New Providence Church PDF Print E-mail

Source: The Rogersville Review
SURGOINSVILLE - For more than 100 years New Providence Presbyterian Church has quietly overlooked the Holston River Valley, standing guard over the graves that surround the structure.

It is the oldest Presbyterian church in Tennessee, founded in 1780. However, the current structure is not the only New Providence that has sat on the hill beside Stoney Point Road.

According to church history, New Providence was organized in 1780 at the home of William Armstrong II, located in Carter's Valley.

Armstrong and others in the community had migrated to the area from Virginia, as well as from another congregation also called New Providence.

The first sermons of the newly founded organization were led by Reverends Samuel Doak and Charles Cummins. Together the two men also help found churches in areas around Greene and Washington Counties.

Doak would later become a founding father of Tusculum College, the oldest coeducational institution associated with the Presbyterian Church, located in Greene County.

He was also the first Presbyterian minister to settle in what is now the State of Tennessee.

Roles of original New Providence church members have not been preserved, but a report from the Abingdon Presbytery to the General Assembly in 1797 states the original congregation was made up of 50 families. Many names recorded on early books at New Providence are representative of families still residing in Hawkins County today.

The first New Providence Church was a log structure in Carter's Valley. It was soon moved to Stoney Point, also in a log structure after land was donated by William Armstrong II.

The second building, a small brick structure, was erected about 1812 and stood until 1839 or 1840. As the church grew in popularity there were reportedly 183 new memberships in 1826 and the total eventually reached more than 400 members.

In order to house such a large congregation, another church described on record as "a large frame house" was built in 1827. Also according to records, one use of this "house" was "the accommodation of the vast assemblies that came together on camp-meeting occasions . . . Every fall a large number of tents stood on this hill . . . occupied by families of the congregation."

Time resulted in considerable losses in membership for New Providence immediately following the church's rapid growth. Numerous members packed up and left Stoney Point to form a colony in Missouri.

There, another church was organized by the same name, but would eventually become known as Prairie Church. Other members of New Providence's large congregation were dismissed to form Kindead Church and Wells Church.

African-American members who also attended services at Stoney Point during a time of slavery and inequality requested to form a church of their own.

In the years following the Civil War, New Providence again changed shape. The "large frame house" stood on-site until 1866, when another structure was built, described as a "commodius house of worship." That building was destroyed by fire March 12, 1892.

That same year, the present-day church was started by a building committee made up of Hannibal Hord, William F. Phipps, Dr. James Hoffman, William L. Armstrong, and F. DeWolfe Miller. It was finished in 1893.

The original trowel used to lay the last brick is on display in the church vestibule alongside an original photograph of the newly completed building.

An addition was added to the church in 1944-49 to provide educational facilities.

New Providence did not have a resident pastor until 1816. Instead, circuit ministers were supplied, including Dr. Charles Coffin, a former president of Greeneville College.

The cemetery, which is wrapped solemnly around the park-like grounds of the church, contains numerous Confederate veterans' graves, the grave of a notable Revolutionary War veteran, and the graves of several African-Americans. Colonel George Maxwell, part of the Sycamore Shoals Mountain Men in America's War for Independence, is buried there.

New Providence land is also home to Maxwell Academy, a former school and significant precursor to education in Hawkins County, according to church elder Bill Davidson.

The school was established in 1816, transferred on a three and one-half-acre deed to New Providence Meeting House as part of an agreement for a cemetery and school. For many years ministers served as schoolmasters at Maxwell Academy.

Although the original building no longer exists, the current building, located across Stoney Point Road from New Providence Church, was built in 1850 and was used well into the 20th century.

Another educational milestone at New Providence was the establishment of King College in Bristol, Virginia. Members of the Presbytery met at New Providence and formulated the plan that would eventually create the historic institution.

New Providence Presbyterian Church and Cemetery was placed on the National Register of historic Places December 1, 1978.