Gasper River Meeting House

Logan County, Kentucky




A FEW days ago I was called on by two well known Cumberland Presbyterian ministers of Auburn, Revs. McCormick and Penick, to survey the old lines of a remarkable as well as historical spot of ground--the former site of the "Old Gasper River Meeting-house." The deed of the church lot from John Carnahan to the people of the Presbyterian Church, bears date of the beginning of the present century, and written on a very wide, unruled sheet of paper, in a bold, dashing hand, and runs in this quaint style: "The said John Carnahan, for and in the consideration of the sum of six shillings, in hand paid by the said congregation, in hand to the said John Carnahan, the receipt whereof is hereby acknowledged, and the congregation is hereby acquitted and discharged before the inclosing and delivery of these presents, do bargain, sell and confirm in feoff, unto the said people of the Presbyterian Church, six acres of ground off my own head-right, etc.

On a rising eminence, about a stone's throw from the bank of that beautiful stream, "The Clear Fork of Gasper river," is the place where the Meeting-house stood--a ridge of rough stones, forming an oblong, thirty by fifty feet, marks the identical spot. It is about two miles north of South Union, Kentucky. The old log house has long since gone to decay, and not a vestige of its ruins now remain, save the ridge of stones which served as a foundation for the house. The undressed appearance of the material indicate, that like Solomon's Temple, it was put up without the sound of a hammer being heard.

The paper called for a large elm tree, standing on the bank of the river, as the beginning corner, no trace of which could be found, but the spot where it once stood could be pointed out by Mr. Smith Hambling, whose memory was aided in the matter by recollecting where he used to stand when a boy, forty years ago, and throw stones at wood-peckers coming out of the holes they had pecked in the old and then dead elm. The venerable octogenarian, Esquire Wm. Barnett, as straight as an arrow, and as lively as a lad, was with the surveying party, and added to the enjoyments of the day by his sallies of wit, and early reminiscences of the surroundings.

A fine, large spring of clear sparkling water rises immediately outside the church lot, and it was remarked by one of the party that this could create no great inconvenience, since the church going people, if ever debarred from crossing the line, could easily reach the water with a long-handled gourd.

The Cumberland Presbyterians having received permission from the claimants of the old site, also a donation of more ground from Jacob Yost and family, are now erecting on the old place a large and elegant church edifice, and while the wealth and hospitality of the neighborhood makes it a good location for a flourishing church; yet there being, as at Enon, "much water" there, would seem to argue its being more suitable for a Baptist or Campbellite church.

Standing on this sacred spot, surrounded by the neglected graves of the long-forgotten dead, what strange and weird visions of the past, rises and pass in panoramic view before me. Here is the birth-place of Cumberland Presbyterianism. More than three-quarters of a century ago James McGready preached here, and a great revival followed, out of which grew the large and influential body of Christians known as the Cumberland Presbyterians. Elder Rankin, who lived to be nearly a hundred years old, and died about ten years ago at South Union, was pastor of this church at the time of the great awakening under McGready's preaching, and objected to the course pursued by that great revivalist, and afterward founded the Society of Shakers at South Union, and was for many years a leading spirit of the Society.

Here was once a famous religious camp ground, and whole families came from a distance of fifty miles around in wagons and carts, and camped on the sacred ground for weeks at a time.

Here the jerks, that singular religious phenomenon, peculiar to that age, raged with fearful epidemic violence, attacking alike the saint and sinner--baffling then, as it has continued to do to this day, the efforts of the most learned and critical, to account for or unravel its mysterious manifestations. It would indeed be a strange coincidence, if the rebuilding of the temple should be followed by a revival of the jerks. The very surrounding suggest the more than possibility of such an occurrence.

If the reader has felt half the pleasure and interest in reading about this ancient and venerable place, that the writer felt in surveying around it, then I am satisfied.--Tripod, in Russellville Herald.

[Source: The Cumberland Presbyterian, February 10, 1876, page 3]

Old Gasper and the Shakers.
By Rev. John L. Hill.

Most Cumberland Presbyterians know something of the causes that resulted in the organization of our beloved church. During that stormy period of religious discussion in the Presbyterian Church when there was such a marked difference of opinion between some of her leading divines, and such wonderful manifestations of the Holy Spirit, no place was more prominent, and no place is of more historic interest to Cumberland Presbyterians to-day than Old Gasper Church in Logan County, Kentucky. Located near by, and closely connected with Old Gasper in historic interest, is "Shaker Town." This town was established about the time of the organization of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. It will be remembered, that a difference of opinion resulting in religious trouble arose among a number of Presbyterian preachers while holding a meeting at Old Gasper, not long before the organization of our church. Among these ministers were McGready, Ewing, the Rankins, and others. Out of this party a person of Rev. John Rankin, who failed to cast his lot with either the revival or anti-revival side of the Presbyterians.

Shaker Town is on the Memphis branch of the L. & N. R.R., about fifteen miles south of Bowling Green, Ky. This is one of the most beautiful and best farming sections in the state. The town is on a beautiful elevation, and consists of a church, a large business house or office, a school house, and five other very large, beautiful, and imposing structures used a residences, called the Center House, North House, South House, East House, and West House. At one time, there were five-hundred adherents to the Shaker faith living in this little town, but there are not nearly so many now. They adhere to the doctrine of celibacy, and their number is only recruited by those who join them from the "world" as they term it. These shakers are a very peculiar people, especially in their worship, a large part of which consists in singing and dancing, and a continual shaking of themselves, which is very amusing to onlookers. But with all these peculiarities they are a very intelligent, industrious and enterprising people. They own in Kentucky several thousands of acres of land, and are very wealthy. While they do not mingle with the world socially or religiously, they are friendly towards Cumberland Presbyterians, and sometimes attend our services at Old Gasper.

It was at Old Gasper that the first camp meeting in Christendom was held. It was here, just a century ago, that the Spirit of God so wonderfully operated on the hearts of men, convicting the stubborn-hearted, and often overpowering them so that they fell to the ground in an utterly helpless condition. On one occasion, a married lady went to the altar for prayer, and her husband, a very wicked man, went and very roughly dragged her away, and on this spot God struck him dead! Ah, those were wonderful days! Would we had the power from on high to-day, as our fathers had it then, for were it so, no power could stand against us! Some months ago I had the pleasure of assisting the pastor, Rev. W. H. Perkins, in a meeting at this grand old place. How impressive to look upon the great old trees that tower many feet into the heavens. These are the trees under which McGready and Ewing stood, and sheltered their heads in the days of yore. The same spring from which they drank, still yields an inexhaustible supply of nature's beverage.

Adairville, Ky.

[Source: The Cumberland Presbyterian, July 1, 1897, page 1674 (10).]



The Kentucky Historical Society, Frankfort, Ky., has approved the proposal of Dr. George M. Mack of Bowling Green Ky., that a highway memorial be erected for the Old Gasper Meeting House. It will be installed by the Highway Department at the South Union Cross Roads on 68 Highway.

The large metal tablet, which will be one and one-half miles from the site of the meeting house, will record the facts of the old church, which with Red River, figured largely in the revival of 1800 and in the origins of the Cumberland Presbyterian and the Christian Churches.

At present the property is deeded to Wade Woodward, father of R. E. Woodward who is session clerk at the Auburn, Ky., Cumberland Presbyterian Church. The family is willing to cooperate with any organization that wishes to develop the property as a historical site. A deed of one year's duration would be given to the developing organization, to be renewed each year thereafter at no cost to the organization for the property.

Rev. Jo Westcott, Jr., pastor of the Auburn church has suggested that the Auburn men's fellowship could arrange a work day at the property, since "Old Gasper property as it stands today is full of bushes, vines, underbrush, and groundhog holes." Finances would be necessary to develop a roadway, construct a fence and landscape the sight.

Rev. Westcott further stated, "In no way does the property resemble a place where one can see 100 conversions as McDonnald's history records. I propose no building on the ground, but that we as Cumberland Presbyterians show some interest in removing the refuse of today that the light of yesterday can be seen."
[Source: The Cumberland Presbyterian, March 31, 1959, pages 3-4]

Read "The Gasper River Meeting House" by Thomas Whitaker

Updated 20 September 2023

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