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Home Features Piney Grove: Nearly 120 years of ministry

Piney Grove: Nearly 120 years of ministry

Pine Grove Baptist Church, in Winfield, was organized in 1902. The original church building set close to where the current building is located | Ben Garrett/IH

On a Tuesday in February 1902, more than 118 years ago, three men met in the Winfield home of Rev. Joel Chitwood for the purpose of organizing a new church: Pine Grove Baptist Church.

In addition to Rev. Chitwood, attending the meeting were John Blevins and Will A. Crabtree.

Nearly one and a quarter centuries later, the Pine Grove Baptist Church has a strong history and continues to thrive, many of its members having strong roots in the church and in the community.

Rev. Chitwood, known affectionately as “Big Joel,” was a member of the large Chitwood clan that originally settled Winfield — in fact, the community was formerly known as Chitwood.

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“Big Joel” was a great-great-grandson of Richard Chitwood, who was captured in the Battle of Kings Mountain in the Revolutionary War. The Chitwood family, originally from Virginia, were mostly loyal to the crown, and several of them were fighting for the Tories at Kings Mountain.

Richard Chitwood’s brother, Captain James Chitwood, was one of nine men hanged by the American colonists after the battle. Richard was also sentenced to hang, but was granted a 99-year reprieve after the women on scene at the hangings intervened and convinced the American officers to show mercy.

While Richard Chitwood had been loyal to the crown, his son, James Chitwood — Rev. Joel Chitwood’s great-grandfather — fought with the colonists. Following the war, James Chitwood and his wife, Martha White Chitwood, moved to what is now Winfield and established both the community and the Chitwood family.

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Accompanying James Chitwood on the move was his first cousin, Shadrach (or Shadrack) Chitwood, one of the sons of Captain James Chitwood. Like his uncle, Richard Chitwood, Shadrach had been sentenced to hang after Kings Mountain before being granted a 99-year reprieve.

After living in Winfield for a period of time, Shadrach Chitwood moved to Missouri. But James Chitwood stayed on. He ran the community’s home out of his post office in what would become known as Piney Grove. Just across the ridge is Pleasant Grove, which is named for one of his sons, Pleasant Chitwood.

Another of James Chitwood’s sons was Daniel Chitwood, Joel Chitwood’s grandfather. Joel Chitwood was the son of James and Elizabeth Thompson Chitwood.

So, on that day in 1902, Joel Chitwood — a descendant of Winfield’s first family — helped establish Winfield’s newest church, in the same community where his great-grandfather had put down roots.

Rev. John Blevins, another of the trio of men who organized the church, was Big Joel’s nephew. His mother was Mary “Polly” Chitwood Blevins, Joel’s sister. It was Joel Chitwood who baptized Blevins in 1896, when he was 24 years old. Two years later, Blevins was ordained into the ministry.

In the Fall 2002 edition of the FNB Chronicle, John B. Crabtree — Will Crabtree’s grandson — wrote of his memories of attending church at Piney Grove with his grandfather.

“Getting to church was an adventure, riding on old Dolly’s back up behind Grandpa,” Crabtree wrote. “Grandpa had a special spot where we would stop and get down to pray by an old log on the roadside. He seemed to want to do this to prepare himself for worship service. While he prayed, I picked teaberry leaves that grew among the pine needles. They were flavorful to chew.”

Among the founding members at Piney Grove were Rev. Chitwood and his wife, Mary; Daniel Blevins and his wife, Polly (the parents of Rev. John Blevins, and Rev. Chitwood’s sister and brother-in-law); Will Crabtree; and Lenora Blevins (a daughter to Daniel and Polly Blevins, and sister to John). Mary Blevins, another of the Blevins’ daughters, was received into the new church by baptism.

The original building that used by the congregation of Piney Grove for a meeting house was a small, wooden building, measuring 24 ft. by 35 ft. Kerosene lamps provided light, and a pot-bellied stove heated the building. The original church stood close to where the current church house stands, just west of Pine Grove Road’s intersection with Pine Hill Road.

Talk of a new church to replace the original building began as early as 1938, but did not come to fruition until February 1949. Lenora Blevins Loudin, one of the church’s founding members, died. The church at Piney Grove was not big enough to hold her funeral, so services had to be moved to Winfield Baptist Church.

Arnold King helped to spearhead the building project by donating 600 ft. of lumber. Most of the work was done by members of the church, who worked evenings and weekends to slowly build the new meeting house. Others pitched in donations, as well. James Chitwood donated a tract of timber, and the church members felled the trees and took them to the sawmill to be cut into lumber for the new church.

Little by little, the church building was bricked. The bricks would be purchased 1,000 at a time, at a cost of $25 — the equivalent of about five weeks’ wages at the time.

Finally, in 1952, the church was completed. It had electric lighting, hardwood floors, and was as modern as any church in Scott County. The first service held in the new building was the funeral of Henry Chitwood.

There have been other improvements over the years, including the paving of the parking lot in 1982, the addition of a fellowship hall in 1986, and a steeple in the 1990s.

One of the more unique traditions at Piney Grove began in the 1950s. On every day of the week, the church’s prayer bell would ring at 6 p.m., and members would make their way to the church for a brief prayer service.

Perhaps the prayer sessions were inspired by the deaths of Woodrow Sharp and Ralph Blevins, best friends who were killed in World War II. Their deaths were a major tragedy in the church’s history; they were both members at Piney Grove, and they were killed within days of one another.

In any event, the prayer services always included prayers for family members who were serving overseas, both in war times and peace times. The tradition continued for more than 40 years before eventually ceasing when two members who had spearheaded the prayers through the years — Geneva Wright and Lona Wright — fell ill and could no longer attend.

One of the church members who served in the military during that time was Rev. Jack Chitwood, who would later serve as the church’s pastor. During his time in the service in the 1950s, Chitwood was stationed in Virginia and met Warren Wisner, who was working at the Christian Servicemen’s Center. The two became close friends. Later, after Rev. Chitwood had been named pastor at Piney Grove and the church had begun donating a tenth of its monthly income to mission work, Piney Grove supported the work of Wisner, who had begun missionary work in New Guinea.

The first pastor at Pine Grove was John Blevins, the nephew of Joel Chitwood and one of the three men who officiated the meeting at which the church was organized. His son, John Wheeler Blevins, served as the church’s 14th pastor. And Big Joel Chitwood served as the church’s fourth pastor. Other pastors through the years included Jackson Chambers, Lee Adkins (whose father, Rev. Sterling Adkins, founded the Baptist church across the mountain at Upper Jellico Creek), J.C. Sewell, Miley Blevins (Rev. John Blevins’ brother), John Wesley Stanley, J.B. Troxel, Sylvester Chitwood (nephew of Joel Chitwood), Sam Garrett, M.C. Cross, Emmitt Hughett, Harlen Phillips, Albert Chitwood (a fourth-great-grandson of Richard Chitwood, who was captured at Kings Mountain), Ed Simpson, Ted Crabtree, Carmel Stanley, Frank Crabtree, A.V. Stanley (son of John Wesley Stanley), Jack Chitwood (son of Albert Chitwood), David King, Guy Ainsworth, Josh Thompson, Scott Duvall, Charles Goad, Doug Stanley and Lee Strunk. The current pastor, Payton Slaven, has served since 2015.

This story is the September 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 series. A print version of this article can be found on Page A3 of the September 24, 2020 edition of the Independent Herald.
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