Pulaski County Fact Book II
Chapter 7 Church History

The first church in Somerset was the Sinking Creek Baptist Church. According to legend, it was organized as a branch of the Flat Lick Baptist Church which is said to be the oldest church in the county. The Sinking Creek Church was first organized June 8, 1799. It was located on a low hill just west of Sinking Creek and overlooked the ravine which had been formed by the water flowing from the Sinking Creek Spring. The old Baptist Cemetery still marks the place where this log church stood. Many of the tombstones have completely disappeared. The following is a partial list of people buried in this church graveyard and who were the pioneer settlers of Somerset:

Name Born Died

William Owens November 10, 1750 August 9, 1836

Nancy Owens March 15, 1754 October 2, 1840

Joseph Porter November 17, 1771 August, 1856

Ann Porter April 16, 1795 December 29, 1869

(wife of Seph Porter)

Francis Lea October 15, 1781 February 2, 1852

Thomas Hansford January 28, 1779 -----

Martha Hansford November 25, 1800 December 25, 1871

John Owens March 25, 1792 April 18, 1875

Ann Chesney Owens January 30, 1800 September 3, 1856

Capt. John G. Lair February 13, 1816 January 7, 1862

Lewis Patterson April, 1804 June 8, 1904

Keziah Owens May 3, 1817 January 12, 1861

Richmond O. Mills 1823 January 31, 1860

Nicholas Jasper -------- 1827

(Revolutionary War Soldier – Son of John Jasper)

John Jasper 1768 1849

(Son of John Jasper)

Charles Jasper October 15, 1798 April 18, 1850

William Jasper (Civil War - 12th Ky. Infantry)

James Curd (Co. A. 14th U.S. Cl.) (War)

Cyrenius Wait 1794 1868

Las Thomas (Co. I.S.C. Cav.)

Fontain E. Cundiff July 26, July, 1844

Claiborne Long December June 28, 1825

  1. McS____ September 4, 1818

Estella Patterson 1856

E.H. Woods April 16, 1804 July 20, 1850

Johnnie L. Gossett August 8, 1861 August 22, 1868

Logan Denton April 17, 1832 June 15, 1854

Calen Porter (Son of Meelia) 1863

Patsy Denton April, 1851

Katherine Harvey February 1, 1855

(wife of John Harvey)

Willis Zachery March 10, 1796 January 29, 1857

Lucy Zachery May 29, 1829 August 11, 1864

(daughter of Willis and Elizabeth)

Matilda Zachery September 9, 1827 April 16, 1863

(Consort of M.G. Richardson, daughter of Willis and Elizabeth)

Lewis C. Grubb February 20, 1828 October 8, 1848

(For his soldierly conduct and manly bearing in the War with Mexico, he was promoted by the

officers of his regiment.)

A Soldier in War

A Patriot in Peace

This church had twenty-one members in June, 1799. By the following October, it had gained seven new members. Thomas Hansford was chosen as the first pastor and under his leadership the little church prospered. Joseph Martin James and Daniel Buckner were the next two pastors. In 1812, the member was 109, and in 1823 it was 165, but in 1879, it had declined to 100. This was due to a division in1850 on the subject of benevolent missions.

On March 25, 1807, William Dodson, who owned the land on which the church stood, sold to the United Baptist Church of Sinking Creek, two acres of land on which the church building was located. He received $7.00 from the church for the land. These two acres were a part of the land granted to the town by Dodson, but he had made exception of it in his deed to the town.

The first building was made of logs, with a gallery running all the way around to seat the Negro slaves who were allowed to attend the services. According to tradition the colored Baptist Church grew out of this little group of worshippers. The following motion was found in an old record book dated July, 1867: "On motion and second our colored brothers and sisters in good and regular standing will be granted letters for constitution upon application.

In 1823, the members of the Sinking Creek Church asked the Pulaski County Court to appoint a group of men as trustees to secure a title to the church property. The court appointed John Newby, John Hill, Smith Williams, George Fitzpatrick and George W. Saunders as trustees to secure a title.

The church building had been used as a school house; the County Court had met there while waiting for the completion of the first courthouse, and during the War between the States it served as a hospital. In February, 1878, three men were appointed to prosecute a claim of the church against the government for damages that had been done to the building while it was used as a hospital. It was not until 1912 that the government made the adjustment of $12.00

An old church record indicates that a contract was made with John O. Sutherland to serve as pastor of the church for five years. For this period as pastor he was to receive $600. There is no indication that the full amount was ever paid. This hardy old pioneer preacher told a friend how he worked in the cornfields daily to support his family, and on Saturday rode sixteen miles to preach at the church on Sinking Creek. He said that sometimes about all he received in pay was a pair of woolen socks or a pound or two of tobacco.

In 1878, after a prolonged argument and many hard feelings the Sinking Creek Baptist Church was moved to Main Street. The old building was torn down and the materials sold. The money received for the bricks and stone was applied to the cost of erecting the church building on Main Street. It was five years before this new building was completed June 3, 1883. In the meantime church services were held in the First Presbyterian Church.

The membership of this church had increased to the extent that in 1910, it was decided by the congregation to be too small and was torn down to make room for a large building. This new building was completed and dedicated in 1911. On October 10, 1917, this building was completely destroyed by fire. It was estimated that this building had cost about $40,000. An effort was being made by the congregation to pay off the indebtedness of $1,250 at the time of the fire. The church had one of the largest memberships in the southern section of the State and the Reverend W.E. Hunter, the pastor, had just completed his fifth year. He and his congregation were just congratulating themselves on the progress that had been made and were planning for the future. The church building was immediately rebuilt at a cost of about $50,000. A pastor’s home was erected at the same time, costing around $12,000. The church has constructed an education building, and in 1965 a second education building was erected at a cost of $200,000.

In 1934, the San Antonio Express published an article about a town in Atacosa County, Texas, which was named Somerset. This town was said to have been founded by a group of Baptists from Somerset, Kentucky about 1847. Some of the names listed as having been copied form the gravestones in the cemetery of that Texas churchyard correspond to some of those of the early settlers in the Kentucky town. Among them were such names as Edwards, Harvey, Miller, Jones, Brooks, Williams, Taylor, Smith, Cowan, and Jasper. The writer of the article did not give any reason for these people having settled in that particular part of Texas, but he did say they had been of an excellent type of citizenship.

The Somerset Colored Baptist Church was once a part of the Sinking Creek Baptist Church and remained so until 1867. In that year the colored members formed an independent church of their own. The first pastor was Rev. Henry Curd. After the church was organized as a separate institution its services were held in an old cow shed on Elm Street between North main and maple Street. Within a few months a lot was purchased and a church building was erected. The church increased in membership rapidly and soon it was necessary to enlarge their building. In March, 1913, the church was destroyed by a storm. Another lot was obtained and a new building was completed and dedicated in 1914. The Rev. W.B. Wood became pastor of the church in April, 1910. He served as its pastor until he resigned in 1924, to work in foreign missions. Rev. Wood returned to the Somerset Church as its pastor in 1938.

The High Street Baptist Church was organized November 25, 1915, with fifty members. Its first building was a small frame building which was replaced by a brick building in 1923. The First Baptist Church contributed $10,000 toward the erection of this building. The High Street church was organized by Rev. T.C. Duke and he also served as its first pastor.

The First Presbyterian Church of Somerset had its origin in the Pisgah Presbyterian Church which was organized March 26, 1828. This church was located about five miles south of Somerset. Several of its members lived in Somerset and had to commute between the town and the church. Some of these belonged to the church at Pisgah because their relatives did or because they had formerly lived in the community but had removed to Somerset. In 1860, a lot was procured on the corner of Water (Vine) Street. This lot was purchased from Jane Fox Caldwell on April 19, 1860. The building erected on this lot was completed in 1861. The first recorded minutes of this church were dated September 14, 1861. At this meeting of the Session, Rev. A.A. Hogue was elected moderator and W.M. Newell, Andrew Gibson, William Harvey and Samuel Owens were nominated as elders. These men were ordained at a congregational meeting later. Four deacons were also elected. Two of these were to serve the Pisgah church and the other two to serve the Somerset church. The first building was a frame structure. A letter written by Ben Zachery Ingram and preserved in the church records described the interior "with the walnut pulpit ad pedestals on which were tall red lamps, the marble communion table and the walnut paneled gallery in the back were the colored members sat."

After 1862, when the War between the States was being fought in various parts of Kentucky and around Somerset, worship services were suspended for the duration. The church was used as a hospital for both armies. By the end of the war services had been resumed at Pisgah but not in Somerset. After several months the services were again resumed in the Somerset church. The church in Somerset continued to grow and in 1888, when Rev. Harvey Glass came to assume the pastorship of the two churches, an appeal was made to the Transylvania Presbytery to permit the establishment of a "Somerset Presbyterian Church." This permission was granted and the Somerset church became independent of the older church at Pisgah. Dr. Glass remained as pastor for twenty years. He was succeeded by Rev. J.V. Logan who was followed by C.H. Talbot, who served as pastor for twenty-five years. In 1942, Rev. Joseph B. Ledford was called as pastor. He resigned in 1946 and was succeeded by J.H. Harper, Charlie Hanna, John Grimes, and Jack Wilhelm. In 1927, the church building was remodeled throughout by J.H. Harper, Charlie Hanna, John Grimes and Jack Wilhelm. The outside walls were changed to brick, memorial windows were installed, and a kitchen, dining room, parlor, and Sunday School classrooms were added. On January 29, 1943, the church was damaged so badly that it could not be used. Because of the shortage of building materials due to World War II, it was impossible to repair the building until 1946. The rededication was observed August 10, 1947. Now it has a large education building and has been recently remodeled again. This is the only church in Somerset which stands on its original site.

The Methodist Church of Somerset, one of the oldest of the church organizations in the town, came into being as a result of the great religious movements about 1830. It was about 1830 that the Somerset Circuit, embracing ten or twelve outposts, was organized. In 1849, a small building was erected on South Main Street, and because of this location the church became known as the Main Street Methodist Church. A log building consisting of three rooms was built to serve as a parsonage. This building was torn down in 1915, but it had not been used as a parsonage for many years. During the War between the States, the Methodist Church, like the other churches of the town, was used as a hospital by the army. After the war the congregation returned to the church for worship services.

In 1844, the Methodist Episcopal Church was divided by an Act of the General Conference, but the Methodist people of Somerset remained united and continued to worship in the same church building.

When the Rev. Joshua Taylor became the pastor of this church in 1866, a division was affected and the Methodist Episcopal Church of Somerset was organized. This organization erected a small building on East Mt. Vernon Street. This building served the congregation as a place to worship until it was disposed of in 1918.

One of the very influential organizations within this church was the Ladies’ Aid Society. This group did a great deal of work toward the reunion of the two Methodist Churches. In 1939, a Uniting Conference was successful in reuniting the three branches of Methodism: The Methodist Episcopal, The Methodist Episcopal Church South, and the Protestant Methodist Church. These formed the Methodist Church.

The next Methodist Church was completed on Easter, 1918. Under the leadership of Rev. Ralph Wesley plans were begun for a larger sanctuary which resulted in the present ultramodern church. A new education building was added and consecrated on August 2.

The Catholic, or St. Mildred’s Church in Somerset, had its beginnings in 1878, when the Cincinnati Southern Railroad was built. IT grew out of the desire of the Irish laborers engaged in the construction of the railroad to live up to their Catholic faith. For a time they were attended by missionary priests from Saints Peter and Paul Church in Danville, Kentucky, and until 1888, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass was offered periodically in the homes of the parishioners. The McCabe Hotel was conveniently located and mass was offered three many times.

Within a few years the number of Catholics had increased to the extent that it was decided to begin a movement to secure a chapel. A part of Johnson’s Hall was converted into a small chapel and Mass was observed every Sunday. In 1887, a lot was purchased on High Street from R.A. Johnson for $150, and on this lot a frame structure was erected. It was dedicated in honor of St. Mildred in 1888. St. Mildred’s was a missionary church until 1901, when a rectory was built and Father B.J. Wright became the first pastor. In January, 1902, Rev. B.J. Boland was appointed pastor and remained for nearly eighteen years. During his ministry he raised funds and built a three-story brick school building with living quarters for the Sisters. The school building was completed in 1908, and was the first Catholic Mission School in the valley of the upper Cumberland River. It seems that there was not to be an exception, for like the various other churches in Somerset, the Church of St. Mildred too must have its fire. It was on January 29, 1928 that the school, church and rectory were destroyed by fire. Another building was erected in1929, which served as a school with a chapel in the basement. In 1942, Father J.A. O’Bryan became the pastor. He began immediately to plan for a better place of worship and instruction for the people of his parish. He launched his "Begging Campaign" and secured enough contributions to erect a new chapel and to buy a new rectory and a Sister’s home, all of which was valued at $270,000. This new Catholic center was dedicated by Archbishop Floerish in solemn ceremonies on October 20, 1949. Since the new church was dedicated, it has established a Mission Church in Russell County and Wayne County. The school was closed at the end of 1970-71 school year and the Catholic children attend the Somerset City Schools beginning with the school year in September, 1971.

The Davis Chapel colored Methodist Church had its beginning about 1866. Its first services were held in a schoolhouse near Allen’s Branch about three miles south of Somerset. Two years later Galen Gibson, a school teacher, leased the Masonic Hall on the north side of the Somerset Public Square. Here the worship services were held until June 22, 1875, when Major Nelson and Galen Gibson purchased a lot from Jane Stephenson for $300, and erected Davis Chapel, the present home of the colored Methodist group. The first minister of this church was Major Nelson, who was succeeded by Rev. David Armstrong. He was followed by Rev. Robert Davis under whose supervision the chapel was built. It was donated by the Somerset Methodist church; an individual communion service was purchased, and stained glass windows were installed. The fist organist was Jennie Morrow, the mother of Governor Edwin P. Morrow,. Rev. W.R. Mundy completed his fifteenth year as pastor of the church.

The Christian Church in Somerset was primitive in its character before a real church was organized in 1841. Before this time the few members met in homes, orchards and groves, which were near Caney Fork Creek. Meetings were also held at the courthouse and the Baptist Meeting House. Included among some of the early preachers was the well known "Raccoon" John Smith. He preached several times in Somerset and at one of his meetings Lucy A. Hail joined the church and was baptized by him.

In the year 1841 the first house of worship was built on East Mt. Vernon Street, where the present Methodist parsonage now stands. In this church in 1842, John T. Johnson, a noted evangelist of the Restoration Movement, held a meeting and effected the first real organization with five charter members; Elder Jenkins Vickery and wife, Elder Jonathan Dutton and wife, and Lucy A. Hail. Services were held at this location until 1848, when the building was sold.

On June 18, 1849, Green McAlister deeded to John Cundiff, Willie Eastham and George Gastineau a plot of ground one and one-half miles from Somerset on the Crab Orchard Road. On this lot was built the Caney Fork Christian Church. This building was destroyed by a storm.

On October 18, 1865, a lot on North Vine Street was purchased from Eben Milton and conveyed to the trustees of the Christian Church. On this lot, which is north of the Judge William Catron residence, a frame church with a modest cupola was built. This building was dedicated by Rev. Green Lee Surber in the year 1868. The church grew rapidly and at length this building was vacated when it became inadequate.

The church was relocated in 1892, when Mrs. Pamelia Woodcock Gibson donated a lot on South Main Street, the present location of the Ford Motor Company. A beautiful brick church with a tall steeple was built on this site. It was through the influence and ministry of Rev. H.S. Saxby, which began in 1907, that caused a rapid and substantial growth of the church until it became necessary to erect a more commodious and modern building. A lot was purchased farther south on Main Street and a new building was erected and dedicated December 14, 1913. The congregation continued to grow and worship under the leadership of the Reverence H.S. Saxby, D.W. Scott, and W.G. Montgomery. On January 1, 1933, Rev. Lee Davis Fisher came a minister of the First Christian Church and on February 10, 1933, the church burned. Plans were made immediately for a new church building on the same site. A much larger building was completed in February, 1934, in one year the members had built a larger and better church from complete ruins. This church was dedicated on February 14, 1934.

 

Chapter eight

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