Lasting legacy at Beaver Dam Baptist Church

Beth KinnaneHalls, Our Town Faith

There’s a picture in the Knox County Two Centuries Photograph Project of an elderly gentleman in his Sunday best digging a shovel into the ground. He had taken the time to remove his jacket before starting the work for which he was completely overdressed. The photographer is listed as unknown. The year it was taken indicates 1947 followed by a question mark.

George LaRue breaking ground for the new Beaver Dam Baptist Church (photo credit: Knox County Two Centuries Photograph Project).

No, not 1947. That guess is at least a year too soon. The clue is in the caption: “George LaRue, oldest living member, breaking ground for the new Beaver Dam Baptist Church.” We know it’s a year too soon because the congregation at Beaver Dam didn’t need a new church. Yet.

Old frontier churches from the early 1800s had a bad habit of burning to the ground when they got into and beyond the century mark in age. And that is just what happened to the original Beaver Dam Church (first called Beaver Creek) when it was 100 years old.

On October 20, 1948, a fire was prepared in the furnace room to heat the church for Wednesday evening services. By 7:30 p.m., residents of what was then Route 11, Emory Road were notifying the Fountain City Fire Department of the conflagration. By the time the firemen arrived, it was too late. The interior was burned out, and the exterior walls had collapsed. Some chairs, several benches and a piano were pulled from the blaze before the rest became a total loss.

There is some argument, then and now, as to which was the first Baptist congregation in Knox County, Beaver Dam, Little Flat Creek (see that story here) or a long lost Baptist church at the Forks of the River. Unfortunately, old records get lost to time (and fires), and the only thing that can be said for sure is Beaver Dam is one of the earliest of any denomination as well as one of the oldest still in existence, even if the current edifice is shiny and new.

All that’s left of Beaver Dam Baptist Church after the 1948 fire (Photo credit: KNS digital archives).

The Holston Baptist Association, as it was then called, was first organized in 1786, when Knox County and the rest of Tennessee were still part of the Southwest Territory with Knoxville as its capital. The first meeting of that association was held at the Beaver Creek Meeting House, which also served the congregation of the church. By Christmas 1802, the Holston became the Tennessee Baptist Association, and by 1836 Beaver Creek had become Beaver Dam.

The church that was lost in 1948 was reportedly built in 1848 on land donated by John Mynatt. He threw in $50 for construction, and bricks for the new building were made on nearby farms. The new church didn’t get 15 years under its belt before services were often interrupted for long periods because of the Civil War as the building was used as a camp and a field hospital.

George LaRue attending the dedication of the new church, Christmas Day 1955 (Photo credit: The Knoxville Journal digital archives).

Not only is Beaver Dam one of the longest standing congregations in Knox County, it is also, in many ways, the mother church of a considerable list of Baptist churches in the area. First Baptist Church, Central Baptist of Fountain City, Salem Baptist, Smithwood Baptist, Broadway Baptist and the defunct Deaderick Avenue Baptist Church all have founders who sprung from Beaver Creek.

Within days of the fire that destroyed the old church, the congregation met to start planning a new one. That’s what LaRue was digging a hole for. The new church was dedicated on Christmas Day 1955. LaRue, called “the deacon of deacons,” was there, less than 2 months from his 94th birthday. He had joined the church in October of 1886 and was baptized in a frigid Beaver Creek that November. A widower of nearly 40 years, he was living with one of his daughters by that time. He’d lost a son to World War I, but two of his other children provided six grandchildren, 10 great grandchildren and one great grandchild. George Washington LaRue died in February of 1957 just shy of his 95th birthday. He is buried in Greenwood Cemetery.

Beaver Dam Baptist Church has a new sanctuary, but the one dedicated in 1955 is still on the church property.

Beth Kinnane writes a history feature for It’s published each Tuesday and is one of our best-read features.

Sources: The Knoxville Journal digital archives, Knoxville News Sentinel digital archives, McClung Historical Collection-Knox County Library

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