In 1847, the United States of America was only seventy-one years old. Tennessee native, James K. Polk, was president, and we were at war with Mexico. While pursuing the goal of Manifest Destiny, our nation was expanding westward, growing, and on the move. Nestled in the remote hills of eastern Tennessee, however, and far removed from the national scene, a Hawkins County landowner pursued a different vision of growth. He desired to promote both the preaching of the gospel and public education in this thinly settled community. Living seven miles north of Rogersville on “The Trail of The Lonesome Pine” (now Highway 70), Andrew Spires donated two acres of his land along the west fork of Caney Creek on September 18th of that year. It was to be…”For the use of a public school and of a house to worship the true and living God, the unity of the Trinity, and for no other purposes whatsoever, and to continue for said uses so long as a house shall be kept on the described lot or piece of ground.” A one-room log structure was soon built near the creek that would be known as Spires Chapel School and Meeting House. As stipulated in the deed, a house of worship has continued to be kept since 1847, with the church still occupying the original tract of land today.
The very first trustees of the church were Andrew Spires, Jacob Klepper, Joseph Molesbee, G.A. Simmons, and I.G. Gillenwater. No known records exist today of the early meetings of the 1800's, but the log church was kept by the congregants until it was replaced by a larger wooden frame building in 1918. With this new building came a group of keepers eager to continue God's work in their valley. In the spring of that year, a band of eight neighbors met to organize Spires Chapel Meeting House into a chartered church. They were: Sara Gilliam, Mose Hilton, N.D. “Nat” Hilton, Neale Hilton, Eliza Manis, Margaret Manis, Maude Marcum, and Lidia Smith. On April 2, 1918, the church was chartered under the name Spires Chapel Primitive Baptist Church. They elected Elder (Rev.) Ezekiel Barker as pastor and kept the house ready for the large revivals to come.
For the next thirty-one years, Spires Chapel continued to serve its dual purpose of public school and church. During revivals, classes would be dismissed as both morning and evening services were the custom. Folks would stand along the walls and crowd into the church yard, looking in through the windows, while old saints such as Uncle Hiram Gilliam sang, and Sara Gilliam and Maude Marcum prayed and shouted. It was not at all uncommon to see as many as forty souls saved before the meetings ended. Those revival fires kept the house warm throughout the past century. During the 1930's, Shields Cross began the first Sunday School at Spires Chapel. It was held during the afternoon, with only a few attending in the beginning. Today, attendance has grown to average around 200 each Sunday.
As the congregation steadily grew during the 1920's, 30's, and 40's, a building fund was begun in 1945 for the construction of a larger church house. Various fund raisers were held, including bake sales and ice cream suppers. When the county's schools were consolidated in 1949, the old wooden church was raised and the congregation moved into a new concrete block sanctuary on the south side of the property. All five Sunday school classes were taught simultaneously in different sections of the sanctuary, until three new classrooms were added on to the back in 1972.
The keepers of Spires Chapel witnessed the great revivals that swept many regions of our nation during the 1950's. Even throughout the turbulent 60's as the church struggled, a few dedicated members were found still keeping the doors open. During these trying times when there sometimes was no pastor, they carried on with the singing, praying, and giving altar calls. As they followed the leadership of The Holy Spirit, there were souls saved even during these difficult years. Many services were conducted with no music at all, and song leader, J.H. Cross would often request the congregation to pray that The Lord would send musicians into the church.
In the fall of 1977, John North, a young member of the church, announced his calling to preach the gospel. On the first Sunday of 1979, the great task of leading a growing church fell upon him after the pastor suddenly resigned. Although a young minister, John was simply obedient to God's leadership, and the church began to grow more than ever in its long history. Souls were saved most every service, and as many as sixty new members joined within a year. His wife, Vickie, who grew up in the church, organized The Ladies Circle which helped the church move forward with fellowship meetings and fund raisers for special projects. Under the direction of Larry and Jennifer Clonce, the first Vacation Bible School was held… the congregation grew…and the need to build came once again.
In the early 1980's, another building fund was begun. After a groundbreaking service in July, 1986, construction began on the present sanctuary, complete with downstairs fellowship hall and Sunday School rooms. As with the previous block church house, almost all the labor was given voluntarily by members. Some even sacrificed whole week's vacations to donate their time. When the pews were ordered, they donated the money to pay for them in a matter of minutes. Only seven months later (Feb. 1987), they moved into the new house and were completely debt-free in less than two years. During a dedication service on May 7, 1989, Aunt Pearl (Davis) Stapleton, the oldest living member, set fire to the bank note. She had seen all four churches on the property, and had worshiped in the last three of them. Throughout the 1990's, the house of Spires Chapel continued to be kept…continued to grow…and to be added unto. In 1998, a new south wing comprised of a much larger fellowship hall and Sunday school rooms, doubled the size of the church house. Julie Russell began and led a successful working youth group, while the sweet voices of Julia North (Taylor's) Angel Choir blessed the house each Sunday.
Looking back, it must surely be realized just how swiftly time passes. Serving the longest term to date, Rev. John North is now in his 40th year as pastor. The Lord is still calling, still saving, and the members are still shouting his praises as did their forefathers.
If Andrew Spires were alive today, he would find that his request for a house of worship to be kept on this property has been honored by each generation. Each pastor who stood to bring God's Word from on high, each song leader and musician who uplifted the hearts of the congregation, each teacher who gave good instruction for Godly living, and each prayer warrior who carried the burden for the lost and burned the midnight oil, has labored on and kept the house. Within its walls, their children and children's children have heard the joyous sound that Jesus saves! They've learned that this house, this refuge, must be kept…that this sanctuary for the sin-tossed soul must be maintained in a most troublesome world. With a glad heart, Andrew would probably smile and say, “You've kept the house well. Carry on church…until Jesus comes again!”