The following article is from The Mountain Eagle newspaper dated Wednesday, September 14, 1994 (Page 9):
Compiled by Bob Green
Letcher Co.'s Methodist Heritage
Minister, Whitesburg United Methodist Church
Note: The following was taken from The Mountain Eagle account "From tiny Summit City to a thriving county seat" by Arthur Dixon, except where marked with *I.A. Bowles, "History of Letcher County," (Hurst Printing Co., 1949); **William T. Cornett, "Letcher County, Kentucky: A Brief History," (State-Wide Publishing Co., 1969); ***Virginia Combs, in a manuscript of the Whitesburg United Methodist Church history.
History records that the first colonist to visit Southeastern Kentucky was Dr. Thomas Walker who came through the Cumberland Gap in 1748.* He found an area of rich forests, abundant game, and countless creeks and streams.
In 1774, Daniel Boone and Michael Stoner were dispatched with communications from Virginia Governor Dunmore to a settlement of surveyors (sent some months beforehand) on the falls of the Ohio.* Suddenly, the land was beginning to be opened up in earnest.
The first skirmish between colonists and indians occurred five miles from Richmond, on March 25, 1775.*
Prior to 1776, the area of 'Kentucky' was a portion of Fincastle County, Virginia. The Virginia Legislature divided Fincastle into three smaller counties on Dec. 31, 1776; one of these three counties was the future state of Kentucky. In May of 1780, Kentucky was subdivided into the three large initial counties of Jefferson, Fayette, and Lincoln. These counties would be divided many times over in the years to come.*
The first serious pioneer settlers came into this area in 1804, after hearing glorified reports of game and adventures on the Poor Fork of the Cumberland River and North Fork of the Kentucky River by hunters returning to their families in North Carolina and Virginia.*
On June 1, 1792, Kentucky was admitted to the union with Isaac Shelby serving as governor.*
By 1806, settlement of this area was increasing to the point where the main creeks had one or two families settled there.** John Dixon on Elk Creek, Isaac Whitaker and Henry Back on Rockhouse Creek, Samuel Lusk and Peter Whitaker at Linefork, Stephen Caudill at the mouth of the Sandlick, Mathias Kelly on the Cumberland River, Thomas Cowan on Cowan Creek, John G. Brown on Dry Fork Creek, a man by the name of King on Kingdom Come Creek, Benjamin Webb (It is thought that John Webb's grandmother was a sister of Squire Boone, Sr., Daniel Boone's father.) near the Kona area.
John Adams and a group of over 60 kinfolk and associates explored the wild woodlands of the North Fork and built a log shelter at the mouth of Bottom Fork. Adams lived here until his death in 1815.* Kentucky Governor Robert P. Letcher made a request in 1842 to create a new county in eastern Kentucky.
Surveyors from Knox and Clay counties were employed to mark proposed boundaries at the sum of $2 per day for this work. The county to be created was designed and laid out by Nat Collins, Stephen Hiram Hogg and Benjamin Adams (from parts of Perry, Harlan, and Pike Counties**).
The new county would need a county seat; Indian Bottom, Colson, Mayking, Ermine, and Summit City were considered.
A heated debate began among communities concerning the site of a proposed county seat. Hiram Hogg offered to give 10 acres of land to the new county for a county seat if it were to be located at Summit City, his hometown. Stephen Hiram Hogg owned one of the first houses built in Summit City and housed the Andrew Adams family.
The officials for the new county readily accepted the offer and began to survey sites for the county offices, jail, courthouse, and lots to sell to citizens of the new county. County farmers hesitated to buy city lots to build on, so lots were mainly purchased by people wanting to start a small business. Many of the county citizens were self-sufficient and rarely needed to buy articles from a store. Coffee, cotton, sugar, cloth, leather, shoes, farming tools were traded for ginseng, feathers, hides, pelts, beeswax, wool, wheat, and corn.
Summit City's name was changed to Whitesburgh in 1843 in honor of John Daugherty White, the congressman who had worked tirelessly for the creation of the new county.** On January 7, 1892, the spelling was changed to "Whitesburg."
The first house erected on one of the lots sold by the county was a one-room log building on the South side of Main Street built by Robert O. Brashear in 1843.
The second log house was built by Noah Greer near the river on Main Street. Hardy Graves from Russell County, Virginia, built the next log house on a lot that became the future site of the Dawahare Store.
In 1855, the boundary line of Letcher County was changed to include the Elkhorn and Beefhide sections of Pike County and to exclude Carrs Fork and (future) Hindman which were annexed into Knott County.
Ephraim Hammonds began building the courthouse in 1842; Elder John A. Caudill finished it. The bricks for the first courthouse were fired near the site of the current Presbyterian Church and laid for the courthouse walls by Noah Reynolds.
The first County Judge for Letcher County was Nathaniel Collins. The first Circuit Judge to hold court in Whitesburg was Judge Turnstall Ouarles (1842-44). The first Commonwealth Attorneys were John W. Jenkins, A.D. Hale, and Ezekiel Brashears. The first Assessor was John Whitt Stamper.
Ned Polly took the job as jailer and built the first jail. The first Sheriffs for Letcher County were Samuel Francis and Stephen Hiram Hogg. A band of Civil War guerrillas burned the jail down in July 1864. A second log jail was built which stood until the early 1900s.
Until the Whitesburg public buildings were completed, Letcher County Court was held near the mouth of Pert Creek, in a log building owned by Moses Adams.
The census for 1860 numbered the population of Whitesburg at 100; only one vote was recorded for Abraham Lincoln in the 1860 election.
Numerous lawyers began practicing law in the Letcher County Court from 1866 until 1885. Methodist circuit riders began holding services in school buildings and private homes at least as early as 1874 when W.B. Godbey's appointment to Whitesburg was recorded. Many names rang out the salvation call in those days such as W. B. Godbey (1874-1877) and J. J. Johnson (1877-1879).
In 1878, William Henderson Nickels built the second brick building in town. This home was later purchased by Jim Frazier. Whitesburg was beginning to move at a faster pace from camp and village to city.
Reverend S. S. Dearing was appointed to Whitesburg in 1879; T. B. Cook (1880-1884), G. B. Demaree (1884-1888). In Methodist tradition, the real work in these early days occurred in the individual's homes, farms, and worksites. Methodist laypeople held each other up to God in prayer and in accountability to one another for their Christian behavior. With this approach in mind readers of history should not be surprised that more than a few words about each preacher are available. The glory of the Methodist contribution to the area's history would be found in the circuit rider's journal, the diaries of the members who recorded their spiritual struggles, and in the fabric of Christian civilization itself as battles were waged against liquor, gambling, and murder.
James P. Maars, a lawyer, purchased the "Haunted House" (where a man died mysteriously) on the corner of Bently Avenue and Main Street and replaced it with one of the coming modern homes.
In 1906, Helen C. Baker and S. E. Baker deeded the property for Whitesburg's Methodist Church to the trustees of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. The trustees were L. H. N. Salyer, E. W. Baker, and S. E. Baker. The trustees began building a one-room church which was used for worship until January 15, 1939, when a fire destroyed its usefulness. The hundred-member congregation was pleased to see the episcopal head of Kentucky Methodism, U. V. W. Darlington, come to help raise the needed money for a replacement church building.
The cornerstone for the new church was laid on July 29, 1940. The Louisville Art Glass Company installed six glass panels displaying scenes from the life of Christ from his nativity to the resurrection. The first formal worship service was held under the pastoral leadership of W. H. Poore and C. Nevil White, Superintendent of the Barbourville District, on May 4, 1941.
This history of Whitesburg United Methodist Church is one that parallels and adds to the history of the town and Letcher County.
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