Mt. Zion Church and Cemetery (Elkhorn, Tennessee)

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Mt. Zion Church and Cemetery
Mt. Zion Church and Cemetery (Elkhorn, Tennessee) is located in Tennessee
Mt. Zion Church and Cemetery (Elkhorn, Tennessee)
Mt. Zion Church and Cemetery (Elkhorn, Tennessee) is located in the US
Mt. Zion Church and Cemetery (Elkhorn, Tennessee)
Nearest city Elkhorn, Tennessee
Coordinates 36°22′18″N 88°2′31″W / 36.37167°N 88.04194°W / 36.37167; -88.04194Coordinates: 36°22′18″N 88°2′31″W / 36.37167°N 88.04194°W / 36.37167; -88.04194
Area 2.7 acres (1.1 ha)
Built 1893
NRHP reference # 74001916[1]
Added to NRHP December 23, 1974

Mt. Zion Church and Cemetery (United Baptist Church) is a historic church building near Elkhorn, Henry County, Tennessee, United States. It was built sometime between 1872 and 1899,[2] most likely in 1893, and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.[1] It is the only surviving building in the "Old 23rd District" of Henry County, an extinct community since 1944.

This building might be confused with Mount Zion Church located approximately twenty miles south near Big Sandy, Benton County, Tennessee, which was destroyed by fire in the 1990s,[3] possibly 1992.


The building is on a small, remote peninsula colloquially referred to as the "Old 23rd District."[4] Today, this land is part of the Big Sandy Unit of the Tennessee National Wildlife Refuge. Between about 1821 and 1944, a small community of families lived and farmed there. Besides farming, the community produced timber and lumber, railroad cross ties and cleaned mussel shells for the button-making industry. The remote location also made moonshining quite lucrative. In the community, there were two churches, two or three stores, a sawmill and a post office at various times.[2] The first post office was Gillie, Tennessee, established in 1888 and absorbed by Pace, Tennessee in 1899. Pace, Tennessee was established in 1890 and absorbed by a rural route out of Big Sandy in Benton County, Tennessee in 1904.[2][5]

In 1938, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) began construction of Kentucky Dam on the Tennessee River. Impounding the river meant that flood waters would consume a large part of the community, so in 1940, TVA began buying out property and moving all families out of the area. Buildings below the flood level were given to their prior owners and buildings above the flood level were auctioned off. All buildings had to be moved out by a certain date after which TVA burned what remained. Timber below the flood level was cut and burned on a tight schedule, preventing much of its use to sawmillers. Cemeteries that would be flooded or whose access would be flooded were surveyed, next of kin contacted, and decisions made on removal and relocation or remaining in place.[2]

The Mt. Zion Church building and cemetery exist well above the flood level therefore they enjoyed some special treatment. When TVA purchased the site, an agreement was made with the church trustees to leave the building standing and allow the congregation to meet there annually for a homecoming.[2][4] This homecoming still occurs on the first Sunday in July of each year.[4][6]


Benches of Mt. Zion Church, 28 April 2007
Pulpit of Mt. Zion Church, 28 April 2007

Mt. Zion Church may have first met in 1829.[2] It petitioned to and was accepted by the Western District Baptist Association in 1853.[2][4]

The first church building was a log structure built on land donated by James Monroe Gray.[2][4] It stood across the road from the current building and was also used as a school. It was torn down sometime between 1890 and 1900.[2]

Land for the current building was donated by Rhoda Gray McDaniel, daughter of James Monroe Gray. In the Pictorial History of the Old 23rd District, Larry T. Perry states that the current church was built in 1897, however the National Register of Historical Places has listed 1893. Entries in the Western District Association minutes list also 1872, 1896 and 1899 as dates of construction for the current building.[1][2]

Pastors included pillars of the local community such as James Monroe Gray, Buck Williams and Frank Robbins but also W. W. Dickerson, who lived about 50 miles (80 km) away in Murray, Kentucky. Dickerson served Mt. Zion for 18 years and never lived within the church community. Every Saturday, he would come to Paris where he was met by a member of the congregation and taken back to the community. He would spend the night with a church family, preach on Sunday morning and then leave on Sunday afternoon with some farm produce given by church members.[2]

In 1896 and 1938, the Western District Association held their annual conferences at the Mt. Zion church.[2]

By 1943, the church was without a pastor and in the process of disbanding. TVA purchased the church building and the 2.7 acres (1.1 ha) on which it stood for $1006. They agreed with the church trustees, Isham Robbins, T. J. Fielder and W. C. Flowers, to leave the building standing and to allow the congregation to meet there annually for a homecoming. The last report was sent to the Association in 1944.[2]

Mt. Zion Church had an irregular representation and report in the Association minutes. However spotty these reports may be, they are the most tangible way to understand the size and impact the church had upon its community. The following aggregate data is taken from Perry's book.

Year Pastor Pastor's
Membership Property
1853 James Monroe Gray
of Mouth of Sandy, Tennessee
1890 P. I. Summers
of Gillie, Tennessee
1894 W. Buck Williams
of Sip, Tennessee
1895 79
1896 W. Buck Williams $40 80 $355
1897 $25
1898 102
1899 115
1900 117
1901 120
1902 D. T. Spaulding 117 $450
1904 T. B. Holcomb
1906 A. M. Hawley
of Big Sandy, Tennessee
1907 124
1908 134
1909 No Pastor 124
1910 146 $400
1911 A. M. Hawley 157
1912 193
1913 188
1915 A. M. Hawley
1917 A. M. Hawley 93 $1000
1919 Henry Frank Robbins 105
1920 No Pastor 110
1921 Will Jones $60.5 102
1923 No Pastor
1924 W. W. Dickerson
of Murray, Kentucky
1925 W. W. Dickerson 112
1926 W. W. Dickerson $125 112 $500
1927 W. W. Dickerson $150 111
1928 W. W. Dickerson 111
1929 W. W. Dickerson $120 108
1930 W. W. Dickerson 150 $800
1931 W. W. Dickerson 101 $300
1932 W. W. Dickerson $100 104
1933 W. W. Dickerson $80 127
1934 W. W. Dickerson 135 $100
1935 W. W. Dickerson $100 120
1936 W. W. Dickerson $100 60 $200
1937 W. W. Dickerson $125 59
1938 W. W. Dickerson $182.25 59 $400
1940 W. W. Dickerson $266.81 71
1941 W. W. Dickerson $267.9 78 $1000
1942 No Pastor 71
1943 No Pastor 70
(50 are non-resident)
sold to TVA
1944 No Pastor 49
(46 are non-resident)


Entrance to Mt. Zion Cemetery, 28 April 2007

The Mt. Zion cemetery is located just behind, to the west of the church building. It is surrounded by a chain link fence and is regularly cared for. As of April 2007, there were 222 graves known. Burials still occur there.[6]


  1. ^ a b c National Park Service (2009-03-13). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Perry, Larry T. (1994). A Pictorial History of the Old 23rd District. Seymour, Tennessee: Self Published. 
  3. ^ Sims, E. J. "Religion in Benton County Tennessee". Retrieved 24 February 2013. 
  4. ^ a b c d e Exploring Henry County, Tennessee. [Hurst, Tex.]: Curtis Media. 1995. ISBN 0-88107-251-6. 
  5. ^ "West Tennessee Post Offices" (PDF). Henry County Archive, Paris, Tennessee. Retrieved 8 December 2012. 
  6. ^ a b "Mt. Zion Baptist Church Cemetery". Cemeteries of Henry County Tennessee. Retrieved 8 December 2012.