The History of Welch Chapel United Methodist Church

written by Mrs. Grace Patton

The Welch Chapel story began in the 17th century in Ireland where Christianity had been introduced as early as the fifth century through the labors of St. Patrick.  While England was still pagan, Ireland was the center of a missionary effort.

Andy and Rebecca McWilliams came to love the Shamrock bordered shore. However they sought the new nation and settled in Stanton, Virginia in 1750.  They marveled at the beauty of the land. In 1798 a son was born to the McWilliams who they named John. They came to Sequatchie Valley to find home. The Cherokee Indians had become restless to find another hunting ground and so were willing to trade for the white man’s blankets, beads etc. The Cherokee told them the name of the land was Siku-utset-tsi meaning “grinning possum”. The white man was unused to the complicated musical syllables of the Cherokees, so the word was Anglicized to Sequatchie.

The beauty of the land remained and other settlers came to find them a home. This included the Borden’s, Thomas, Hunters, Nichols, Griffins and Welch.  The McWilliams settled in the corner of the field where the Welch and Hixson Creeks came together.  Trees had to be cut and logs secured to build a home. This was in 1820 when they looked over the picturesque scenes blended with mountains, valleys, and streams, feeling that this was where God dwelt.

John McWilliams married Anna Borden. By 1824 the people decided there soon would need a school to learn the three R’s; Redin, Ritin, and rithmetic. They erected a log house called the Nichols school because the teacher was to be J.T. Nichols. It was located in the spring lot on the Leonard and Georgia Graham Kelly farm now where Raymond and Nancy Carol Dawson live.

Andy and Rebecca McWilliams having both given religious training in Ireland and Virginia desired to know more about God and the gospel inquired of a Circuit Rider that night might come and help them establish a Church. In preparation for his arrival they plan to camp meeting.

In 1826, Jonathan Hale, a Methodist Circuit Rider rode down the Cumberland Mountain to be greeted by a small group of people. They told the Circuit Rider they wish to organize a visible body of Christ, a Methodist Church and this land. The teacher J.T. Nichols would lead the services between the visits of the Circuit Rider. So Methodism entered the community and the Cross of Christianity was raised in the community at the Nichols school. The Charter Members were Andy, Rebecca, John Anna Borden McWilliams, Dan and Elizabeth Hunter, William Bordon, J.T. Nichols, Bill Griffin, John and Caroline Thomas.

Sawmills entered the United States from England, offering a new way of building. The Nichols became too small so they built the second school and church in the area of the Welch Cemetery calling it the Thomas school and church. It remained for a good while until sawmills became more useful. This made it possible for a plank structure to be built where the present church is located. The land was donated by John Welch so the name Welch Chapel given which it retains today.

The Church made their own recreation. After church or more often it was just Sunday School hiked up to the mountain to Ravens Cliff, a place they say you can see seven states. They took their lunch. Some Sundays they would go down to Kelly’s Mill and take boat rides. They had candy pulls with Molasses candy. They got a partner and the couple pulling the candy to the lightest form were winners. Near Easter they had Egg boiling’s in a large iron pot. Always they had an Easter program and Christmas Eve program. A program given in the summer was a children’s program up in the woodland near the Hixson Mill. Men built plank seats and everyone was invited. Ice Cream was made and lemonade, cold drinks and bananas were made available. Homecomings the fourth Sunday in August were always held.

For better communication bean pole line was established for telephones. The people got their poles out in place. Riley McWilliams, Vesta’s brother strung the wire. The telephones were long boxes and everyone had different rings as two short rings, two long ones, a long one and a short etc. The telephones began with John R McWilliams, Kelly’s Mill where Isaac Welch lived, W.L. Kelly, R.L. Kelly, Kelly’s Store, L.L. Lawrence Gary and George McWilliams. A line went to Bax Johnson’s store in case of an emergency. Vesta said she talked to my dad R.L. Kelly the first she ever talked on a phone.

World War I brought the thundering news that United States had declared war on Germany April 6, 1917. The church was stripped of its young man just as it had been in the Spanish-American war. A service flag hung in the church after this war.

Disaster befell the Welch Chapel Church in 1921 with a terrible wind storm. The church was destroyed. You could see nothing but the roof. The good people of the little Hopewell church invited us to come worship with them. They only had a preacher once a month and so did Welch chapel so for three years we had two sermons a month.

The people began to prepare to get money and materials to build a new church. My grandfather Graham, John Borders Graham, too old to do much got his buggy with his horse Blaze went everywhere to get money. With young and old in one accord, the new church went along to become a reality.  A chicken day brought some money when everyone took chickens to the train in Dunlap. George Houston of Winesap community was hired to direct the work. The members of the church volunteered every day possible.

In 1925 the dream was realized and the building we have today was finished. There were no Sunday school rooms just the sanctuary. W.C. Daniels, a student preacher from the University of Tennessee and Chattanooga came to be the preacher early in 1925 serving at Hopewell until the church was ready. He remained until 1927. He came over on the train and different ones met him. The Methodist churches were struggling to unite the Methodist Episcopal and the Methodist South. Our preachers had to come from Pikeville but finally they became United Methodist. The church at Pikeville presented their pulpit Bible to us because they said we were the strongest church in Sequatchie Valley. Betty Kelly’s husband Jimmy Johnson took the Bible to Birmingham and had it bound.

The first missionary money the church ever had was when Brother Daniels had my sister Corene and I go from house to house to secure money. I don’t remember how much we got, but brother Daniels must have been pleased, he got little Testaments with our name stamped in gold and gave them to us.

The new church made it possible to have more programs at night. The community entered the Chattanooga Community Improvement. A pageant “What Community Cooperation can mean”. We used every young person in the community. They filled up the stage at the church. The first year, we receive second prize of $400. The second year, the first prize $500 and the third year sweepstakes, we could enter to receive no prizes but we entered for the improvements we could make.

On Sunday, the wagons and buggies brought the people to the house of God. They parked where the parsonage is now located. Cars were not available until the late 20’s and not many people have them then. Drinking water for the church was brought from the spring where the Narramore’s live now.

In the early 30s, the first piano was bought from the late Mack Harris. Singing has always been important in the Church. Books were bought from the Stamp Baxter Music House. Grady Bradford, Juanita Graham’s husband taught a singing school at the Church several years. We taught the singers their “Do, Re, Me’s”. Welch Chapel Church had a quartet for a long time. Anna McWilliams, Alto, Reatha Hixson Hughes, Soprano, Jonathan F. Patton, Tenor and Leonard Hughes, bass. Grace Patton played for them. Grady Bradford was a great help to the Quartet. The first song the song was “Kneel at the Cross”. Two visiting quartets, The Vicks and The Melody Makers. Other visiting singers were: The Duke Family, Bradford Trio, Joplin family and singers from local churches.

It was not until 1954, a woman society was organized. They helped the church in many ways. On June 8, 1956, the church was selected as one of the rule churches of the year. Several attended the banquet in Chattanooga to receive the citation.

In 1974, the church joined Chapel Hill and Dunlap Methodist choirs for programs. The choirs were directed by Mrs. R.D. Shepard with Ruth Pitman at the piano. The programs were rotated from church to church and were received by packed houses.

The Young people joined the Sequatchie Valley youth to give a Christmas program. Hugh Barker and Raymond Dawson presented the young people for a Bicentennial program. Debra Johnson presented all the children from four years old to junior high age and in the program they wore red white and blue Bicentennial colors.

In 1974, they attended a Christian retreat in Kentucky Brian Hall made the plans and the parents from Welch Chapel took their campers and took every young person who wanted to go. All of them reported and it was a great experience.

The first improvements to the Church was removing the three windows in the front of the church. Hardwood flooring was added next. The windows in the back of the Church were removed and three Sunday school rooms were added in the 50s. In the 60s, sheet rock and paneling were added to the sanctuary.

In 1963 Memorial windows were added to the sanctuary. The aisles were carpeted to the generosity of Bob Barker running water was added by joining as water is water line in 1966 the fellowship hall was added and two bathrooms this added three classrooms one of the classrooms in the kitchen for quilting club furnish the kitchen cabinets refrigerator sinks and the stove everyone in church added silverware Charlesfax and presented us trays and dishes when the schools in Hamilton were giving them away.  

In 1974 the pews were refurbished and all the hall and sanctuary carpeted double doors were added to the front of the church and swinging doors coming from a hole in the sanctuary the paneling was removed and the sanctuary painted central heating and cooling plant a new piano pulpit furniture extra parking places picnic table concrete steps added to the table NuStep seven to the front of the church in the early 70s a large painting of the church made by Mrs. MS Howard of Lebanon hangs in the hall.  This painting was done from small photos I sent her.  A lighted cross in the front of the church.  

Aluminum siding was added in 1976.

The quilting club kept quilts to give those who lost their home in a fire.  A house of those cleaning the church had their sewing machine stolen.  The Welch Chapel church people replace the sewing machine.  Showers are given to young people who are going to be married or the people who have had some kind of misfortune.  

Revivals were nearly always held during the summer months.  Tn the early days services were held at 10 AM, then early at night.  Small kerosene lamps were the only type of lighting.  In 1943, it was a new day when electricity came.  Bible school began when Hilda Avant came from Holston Conference to teach churches to conduct one.  Since that time good Bible schools are held each year.  

For number of years after the circuit rider organize the church, Welch Chapel was a charge with Pikeville Methodist Episcopal, Oak Grove and Stevens Chapel.  At another time we were part of the Harriman district.  When the Methodist became United Methodist we became part of the Patten Center at Melvine.  We were then made a part of the Dunlap Chapel Hill and Welch Chapel.  Dunlap became a station church in 1954.  Chapel Hill became a station charge so Welch Chapel was added to Signal Mountain.  We only remain with Signal Mountain for one year when we had preachers out of Chattanooga who has duties during the week at another position.

Interesting programs the Church has been engaged in are the Gallilean service in 1965 on the river down at Vesta McWilliams old home. All the men got there lanterns cleaned and ready to give us light.  Brian Green, preacher, Earl Hamilton, came down the river with Kelly McWilliams rowing the boat.  Kelly had a lantern lighted.  Earl was singing Shall We Cather At the River.  The group joined him on the last of the song.  The Preacher preached and ended with a lighted cross on the opposite side of the river.  Green had made the cross the week before.  Everyone remarked how inspiring the service was.

A float from the Church with all the participants dressed in old fashioned clothes.  They were busy doing various things:  Wilma Lewis – Guitar; Edward Hartman – Fiddle; Margaret Wilson – Churning; Lorene Hixson – quilting; Vesta McWilliams – Piecing Quilts; Dreafus Lewis – Mending Shoes; Rua Barker – Crocheting; Lera Graham – Making Soap.  They won first place in their division.  The Church was 160 years old in the Fourth of the July Celebration.

In 1954 and 1955, the Church presented an outdoor live nativity scene.  August 19, 1956, the Church celebrated its 130th Anniversary in a patent “Candles of History”.  It included everything people had to do to live; minding shoes, churning, piecing quilts, grinding coffee, making soap, etc.  It was played in the yard of George and Georgia Hickman now Raymond and Nancy Carol Dawson’s home.  This was the nearest place to the organization of the Church.  It was played before an audience estimated to be 800.

A Christmas program was given at the Mt. Crest Church on Cumberland Mountain.  An open house for Edward and Ina Hartman was attended by about 100 people.  Inspiring Mountain Top Services were given at Harland and Mary Frances Hixson’s Tansi Resort and Lucille and Z.T. Barkers mountain cabin on Walden’s Ridge.  The MYF, Mark and Judy Golden and their families attended the Passion Play at Towensend and also Piegeon Forge.  The Cub Scouts met at the Church to teach young boys upright living.  the Charter Roll service with Old Fashioned Day was given in 1964.  Twenty-two members of the church today to back to the original Charter Roll.  A trip to Loyd and Betty Sue Graham Kilgore’s was made by the quilting Club.  A mission weekend was held at the Church with seven missionaries in attendance.  A visit to C.D. and Alice Sallee’s home on Hunter Trail, Chattanooga, Tennessee was made by the Evangeline Class.  Several visited the O.R. Stoner home on Lookout Mountain.  An inspiring service was held at the home of John R. McWilliams and Peggy’s home on the river.  A galilean service was to be held, but rain forced the group inside.  He showed pictures of a program at Church.  all the weddings that were related to the Church.  mark and Judy Corder Gooden’s wedding at the Hixson Methodist Church 1984.  Turner-Sullivan; Bartley-Henson; Parks-Carr; Condra-Gray; Price-Harramore; Hixson-Rogers; Barker-Conger; and Dawson-Powers.

O.R. Stoner provided the first small organ for the church.  Mrs. Stoner painted an oil painting for each family in the church.  She also painted two for the Church and two for the Sequatchie Valley Nursing Home.  Everyone brought their picture to the Church for an art show.  A large crowd came enjoyed the pictures and the fellowship.

A Hammond Commodore organ was purchased July 9, 1991.  Yummy Narramore and Mark Hixson selected the organ and traded the small one in.  We are proud of both of the boys.  They play whenever possible.  Vivian Barker plays most of the time.  It was paid for December 1982 representing an investment of $4000.  The P.A. system was installed in 1982.  The brass candlesticks, the collection plates and the altar clothes make a pleasing appearance with the stained glass windows giving soft appearance inside, the setting framed by the mountains outside give the sanction of God’s blessing.

Harland Hixson had tiken a number of pictures about Church.  We went down to their home and got lots of fund nom some of us looked.  Nancy Carol and Raymond Dawson has several parties for their Sunday School Class.  Dreafus and Wilma have had dinners four their sunday School Class.  Marna Barker entertained a group from Church at her home.

On July 1979 a 14 x 70 three bedroom, two bath mobile home was purchased for a parsonage.  Clifford and Inez Campbell moved their fence back giving enough land for the parsonage to be put where the parking for wagons and buggies.  In 1980, it was paid for and Bishop Ellis Finger dedicated the parsonage April 10, 1981 and burned the note.  Parker Gray and Annie McWilliams, two of the oldest members assisted in burning the note.  Thelma McWilliams, Margaret Wilson and Irene Griffith planted the parsonage yard with trees, scrubs and flowers.  Irene Griffith paved the driveway and built a rock will on the cree to keep if from flooding.  Howard and Lera secured the storage house and Clayton Hixson provided the yard with a picnic table.

The pageant ” Candles of History” was rewritten so the it could be presented at the church Sunday October 26, 1986 at 12:30pm.  The story gave the 160 year history of the Church from 1826.  The story began in Ireland, Virginia and came to Sequatchie Valley to make their home.  War clouds of 1861 – 1865, reconstruction period, and Homecoming.  The charter roll descendants lighted the candles.  Andy McWilliams was lighted by John R. McWilliams, Rebecca McWilliams, by Lera Graham; John McWilliams, by Sammy Henson; Anna Borden McWilliams, by Jewell Beavert; William Borden, by Vesta McWilliams; Dan Hunter by Finis Hixson; Elizabeth Hunter, by Iola Harmon; John Thomas, by Wade Graham; Caroline Thomas, by Hazel Hixson; Bill Griffin, by Lulu Mae Cooley; J.T. Nichols, by Buck Merriman.  The Indian, by Allen Neergarrd.

The reverend Lonnie Eldridge came to be the Pastor of the Welch Chapel and Stephens Church.  He had served the last two years at the First Methodist Church in Oneida, Tennessee.  We soon loved the entire family, Brother Eldridge, his wife Connie, David, Betty and Lon Matthew.

Lonnie Eldridge is an artist.  He paints murals, and teaches art lessons.  One Sunday afternoon, he had schetched a picture to paint and gave everyone an opportunity to add to the painting.  He took it home to paint what was left, brought it back.  It hangs in the hall a beautiful painting.  Several of the Church members have a number of beautiful paintings he taught us to make.  I have given some as gifts who treasure them.  The first time he demonstrated making a painting for the Senior Citizens, I took all I had at that time for all them to see.  he has had classes at the Senior citizen, Hopewill Church, Sunny Side Community Building in addition to a number at Welch Chapel.

He did the cover for the Church bulletins using a print of the church.  We also had news letters which were enjoyed.  The fourth Sunday dinners are enjoyed by all the Church.  the fifth Sunday dinners and singing bring good fellowship with Stephens Chapel.

The Valley Rally celebrating Unite Methodism is Sequatchie Valley held January 17, 1993 at the Sulfur Springs United Methodist was attended by several from Welch Chapel.  February 20, 1994, the Church was invited to Dunlap Methodist Church for the evening service. Brother Eldridge brought the message and both churches furnished the music.  The Dunlap Ministerial Association sponsors programs for all churches.  We have attended one at Highway 28, Church of God for a Christmas service.  A fourth of July service at the Dunlap Church of God, One at the First Baptist and Dunlap Methodist.  We attended a service at Ewtonville to hear Johnnie Eldridge, Brother Eldridge’s twin brother.  We all met him that night.

Special programs at Welch Chapel include and Easter Cantata, and Christmas Cantata each year.  A money gift was given the Eldridge Family at Christmas.  The Mothers Day was special in 1995.  All those who would give a tribute to their mother did and all mothers were given a carnation and a crochet towel.  Fathers Day will be just as special.  They will be given a History of the church and some coat hangers.

Two babies were dedicated by Brother Eldridge:  Amy Catherine Hixson, daughter of Johnny and Sarah Hixson and granddaughter of Harland and Mary Frances Hixson, Seth Hobbs son of Gary and Jeanette Hobbs, grandson of Wayne and Clara Cain.  Several have joined the church. 

Improvements made recently in the church include the new Vinyl Aluminum siding for the church.  This should not have to be cleaned as often, just washed.  Underpinning the parsonage.  Carpeting the sanctuary with a dark maroon color.  Also the hall.  The fellowship hall is covered with a commercial grey carpet.  The parking places need to be painted again.

help has been given to the Oklahoma City people.  Christmas baskets are taken by the young people to the elderly and shut-ins.  Help is given to people who lose their home in a fire.

We would like to congratulate David and Betty for their graduation from Rhea County School.  Lewis Johnson, O.J. Boston, Matthew Wilson, Amy Long and Sandra Gray on their graduation from Sequatchie County High School, June 2, 1995.

Naming the Preachers:

Some of the early Circuit Riders after Jonathan Hale were James D. Harris, A. Murphy, R.M. Stephens, O.G. Miller, William Gilmore and John Craig.  1890, G.T. Francisco–O.B. Recto–J.L. McKensie, J.M. York, B.M. Martin, T.H. Conner, A.J. Murphy, John Sanders, W.L. Oliver, J.L. Scott, F.P. Sanders, C.H. Tyler, P.L. Clonce, J.W. McBride, J.R. Baker, J.F. Rowe, M.H. Monroe, H.G. Williamson, J.N. Sadler, N.H. Cardwell, Paul Barker, W.G. Daniels, Floyd Gilbert, M.F. Goss, T. V. Peters, Fred Denton, L.E. Kilgore, O.B. White, G.L. Shupe, G. Keebler, E.R. Allison, C.E. Trentham, D. Carmack Morris, Vergil Hale, J.P. Ramsey, Robert Boy, Brian Green Jr., Malcolm Jolly, J. W. Ferguson, Peck Patterson, Ernest Cushman, James Rutherford, C.D. Sallee, Robert Hamilton, Scott Neil, Mark Gooden, Don Umbarger, Thomas Conley, R.O. Stoner.

Lay speakers who came from Chattanooga were:  Earl Glover, L.T. Prigmore, Henry Hughes, Brunson Orgainland and Mr. Evans.

If Welch Chapel United Methodist Church is the beacon to lead people to Christ, it will be because we have led our young people to a full life in Christ.  We have a great challenge before us that every person in this community should have a life dedicated to Jesus Christ.