near Blountville, Tennessee
Heritage Landmark of The United Methodist Church
In 1773, Timothy Acuff (1732-1823) left his native Virginia to homestead on the frontier. He and his wife, Anna Leigh, settled in what is now Sullivan County, Tennessee (then part of North Carolina).
In 1785, a Methodist class was formed, mostly of emigrants from Virginia, and in 1786 Acuff and his fellow class members built a chapel on land given by Timothy and Anna Leigh Acuff.
The commitment of pioneers like Acuff and his neighbors was essential to the spread of Methodism on the frontier. As one historian remembered: "Among the first emigrants from Virginia [were Methodists]... In some cases a few Methodist families located in the same neighborhood, and immediately gathered themselves into a Society. Occasionally local preachers, exhorters, and...class leaders... formed part of...the new settlement, and thus regular religious services were instituted, and Methodism was actually planted, before the itinerant preacher had visited the locality." W.G.E. Cunnyngham, quoted in R.N. Price, Holston Methodism (1904)
Acuff Chapel was the first Methodist meetinghouse in Tennessee and the first west of the Appalachian Mountains. The nearest church was one hundred miles to the east, and there were none west of Acuff Chapel. Since there was only one other school within a hundred miles, the chapel was also used as a school for some seventy-five years.
Timothy and Anna Leigh Acuff had a son, Francis, who became a Methodist preacher, but died unexpectedly at the age of twenty-five, just a few years after the chapel was built.
The sanctuary built by the settlers was made of logs, about 20 x 30 feet with a gallery. It was a familiar sight to Francis Asbury, who preached there several times on his regular travels through eastern Tennessee.
The successor to Acuff Chapel is Adams Chapel, built in 1887 and an active United Methodist congregation. Acuff Chapel was sold to a private buyer, who moved it from its original site and used it as a dwelling for many years.
In 1962 the Holston Conference Historical Society purchased the building, moved it back to its original location, and restored it. Timothy Acuff's nearby home has been modernized and is privately owned.
Points of interest at this Heritage Landmark: The original logs were used when the chapel was restored by the Holston Conference.
The adjoining cemetery contains the remains of Francis Acuff, Timothy Acuff, Anna Leigh Acuff, and other early settlers.
The Timothy Acuff log house, built before 1786, stands opposite the chapel and is a private home.
The pews and pulpit are from Adams Chapel, which replaced Acuff Chapel in 1887. There is a roadside marker on Highway 126 giving information about the Chapel's history.
There are no restrooms at the site; parking is available at the site.
Special events: None as of this writing.
Area attractions: The Edward Cox House is twelve miles away, and the Keywood Marker is also nearby. The towns of Bristol, Kingsport, and Johnson City are all close to Blountville, which is just west of the Holston, Iron, and Appalachian Mountains.
To visit: To arrange a tour, contact Bob Malone (contact info below).
Location: Within the boundaries of the Holston Annual Conference, in Sullivan County, Tennessee. Acuff Chapel is two miles southwest of Blountville on state route 126, near Bluff City.
Food and lodging: Restaurants and motels are located on Airport Parkway, near exit 63 on Interstate 81. There are fast food restaurants at I81, exits 66 and 69.
Directions: Exit Interstate 81 at exit 66; then take State Route 126 east for about two miles. The chapel is on the left, and is visible as you approach.
Coming through the town of Blountville, exit Interstate 81 at exit 69; take State Route 37 South a short distance to Highway 126, then proceed west for two miles. The chapel is on the right; watch carefully, as the chapel is hidden by a curve in the road.
For further information, contact: Bob Malone, 530 Hwy 75, Blountville, TN 37617; 423-323-5814.
To learn more about United Methodist church history in this area:
Holston Annual Conference Archives, Sherman Hall, Tennessee Wesleyan University, 204 E College St., Athens, TN 37303; 423-746-5226; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wilma Dykeman, Tennessee, A Bicentennial History (New York: Norton, 1975).
Isaac P. Martin, Methodism in Holston (Knoxville, TN: Methodist Historical Society of Holston Conference, 1945).