New Prospect Church Is the Third Oldest Church in Wayne County
By David Bollinger
(Editor’s Note: In conjunction with the bicentennial celebration, the newspaper plans to publish a series of historical articles about Wayne County. Individuals are encouraged to write and submit articles. If you have an article you would like to submit for publication, email it to email@example.com or drop it off at the newspaper office in Piedmont.)
The New Prospect Missionary Baptist Church, located at Silva on Bounds Creek, county road #220, is the third oldest church of the Baptist faith in Wayne County with continuous activity, falling behind Mt. Pleasant (1820) and Lebanon (1848). Other churches; Greenville, Coldwater (Cedar Creek) and Hickory Grove, were all organized prior to New Prospect, and later disbanded or went through reorganizations at some point in time. Down through the years New Prospect has become a historical landmark of Wayne County and has been written about by several historians.
New Prospect was organized by leading efforts of Rev. Alson G. Twidwell, a farmer and blacksmith, who settled on Bounds Creek in 1855. Before migrating to Wayne County, Twidwell had been a active licensed minister in a Baptist Church in Johnson County, Tennessee. Finding no Church of the Baptist faith in his nearby neighborhood, he petitioned for the help of his neighbors to organize an active Baptist congregation near their homes.
The charter meeting was held on October 22, 1857, in the home of Mrs. Elizabeth (Stout) Bounds. Rev. Joseph Johnson, a Missionary from the St. Francois Baptist Association, was present to help with the organizational meeting and to serve as Moderator. Those presenting themselves to become charter members of the church were; Elizabeth Bounds, Mary Ann Farr, Rev. Samuel Farr, Joseph B. Luttes, Sarah A. “Mandy” Luttes, Alson G. Twidwell and Elizabeth Twidwell. Because Twidwell had not yet been ordained to the full work of the gospel, the members elected Rev. Samuel Farr as charter Pastor pro-tem.
Twidwell was ordained as a minister of the gospel at the second meeting of the church in November 1857. Rev. Samuel Farr, Rev. Joseph Johnson and Rev. Lebeus Bennett constituted the Presbytery to ordain Twidwell into the ministry and Joseph B. Luttes as the first Deacon of the church.
The church met in the homes of community members for the first year and a half. In 1859 a log church house was constructed under the leadership of the elected trustees, Henry Sullivan, Alexander Smith and Levi Rhoden. The building was dedicated in November of 1859 with a communion service. Neighboring churches, Hickory Grove (on Bear Creek), Pleasant Grove (on Lake Creek), Bethel (at Chaonia), Mt. Pleasant (on Otter Creek) and Cedar Creek (at Coldwater), were all invited and represented at the dedication service.
The congregation met in the original structure until 1895, when the present sanctuary was erected. The 1895 building committee consisted of the following church members; William B. Allen, Rev. James H. Barker, Rev. John T. Collins, John H. Kiger, James F. “Major” Meador, Obediah E. “Edgie” Twidwell and Alison G. “Alt” White. The records indicate that the building project cost $525.25. The building committee also constructed new church pews, replacing the original pews made of split hewed logs. The 1895 pews were used until the late 1950s.
Every person who donated to the building project is recorded. Today the list of contributors is a local historical wonder as a community “who’s who.” It was certainly a community effort to erect the new building. Several of those donating were not members of the church, and only helping out in a effort of good will. The list of contributors are; Joseph O’Dell, Frank Sebastian, A.J. White, Robert Graham, J.T. Collins, Thomas Collins, J.F. Meador, J.H. Kiger, S.R. Kiger, John Alexander, A.G. White, John Leach, Catherine Heath, Benton Ward, Frank O’Dell, Dolph Ward, Harrison Montgomery, William B. Allen, Wm. H. White, Coleman Bennett, Frank C. White, H.M.C. Hughes, Ottis League, Joe White, Nancy Heath, James Grisham, Edward Walls, C.R. Hood, Frank M. Ward, R.S. Rainwater, W.B. Graham, James Huggins, E.C. Rubottom, A.G. Twidwell, C.A. Bennett, O.E. Heath, O.E. Twidwell, Bud Twidwell, John A. Heath, Andy Heath, Milum Davis, Elbert Medlin, Wm. P. White, J.H. Barker, Martha Fry, W.H. Ward, William Aldrich, J.E. Wilcox, H.P. McBroom, D.C. Bugg, Monroe Gill, Willam Woods, Maggie Woods, John Woods, George Patterson, Martin Warren, Jeff Meador, C.W. Lunyou, Sylvester White, Henry D. Bollinger, J.S. Bunyard, Margaret Bratcher, S.C. Montgomery, J.W. Ward, J.R. Twidwell, Andrew Allen, J.R. Berryman, Marion Allen, Alsmus Allen, Allison Allen, Wash Bennett, G.W. Rainwater, Robert Hood, J.W. Sechrest, Wm. J. Luttes, Joe Luttes, L.A. Bollinger, Wm. A. White, G.W. Twidwell, Henderson Ward, W.H. Collins, W.L. Donaldson and J.S. Bennett. At this point in time the church had a membership of 122.
The old log 1859 church house was sold to an unrecorded individual for a mere $6.75. Additional building projects to the sanctuary occurred in 1948, 1966 and 2006. Although not recorded in the records, the original donation of land for the church in 1859, appears to have been from charter member Elizabeth Bounds. The old Bounds farm and burial location is adjacent to the church property today. After the death of Mrs. Bounds the property has been owned throughout the years by Clayton Alexander & Lucy Bennett, Charles Nelson & Mary Burch, Lee & Edna Golden, and today the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The church remained active during the civil war, a rarity of the time. Regular business meetings were held and even ordination services for church Deacons. The church had active members serving both the Union and the Confederacy. It was truly “brother against brother”. The Pastor, Rev. A.G. Twidwell, remained totally unaffiliated from either side. No mention of the war is included in the church minutes. Over 165 years later, the voice of the time period congregation is silent.
The church cemetery was started during the Civil War in June of 1863. It was on June 29, 1863, that Levi Alexander Twidwell, a 17 year old son of Rev. A.G. Twidwell, (and a young man with a curious countenance surrounding him about the bloody civil war), was across the St. Francis river from Bounds Creek at Patterson. There stood Fort Benton, and no doubt many Union troops and large crowds that were constantly there. Family and local tradition hosts that the young Twidwell had been to Fort Benton and enjoyed a day of fellowship with kinsmen of the Atnip and Meador families. Heavy rain north of Bounds Creek and Patterson had swollen the waters of the St. Francis River to flood levels during the day. Upon returning home from Patterson at dusky dark, Twidwell was trying to forge the river at the mouth of Bounds Creek. The flood waters over took Twidwell and his horse, and he tragically drowned, found the following morning by neighbors, Adam H. & Nancy (Wakefield) Dalton, the owners of the next farm down river, more recently known as the Leonard Ward place. The location of the drowning incident however was at the large farm that was then owned by William B. Wilson, but later in the 20th century owned by his son-in-law, Isaac Robert “Bob” Paullus, to which the surrounding farm is now known today as, the “Paullus place” or to some the “red barn” location. In 1939 it was purchased by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers during the Wappapello Dam project.
Having no local family cemetery to speak of, and being the leader of the Baptist flock at New Prospect, the Rev. Twidwell no doubt wanted his son interred by the church house. The interment date is not recorded but one would assume it was July 1, 1863, the day after the body of Levi Twidwell had been discovered. The grave location that was chosen is just south of the original log church house site. A large open area of the New Prospect Cemetery gives a clue as to where this original church building was located. A chiseled handmade headstone was made by Rev. A.G. Twidwell for his deceased son. Today, 155 years later, the headstone is amazingly still readable. Levi Twidwell rests under a massive cedar tree, that no doubt has been on the cemetery grounds for many years.
In 1939 additional cemetery land was purchased from nearby farmer, C.N. Burch. The four cemetery trustees at the time, Jeff Meador, Leonard Ward, Clardy League and Carl Bollinger, personally paid for the property and donated it to the church, rather than putting a financial burden on the congregation. Today there are over 940 known interments, with certainly many more unknown. A small section of the cemetery is known as “paupers corner”, where members of the Wayne County poor farm were buried throughout the years. A cemetery memorial service has been held annually on the Saturday before the third Sunday in August, for as long as anyone alive can remember. Many people still refer to the service as “decoration day”.
During the 19th century the church was centrally located for a good portion of Wayne County residents of the time period. The New Prospect congregation served as a worship location for many ancestors to present Wayne County families; many of which have no clue of their connection to the flock. From October of 1857 to December of 1904, the following surnames appeared on the roll. It is a long list of many familiar names: Farr, Twidwell, Luttes/Lutes, Bounds, Strickland/Stricklin, Sullivan/Sulivant, Loyd, Rhoden/Roden/Rowden, Epley, Smith, Myers/Miers, Strafford, Bennett, Bollinger, Midget, Chittey, Miller, Hodge, Kite, Tumbleton, Johnson, Haynes/Haines, Hale/Hail, Rainwater, Ramsey, Dunaway, Ownbey, Woods, Bishop, O’Dell, Ward, Farmer, Ellison, Atnip, White, Short, Barker, Mulanix, Dupree, Harris, Williams, Kirkpatrick, Risenhoover, Lunyou/Lunio, Hughes, Graham, Cline, Hickman, Kelley, Allen, Sexton, Helm/Helums, Kinder, Wilcox, Dodson, Manning, Wakefield, Randolph, Henderson, Huggins, Halford, Russell, Montgomery, Meador/Meadow, Payne, Tittle, Cooper, Clark, Stokely, Fry, Thornburgh, Brim, Rubottom, Dalton, Bailey, Greenwood, Harper, Roach, Vance, Welch, Blackwood, Talley, Neal, Berry, Hicks, Calloway, McGinnis, Kiger, Leagions, Wagner, Hood, Nichols, Reagan, Heath, Leach, McCumber, Kimble, Matthews, Berryman, Rigers, Collins, Shearrer, Watkins, Green, Robinson, Holmes, Carter, Hoppas, Bratcher, Phelps, Tipton, McClanahan, Brown, Aldrich, Matlock, Cantrell, Medlin, Eads, Ferguson, Hogan, Hammock, League, Marler, Jaco, Daggett, Graptonseed, Dement, Sebastian, Davis, Lee, Hudson, Bowman, Jackson, Cross, Randall, Vannoy, Campbell and Sweezea.
The largest Baptism in the history of the church was held in April 1957 after a productive revival held by Rev. Darrell Pogue of Madison County. Those that presented themselves for baptism into church membership were; Bill Strahl, Alta Pogue, Garland Bollinger, Teresa Bollinger, Blair Bollinger, Phillip Bollinger, Margaret Bollinger, Roger Bollinger, Watie Bell Bollinger, Marie Thornburgh, Joan Warrick, Phyllis Warrick, Betty Jane Collier, Sue Golden, Kathleen Barker, Helen London, Alvin Ray Warrick, Margie Joy, Freddie Joy, Perry Barker, Jr., Joyce Bollinger and Jerry Bollinger – for a total of 22 candidates.
From 1857 to 1881, the church reported to the St. Francois Baptist Association. Since 1882, New Prospect has been a member of the Wayne County Baptist Association. New Prospect has been the “mother” to several different church organizations throughout the years. In 1868, eight members were dismissed to help organize the Big Lake Baptist Church on Lake Creek. In 1876, eight members were given letters to help reorganize the First Baptist Church of Greenville. In 1879, seven members were dismissed to organize the Little Lake Baptist Church near Patterson. And in 1880, seventeen members were given letters to organize the Bear Creek Baptist Church at White Hollow.
Strict attendance polices and required discipline actions were upheld for much of the early history of the church. Three unexcused monthly roll call absences at business meetings resulted in exclusion. Over the years, members were excluded for various reasons, including; drunkenness, making “home brew”, dancing, attending dances and parties, hosting parties and dances in their homes or barns, sisters wearing “ear bobs”, suing their neighbors, betting on a foot race, playing cards, adultery and fornication, stealing (including chickens, eggs, smoke house meat and blacksmithing tools), swearing and taking the Lord’s name in vain, witchcraft, breaking the sabbath and playing baseball and croquet on Sunday. One female member requested she be “excluded” for, as the minutes record, “not living it”. No other details were given. Several members were excommunicated for uniting and fellowshipping with churches of other faiths, including; General Baptists (or “Freewills”), Methodists, Nazarenes, Church of Christ (or “Campbellites”) and Pentecostals.
In 1915, Cora Meador was elected church clerk- the first woman from the membership roll to ever hold an elected church office in the near 60 year history of the church. The first Sunday School was organized in 1916. Leonard Ward served as Superintendent and Cora Meador as secretary.
Over the last 160 years the church has had the leadership of the following Pastors; Samuel Farr (interim), Alson G. Twidwell, Zenas A. Hoppas, Joel A. Meador, John T. Collins, Noel Twidwell, Ezekiel C. Rubottom, D. Joseph Lane, William W. Dement, John Abrams, Robert Graham, Samuel C. Howard, Leonard A. Davis, Ottis Hughes, Samuel A. Sisco, M. Stanton Smith (interim), Roscoe Rainwater, Andy Hill, Roy Cobb, George Huffman, William “Bill” Mabury, Arvel Hawn, William P. “Bill” Vineyard, Floyd Pogue, Orla Parker (interim), Elmo Parker, Johnny Clements, Cranson M. “Jack” Sheets, Douglas Clinton, Hensley DeSpain, Richard Russom, Gary Gilliam (interim), Marvin Moore, Gary Aubuchon, William “Bill” Morrow, James Gray and Fred Goad (interim). Rev. A.G. Twidwell served 38 years, the longest term to date.
The following men have served in the leadership roll of Deacon- Joseph B. Luttes, Samuel Farr, Jesse Farmer, Wesley Ownbey, Levi Rhoden, David Hale, John W. Luttes, Andrew L. Ownbey, Murphy White, Obediah E. “Edgie” Twidwell, Joseph M. O’Dell, John H. Kiger, Alsmus B. Allen, N. Jeff Meador, Leonard H. Ward, Moses A. Brown, Carl W. Bollinger, Charley W. Costephens, John J. “Jim” Crowley, Roscoe P. Mabrey, Ira E. Wakefield, Noah Aubuchon, Willis D. Costephens, Charles L. Ellinghouse, Jr., Richard Green, Gary Aubuchon, Earl Brisendine, Paul Ray Costephens, Daryl Libla, Jonathan Morrow and Bruce McMurry. Carl Bollinger was a active Deacon for 44 years, the longest service to date. He served as a member of the church for 67 years.
The longest serving member of the church was the late Gertrude (Bollinger) Cato who served as member from her baptism in April 1918 until her death on June 6, 1994, at the age of 90 – a total of 76 years.
A large centennial celebration of the church was held in 1957. Mrs. Nancy Wakefield was honored as the longest tenured member of the church at the time, having joined in 1894. In 2007, the church celebrated its sesquicentennial with a special afternoon celebration and luncheon.
The church currently maintains a faithful average attendance of 12 to 15 people weekly. At present writing, they are without a Pastor and seeking the Lord for leadership. The present Deacons are, Daryl Libla, Jonathan Morrow and Rev. Richard Green.
Dottie Collier is presently the longest serving member of the church, having joined in January of 1950, 68 years ago. Retha Ward, aged 94, is the oldest member in age. David Mason is currently the church treasurer, with his wife Wilma Mason laboring as church clerk. The present cemetery trustees are Daryl Libla, Lavern Daves and David Bollinger.
To list every person and family involved in the 160 year history of this congregation, it would take book form. An extended and complete history of the church has been a personal back burner project that will hopefully come to light in the near future.
Personally for this writer, the New Prospect Baptist Church has, and will always be, a sentimental beacon of light. It has stood firm through many changes and conflicts through 160 years. While many local churches have dissolved over the years, this little flock of believers have pressed along spreading the good news of a risen savior. I am reminded of the scripture from 2 Timothy 4:8, King James Version; “Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing”. For those laboring today and those who have already joined the throng, their reward is eternal. May God continue to bless New Prospect Missionary Baptist Church as we honor their rich history in this Wayne County Bicentennial year.
Does this church still have services?