Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Remembrance of Things Past: Gatlinburg #7

Roaring Fork Church singing meeting, 1925. Bales family archive

It was the little congregation that needed to find a new home. When the families with the last names of Reagan, Ogle, Floyd, Clabo, Kear, Bohanan, Oakley and Bales, who lived upstream on Baskins Creek and Roaring Fork, sold their land and moved to town, they needed to find a new place of worship. 

Some began attending services at the already established First Baptist Church of Gatlinburg at the confluence of Baskins and the Little Pigeon River, while others stayed with their own churchless congregation established on November 26, 1881. But what is a church? Is it the structure? Or the congregation itself? They just needed to build a new modern building. They needed a new place to "sing unto the Lord."

"Yes, we’ll gather at the river, The beautiful, the beautiful river; Gather with the saints at the river, That flows by the throne of God."

The Laurel Grove Primitive Baptist Church of Christ was built in 1939 on land donated by members Luther "Luke" Reagan and his wife Alie Ogle Reagan

Luke was the son of Alfred and Martha Ann Bales Reagan. He is in the photo at the top in the center behind the smallest boy. Luke is also listed on the trustee and building committee for Laurel Grove along with Amos Reagan, Lewis Reagan, Jess McCarter, Sam Lamon, Jim Huff and my grandfather Homer Bales. 

The adjective "Primitive" in the name conveys the sense of "original." Their teachings were conservative. Some see them as Old School Baptists. It is still a small church that follows the scriptures of the New Testament, singing is a cappella and no Sunday School is held. It is believed that parents should teach the lessons of the Bible to their own young ones.

The old-timers' name for rhododendron was laurel. (Ivy was their name for mountain laurel.) So laurel grove suggests a rhododendron ticket along the Roaring Fork perhaps near where the original church was founded. It was the church of my grandparents, my parents and of my childhood in the small resort town we all called home.

Luke's son Tolbert Reagan (top photo, boy with cap seventh from right) and my father Russell Bales joined the church and were baptized the same day, June 10, 1950.   

Laurel Grove is located on Highway 321 on the right just after you drive up Burg Hill. And it is safe to say, the Gatlinburg Fire of Monday, November 28 missed this little church with deep Smoky Mountain roots. I have seen it and even though some buildings nearby burned, it is still standing after 77 years.

Today, Tolbert's grandson, Mitch, maintains the grounds.

"In the sweet by and by,
We shall meet on that beautiful shore"

© 2016 From the upcoming book, 
"Vintage Gatlinburg: 
The Transformation of a Small Timber Town to a Mountain Resort
 Family Remembrances 1899-1974" 
by University of Tennessee Press author and native son  
Stephen Lyn Bales
Laurel Grove Primitive Baptist Church, Gatlinburg, December 2016

For links to other Gatlinburg history posts click:

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