Log Cabin Where Methodist Conference Was Held 138 Years Ago
Is Shifted Again On Scarritt Campus
By Emily Towe
The picturesque log church where the first Methodist
conference in middle Tennessee was
held 138 years ago was moved again last week.
This time, however, the one-room shrine of Methodism was only rolled to a new location 500 feet away on Scarritt College campus to make place for a new dormitory to be built soon.
The little church, meeting place in Sumner County for Tennessee's most beloved Methodist leaders of the early 1800s, is still intact and within the century old log structure are many relics dear to the hearts of Methodism.
WAS CORN CRIB
Strother's Meeting House is the name that has clung to the
tiny chapel which after its
replacement in Sumner County was used for many years as a corn crib. Since 1931, however, it
has been on Scarritt College campus where Methodist relics of early days have gradually
As the visitor steps into the musty log church, the museum pieces bring to mind Methodism of another age--a time when God-fearing circuit riders galloped through the country side to preach the Gospel.
And the tiny charcoal foot warmer in the museum tells a story of Grandmother Hempstead who propped her shoes over the hot coals, draped her long skirts around her and settled down to an otherwise unheated room for an hour's long sermon.
BUST OF WESLEY
There is a bust of John Wesley, made by Pratt in 1790, and a
candle from which the only
illumination for the church was made.
A circuit rider's trunk, rusty and worn, bears on it the explanation that "Bishop McKendree used this on his journeys through the undivided bounds of American Methodism."
There are many other relics--pictures, Bibles, books and gavels--all telling the story of the early days of a denomination that now has millions on its membership rolls.
Erected near Cottontown in Sumner County about 1800, the church held the distinction in 1802 of housing the first Middle Tennessee Methodist Conference. At that meeting Bishop Francis Asbury was in charge, and one of the most valuable relics in the church today is the chair in which the bishop presided. also there today is one of the rude log benches hewn by a Sumner county pioneer for the Methodist chapel.
It must have been a very impressive meeting there, according
to the accounts that have
been handed down by several who attended.
The membership reported for the year in the Cumberland Circuit was 588 white and 39 Negro members. William McKendree was the presiding elder and John Page and Thomas Wilkerson were the preachers on the circuit.
John Carr described the meeting in his book "Early Times in Middle Tennessee," published in 1857 in Nashville, as follows: "Bishop Asbury presided and that was the first time I ever saw that venerable man of God. There was then, I believe, only one annual conference in the Mississippi Valley."
"At that conference in 1802, I enjoyed the pleasure of shaking the hands of many great men of God. There I saw John Sale, Hezekiah Harriman, Stephen Brooks, Lewis Garrett and Tobias Gibson."
The author explained that Gibson came from Natchez, Miss., to ask for help in planting the gospel in that territory, then a part of the Western Conference.
"In September, 1802, he took the Natchez Trace on horseback alone, and made the 400-mile trip through the wilderness to attend the conference at Strother's. It is needless to say his brethren did not let him return alone."
History has given to us some of the words that Bishop Asbury addressed to his small group at the conference. In part he said: "I was able to ordain by employing Brother McKendree to examine those who were presented and to station the preachers. The work had so enlarged that it was found necessary to divide the one district into three; the Holston District with John Watson; and the Cumberland, with John Page presiding elders. McKendree remained on the Kentucky District."
As Methodism grew in Sumner County the tiny one-room chapel was not large enough so another building was erected about the middle of the last century and was dedicated in 1857 as Bethel Church. Prior to this, however, Strother's Meeting House had been moved from its first location one mile away to Red River Pike.
GAVE LAND TO CHURCH
When the Methodists began using their new church, the old
meeting house, then located
on the Hassell farm, was used for many years as a corn crib. Mrs. Margaret E. Hassell of Gallatin
said recently that her husband's father used it for many years as a crib when he gave the land for
the new church and her husband's name was carved into one of the old logs with a boy's pocket
The chair used by Bishop Asbury that is now housed in the church at Scarritt was given by Mrs. Hassell but the matching table which she obtained at an auction sale has been misplaced.
And so the church remained as a crib under an eave of the Hassell barn, but one reason for the excellent condition of the logs was the fact that it was thus protected from the weather.
This explanation is given on a tablet in front of the church as to the way in which the Methodist shrine finally found its way to Scarritt College: "Inspired by an address by Bishop H. M. DuBose at the Gallatin Conference in 1930, the Committee on Historic Places and Relics consisting of Bishop DuBose, E. B. Chappell, W. B. Ricks, T. C. Ragsdale, J. R. Stewart, J. W. Estes, C. T. Carter and G. L. Beale, appointed J. R. Steward to have charge of the purchase, removal, and rebuilding. Scarritt College gave the site. Alvin Bowling was employed to remove and rebuild. The formal opening by Bishop DuBose May 10, 1931."
The church was first brought to the northwest section of the campus but since plans are well under way for building a new $75,000 dormitory on the first site, the tiny building was moved intact to the southeast section of the campus.
And there it stands with its old log walls protected beneath a new roof--a historic landmark that is open to all who wish to step back into the atmosphere of another day and examine Methodist records and furniture of nearly a century and a half ago.
To view a photo of Strother's Meeting House click here.