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In understanding our past, we find direction for tomorrow. The qualities of courage, love and adventure are our heritage. As we move forward, we do so with the same love in our hearts to continue the Christian ministry to our community that our church founders established over one hundred and fifty years ago.



Church History in Brief

1820-1824: The Church was Founded

Our heritage begins in the summer of 1820, when a group had a vision for beginning a new Baptist church in the Sweetwater area. At that time, Monroe County was sparsely populated, and folks had to travel long distances across the county to meet in the home of Daniel Duggan in the Fork Creek Valley.

In the meanwhile, other Baptist churches came into prominence. In 1824, individuals met at the home of John Howell on Pond Creek in McMinn County. The church was fairly prosperous and missionary in faith.

1852-1860: The Town of Sweetwater

After the town of Sweetwater was constituted in 1852, it became increasingly difficult and inconvenient for the members to attend services at the Pond Creek Baptist Church. The decision was made in 1854 to construct a building in town and move the location of that church to convenience more people. The last meeting in the Pond Creek area was held in January 1857. It is not known where services were held, but there was some degree of activity from 1857 until 1860.

1860-1866: First Building & The Civil War

In 1860, First Baptist Sweetwater occupied its first building located on the corner of Monroe Street and Athens Road (now High Street). We were one of the first rural churches to recognize the need to move into an urban area and act on that need to better minister to the community.

As was true in regard to most churches in the era, the “War Between the States” interfered with activity and progress. The church building was occupied intermittently by Union and Confederate Troops. Very few services were held from 1862 until 1866.

1904-1906: Moved to Current Location

Due to a much larger membership and under the leadership of pastor E.K. Cox, the site of the church building was moved to its present location on Wright Street. The lot was purchased in February 1904, the cornerstone laid in 1905, and the building occupied in 1906.

1975-Present: Additions & Renovations

Construction on our new sanctuary building began in September 1975 and was dedicated on June 19, 1977. Renovation of the Education Building and the Children’s Building was completed in 1997.




Unabridged Church History (Click to Read)

First Baptist Church Unabridged History

FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH, SWEETWATER, TENNESSEE

1860

In August 1860, the First Baptist Church of Sweetwater occupied her first building. It was located on the corner of Monroe Street and Athens Road on a lot donated by I. T. Lenoir (a member of the Methodist Church whose wife was a member of the Baptist Church). At this meeting, 7 new members were received into the fellowship: Elizabeth Bailey, Elizabeth Cleveland, Mary Caroline Lenoir, James J. Sheldon, Mary E. Sheldon and Esther E. Yearwood (by letter) and W. B. Lenoir (by experience). W. H. Taylor was appointed Clerk and Elder Robert Snead was Moderator. These men continued in their offices during 1861 and 1862. The first pastor elected by the church in January 1861 was H. W. Taylor of Deep Springs, Grainger County, Tennessee.

There seems to be some confusion among historians as to who was the first pastor. Some have called Elder Robert Snead the first pastor. It is definitely known that he had been preaching at the Pond Creek Church for some twenty years and that he was among that group when they moved to Sweetwater. He was either the first pastor or, at least, served as an interim. W. B. Lenoir (in his History of Sweetwater) refers to Elder Hughes Woodson Taylor as the first pastor. If Mr. Snead was the interim, then this would be true. If Mr. Snead was the first pastor, then Mr. Taylor would be the second. Whichever is the correct order, it is known that both men were strong in personality and leadership and deserve to be honored in the history of the church.

Robert Snead was born in Rockbridge County, Virginia, April 20, 1801. He came to the Sweetwater Valley in 1824 and married Frances Henley soon afterwards. (His second wife was Samantha Ann McReynolds whom he married on September 17, 1852.) His first recorded purchase of land was in May, 1831: 80 acres. He acquired other tracts of land and at the time of his death owned a very large farm on the public road between Philadelphia and Sweetwater.

Mr. Snead was one of the most versatile men in this section of the country. Whatever he was called on to do, he always rose to the occasion: he was a brick-mason, farmer, minister of the gospel, railroad director and capitalist.

  • During the time he was a minister, he officiated at the marriage ceremony of more people than any other minister in the valley or county.
  • He was the presiding officer and moderator of a great many associations. Whenever he was in a Baptist association, he was nearly always called upon to perform that duty.
  • In his sermons he was more logical than eloquent; he appealed to the reason more than the emotions. It was said of Elder Taylor that he was both successful and popular largely because of his conservatism. He was able to help heal many wounds made by the division of sentiment concerning denominational questions and missions in those early days.
  • He was ordained by the Baptist church of Sweetwater to preach the gospel on the fourth Saturday of February, 1833.
  • He was considered an authority, in the Sweetwater association, on Baptist doctrine and parliamentary ruling.
  • He probably had more influence with the churches of Sweetwater Association than any one belonging to it.
  • He never charged or accepted anything for his pastoral services; not on account of any conscientious scruples in the matter, but because he thought the church could use the money more judiciously in other ways.
  • He was one of the best and most successful farmers in the Sweetwater Valley.
  • He served 2 terms as director of the East Tennessee and Georgia Railroad.
  • He moved to Knoxville from Sweetwater in November 1874 where he resided until his death on March 29, 1874. He was buried in the old Sweetwater cemetery.
  • During the Civil War, he was considered a Union man but was opposed to any discussion of the war or prayers for either side in church meetings. He could rarely be induced to express an opinion about the war in even private conversations. (He had 2 sons in the Confederate army and one in the Union army.)
  • His tombstone near Morristown, Tennessee reveals that he had baptized 1,406 persons during his ministry.

The building superintendent of the first actual building of the First Baptist Church of Sweetwater was Elika A. Taylor who had moved to the “western frontier” of the Sweetwater Valley in 1837 from Grainger County. He was also overseer of construction of the first school house in Sweetwater which was located where the church now stands. As a lay preacher, he had been a member of the Pond Creek Church.

He was a very “progressive” farmer of the Pond Creek valley (his old brick home—bricks made by hand—still stood in the valley in 1985). He introduced the first two horse wagon, the first threshing machine and built the first machine shop in this section of East Tennessee.

He was the son of Hughes O. and Elizabeth Taylor of Grainger County, Tennessee. Born July 30, 1811, he married Elizabeth Mayes and they had 5 sons and 3 daughters. His family served the church in various capacities: some as ministers, church clerks, etc. and some of his descendants served in foreign countries as missionaries for Christ. He died on May 10, 1903 at the age of 92.

1906

Due to the ever-growing membership of the church and under the leadership of Reverend E. K. Cox, the site of the church was moved to its present location on Wright Street in 1905. The new site was purchased in February of 1904 at a cost of $900. The cornerstone was laid in 1905 and the building was occupied in 1906. Cost of the building and furnishings was $16,000. The church was dedicated Sunday, October 6, 1907 in what a newspaper article termed “one of the largest congregations ever assembled in Sweetwater”. The Rev. I. W. Martin was pastor and the church membership was listed at 275. Foresight of the members was amazing during those days, for that building proved to be adequate for worship services for 55 years.

1977

A building program was initiated in 1975 and construction began on a new sanctuary. The church held services in the new auditorium for the first time on March 6, 1977 and special services were conducted a few weeks later to commemorate the laying of the cornerstone. On June 19, 1977, following special services, dedication of the new building was completed with the laying of the corner stone.

The original bell of the first Baptist Church that was built in Sweetwater in 1860 was hung in a little brick structure in the church yard (this was erected by the children of the late Joe C. Bilderback).

150th Anniversary Celebration – History of Sweetwater First Baptist Church (Click to Read)

First Baptist Church History from our 150th Celebration on August 15, 2010

FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH, SWEETWATER, TENNESSEE

1820-2010
  • The first meeting leading toward the organization of a Baptist church in the Sweetwater Valley was held at the home of Daniel Duggan in the Fork Creek Valley the first Saturday in June 1820 and became known as the Bethel Church. Meetings were held at Duggan’s home on the first Saturday of each month until August 1821.
  • But one church could not serve the populace scattered throughout the Sweetwater Valley and in 1821 the church divided into 2 branches to better serve its worshippers. One group met at the home of Joseph McSpadden in the Fork Creek community on the second Saturday of each month while another group met at the Sweetwater Creek home of John Fine. John Fine’s home was on the site of the current Sweetwater High School and was a large log structure which contained the first glass windows in the community.
  • In 1822 the Sweetwater Creek area worshippers became known as Sweetwater Baptist Church. With the donation of a 5-acre tract of land, the body moved in 1847 midway between what was to become Sweetwater and Philadelphia. This church became known as the “Old Sweetwater Church”.
  • In November, 1824, in a meeting at the home of John Howell on Pond Creek in McMinn County, a Baptist Church was organized along the lines of the Sweetwater Baptist Church and soon had a small “meeting house” and a shed for camp meetings. Known as the Pond Creek Baptist Church, this was the forerunner of what would become known as the First Baptist Church of Sweetwater.
  • After the town of Sweetwater was constituted in 1852, it became increasingly difficult and inconvenient for members to attend services at the Pond Creek Baptist Church. It was decided in June of 1854 to construct a building in town and move the location of the church where it would be more convenient for the most people. For the 6 years, the building fund committee worked to raise the necessary funds. The last meeting in the Pond Creek area was held in January, 1857. There was some degree of activity from 1857 until 1860, even though it is not known where services were held.
  • In August 1860, the First Baptist Church of Sweetwater occupied her first building. It was located on the corner of Monroe Street and Athens Road on a lot donated by I. T. Lenoir. The first pastor elected by the church in January 1861 was H. W. Taylor of Deep Springs, Grainger County, Tennessee.
  • The superintendent of the first church building was Elika A. Taylor who had come to the “wilderness” of the Sweetwater Valley in 1839 or 1840 from Grainger County and, as a lay preacher, had been a member of the Pond Creek Church. He also was overseer of the construction of the first school house in Sweetwater, introduced the first two-horse wagon, the first threshing machines, and built the first machine shop in the area.
  • As was true of most churches in the area, the “War Between the States” interfered with activity and progress. The church building was occupied intermittently by Union and Confederate troops. Very few services were held from 1862 until 1866. The church was also used as a hospital part of the time. The first recorded meeting of the church after the war was in August 1865. Federal troops again occupied the church in the latter part of 1865. The next recorded minutes of a church meeting was on the first Saturday in July, 1866.
  • Due to the ever-growing membership of the church and under the leadership of Reverend E. K. Cox, the site of the church was moved to its present location on Wright Street in 1905. The new site was purchased in February of 1904 at a cost of $900. The cornerstone was laid in 1905 and the building was occupied in 1906. Cost of the building and furnishings was $16,000. The church was dedicated Sunday, October 6, 1907 in what a newspaper article termed “one of the largest congregations ever assembled in Sweetwater”. The Rev. I. W. Martin was pastor and the church membership was listed at 275. Foresight of the members was amazing during those days, for that building proved to be adequate for worship services for 55 years.
  • Historians tell us that outstanding progress and fellowship were enjoyed during the lengthy ministry of Dr. O. D. Fleming (1920-1933). Repairs were made on the church, excellent revivals took place, many were added to the church, the Sunday School was constantly growing, and a 2-story brick parsonage was constructed at the site of the former church building on Monroe Street at Athens Road.
  • An Educational Building was completed and dedicated on the first Sunday in January, 1952 while Rev. Gordon Greenwell was pastor.
  • Serving from 1958 to 1980, Anderson McCulley was the longest serving pastor of the church. He received a B. A. degree in philosophy from Carson-Newman College in Jefferson City and served 14 years on the executive committee of the Tennessee Baptist Convention, was vice-president of the Tennessee Baptist Pastors Conference in 1967, served as vice-president of the Tennessee Baptist Convention in 1970, served as a trustee of the Tennessee Baptist Children’s Homes, and taught a Bible class at then Tennessee Military Institute. During his 22 years at Sweetwater, there were many milestones in the church’s history:
    • At the close of the morning worship service on February 8, 1959, the church broke ground for a new children’s building. The 80 foot by 53 foot two-story building accommodated Nursery, Beginner and Primary departments and recreational facilities. Cost was projected to be near $70,000.
    • Beginning in 1959 and continuing through 1974, the church sponsored a kindergarten program which was located in the church basement. The program was discontinued in 1974 when children could obtain kindergarten training in the public schools.
    • In 1961, the church hired its first full-time Minister of Music (Mr. Bill Choate).
    • In 1965, the church began construction of a home for its Ministers of Music.
    • A bus was purchased in 1974 to serve the needs of church organizations and help in outreach ministries.
    • In 1975, a building program was initiated and construction began on a new sanctuary. The church held services in the new auditorium for the first time on March 6, 1977 and special services were conducted a few weeks later to commemorate the laying of the cornerstone. At the time of the dedication, $507,000 of the $735,000 cost had already been paid off.
    • In 1979 and again in 1981, adjoining parcels of property offered for sale were purchased by the church further expanding the church property.
    • The church conducted a Note-Burning and Gratitude Service on October 19, 1980 celebrating paying off the debt incurred in building the new church building dedicated in 1977.
  • The church began a sanctuary renovation on September 10, 2007 that included: new carpet, new pews, improved lighting, refinished walls, and redesigned staging. Sunday morning services were moved to the fellowship hall beginning on Sunday, September 16, 2007 with 2 services at 8:30 and 11:00 a.m. The first service back in the renovated sanctuary was Sunday, February 10, 2008. The total cost of the renovations was approximately $250,000. New stained glass windows were planned, but funds were not completed until December, 2008. Windows were installed in early 2009 at a cost of approximately $75,000.
  • During the 2010 celebration of the church’s 150th anniversary, Rev. Bill Johnson was serving as interim pastor.

The Historical Committee is working on updating until current.

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Pastors

  1. Robert Snead: ? – 1860
  2. Hughes Woodson Taylor: 1861-1862
  3. No Pastor: August, 1862 – August, 1865
    (War Between the States)
  4. Robert Snead: 1866-1868
  5. I. P. Kefauver: 1868-1870
  6. J. B. Lee: 1870-1873
  7. C. L. Bowling: 1874-1876
  8. T. A. Higdon: 1876-1877
  9. J. L. Lloyd: 1877-1878
  10. W. C. Grace: 1879-1882
  11. D. M. McReynolds: 1883-1890
    (was also a frequent speaker at the church between pastors)
  12. J. T. Barrow: 1890-1894
  13. W. C. Grace: 1895-1897
  14. D. T. Martin: 1897-1899
  15. W. A. Moffatt: 1899-1903
  16. E. K. Cox: 1903-1905
  17. I. W. Martin: 1906-1908
  18. Hugh Wallace: 1908-1909
  19. E. A. Cox: 1910-1911
  20. J. H. Sharp: 1912-1918
  21. E. K. Cox: 1919-1920
  22. O. D. Fleming: 1920-1933
  23. J. B. Tallent: 1933-1936
    (also Senior Adult Pastor 1985-1988)
  24. J. R. Hodges: 1936-1945
  25. O. D. Fleming: 1945-1948
  26. Gordon Greenwell: 1949-1953
  27. D. E. Parsons: 1954-1957
  28. Anderson McCulley: 1958-1980
    (also Pastor Emeritus 2002-2005)
  29. Henry Preston: 1981 (Interim Pastor)
  30. Leonard Markam: 1982-1988
  31. Gary Baker: 1989-1997
  32. Don Edwards: 1998-2001
  33. John Holland: 2001-2004 (Interim Pastor)
  34. Phil Holmes: 2004-2009
  35. Bill Johnson: 2010 (Interim Pastor)
  36. Dr. Frank Crawford: 2010-Current



Ministers of Music

  • Bill J. Choate: 1961-1965
  • Ray Bowman: 1965-1971
    (also Minister of Youth)
  • Hugh Livingstone: 1972 – 1973
  • Tommy Keown: 1974-1975
  • Tommy E. Preston: 1977-1982
    (also Assistant Pastor)
  • Stephen F. Hall: 1983-1986
  • Tracy Wilson: 1987-1988
  • William T. Bell: 1989 (Interim)
  • James R. Austin: 1990-1996
    (also Minster of Senior Adults)
  • Eric Baumgarden: 1997 (Interim)
  • Steve Riddle: 1997-2009
  • Brandi Smith: 2009-2010 (Interim)
  • Janet Hill: 2010-Current (Interim)



Ministers of Education/Youth

  • Ken Smith: 1967-1968
  • Dennis Moore: 1973-1975
  • Danny Georges: 1983-1988
  • Rev. Bill Wade: 1990-1992
  • Rev. William L. (Butch) Stovall, Jr.: 1993-1999
  • Jonathan Haskew: 2000-2002
  • Jeff Smith: 2005-2007
    (minster of Education & Associate Pastor)
  • Sherry Cook: 2003-2009
  • Jason Pounds: 2010
  • Rev. Jason Paris: 2011-Current
    (Minister of Youth and Children)



Secretaries

  • Mrs. Reba Scruggs: 1951-1973
  • Ann Bilderback: 1973
  • Grace Waymier: 1973-1988
  • Jean Berrong: 1975-1989
  • Brenda Sisk: 1990-1992
  • Carol Taylor: 1989-2006
    (Financial Secretary)
  • April Ingram: 1993-2008
  • Lisa Brackett: 2006-Current
    (Financial Secretary)
  • Samantha Cantrell: 2008-Current