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The Little Mountain Church House

‘Looking back now that little mountain church house has become my life’s corner stone. It was there in that little mountain church house I first heard the word I’ve based my life upon.’  — Old Bluegrass Gospel song

If staying at home during the coronavirus lockdown is driving your stir-crazy, consider a driving tour of some of Scott County’s historic mountain churches. It’s safe (you’ll be in your vehicle), it is permitted by Gov. Bill Lee’s stay-at-home order (which will expire April 30, but in the meantime, taking a drive as a means of recreation is permitted), and you’ll see some of the most beautiful parts of Scott County. In all, this driving tour covers 181 miles and requires 6.5 hours to complete — not counting any time you spend touring the historic cemeteries located at many of these churches, or taking other detours that catch your eye along the way.

An introduction:

If we could rewind 100 years, to when Oneida was just a fledgling railroad town beginning to spring up around the Cincinnati Southern depot, and Huntsville was decades away from being incorporated, the settlements that largely defined Scott County were centered around mining and logging camps, or fertile farmlands.

Today, those early settlements are only sparsely settled, but many of the church that were established from the mid 19th century to the early 20th century remain. They’re far from town and are what many would consider off the beaten path. But their pews are filled on Sundays — or, at least, they were before the coronavirus outbreak began, and will be again once the threat of sickness has passed.

This photo feature and driving tour is not intended to be a complete list of Scott County’s country churches. In fact, it represents only a small portion of those churches — and, in many cases, from Buffalo to Smokey to Brimstone to points in between, it represents only one of multiple churches in those communities. But this was an effort to feature some of the churches located the furthest from the “beaten path” — that is, the furthest from the nearest state highway, or from the nearest town. These are churches that have rich history and that have helped define Scott County’s Christian heritage for generations.

White Pine

Our tour begins in Oneida, with a trip out S.R. 297 to the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area. White Pine United Baptist Church isn’t out-of-the-way in terms of being located far away from the nearest state road; in fact, it’s the only church featured on this list that is located directly on the highway. But it feels remote, even if it is on the state road. Located 13 miles — or a 20-minute drive — from Oneida, White Pine United Baptist Church is located in the middle of the Big South Fork NRRA. It is the only church located within the national park. Its pastor is Lawrence Blevins.

Getting There: From Oneida, take S.R. 297 to the Big South Fork by beginning on Industrial Lane, then turning left onto West 3rd Avenue, and continuing onto Coopertown Road. Turn left onto Leatherwood Road to continue following S.R. 297 towards the national park. Once you’ve crossed the river gorge and passed Bandy Creek Road, White Pine United Baptist Church is located off the right side of the highway, tucked away in a grove of evergreens.

Cemetery? No.

Foster Crossroads

As you head into West Oneida, you can’t get much further west than Foster Cross Road. But that’s actually a bit of a misnomer. Foster Cross Road is actually northwest of Oneida — due west of Winfield. By the time you get to the Baptist church where Cliff Terry Road and Foster Cross Road meet, you’re only about a mile from crossing the state line into Kentucky. The church, pastored by David Gibson, is just over eight miles from Oneida — about a 15-minute drive from town.

Getting There: Once you’ve left White Pine United Baptist Church, retrace your route back along S.R. 297 towards Oneida. After 10.4 miles, turn left onto RS Marcum Road (the first left past 7th District Volunteer Fire Department) and, a mile later, turn left onto Williams Creek Road. In about six-tenths of a mile, veer right onto Marcumtown Road for 1.4 miles, then turn left onto Grave Hill Road. In 4.2 miles, Foster Crossroads Baptist Church will be located on the hill to the left. Driving directions.

Cemetery? Yes.

Upper Jellico Creek

It was a 21-minute drive to White Pine, and a 30-minute drive to Foster Crossroads. Now settle in and enjoy the longer — but beautiful — drive to Upper Jellico Creek. Maybe take the opportunity to stop in Oneida for a drive-thru lunch, since this will be the only time the driving tour travels through town.

Upper Jellico Creek United Baptist Church is truly a throwback to a simpler era. The church was established in 1885 by Sterling Adkins. And, in terms of just how far out-of-the-way they’re located, Upper Jellico Creek takes the prize among Scott County churches. It’s located nearly 14 miles off U.S. Hwy. 27 in Winfield, by way of Pleasant Grove Road through the Gum Fork community. That makes it a nearly 40-minute drive from the “main road.” And you’ll pass several other churches along the way — including a couple that are actually further from the “main road” than some others on this list, including the churches at Gum Fork and Zion Baptist Church on the banks of Jellico Creek.

Getting There: From Foster Crossroads, take Grave Hill Road back to Oneida. After just over 7 miles, you’ll turn right onto Litton Road and continue on to the traffic light at Oak Grove. From there, head north on U.S. Hwy. 27 to Winfield and turn right onto Pleasant Grove Road after 5.5 miles. After several miles along Pleasant Grove Road and Gum Fork Road, the road will end at Jellico Creek. Turn right onto Upper Jellico Creek Road and continue for 4.1 miles to the church, which will be located on the left, along the banks of the creek. It’s hard to imagine, because the waters are shallow, but the creek has served for many baptizings over the years. Driving directions.

Cemetery? No.

New Salem

From Upper Jellico Creek, it’s time to head around the mountain to Smith Creek, by way of the Buffalo community.

New Salem United Baptist Church was established in 1868 — and is still located in the original building (though it has been updated several times over the years), according to Pastor Wayne King, making it one of the oldest active church buildings in Scott County. You wouldn’t know it from standing outside the church; it is one of the most well-kept and picturesque churches on this list. Smith Creek is almost deceivingly close to civilization; it’s only a five-mile drive from S.R. 456 at Annadale to New Salem. But it seems like further — especially if you head to Smith Creek from Oneida by way of Pine Hill and Buffalo Road.

Mt. Zion Baptist Church, located in a bend of the road just before arriving at the Smith Creek turn-off, isn’t featured on this list but is located just a short distance from New Salem United Baptist Church.

Getting There: From Upper Jellico Creek, head back to U.S. Hwy. 27 the way you came in. If this were a different era, you could continue up the creek and cross the mountain, popping out at the head of Piney Grove, and from there it would only be a hop, skip and a jump across Pine Hill to Buffalo. But these days it’s a chore to cross the mountain even in a 4×4, so we have to go around the mountain, instead. Back at U.S. 27, turn left and head south for half a mile, then turn left onto Pine Grove Road. After 1.5 miles, turn right onto Pine Hill Road and continue 2.8 miles before turning left onto Buffalo Road. After 5.7 miles, turn left onto Smith Creek Road, and drive 1.8 miles until you arrive at New Salem Baptist Church on your left. Driving directions.

Cemetery? Yes.

Five Black Gums

Nestled in the valley between Buffalo Mountain and Braden Mountain in eastern Scott County are hundreds of acres of fertile farmland known as Rock House. Connecting upper Rock House to Lower Rock House just off Sugar Grove Road is Church Road, and at the intersection of Church Road and Rock House is Five Black Gums United Baptist Church. Established in 1912, the church is pastored by Ben Lay. Like New Salem United Baptist Church in the next valley over, Five Black Gums isn’t as far off the highway as it might seem — five miles, or about a 10-minute drive, from the Jeffers Road turnoff at Fairview School.

Getting There: After all the driving to Upper Jellico Creek and then to Smith Creek, it won’t take long to get to Rock House. It’s only a 15-minute drive from Smith Creek. After leaving New Salem United Baptist Church, take Smith Creek Road back to Buffalo Road, and turn left to take Buffalo Road towards Annadale. After 1.3 miles, turn left onto Sugar Grove Road. Take Sugar Grove 2.1 miles, then turn left onto Rock House Road. In eight-tenths of a mile, you will arrive at the Rock House-Church Road intersection, where you’ll find Five Black Gums United Baptist Church. Driving directions.

Cemetery? Yes.

Smokey Creek

It’s time to hit the road again! This time, we’re headed to the Smokey Creek community southwest of Smokey Junction. And, as has been the case on more than one of these jaunts through the countryside, you’ll pass multiple churches that are well off the beaten path before you get there — including Antioch and Riverview. If Upper Jellico Creek is the Scott County church located furthest from the nearest state road, Smokey Creek Baptist Church comes in a very close second — 13.5 miles away from S.R. 63 via Norma Road. Ironically, both of these distant churches were established by the same Baptist minister: Sterling Adkins (read more about him in next month’s “Focus On: Religion” feature in the Independent Herald, presented by Huntsville Health & Rehabilitation Center). Smokey Creek Baptist Church, which is located 3.5 miles from Smokey Junction, was established in 1873 (12 years before Upper Jellico Creek) and is pastored today by Roger Lloyd. It is a beautiful church in a beautiful natural setting.

Getting There: It’s a 40-minute drive from Rock House to Smokey Creek. To get there, retrace your route from Five Black Gums to Sugar Grove Road. Back at Sugar Grove, turn left and travel 3.1 miles to Jeffers Road, then turn left again to take Jeffers Road (the original Hwy. 63, for those who didn’t know) to S.R. 63 near Fairview School. Turn left to head east along S.R. 63 for about half a mile. If you didn’t stop for lunch in Oneida, here’s an opportunity to pause for broasted chicken at DJ’s Pitstop. Take Norma Road about 10 miles before you reach Smokey Junction. Turn right again at Hembree’s Store — perhaps taking a moment to step inside one of Scott County’s last stores of its kind — and continue nearly 3.5 miles until you arrive at Smokey Creek Baptist Church on the left. Driving directions.

Cemetery? Yes.

Nicks Creek

It’s time to take a short foray outside Scott County, to Nicks Creek Baptist Church above Norma. While this church isn’t actually located in Scott County (it’s in the edge of Campbell County), it has counted many Scott Countians among its members over the years. The tiny church is located at the intersection of Nicks Creek Road and Stoney Fork Road, about 12 miles from S.R. 63. Exactly how far back it dates isn’t clear; the earliest legible headstone in the cemetery outside the church is that of Sarah Burries (Burress), who died in July 1879 at the age of 27. most of those buried in the cemeteries are Burresses. There are some stones that are illegible. Sadly, this historic church has fallen on hard times, as its unkempt nature illustrates.

Getting There: It’s only about a 15-minute drive from Smokey Creek to Nicks Creek — which, by the way, was once a happening place, with its own post office. Leaving Smokey Creek Baptist Church, head back down Smokey Creek Road to Smokey Junction, then turn right onto Shea Road/Norma Road/Stoney Fork Road (the name changes more than once) and continue about two miles to Nicks Creek. Even though the church is located in Campbell County, it’ll show up on most GPS devices as a Huntsville address. The church is located on the hill to the left of the road. Driving directions.

Cemetery? Yes.

Byrges Creek

Now it’s time to head across Hurricane to Cordell and beyond. It’s a 40-minute drive, but it won’t seem like that long. In fact, if you were driving to Byrges Creek Baptist Church from S.R. 63, you might be surprised to look at your odometer after you’ve traveled through Winona and Cordell to realize that you’ve only traveled six miles since leaving the highway. The church is situated atop the hill on Byrges Creek Road, only a couple of miles beyond the New River bridge at Cordell. It is pastored by Dudley Harness.

Getting There: From Nicks Creek, head back north along Norma Road towards S.R. 63. After about 10.5 miles, turn left onto Mill Branch Road. Then, after half a mile, turn right onto Hurricane Road. Take Hurricane Road 4.2 miles across the mountain to arrive at Cordell. Turn left onto Cordell Road and continue to Byrges Creek Road, about eight tenths of a mile to the south. Turn right onto Byrges Creek Road, and the church will be located at the top of the hill. Driving directions.

Cemetery? Yes.

Bull Creek

Before we head back towards Huntsville, we’re going to travel a little further up the New River valley, to the former Bull Creek settlement. The Baptist church at Bull Creek is located only three miles beyond Byrges Creek, situated on a knoll above Big Bull Creek. The church is located on the edge of what is now the North Cumberland Wildlife Management Area, and it is pastored by JR Massengale. It is located nine miles from S.R. 63 at Winona, about a 25-minute drive from the highway. It’s a beautiful drive up Bull Creek, especially in the spring.

Getting There: From Byrges Creek, head back to Bull Creek Road at the bottom of the hill. Take a right, and continue along Bull Creek Road for about three miles before taking a sharp right and up the hill to the church and cemetery. Driving directions.

Cemetery? Yes.

Lone Mountain

Again, if this were a different era, we might travel across the mountain from Bull Creek, and it wouldn’t take long to reach Brimstone Creek on the other side. But that’s impossible unless you’re in an off-road vehicle, and even then the Bull Creek Settlement Trail that leaves the church and heads into the wildlife management area isn’t easy unless you’re on an ATV or SXS. So, we’ll head around the mountain and make the hour-long drive to the head of Brimstone Creek.

The drive may be long, but it’s well worth the effort. Brimstone Creek, like most of the other valleys in between the Cumberland Mountains, is a beautiful drive — especially in the fall (hint: plan another road trip in a few months), which is why it wasn’t just by chance that the picture of Lone Mountain Baptist Church is the only one on this list that wasn’t taken in the last couple of weeks. But the drive to the head of Brimstone is a fun road trip any time of year. The cemetery next-door to the church is an incredible view, overlooking the valley that spreads out below. The pastor at Lone Mountain is David Webb. The church is located 11.5 miles from U.S. Hwy. 27 at Robbins — a 30-minute drive from the main highway, making it the third most out-of-the-way church on this list. And, as has been the case with many of the other drives, you’ll pass other churches along the way, including Mt. Pleasant and Slick Rock.

Getting There: From Bull Creek, head back towards Huntsville along Bull Creek Road, Cordell Road and Winona Road (same road, different names). At the Winona-S.R. 456 intersection at Capitol Hill, turn left and head west along S.R. 63 through Huntsville to U.S. Hwy. 27. Then head south on U.S. 27 for 6.2 miles before turning left onto Brimstone Road. Continue along Brimstone Road for 11.4 miles, turning right at the split just beyond the old railroad tracks. Driving directions.

Black Creek Crossroads

The final stop on the list will in some ways take us back to where we started — the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area. Specifically, we’re headed to Black Creek Crossroads Missionary Baptist Church. Located where Mountain View Road, Honey Creek Road, West Robbins Road and Sheep Ranch Road all come together, this small Baptist church isn’t far at all off the beaten path — only about 3.5 miles from S.R. 52 at Elgin and a little less than 4 miles from U.S. Hwy. 27 at Robbins. It’s less than a 10-minute drive from the highway, either way. But it’s the last church before you enter the Big South Fork NRRA and eventually leave Scott County heading into Fentress County.

The pastor at Black Creek Crossroads is Jerry Byrge. The cemetery on the hill behind the church is one of the largest in Scott County, and it is also one of the prettiest and most well-kept cemeteries in the county.

Speaking of the Big South Fork, it’s only a short drive from here across Burnt Mill to Honey Creek, and another historic church — Honey Creek Baptist Church, located in Fentress County but almost literally straddling the Scott-Fentress county line (it’s only a few hundred feet from the county line). But, all good things must come to an end. It’s been a 6.5-hour trip, and it’s time to head back to town.

Getting There: From Lone Mountain, retrace your route along Brimstone Road to U.S. Hwy. 27. Back at the main highway, turn right and head north into Robbins. After three tenths of a mile, turn left onto Black Creek Road and continue several miles down the valley to Mountain View Road. Take another left and drive seven tenths of a mile up the hill to the Black Creek Crossroads. The church is on the right. Driving directions.

Cemetery? Yes.

This article is the April 2020 installment of Focus On: Religion, presented on the fourth week of each month by Huntsville Health & Rehabilitation as part of the Independent Herald’s Focus On series. A print version of this article can be found on Page 3 of the April 23, 2020 edition of the Independent Herald.