WELL SPRING METHODIST CHURCH BEGAN IN 1893; IT OPERATED 9 MONTHS AS PRIVATE SCHOOL, 3 AS PUBLIC
By Dallas Bogan
Reprinted with Permission from Dallas Bogan. This article was published in the LaFollette Press.
While searching through the files at the Campbell County Historical Society in LaFollette, the writer found an interesting synopsis of the Well Spring United Methodist Church and school, dated, 1993.
The church is located in Campbell County and lies between old Hwy. 63 and new Hwy. 63 up the Valley a piece. The Well Spring Community Center, located directly across from Hwy 63, is the site of "The Teacherage," where teachers for the Well Spring School lived in the 1800's and 1900's.
The church stands in its original site. The sanctum was remodeled to look as it did in 1893. Many of the old families still attend this church.
The Well Spring Church and School's history is directly associated with Powell Valley since Thomas Henderson crossed the Cumberland Mountain to secure the 200,000 acres of Virginia territory from North Carolina in 1795. Within this beautiful valley he discovered three Native American tribes, one at Caryville, one at LaFollette, and one at Well Spring.
A general belief is that the Indians in this area were Cherokee at the time white settlers came across the mountains. However, artifacts of older tribes have been found in the area. Also close to the well site are stone edges of a large pond that had to be drained for the construction of old Hwy 63.
The naming of Well Spring was derived from a spring source measuring 10 feet wide and some 70 feet deep. This well still exists on farmland owned by Clyde Claiborne who lives near the church. It has been covered to prevent injuries; it is not always filled with water. The spring source is believed to run off to Norris Lake. A rise in the lake waters does back up into the surrounding areas through the well at times.
The first white settlers in this area were Anglo-Saxons. Businesses such as grain mills, blacksmith shops, etc., flourished in the 1800's in the vicinity. The most fertile of lands in Campbell County lie in Powell Valley. This beautiful valley runs from Caryville up into Virginia. It is estimated to be about 60 miles long.
Hope Wells and Dean, his wife, were and are still possible members of the Well Spring Church. Mrs. Wells remembers when Well Spring included 2 gristmills, owned by John Miller. Also included were five mercantile stores; John H. Claiborne owned the largest and most central store. Another was owned by Mit McNew, one owned by Eli Wells, one by George Spangler, and still another by Bill Brown.
The village blacksmith shop, located directly across the road from Well Spring Church, was a focal point for activity in the 1800's. The old smith shop served as an informal meeting place for the folks traveling to and from Caryville where the farmers took their produce to be shipped to large towns such as Lexington. Sneed Smith who shoed most of the horses in the valley, repaired wagons, along with farm implements owned the old blacksmith shop.
Local churches of the day were Miller Chapel, the Christian Church, and the Methodist Episcopal Church. The latter was held in the first Well Spring School building built on a site now covered by new Hwy. 63, located between the church and Well Spring Community Center. It seems that this building was destroyed by fire.
The second school building was then built closer to the church. The last year recorded by the Campbell County Board of Education Minutes was 1961-62. Teachers approved by the Board that year were Emma J. Rogers (May 11, 1961), and Billy Williamson (July 27, 1961). The schoolhouse sometime later became empty and was torn down as a result of a break-in by teenagers who set fire to the second story of the building.
The Well Spring Church was operated nine months as a private school and three months as a public school. Dr. Miller McDonald, local historian, wrote that: "Later the school became a seminary and had a fine course of study that was highly regarded. With some help from the Methodist Church, and with tuition charged each pupil and some county aid, the school managed to have nine-month school years. The headmaster, or president, was required to have a college or university degree. The school was very successful, and at one time in the late 1800's, enrolled over 125 boarding students." The school enrolled, at least, another 125 students within the valley.
The school was phased out due to the build up of public schools. First the 11th and 12th grade students transferred to the public high school. At its height the school was reportedly teaching through the grade level of a junior college. Many of its students, Judge Jesse Rogers for example, went into 3rd year level college from Well Spring.
The church was built in 1893 on a lot donated by John Hogan Claiborne with Albert Miller beginning the construction. However, the prepared lumber donated for the church by Alfred Dossett was destroyed by fire. Undisturbed by this tragedy, the church members donated money for new lumber and finished the project. The church's first pastor was Hargis Oaks. Its motto is "Where Everybody is Somebody and Jesus is Lord."
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