Monteagle church traces roots to founding of community
Margaret Anne Thomas
Consider, if you will, the dying embers of a fire. Focus your attention on the last tiny spark trying so valiantly to reignite that fearsome force of which it was once a vibrant member. Then, add some fodder to feed the fire, some dried straw, a few twigs, some dried leaves. Add to that just enough of a gentle breeze to ignite combustion, and one might have discovered the flame burning at Monteagle Cumberland Presbyterian Church. The warmth from this fire was first felt sometime between 1880 and 1890. Can you imagine that? Think about it for a minute, that’s over 120 years ago. And, 40 years before that, the Indians were traveling across our beautiful home. It simply boggles the mind to ponder how far we have come in so little time.
According to a compilation by Bob Douglas entitled, “History of The Cumberland Presbyterian Church Moffat Station, Tennessee,” Monteagle, formerly known as Moffat Station, came into being in this way:
“Prior to 1840, there used to be a location on the Cumberland Plateau that was crossed by the Cisca Trail. The Cisca Trail ran from Old Stone Fort near Manchester, Tennessee, to an area in Florida that is was called St. Augustine. This was a trail used primarily by various tribes of Indians as it crossed the mountain at the location of the R. M. Payne Toll Road. The Toll Road came across the mountain at approximately the same place that Highway 41 now goes north off the mountain toward Pelham. This trail joined up with or used parts of the Nickajack Trail according to ‘Indian Trails of the Southeast’ by Wm. Meyer
“A railroad was built from Cowan to accommodate the extraction of coal from the various areas that was located on top of the mountain, mainly from the areas of what is now Sewanee, Clouse Hill, and then to Tracy City areas where the Wooten mines were discovered and developed.
“A group of immigrants had been relocated from Switzerland to the Gruetli area by the Tennessee Board of Immigration. In concern for their wellbeing, John Moffat was making a trip from Nashville, to the area of the Swiss Colony, in order to check on their progress and wellbeing. The train hit a cow in the area which is now where Highway 41, which was where the Paine Toll Road crossed the tracks. As time and the accident progressed, Moffat looked around the area. He liked what he saw and decided he wanted to return. Later he purchased the land from the Bostick heirs, which later became Monteagle.
“The intersection of the toll road and the railroad later became a stopping place for the train as people would ride the train to the area and then head a short distance north, down the Toll Road, to picnic at Sweet Fern Cave. The cool breeze from the cave was a prize feature and probably the only air conditioning in the summer at that time. As the story goes, the train continued to stop at various places in the area as there were just woods with no depot destination or marking. Finally, a board was nailed to a tree on which was the name ‘Moffat.’ It was around 1840 that the location became known as ‘Moffat.’ The name was given to the location probably by John Moffat, who had come from Glasgow, Scotland. One story gives credence to the town as being named around 1880 for a friend of Moffat’s by the name of Count Monteagle. Another story says that the name of Monteagle Springs which came later was used and that name came about from the Bald Eagles that were usually seen soaring over the Springs. The spring referenced may have been the spring that was located behind what is now Monteagle Grammar School.”
Can we just take that in for a moment? Picture, if you will, how the now bustling little town of Monteagle must have looked as a mountain wilderness having none of our current landmarks that are so recognizable to us. It must have indeed been the most lovely and serene location imaginable, one which also would require bravery and determination to turn a vision into reality. I’m talking about a little white church once ensconced by the tall mighty trees of the forest. As time progressed, the land surrounding the little church was settled until the church that was envisioned in 1894, and came into fruition in 1896, was wedged stoically and majestically (in this writer’s eyes) among homes filled with loving families and buildings on all sides. I say stoically because this little church has never complained with all of its hardships. I use majestically simply because of the awe I feel as this tiny church still seeks lost souls to lift skyward toward the heavens and life eternal. Life for this little church has not been easy. Its flame could have been snuffed out numerous times, but it’s still a breathing vibrant place of worship.
The history of this little church is indeed interesting. However, the number of times this church has resurrected itself is amazing. I am not a writer of history, so pardon me if I blunder here and there in this part, but this is how I perceived things may have happened. I don’t believe a service held every Sunday was an option at that time. My thinking is that the circuit preacher made his rounds and serviced more than just one congregation. We still have “circuit preachers” even in this day. For well over ten years, Clayton Jones served Coalmont Methodist Church, Beersheba, Palmer, and Hobb’s Hill. During his 47 years in ministry, Jones also served Wesley’s Chapel, Mt. Zion, and Lighthouse Bible Church, all in the Viola area. The current pastor at Coalmont Methodist Church also serves at Beersheba even as I write this article. I once again refer to the article written by Bob Douglas about the church at Moffat Station.
“The Cumberland Presbyterian Church was organized May 10, 1884, and held their services in the Union Church which was located in Marion County.”
There is an interesting side note about the Union Church. It probably “got its name since it was a combination of three churches. The Methodist held church on the first and third Sundays of each month and the Presbyterians and the Church of Christ shared the other two Sundays in the same building. It was also used as a school.”
Then, the Cumberland Presbyterian Church was built in its current location.
“Reverend R. J. Moore was the pastor for six years with the following members making up the congregation: Sam Young, Mrs. Annie Porter, John Lowrie (1820-1913), Miss Sarah Gilliam (1828-1886) later to become Mrs. John Lowrie, and John Moffat (1828-1886) from Scotland and his wife, Mrs. Lidia Landow Moffat (1829-1901) from Ontario, Canada.
“The sixteen people that are listed as Charter Members of The Cumberland Presbyterian Church when it was organized on May 10, 1884, were as follows: Mr. John and Lidia Landon Moffat, Mr. J. F. Partain, Mr. and Mrs. A. (S,) M. Young, S. P. Partain, Zelphia Simpson, Mr. William S. Summers, Mr. James Bennett, Mr. John Lowrie, Rebecca Lemons, J. S. Partin, Mattie Levan, Sarah Gilliam, Sarah Bennett, and Mrs. Annie Porter. John Lowrie and S. M. Young were elected and ordained as Ruling Elders at this time. J. S. Partin was elected and ordained as Deacon.
“In the fall of 1885 there were 25 members added to the registries of the church with Rev. R. J. Moore remaining as the pastor for six years.
“During Rev. Tillett’s term, a move was made in 1894 to build The Cumberland Presbyterian Church House. The Church that is now located on College Street in Monteagle, Tennessee, was completed in 1896. The dedication service was held the first Sunday in June 1896.
“The Nashville American” of June 22, 1986, states that the dedication was held on June 20, 1896.
“It is estimated that 300 people from Tracy City and other points near here were present at the dedication of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church house Tuesday last. Rev. Dr. Tillett, as master of ceremonies, conducted an interesting service, after which a liberal contribution to the funds of the organization was made, and the company was entertained in small numbers by citizens in their homes. A special train conveyed the visitors to their respective destination in the evening. Not only the building, but furniture and seats have been added, and the whole work reflects credit upon the pastor and congregation.”
I went back to that part of the church’s history to note the number of people in the congregation. This little church has never had a really large group of congregants, the largest number I have found was 133 in 1911, when Rev. W. T. Presley was pastor.
“He served for nearly three years resigning at his own request. During his term the records show there were 133 active members. Brother J. C. Odum took the Rev. Pressley’s place and served for seven years. During this time, which was around 1914, interest in the church began to lag. A revival was held which brought in a number of new members to the church. No regular services were held between 1925 and 1934, nor was it served by a pastor. By 1925, the membership and interest in the Church had fallen off greatly due to fact that some of the members had moved and others, through the years, had died. A revival was held which brought in a number of new members to the church. It was through the loving kindness and help of Mrs. Irene Dickerson (1885-1944) who paid a larger part of the pastor’s salary and spent over $600 for repairs to the Church, that the church was reorganized in May 1934, with four members. They were Mrs. Annie K, Bennett (1878-1950), Mr. and Mrs. L. P. Lowrie, and Mrs. Annie Gregory, with L. P. Lowrie as the only Elder. At time of the reorganization J.D. Holder, Horace Long, Isaac Perry, and Terrill Richmond were appointed as Elders. Dr. Tillett took the charge at that time and faithfully preached every second Sunday for a period of time.”
Though the number of members was small compared to churches of this day and age, the members it did have were loyal servants of our God, and because of that faithfulness, Monteagle Cumberland Presbyterian Church still lives.
At this point I want to fast forward to a very near point of history in the life of Monteagle Cumberland Presbyterian Church. This lovely old church built in 1896 was left with four faithful members, and quite sadly, it was very much like that last dying ember. But our God has plans, and everything works out in His time. We never know when things will happen, but God moves His hand for His faithful servants. Imagine you’re sitting inside this dignified, unimposing church on its quaint, slatted, wooden pews in the silence of those long-ago saints who served this church. Soak up the sunlight filtering through the stained-glass windows behind the altar. Listen for the musical notes still floating along with the dust motes caught in the sunlight. Then, turn and gaze out the window and you might notice one of God’s children peeking in at you.
Clayton Jones says he was driving down the street and was pulled toward this church. He stopped the car, got out, and walked around the building. Rotting siding hung in disrepair, and the gables of the roof needed attention, and that was only what was obvious from the outside. He then managed to find a window through which he could shade his eyes and peer inside for a look around. He obviously liked what he saw.
Clayton made a couple of phone calls and located the four faithful souls whose devotion to the Lord kept the spirit of the church alight. Those blessed souls are Billie Faye Terrill, Ruby Nunley, and Mike and Brigitte Roark. Then, Clayton set himself on a course of action. The Presbyterian Session in Smyrna was contacted, they met with Clayton and the church, and the new pastor of Monteagle Cumberland Presbyterian Church was off and running.
Word spread among the community that this church needed to be revitalized, renewed, invigorated, and reborn. Basically, this church needed to be renovated in everything and in every way, except for the Holy Spirit, for that was still alive within the walls. As the Bible says in Matthew 18:20 (KJV) 20 “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”
Soon, it was no longer just the Holy Spirit, Clayton, and the faithful four. A fire had been ignited in this little community. Those burning embers along with a new pastor and his wife breathed that little breath of air which sparked life back into the little church. A talented song leader, Ralph Patrick, with a booming voice was quickly claimed for people need to rejoice in song. Seekers from all over the mountaintop and the valley below began coming, looking for a special place that filled their hearts with joy, peace, and comfort. Spirits were filled and blessings were received. Word continued to spread. The congregation began growing. Donations were given. Workers were hired, and approximately $60,000 was spent to restore this fine little church to its majestic glory today.
Again, I say “majestic,” not because it’s the height of a skyscraper, nor because the inside shines with the patina of new gold. I call this humble simple church majestic because of the longevity of its existence in raising people higher and higher toward heaven. No one knows God’s plans, but this little church has certainly been spared from failure and blessed with rejuvenation time and time again.
There have been numerous pastors of this church since its beginning. But the current one is a well-coiffed, dapperly dressed, polished and shined, walking, always talking, witness to God. It matters not to him what a person has done in his life except that salvation has been sought and a soul has been saved; for you see, Clayton “Tater” Jones has had but one mission in his adult life and that is to be constantly on the lookout for the lost sheep.
If someone asked, “Who exactly is Clayton Jones?” I would have to reply, “He is a Preacher who places his family second to God. He is a shepherd guiding his flock, and he is a man who will never be satisfied as long as there is a lost sheep out there. In essence, Clayton Jones is a guardian thrilled with the faithful 99, but he is one who will never stop searching for the one sheep who is lost.”
His current mission from God is to minister to anyone who will listen inside and outside the walls of Monteagle Cumberland Presbyterian Church. Those embers have been reignited and the glow of the fire is breathtaking.
“I invite you to come feel the warmth of the flame that burns strongly at Monteagle Cumberland Presbyterian Church,” said Clayton. “My wife Beverly and I would also like to thank everyone who has helped to make the rebirth of the church possible – prayers, time, monetary donations, and more, have contributed to the growth of Monteagle Cumberland Presbyterian Church.”