Boyds Creek church nearing a spot on National Register

Sep. 28, 2013 @ 11:05 PM

Nearly 140 years ago, a small Presbyterian church was built to serve the Boyds Creek Community.

Now Rocky Springs Presbyterian Church is up for federal approval to the National Register of Historic Places.

"It's really nice," said Pam Tarwater, a third-generation, lifelong member of the church's small congregation. "We've been meaning to do it or years, but no one ever really got around to it."

That changed recently, when someone from the church contacted Heather Bailey, a preservation planner for the East Tennessee Development District.

Bailey, whose job is to assist people and organizations with the preservation of historic buildings, assisted the church with paperwork and applications to have Rocky Springs' current building, which was constructed in 1891, recognized.

"The way the (National) Park Service has set their standards, they have a very specific way to go about registering religious properties," Bailey said. The park service ultimately has control of the Historic Register.

The decision, she said, is based not on the structure's value as a place of worship, but rather its structural or historical value.

"Primary consideration was the architectural heritage," she said. "(And) architecturally it's an unusual building."

Bailey said that while Rocky Springs has the standard rural church look of the late 19th or early 20th century, there are some special features.

"The work was completed by a local carpenter Samuel Ellis, and what he did that was unusual for churches anywhere – he took elements that were popular in residential architecture, Queen Anne style, and used it on a church. It's very unusual for a church," she said. "Churches were gothic revival — pointy arches, pointy steeples, a sharply-pitched roof."

Rocky Springs follows the the architectural design of many churches of the time, Bailey said, but the church's decoration is unusual. "(Ellis) chose Queen Anne rather than Gothic Revival — decorative shingles, half-timbering; you typically don't see that on church buildings anywhere."

The state approved the building for historic status on Thursday, and now the application will move on to Washington, D.C.

"The state will finalize the packet on their end, and send it off to D.C. within the next month," Bailey said. "Once the park service receives it, they have 45 days to review it. They'll put it out in the National Register, for concerns or comments. At the end of the 45 days we'll hear an official ruling from the keeper of the National Register."

Bailey said she's fairly confident the church will receive approval.

"I do not have any concerns about this completing the process," she said. "It's very rigorous process in Tennessee. If it gets past the state levels it's highly unusual for there to be any concern in D.C."

Rev. W. Eugene Thomas, the pastor at Rocky Springs, said it couldn't happen for a finer organization.

"They are recognizing (a church that's done) great service to the community," he said Friday. "Service that is still going on. Service and sharing with the community. An outreach committee which services the community. It's such a small number of people, but they're committed to making a difference."

Rocky Springs currently has between 17-20 members, Tarwater estimated.