Editorial: Worth saving

Arrowmont, New Salem Church on endangered list, so now’s the time to fight to save them
Mar. 06, 2013 @ 11:34 PM

You don’t have to be a student of history to appreciate it, and you don’t have to want to save everything that’s old in order to preserve our must treasured historical pieces. Not everything of historical value can be saved, but when you can do it, it should be attempted at least.

Two places in Sevier County have made the 2013 East Tennessee Preservation Alliance’s Endangered Heritage list of historic buildings and places in its 16-county region: Arrowmont School of Arts & Crafts in Gatlinburg, and New Salem Baptist Church in Sevierville. Both have a special place in Sevier County history. To prevent their loss is important and has reached a critical stage.

This marks the fourth list of endangered historic places selected by the ETPA Board of Directors from nominations received. The East Tennessee Preservation Alliance works to protect places and structures with historic or cultural significance in several counties, including Sevier. This is not the first time Arrowmont and New Salem have made the list. Let’s hope it isn’t the last time.

Arrowmont School of Arts in Crafts in downtown Gatlinburg dates back to 1912 when the Pi Beta Phi women’s fraternity established a nearby settlement school. The campus includes two National Register Historic districts, which are the only such designated districts in Gatlinburg. Pi Beta Phi owns all of the historic buildings but is selling the land for commercial development. It is not known if the buyer can find a way for Arrowmont to stay and for the buildings to be preserved. To their credit, the buyers have been communicating with Arrowmont officials looking for a workable design solution for everyone.

The New Salem Baptist Church was built in 1886 by Isaac Dockery, noted African American builder, and is Sevierville’s oldest surviving building, Sevier County’s oldest brick church building, and the only historic black church in the county. The church served the black community until the 1950s when the last services were held by the original congregation.

Since that time, the building has deteriorated. The original bell tower and pulpit furniture have been removed and the overall interior has been altered significantly. The church is listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2003, and a Tennessee Historical marker was placed on the grounds in 2006. The building suffers from lack of maintenance and ventilation issues, which are compromising the structure.

The Dockery Family Association has been working with the East Tennessee Community Design Center, the African American Heritage Alliance, and ETPA to find a preservation solution for the building. We encourage that effort to continue.

Both Arrowmont and New Salem are worth preserving. Keeping them in the endangered list ensures they’ll remain a focus of those who want to save them.