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East Tennessee church on National Register of Historic Places

Volunteers preserving Laurel Springs Primitive Baptist Church
Published: Apr. 17, 2021 at 3:32 PM EDT|Updated: Apr. 21, 2021 at 10:10 AM EDT
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -

An East Tennessee church has been added to the National Register of Historic Places. The Tennessee Historical Commission announced the addition of Laurel Springs Primitive Baptist Church in the Cosby area of Cocke County, along with four other properties.

THC said in a release, the one-room church built in 1914 is located on the north side of Laurel Springs Road in Southwestern Cocke County. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is located across the road from the church and borders the south side of Laurel Springs Road.

Pat Martin, a volunteer, says she remembers sitting on the same pews as a child that she sees inside the church now. “I have good memories as a child. I came from a family of 12.” Martin said her family traveled regularly from Newport to the church in Cosby to attend worship services not only on Sundays but Saturdays as well. They did not believe in using instruments but learned to sing hymns without accompaniment.

Martin said Shane and Judy McGaha and several people have pitched in their time to preserve and repair the church that’s been vacant since the late 90s.

Shane McGaha said the church caught his attention a few years ago when a wind storm downed a couple of trees, damaging the church roof. “I rode by and noticed the damage and no one was doing anything about it. I kind of thought it’d be a good community project to do to move it out of the way, to clean up the mess and to preserve the building.” McGaha works for the U.S. Postal Service and was riding by on his mail route.

The efforts of McGaha and others led to claiming the building for a loosely organized community group that is dedicated to preserving it, then documenting its history back to 1914.

The building is authentic to the period and customs of its time; it has no electricity and no indoor plumbing. Talks are in the works for possibly using the site as a parking space for cyclists, as well as being able to allow visitors to learn about the historical significance of the church and surrounding community.

Along with Laurel Springs Church, four other properties have been added to the list including:

  • Lonesome (Burns – Dickson County)
  • Christ Church Episcopal (Chattanooga – Hamilton County)
  • Missouri Portland Cement Terminal (Memphis – Shelby County)
  • Memphis Overland Company (Memphis – Shelby County)

“Tennessee has a tremendous inheritance of important historic places that are highlighted by the diversity of these recent National Register listings,” said State Historic Preservation Officer and Executive Director Patrick McIntyre.

To help with the restoration efforts of Laurel Springs Primitive Baptist Church, you can reach organizers here.

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