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The 1938 destruction of 80 years of records couldn’t erase the rich history of Poplar Ridge Baptist Church.
Terry Abbott, a member of the 150-year-old church’s congregation, has copies of two typewritten accounts of the church’s past – one compiled 50 years ago primarily from documents housed at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Trimble County Clerk’s office and another recreating events from 1983-1998 – which take the place of decades of church documents inadvertently destroyed so many years ago.
According to these papers, Poplar Ridge Baptist Church was formed in September 1858 and built on land donated by John B. Payne, Jr. and Wellington Payne. Half-brothers Allen Hudson and Daniel Rowelett provided the logs and sawmill services required to construct the house of worship.
During the Sulphur Fork Association meeting of Sept. 14-16, 1858, the organization recognized the church’s formation and noted there were only 29 members that first year, which was tiny in comparison to nearby Corn Creek’s 273 worshipers.
The sparse records in Abbott’s possession contain yearly reports of Popular Ridge “messengers” attending the association meetings. Men with surnames Rowlett, Ogden, Averitt, Perkinson and Hood missed only a few years in the first 10 and always brought news of the congregation, which by 1869 had grown to 92 persons and was led by Elder J.F. Martin, pastor.
In 1878, the association met for the first time at Poplar Ridge, where the church leadership had transferred to Elder A. Jackson and membership had grown to 134.
From then until the early 1900s, messengers and pastors included men from the Roberts, Nutell, Bare, Moore, McFarlan, Garrett, Bruner, Applegate, Hill, Priest, Foster and Coombs families. The congregation continued to expand under their guidance, reaching 165 by 1907, meaning a new, larger home was needed.
In 1916, the new structure, much of which was reportedly planned in the driveway of Joe Lynch’s feed barn, was completed and dedicated in August of that year.
Although membership had declined by 1939, several new surnames were becoming more common within the congregation, with Vincent, Barnes, Stafford, Coleman, Chapman, Long, Martin, Graves, and Keller families in attendance.
Though the records become more brief by the mid-1900s, the documents confirm electricity was installed in the church in 1948 and a new Sunday school room was added around 1957.
By August 1957, Popular Ridge Baptist Church was hosting worship services every Sunday.
The next 50 years brought new leaders and technology to the congregation.
In the mid-1960s, the church purchased a “mimeograph” machine to print bulletins and a new organ for use in services. Kathern Dray and Dwight Barnes donated a new piano, new classrooms were built in the basement and double doors were installed in the church’s front entrance.
Rev. William Stephens was pastor in 1971 when city water was brought to Poplar Ridge and a trailer was purchased for the leader to use while staying weekends in the community.
In 1973, Rev. Robert Cook was paid $60 per week to lead the congregation and a yard sign identifying the church was installed. A kitchen and restroom facilities were constructed in 1975 and stained glass windows were installed in 1983.
On average 130 people made up the congregation of Poplar Ridge Baptist from then until 1998, when Abbott’s records end.
Now, Pastor Paul Limato leads a congregation of similar size in fellowship every Sunday at 10:30 a.m., as he has done since coming to the church in 1997.
To commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Poplar Ridge Family, the membership will host a special service Sunday, Sept. 28, from 10:30 a.m. – 11:45 a.m. Following the morning worship, a pitch-in dinner will take place, followed by a hymn sing and a special presentation by state Rep. Rick Rand. Cornhole and children’s games will also be available on the church grounds. The public is invited to come by and take part in celebrating the longevity of the Poplar Ridge Baptist Church family.