Zion Hill Baptist Church – The Church Journey
July 22, 2020 – http://mynetzone.com/
I had the privilege to visit Zion Hill Baptist Church, which has a notable history dating from 1873. The church’s first building was made of logs and was built on the present-day Lewis Byrd farm. The first pastor was N.H. Haggard.  By 1870, Sevier County was recovering from the ravages of the War Between the States. Men had come home from battlefields and prisoner of war confinements and re-established themselves with their families who had also experienced some of the trauma and uncertainty of war time. The only information families had of the location and condition of their loved ones during the war was an occasional letter sent home. Sevier County had no local newspaper so families and neighbors shared what news they heard from battlefields or personal accounts. It was an unsettling time. 
This rural community, though spared documented fighting, had occasional stragglers from the war who took what supplies they could find, terrifying the community. Lack of respect for personal property forced local residents to hide valuables, including food, for their own survival. During 1863 and 1864, Sevier County was hard hit by foraging. Soldiers from both the Union and Confederate armies had devastated crops and fields around the Holston River, so they turned their attention to the French Broad River valley and Sevier County for food and sustenance. The Caleb Jenkins farm in the Whites community was taken by Confederates for Gen. James Longstreet and his army. Men encamped their raided barns in the area to feed their horses. They also stole chickens, pigs, and cattle to feed themselves. The army had left the area, but memories of their devastation and harsh treatment remained. 
From this group of families, who had to travel some distance to attend church services, came the nucleus to form a church in their own neighborhood. In October 1873, members of the local community gathered with members of Sugarloaf Baptist Church to organize a new body of believers they called Zion Hill Baptist Church. 
Members of the newly organized church built a one-room log structure for worship services. The first church building was located near the creek. The building was constructed by men in the community who cut then hewed the logs by hand. The worshippers sat on benches made of logs. Some early church histories indicate that the first building had a dirt floor. It later had a puncheon floor, made from split logs, flattened side up for the floor with the rounded side underneath. 
One of the first items of business for the newly established church was choosing a site for a cemetery. This became necessary when Margaret Clark, one of the members of the church, died January 15, 1874. (She was possibly a charter member of Zion Hill Baptist Church along with her husband, James.) At any rate, she was the first person buried in the Zion Hill Cemetery. The cemetery has remained in the same location ever since Mrs. Clark was buried there. It was not located next to the earliest church building because the location near the creek flooded many times a year and was not suitable for a cemetery. The hill nearest the church and easiest to access was chosen by church leaders for the cemetery’s location. 
In 1886, Zion Hill Baptist Church joined with 23 other Baptist churches in the county to form the Sevier Baptist Association. J.M. Thomas represented Zion Hill at the organizational meeting held at the Sevierville Church, November 5-6, 1886. The first Sunday School was organized in 1898 with an enrollment of 60. Sometime around the turn of the 20th century, a second church building, a one room structure, was constructed. 
Church membership continued to grow at such a rapid pace, this building was outgrown in ten years, and a new building was constructed on the present church site. One example of this rapid growth occurred in 1909 during the pastorate of Rev. W.E. Conner when forty-four joined the church by baptism, and membership grew to 227. 
In early 1943, the wooden church building burned. Church services were held in the Zion Hill Schoolhouse while a new building was constructed. By the fall of 1943, church services were held in the newly-completed basement, while the sanctuary was completed. The new brick building that now houses Zion Hill Baptist Church was dedicated in 1944 when Rev. J.L. Helton was pastor. The building stands as a testimony of the love for the Lord and the church members sacrificed greatly during wartime to give for the rebuilding. In the 1950’s, the congregation continued to grow, and a three-story education wing was added. 
Zion Hill has had many pastors through the years who have tried to lead the church to reach the community for Christ. That work is still ongoing under the leadership of Rev. Floyd Powell. Many members have served the church faithfully through the years. We are thankful for their sacrifice and dedication to ensure Zion Hill continues to stand as a beacon to the lost in the community. 
During my research I also found several church related newspaper articles with the earliest going back to January 04, 1917 for a funeral. I was also able to find additional history in 1943-44 with stories related to the church being destroyed by a fire, and the rebuilding of a new church. During my visit I walked around taking pictures of the Red Brick church and the old adjoining cemetery that dates back to 1874. I then finished my time at the church in prayer giving thanks for the long history perseverance and the love of God of the many church members over the decades. From this seemingly simple beginning, Zion Hill would continue to grow and reach the community for the Lord.
In early February 14, 1943, the wooden church building burned. Church services were held in the Zion Hill Schoolhouse while a new building was constructed. Early that summer work started on the present church the third building on the same site. The original church built of logs in 1873 was also destroyed by fire. It had to be difficult building a new church during war time. The course of construction activity during 1943 reflects clearly the pressures and tensions of a wartime economy. The new church was dedicated April 30, 1944. The building stands as a testimony of the love for the Lord and the church members sacrificed greatly during wartime to give for the rebuilding.
With the National emergency for the COVID-19 virus many churches are remaining closed during the week only providing limited capacity openings on Sundays. At the time of my visit the church was closed, so I spent time outside the church in meditation and prayer.
Church Website: https://www.zionhillbaptists.com/
Date Visited: 2020 April 21.
Location: 206 Zion Hill Church Road Sevierville, TN
If you would like to learn more about this church, upcoming events, or listen to a sermon I encourage you to visit the church website listed above.
May our Lord continue to bless this church in Jesus name.
“This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile. for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. – (Romans 3:22-23)
Please Pray for all our churches as they continue to face challenges in the year 2020.
May this find you well and happy, God Bless
- Zion Hill Baptist Church website, “Our History” (2015, March 06) Retrieved from http://zionhillbaptists.com/our-history
- Newspaper.com, “Zion Hill Baptist Will dedicate Building at Sunday Service:” (1944 April 29) The Knoxville Journal, Knoxville Tn.
- Patsy Galyon Bradford, Author, Sevier County, Tennessee Genealogy & History “Zion Hill Baptist Church, a History from 1873-1999” (2020, July 21) Retrieved from http://www.sevier.tngenealogy.net/research-assistance/records-resources/25-religion/124-zion-hill-baptist-church-a-history-from-1873-1998?showall=&start=1