TOMPKINSVILLE, Ky. (KT) – In Kentucky’s frontier days, people had to travel for miles through dense forest, sometimes past bears and mountain lions, to get to the now 220-year-old Mill Creek Baptist Church.
There were no roads, so they rode horseback or walked along a network of game trails to get from their homesteads to the wooded ridge where Mill Creek’s original log building once stood.
“They had real commitment,” said Pastor Larry Lowe. “For them, getting to church was a hardship, even dangerous, yet they came.”
That commitment will be celebrated on Sept. 9 in an anniversary service slated to start at 2 p.m. local time.
Lowe, who has been pastor at Mill Creek for the past 12 years, has a deep appreciation for the history of the church and the hardy men and women who founded it on Sept. 11, 1798, when Kentucky was still a wilderness.
That history has been preserved, at least in part, at the Old Mulkey Meetinghouse State Historic Site in Tompkinsville, where a restored one-room log structure gives visitors a glimpse into early church life in frontier Kentucky. The meetinghouse, visited by some 30,000 people a year, was one of the first homes to Mill Creek Baptist Church.
Hard-scrabble Baptists, including some from famed frontiersman Daniel Boone’s family, found their way into what’s now Monroe County where they cleared ground, planted crops, raised livestock, and prayed for the Lord’s provision and protection.
Aged church rolls and tombstones reveal the names of some of those early settlers, including that of Hannah Boone Pennington, who arrived a few years after her brother blazed the trail through the Cumberland Gap in 1775, opening the way for settlers into Kentucky.
John Jordan, head of the Monroe Baptist Association, said the secret to Mill Creek’s longevity is that members of the congregation have always put God first, others second, and themselves last.
“The history of Mill Creek reflects a sincere worship of Almighty God and service to Jesus Christ by evangelizing the lost, equipping the saints, and reaching out into the community,” Jordan said.
At a time in history when church closures are commonplace, Lowe said he believes a strong core group of believers dedicated to the local church has been crucial to Mill Creek's longevity.
“Pastors come and go,” he said. “Church members come and go, too. You have to have that core group that remains faithful through the ups and the downs. Mill Creek has been fortunate to have that through the years.”
Members of Mill Creek Baptist Church began meeting in the Mulkey Meetinghouse when it was first built in 1804. It was deserted in 1856, fell into disrepair, and was restored in 1925 using the original logs.
In promotional materials, the Kentucky Department of Parks describes it as “the oldest freestanding log meetinghouse in Kentucky,” harkening back to time when settlers understood their dependence on God.
“They came into a wilderness to carve out homesteads,” Lowe said. “What they went through and what they overcame is nothing short of incredible.”