This summer I received an e-mail from Dean Maurer of Arlington, Texas, telling me that his father, Fr. J. Dean Maurer, an Episcopal priest (now deceased) helped build this small chapel at Battle Creek and that his name is on the cornerstone of the church. Dean and his wife, Beverly, made a trip through Tennessee to view the church and stopped to lunch with us in Sewanee. They had visited St. John’s and had rolled the stone away from the red door of the chapel, just as we had done when we visited; however they didn’t encounter the huge white dogs that greeted us last year when we drove up. During lunch with the Maurers, we discussed a letter chronicling the progress of the building of the church in 1934, which his father had written in 1955, and I asked Dean to mail me a copy.
For those historians and church mice who love old churches, I am publishing the letter in its entirety. It contains interesting and amusing information about the lifestyle of Tennesseeans during the 30’s, including the type of ministry fledgling Episcopal priests carried out during this time. Here’s the letter that Dean e-mailed to me yesterday:
Mr. Warren Starrett, Jr.,
Dear Mr. Starrett:
Yesterday I received a letter from Father Merriman asking me to send you information about St. John’s Church, Battle Creek. It has been more than twenty years since I built the little church there, but I think I can recall enough to give you a fairly good picture of conditions existing in the cove at that time, and some of the circumstances regarding the building of the church.
As a student at DuBose I took over the care of St. John’s Church in August, 1932. At that time we owned a two-story church building which stood on two and a half acres of ground near the highway. Vandals from down the highway came in and almost completely wrecked the building and its contents in the spring of 1934. Milt Tate gave us another piece of land situated nearer the center of the cove, so we sold what was left of the building, along with the land, to a Mrs. Ladd; and on August 7, 1934, I broke ground at the new location for the new building.
The church was built from stone gathered on our land and from the creek bottom. Water for mortar was hauled from the spring on Milt’s property, and I hauled four sacks of cement down the mountain each day in a trailer. Volunteer labor was used for everything except the actual laying of the stone, for which we hired two masons from on top of the mountain.
The wooden cross imbedded in the masonry above the front door is the cross from on top of the old building, which was placed there to preserve it, and to be a link of continuity of service to the cove; the first building having been built about the turn of the century.
By the first of October, 1934, when my Bishop sent for me, practically all of the stone work was completed, and only the floor, the altar, and the roof were left to be completed.
During the time I had charge of the Mission, the people of the cove were very faithful in their attendance at the services. They were all very poor, and practically the only means of livelihood was the making of moonshine back in the smaller coves leading into Ladd Cove. Many of the men served jail sentences from thirty to ninety days when the prohibition agents would catch them in the act of making liquor. Stills were continually being chopped up by the “big hats” as they were called by the natives. Practically no farming was done at that time because it was easier to make a living making moonshine – and a bare living was all they seemed to want.
When the original church was built, the members of OHC were in charge and the second story of the building was used to house the Fathers when they would come down for services. Also, I have been told that one of the Deaconesses of the Church stayed there for several months on one occasion working with the people. Father Claiborne, who was largely responsible for Emerald-Hodgson Hospital, St. Mary’s on the Mountain School for Girls, St. Andrews’s School for Boys, and Dubose School, held regular services at St. John’s for quite a while, either walking down the mountain and back, or riding horseback when he could borrow a horse. The students at Dubose took over the care of many of the surrounding Missions, including St. John’s, in the early twenties, and continued to serve them during the existence of the school.
We could not find a suitable stone in the cove to use as a cornerstone, so I picked up one along the highway on my way down one morning. I cut and letter(ed) it on a home-made bench in the grove of trees immediately behind the church. And at the time of the laying of the cornerstone, we did not have sufficient money to buy a copper box for the papers we wanted to place behind it, so we used a quart liquor bottle (probably the most suitable container for Ladd Cove at that time). The story naturally got out that we had placed a quart of Battle Creek liquor behind the stone.
The original plan called for a burial ground surrounding the church, and I see they have carried out this plan. Milt Tate was to have the first choice of lots because he had given the land, then others were to choose their lots as they needed.
Both before and during the building of the church, the people of the cove were very hospitable, sharing the little they had. We started work each morning at six, and I had breakfast each day with the family who lived next to the church – I can’t recall their name, but it was something like Wyman; then each day at noon I would take my dinner with some other family in the cove – they took turns feeding me. I never got tired of fried chicken but once in my life, and that was the time!
Either in 1935 or early in 1936, there was a broadcast on a national hookup which mentioned the little church, telling of its beauty and something of the conditions under which it was built. I did not hear the broadcast, but Father and Mrs. Cole told me of it when I visited on the mountain in the summer of 1936.
I was greatly disappointed in the front doors of the church. We cut red cedar logs and took them to a mill in Tracy City to have them sawed into boards for the door. Due to my leaving, the man who owned the mill took advantage of them and substituted cheaper materials for the doors and used the red cedar for himself. Some day I hope the doors can be replaced with red cedar from the cove as was intended.
Some of the named I can recall in the cove are Willie Ladd, Milt Tate, Bayliss Ladd, Arthur Mayfield, Dave Tate, John D. Tate. Most of these men gave their time on the building as they could get away from their stills.
Of course, there are many other things which will come to me from time to time, but these are about all that I can recall at present. If there is any specific information which you might desire, please write me and I will do my best to give you any information you may want.
Hoping the above will be helpful, and with every good wish for a successful and fruitful ministry, I am
P.S. At regular intervals, either Father Merriman, Father Cole, or Dr. Richards would go to the Mission on a Sunday for a celebration of the Holy Communion. They also would go for Baptisms and other services which required a Priest.