© Jerry F. Couch 2019
MOST OF THE BLACK & WHITE PHOTOS that accompany this article were taken in 1973 during a celebration of the centennial year of the Brick Baptist Church, a landmark in the Mew Community. The church was built near the site of an earlier church constructed in the pioneer days of the late 1700’s. In the adjacent cemetery, there are many graves – some marked, some unmarked. It is one of the oldest cemeteries in the area. Descendants of those who rest in the cemetery continue to live and work their original family farms, perpetuating a tradition.
For those of you who don’t know, mew is an archaic English word meaning “meadow.” Nestled in the watershed between Clinch Mountain and Sandy Ridge, the Mew Community presents a fair prospect from any direction. But..there’s something extra special about the grassy knoll upon which the Brick Baptist Church stands – a feeling of timelessness.
Like many sets of the CVT’s archival photos, only two of the shots seen here were used in the article that appeared in the paper’s July 23, 1973 edition. Therefore, l’m depending upon our readers to help identify the people who are pictured, and to provide other information to aid in documenting the church’s long history.
A brief history of the Brick Baptist Church was written many years ago. It was on display at the church in 1973 and was photographed at that time. Here is a transcription:
THE HISTORY OF THE BRICK CHURCH
During the dark and bloody days of the War Between the States, a group of earnest and sincere mountain men and women of the Castlewood section of Russell County embraced and affiliated themselves with the Baptist faith. Having no church building of their own in which to worship, they, by mutual consent and love of their Methodist kinsmen and neighbors, met at Fraley’s Chapel, and in January 1862, during a ten-day meeting, they received into the church George C. Gose, George Banner, John Barton, Marianne Gose, Nancy Jane Jessee, Elizabeth Burris, Mariah L. Gose, and Leah Banner. Also some colored members, Carolyn Gose, Rebecca Gose, Sally Banner, Cally Gose, and James Gose. Again in July 1862, they met at Fraley’s Chapel and received into the church, Daniel F. Lee, Anna Patterson, Frances Blevins, Martha Puckett, and one colored member, Betty Lee.
Then for the next decade we have no authentic record of their meetings. It was not until around 1873 that the building known as the “Brick Church” was erected. The land for the church site was given by Mrs. Ibbie Jackson Banner, a devout Baptist, who had been reared in a Methodist home. Stephen Banner I, Cowan Gose, and H. D. Fraley were among those chiefly responsible for the erection of the building. The bricks were made nearby.
The mutual love and respect of the Baptist and Methodist for each other in this community has continued to exist until the present day; they both worship in the old church and the same congregation supports both pastors. We are humbly grateful for that congeniality.
Whether it was engendered by the pioneer, Daniel Boone, who, it is said, selected the site for a church and for whom all the early settlers had such respect and gratitude, we know not, but may the Christian fellowship continue to exist as it began at Fraley’s Chapel so long ago.
Pictured at left in the photo above is the oak tree that fell on the church in the 1960’s.
Concerning the church’s construction, its bricks were not made in a commercial kiln and for that reason they are relatively soft and porous – becoming more so with the passage of years. Also, they differ from modern brick in size. Handmade bricks whose outer surface faced the fire (“face brick”) in the kilns were harder and were used for the exterior walls. Bricks that did not face the fire in the kiln were softer and were used as infill between the interior and exterior walls. Bricks were laid in multiple, interlocking courses, creating a strong and substantial bond.
The original mortar used to lay the church’s brick walls was not the white Portland cement in common use today – it was soft lime mortar. For that reason, it could expand and contract when the bricks expanded due to taking on moisture during rainy weather. Portland cement is hard, and neither expands nor contracts. It should never be used when re-pointing historic brick structures because spalling of the brick face will result. For the same reason, modern brick should not be mixed with historic brick when making repairs.
With the passage of time, the church’s original poplar floor rotted. BEcause to the floor’s condition, church services were relocated to the “Red Schoolhouse” which once stood near the intersection of Mew Road and Ervintown Road. This situation continued until Rev. Nelson Barker (also pastor of the St. Paul Baptist Church) persuaded members of the church to build a new floor. Afterwards, services picked up again where they had left off.
Students in primary grades 1 thru 4 pose on the steps of the “Red Schoolhouse” at Mew in 1926. This school building served as a temporary location for the Brick Church congregation while the church’s floor was being replaced.
These ministers conducted services for the 1973 centennial observance at the Brick Baptist Church.
The altar of the Brick Baptist Church as it appeared in 1973. The painting of Jesus was created by Mrs. Lillian Fraley Gose, a teacher and life-long resident of the Mew Community.
During the 1973 centennial service, special music was performed by the Joyful Sound Quartet of the Lebanon Baptist Church.
No celebratory church service in Russell County could possibly be complete unless it was followed by “dinner on the ground.” Mrs. Lillian Fraley is pictured at left cutting a cake. She was a great cook and that cake probably disappeared faster than smoke up a chimney!
One very special person did not appear in any of the 1973 photos. He loved the Brick Church and for that reason I have taken the liberty of including a 1979 photo of S. A. Fraley, Jr. The picture was taken at St. Paul Builders in Castlewood. This is how most of us remember him…
At right, Samuel Adolphs Fraley, Jr. – a pillar of the Brick Baptist Church
Though it has remained true to its humble beginnings, the Brick Baptist Church is not a monument. It has been altered and expanded to keep pace with the times and the needs of its congregation. In 1939, the porch was added. In the 1960’s, a large oak tree collapsed upon the roof, causing major damage. A new wing was constructed at the rear and modern utilities have been installed for comfort and convenience. The church is well-attended.
Pictured below: From the grassy knoll where the Brick Baptist Church stands, the view remains much like what our ancestors would have seen. All photos were taken August 23, 2019.
The Brick Baptist Church is a reminder that we are just temporary. We come and go and most of the things we consider so important go with us. The beautiful place we call home endures. Treat it kindly.