- [S106] The Mountain Press, 30 May 2015.
Upland Chronicles: Middle Creek Methodist was established in the early 1800s
Picturesque Middle Creek United Methodist Church was built in 1901.
The interior of Middle Creek United Methodist Church as it appears today.
The bell cast by VanDusen & Tift Foundry of Cincinnati in the belfry of Middle Creek United Methodist Church.
Soon after the first white settlers arrived around 1784, and Robert Shields constructed a blockhouse known as Shields’ Fort, circuit-riding Methodist preachers began holding services in the Middle Creek community. Folks from the community and beyond traveled on horseback or in wagons to gather for week-long revivals.
Services were held under a big tree overlooking the stream that became known as Middle Creek, a tributary of the Little Pigeon River. It was from the creek that the community, located about four miles southeast of Sevierville, got its name.
Perhaps the first person to be buried in the burying ground above the campground was Shields, who died Jan. 18, 1801. Today, the cemetery is one of the largest and best maintained cemeteries in Sevier County.
During the early years of the 19th century, members of Methodist congregations throughout the region constructed open-air pavilions with an open courtyard in the center, where seating was usually divided by gender and race. Around 1822, a camp meeting ground was established at Middle Creek by the local Methodist congregation.
At first families stayed in temporary tents while gathered at the camp meeting ground. Sometime prior to the Civil War, the congregation constructed permanent buildings and open-air sheds around a rectangular commons area that probably contained a central pavilion. These small, rectangular structures were constructed of log and hewn timbers.
Divided into separate but adjoining lots, three sides of the commons featured central entrances called alleys. The Middle Creek Camp Meeting Ground was made up of at least 21 sheds, which were built by local members of the congregation on lots they purchased, and a preacher’s shed.
Several of the families had local leaders, such as John Nichols, Mitchell Porter and George McCowan. These three men were active members of the Shiloh Methodist Church, which had been established about 20 years earlier in the Pine Grove Community. Although the exact date of the establishment of the Shiloh church is unknown, it is apparent from available records that as early as 1787, Methodist circuit riders were holding services in the home of Mitchell Porter, and Bishop Francis Asbury preached there prior to 1808.
Eventually, the first Middle Creek Methodist Church was established on or near the campground, though no physical evidence of the original campground remains. On Sept. 25, 1844, John Trotter and his wife, Asa White Trotter, gave six acres of land to the Middle Creek Campground and church. They gave additional acreage to the church in 1851. There, a log structure was built to use as a permanent meeting house.
In 1856, William Harrison Trotter donated land on his expansive farm for the construction of Middle Creek Academy. Around the time of the Civil War, the church and school became the center of the community and remained so well into the 20th century.
The second building was destroyed by fire in 1877. Within a short time, the community rallied to build a new house of worship. When it was completed, a bell was purchased from VanDusen & Tift Foundry of Cincinnati. The handsome bell was later moved to a new building and still rings from the belfry of the current church.
In 1901, construction began on a new church to replace the aging building. The church was built by Cisco Williams, a carpenter from Sevierville. Many local families contributed hand-cut timbers and donated their time and skills to build the new church.
Timber was provided by the local community. Big yellow pines trees were carefully selected, felled and sawed into timber. Cisco Williams’ woodworking expertise is still evident in the attractive altar and interior woodwork.
Dominated by the ornate corner tower, which serves to accentuate the main entrance, the church exhibits typical Gothic Revival style elements. It is the best example of a rural Gothic Revival style church building in Sevier County. A parsonage built in 1882 was retained.
The church was dedicated May 18, 1902, by Reverend J.A. Rubble. Widely known circuit rider Reverend James A. Lawson of Wears Valley preached the first sermon in the new church.
In 1916, a train depot was built across the street from the church and the Smoky Mountain railroad made daily stops there for several years. A country store was located near the church for many years.
On a hillside overlooking Middle Creek, the picturesque church is among the most photographed structures in Sevier County. Numerous artists have captured the imposing building on canvas.
It was featured in Dolly Parton’s Home for Christmas television special, which was broadcast nationwide during the 1990 holiday season. Several regional artists have captured their own interpretation of the stately structure. For several years, Knoxville TV station WATE used footage of the church in an introductory photo montage.
Currently, Middle Creek United Methodist Church is undergoing extensive structural renovation. Although small in number, the determined congregation has been raising funds to pay for the expensive project, determined to preserve the beautiful country church for future generations.
Carroll McMahan is special projects facilitator for the Sevierville Chamber of Commerce and serves as Sevier County historian.
The Upland Chronicles series celebrates the heritage and past of Sevier County. If you have suggestions for future topics, would like to submit a column or have comments, contact Carroll McMahan at firstname.lastname@example.org, or Ron Rader at email@example.com.
- [S94] Sevier County, Tennessee Census, family 474, page 419b, line 16, 16 Sep 1850.
- [S34] In the Shadow of the Smokies, Smoky Mountain Historical Society, (1993), 312.