Historic Briceville Church

Restoration and Preservation
project to preserve
part of Coal Creek's
rich history

Phase III of the restoration and preservation project will be funded by an additional $15,000 Historic Preservation Fund grant with matching funds being provided through the Coal Creek Watershed Foundation and personal donations.  These funds will address exterior scraping, carpentry to replace rotten boards, replace exterior doors, and hardware, lighting, and major painting!

November / December 2012


Click on image
to enlarge:

Certapro Painting Dream Team
took very good care of this piece
of Coal Creek history!

WBIR-TV Channel 10 Videographer
Tim Dale did a news segment
Click here to view

We will continue our ongoing efforts to preserve and protect Coal Creek's historic Briceville Church built in 1888 by Welsh immigrant coal miners. 

UPDATE!!  See photos of Phase II restoration work completed to date

Phase II of the project will be funded by an additional $15,000 Historic Preservation Fund grant with matching funds being provided through the Coal Creek Watershed Foundation and personal donations.  These funds will address rewiring the branch circuits in the basement and lighting in the sanctuary, installing new plumbing in the basement for kitchen and restroom, and removing rotten carpet, restoring old hardwoods, and repairing ceiling tiles in the sanctuary.

If you wish to be part of the restoration and preservation efforts by contributing services, materials, or money, please contact Carol Moore at 865-584-0344 or clmoore@geoe.com.

UPDATE!!  See photos of Phase I restoration work completed to date

Phase I of this restoration project included installing a new roof, gutters/downspouts, and major excavation and drainage installation around the foundation.  The basement was gutted to repair the moisture issues and remove mold and mildew.   The church received a generous donation of $5,000 by Mr. David James, whose grandfather was Rev. John Thomas Moore.  His donation was matched by the Coal Creek Watershed Foundation.  For Phase I, a $25,000 Historic Preservation Fund grant was awarded by the National Park Service, the Department of the Interior, and the Tennessee Historical Commission, but $15,000 in matching funds had to be raised for repairs. 

Here's why this treasure should be protected and what is required...

Briceville Church and
Cemetery were added to
the National Register of
Historic Places in August 2003

Boy Scout Eagle Project at
Briceville Church and Cemetery

Perched on a hill in the middle of town, overlooking Coal Creek Valley, Briceville Church was built in 1888 by immigrant Welsh coal miners.  The church has twin steeples and entrances because the Welsh miners and their families had reportedly broken into two factions.  Each faction entered through its own door and sat on its side of the church during services.  

Knoxville Actors Co-op among
the headstones in
Briceville Church Cemetery

The oldest headstone in the cemetery is that of John Irish who died on January 17, 1889.  The cemetery was formally organized in 1908 as the Briceville Union Cemetery.

This church and cemetery document the turbulent history of the Coal Creek Watershed.  From 1891 to 1892, miners fought the Tennessee Militia over the use of convict labor in area coal mines during the Coal Creek War.  The church was a temporary jail for miners captured by the militiamen.  Also, twenty-one (21) of the 300 miners killed in the May 19, 1902 Fraterville Mine explosion and the December 9, 1911 Cross Mountain Mine explosion are buried here.  

Coal Creek miners during
the Coal Creek War

Engineers and apparatus crews
from the U.S. Bureau of Mines

After the 1911 Cross Mountain Mine explosion, engineers and apparatus crews from the U.S. Bureau of Mines mounted a rescue effort.  Although 84 men and boys were found dead, five miners were rescued, the first successful mine rescue effort by the Bureau of Mines.  The abandoned Cross Mountain Mine is located one mile up Slatestone Road from here.

The last two bodies were recovered from the Cross Mountain Mine ten days after the explosion.  Eugene Ault and Alonzo Wood had barricaded themselves in a room of the mine to escape poisonous gases formed from the explosion.  Before they suffocated, they wrote farewell messages to their families on the barricade walls.  The farewell message of Eugene Ault is inscribed on his headstone near the rear of the cemetery as follows:

"Dear Father, Mother, Brothers and Sisters, I guess I come to die.  Well, I started out and come to the side track and Alonzo Wood is with me.  Air is not much now.  Well, all be good and I aim to pray to God to save me and all of you.  Tell Clarence to wear out my clothes, give him my trunk.  I guess I'll never be with you any more.  So goodbye.   Give them all my love. Give Bessie Robbins a stickpin of mine. Tell her goodbye."  (Clarence was Eugene's brother, and Bessie Robbins was his girlfriend)

Farewell message written by Alonzo
Wood before he died in
the Cross Mountain Disaster
(from Bureau of Mines Report)

The church has not had a congregation for many years, but is still used for weddings and special events like the Memorial Service on the 100th anniversary of the Fraterville Mine Disaster.  It is in dire need of repairs and restoration or it will crumble and die within a few years.  The view from the outside of the church hides the problems inside.  In October, 2000, volunteers worked to scrape and paint the old boards on the outside of the church.  The moisture and electrical problems cannot be seen until you enter the church.   There, you will see the markings of water that has leaked through the old roof and caused ceiling pieces to crumble and fall into the sanctuary. 

Sampling of water damage on
ceiling of church sanctuary

Stairwell leading to basement
from church sanctuary

The hand-dug basement, stairway, and basement windows were added circa 1950.  Many years ago, the men of the community came home from working in the mines to look up and see their preacher outside the church working with a shovel.  When they approached him, he encouraged them to get their own picks and shovels and help him dig out a basement under the original church structure.  Men from the community began walking up to the church each afternoon after work and they joined together and dug out a basement.  The women from the community cooked food and brought it up to the church for dinner each evening while the work was progressing.  When they were finished, they had rooms downstairs to hold Sunday School classes and gatherings. 
A small kitchen and a bathroom were installed in the church basement.  There were many years of Christmas, Easter, and New Year's celebrations and gatherings in the old Welsh church on the hill.  The church has a large stepping stone out front used by members to mount their horses and mules, but has no parking lot.  Sadly, folks moved away, joined other churches with parking lots, and there are few of the old members still alive and none are able to care for the precious old structure. 

Stepping stone used for
church members to climb on to
their horse, buggy, or mule

Unfortunately, years of neglect and lack of a congregation to take care of the church have resulted in a worn out roof and gutters, and no drainage around the church.  The old basement that was put to such good use for so many years is now covered in mold and mildew and needs to be gutted and repaired.  

Waterproofing the basement will require excavation around the church down to the foundation.  The masonry wall will be cleaned off and drainage and waterproofing installed.   If repaired, the basement would make a wonderful home for a community center or library.

Click on images below to view roofing, moisture, drainage and electrical issues that need to be repaired and restored.


If you wish to be part of the restoration and preservation efforts by contributing services, materials, or money, please contact Carol Moore at 865-584-0344 or clmoore@geoe.com .

Read news articles:

Clinton Courier News

Knoxville News Sentinel

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