pearl would move to High Point in the 1960s and join the Baptist church there, he continued to take care of the old Corinth church building after services were discontinued in 1987, 50 years after he and Pearl were married.
Janis Mason Owens joined the Corinth United Baptist Church in 1952, at the age of 11. She recalled her grandparents, Fielding and Stella Mason, walking five miles on the third Saturday of each month to attend worship services there. Later, she married Odis Owens, the son of Dilmon and Talitha Lowe Owens and a nephew of Enmon and Kizzie Owens. Writing for the FNB Chronicle in 2008, she recalled what services were like at Corinth.
“We only had The Lord’s Supper one time a year,” she wrote. “Since Corinth was a United Baptist, we took the bread and ‘wine’ (grape juice), but we also had a ‘foot washing.’ This was a very moving and spiritual existence.”
“The church never had indoor plumbing,” she wrote. “A table in the back of the church had a water bucket and a dipper. I guess everyone drank from the dipper. The restrooms were outside, and they are still standing — not the original ones, but they have been there for a while. A coal stove stood in the aisle for heat. In later years, electric heaters were installed on the walls for heat. There was no carpet and no padded seats. And, of course, no electric fans. We used the hand-held fans that had religious pictures on them, and some even had handmade fans.”
It wasn’t until the early 1980s that electric ceiling fans were installed.
“The windows were open in the summertime and people, especially men, would stand outside to listen to the preaching and singing,” Owens wrote.
For more than 10 years after services ceased at Corinth, Walter Owens continued to mow the grounds of the old church and keep the electricity on — even though the building was being slowly damaged by vandals. His parents moved to High Point; Kizzie died in 1963 of pneumonia, and Enmon died in 1990. Both are buried at Riverview Cemetery — which is also known as the Owens Memorial Cemetery — near their home and their church.
Marie Owens Goforth, the daughter of Enmon and Kizzie, moved to Crossville and died in 1981. She had a daughter, Billie Jean Hallmon, and three sons, Jesse Hallmon, Edwin Goforth and David Goforth, all of whom settled down in Middle Tennessee.
Walter Owens died in 2016 at the age of 94. Pearl died seven years earlier. Their sons, Harry and Jimmy, died in 2011 and 2018, and their daughter, Marilyn Chadwick, died in 2000. Their surviving children include son Bobby and wife Sharlene, of Old Hickory, Tenn., and Larry and wife Joyce of Oneida.
Odis and Janis Owens still reside in the Norma area. They have four children — Denise, Mike, Elaine and Janet.