Greene County Tennessee New Bethel
Presbyterian Church

This page last updated Saturday, 14-Feb-2004 10:45:00 CST


New Bethel Cumberland Presbyterian Church Organized 1839. The church has been designated a historic landmark and is on the National Historic Register.

On April 15, 1839, Phillip Evlesizer[sic], Wm. E. Smith and Thomas Davis met and organized a church in the New Bethel Community. A petition signed by 38 citizens was presented to Presbytery then in session in Knoxville, Tennessee, requesting this Church Court to accept the newly organized congregation into their Presbytery, to be known as the New Bethel Cumberland Presbyterian Church. Knoxville, Presbytery accepted the petition and sent the congregation resolutions.

The early church members gathered around a very large tree which furnished shade from the sun and shelter from the rain. Benches of crude hewn lumber were erected close to the trunk of the tree which served as their sanctuary. The tree was later felled to prepare the site for building the present structure. Proof of the church beginnings was found in 1945 when renovations to the building were done. Under the floor of the church is a hug stump from the tree which sheltered the people during those early camp meetings.

The first Elders were John Hull, Thomas Davis, Phillip Evlesizer[sic] and Wm. E. Smith. The first Deacons were Rufus Lucky and William Reed. On September 14, 1939, the first session meeting was held. The following people were present, Isaac Davis, William E. Smith and Phillip Evlesizer. The purpose of the session meeting was to select a delegate to the fall setting of Presbytery. Phillip Evlesizer was elected as the first delegate to represent the new church at Presbytery.

Church minutes have several references to session meetings, preaching services and other gatherings taking place in the Meeting House, thus, some type of structure proceeded the present church building (possibly log).

According to Session minutes, "The church members of New Bethel met in their church house, 1st Saturday of July 1859". The present church building is made of white wood frame construction with eight large double windows having a total of 450 small window panes. Although some of the panes have been replaced many are still the original wavy glass. Also the windows had full length shutters that were later cut in half because of the weight. The bottom halves are opened each Sunday for worship service. The corner and intermediate pilasters are made from single pieces of Yellow Poplar reaching from the bottom to the top of the church. Large Greek Revival style cornice trim accents the top of the church. The foundation of the church is made from hand hewed limestone rock. Also the front steps are large flat limestone rock. The stones used for the foundation and steps came from a church members property. No major alterations have been made to the original appearance of the building.

Other noteworthy features of the church include a gallery at the rear of the sanctuary used by the slaves before the Civil WAr. The original chandeliers are kerosene lamps converted to electric lights when power became available. The wood and marble pulpit is of interest since the marble slabs were brought to Greeneville from the Knoxville mine by train and transported to the church by horse and wagon. On the pulpit lies a Bible which includes an apocalypse. The age of the Bible is unknown, however, it has been estimated to have been printed in the 1870 to 1880 range. The pews are handmade and the original massive front doors are worth of note.

There was a lapse in church records from September 1862 until July 1865. This time period matches the Civil War era.

Church minutes show that "Simp Reed a coloured man, joined the church in 1860. Also in the church minutes "John Swimpson coloured" joined the church January 7, 1866. Slave descendants continued attending church until the last family moved from the community in 1926.

On April 16, 1841, John Harmon deeded a tract of land containing four acres, to the New Bethel Camps. James Carter, son of Elum Carter, who planned to enter the ministry but was called by death at an early age, requested that his share of his father's estate be used to erect a church building. About 1859 or 1860 the present church building was erected by Elum Carter from the proceeds of the estate of his deceased son.

In 1837, two years before the church was organized, the body of Louise Jane Harmon, daughter of John and Ann Harmon, was placed in what is now the New Bethel Cemetery. At that time, the place of worship was known as the New Bethel Camps. Slaves were buried in unmarked graves in a portion of the cemetery. A monument has been placed in remembrance of these slaves by the New Bethel Cemetery Association.

In the early period of this burial place, from 1849 to 1900, members of the following families were placed there: Harmon, Mercer, Davis, Carter, Armitage, Gass, Gray, Hull, Reed, Cloyd, Lucky, Brown, Smith, Bohannon, Dobson and others of whom we have no record.

In the period of its history from 1900 to 1948, members of the following families have been interred: Bible, Harmon, Mercer, Hartman, Gray, Baxter, Black, Graham, Rich, Bohannon, Armitage, Burkey, Evans, Anderson, Morrison, King and others. The first burial to take place in the new part of the cemetery was that of Mrs. J. F. Baxter, she having selected the site where she wished to be interred.

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