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That old-time tent revival

Posted by | July 6, 2016

It’s tent revival season throughout Appalachia – the region that invented the tent revival.

The first camp meeting took place in July 1800 at Gasper River Church in southwestern Kentucky. A much larger one was held at Cane Ridge, Kentucky, in August 1801, where between 10,000 and 25,000 people attended, and Presbyterian, Baptist and Methodist ministers participated. It was this event that stamped the organized revival as the major mode of church expansion for denominations such as the Methodists and Baptists, who were newly converted by the teachings of John Wesley.

“The significant and most recurring theme in mountain preaching,” according to Deborah McCauley, author of Appalachian Mountain Religion, “is that of a broken heart, tenderness of heart, a heart not hardened to the Spirit and the Word of God. Mountain people teach through their churches that the image of God in each person lives in the heart, that the Word of God lodges itself in the heart, and the heart is meant to guide the head, not the other way around.”

Elkridge WV Tent Revival 1930s
“God led me into the Free Methodist Church when in 1935 I was sanctified in a revival preached by Brother Albert Faust from Pittsburgh,” said West Virginian Dewilla Lemmon of her revival experiences. “Melrose Uphold, a neighbor, and Sister Eva Young, a local Free Methodist preacher, arranged for a meeting in a vacant building near my home. This came as an answer to prayer for me because I had been privately seeking holiness, not really knowing what it was, only that for many months I had craved a pure, perfect condition of heart with God, notwithstanding the knowledge that I had been born again.”

One of Lemmon’s fellow worshipers, “Sister Uphold,” explained to her that the experience she sought was “sanctification.” “So I went to the altar and prayed for it. I also made various restitutions. Brother Faust quoted the Scripture: ‘The Lord whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple.’ And Jesus did just that for me on the night of September 22, 1935 after Brother Faust had delivered his sermon and while Sister Young walked up and down behind me at the altar quoting in a strong voice: ‘This is the will of God, even your sanctification.’”

Lemmon, Dewilla. “Camp Memories” journal exercise recorded by Pauline Shahan. July 6, 1980
Appalachian Mountain Religion. University of Illinois Press: Chicago; 1995

Related Posts: “Warmly Tactile Worship Behavior”

tent+revival camp+meeting mountain+preaching appalachia appalachian+culture appalachian+history history+of+appalachia


World’s oldest man — Kentuckian John Shell

Posted by | July 5, 2016

He never wore shoes much and chewed tobacco inveterately. He grew 3 sets of teeth during his long life, he claimed. And when he died on July 5, 1922, his oldest child was 99 years old and his youngest only seven. Other men in the mountains lived to advanced ages, but none ever came close to John Shell.

John Shell’s father Samuel, a gunsmith of Dutch descent, and his wife Mary Ann Fry Shell, moved according to one account from Pennsylvania through the Shenandoah Valley to settle in East Tennessee, where John was born in 1788 near the Roaring River. Other accounts state that both parents were born in the Carolinas. All their known children were born in Tennessee. John’s mother lived to great age; she is believed to have been 102 years old when she died in 1877.

The Shell family moved on to Kentucky, settling first on Poor Fork and later moving over the mountain to Laurel Creek/Greasy Creek in the part of Harlan that became Leslie County in 1878.

The town was originally called Licking Creek by early hunters because of deer licks there, when it was still part of Virginia. The name was later changed to Laurel Creek, justified by the laurel thickets that abound there. Then one day, John Shell shot and wounded a bear on the mountain at the mouth of Shell’s Fork on the Laurel. The bear ran off the mountain and fell into the “Blue-hole”.

The water was so deep that John could not get his bear out. The bear, in time, began to decompose. Its accumulated fat created a greasy scum that rose to the surface of the water for some time. People downstream then renamed the tributary to suit its aspects. It is called Greasy Creek to this day. Yes, John Shell had quite the reputation as a storyteller.

Harlan became a county when Shell was 12 years old, he stated, and that he had stood on a tree stump and shouted the news to the people. This took place in 1819, which would place his age at the time of his death at 115, not 134 years old. In his early years he helped defend the settlement of Harlan against a flaming-arrow Indian attack.

John recalled the earthquake which rumbled through Kentucky in 1811, saying that it came in December, early in the morning and lasted for two days, shaking the dishes from the table and pictures from the walls. He could call to mind when the stars fell at night long in bunches and one after the other in 1837 or 1838. And John remembered seeing Daniel Boone had killed many bear, deer and wild turkeys.

John Shell“Uncle John” Shell, 131 years old, at the Bluegrass Fair, Lexington, in 1919. First time he had seen anything but the backwoods of Leslie County. He died two years later at an actual age of 113.

Only about three or four families lived in the mouth of the Clover Fork in that era, but one of them produced Elizabeth Nance (or Nantz), whom John married in 1844. Their union in turn brought forth Mary Ann, William, Nicholas, Sarah, John, Martha, Elizabeth and Alijah. They are thought to have had twelve children total.

There was the matter of getting a living. Shell was a gunsmith, a miller, a wainwright, and a blacksmith. He made knives, axes, hammers, spinning wheels, looms, and whiskey.

When the Civil War broke out, Shell rode all the way to Virginia to fight for the Confederacy. “When John Shell arrived in Virginia and finally got to see Robert E. Lee to enlist to fight for the Confederacy,” relates Shell descendent Naomi A. Middleton Taylor in a family history, “Robert E. Lee said to him, ‘Sir, I admire you for riding this far. But sir, I cannot take you because of your age.’ John Shell was disappointed. You see, he was 74 years old.”

After the death of his first wife and after he was well over one hundred years old, John married Elizabeth Chappel and had one son by her, Albert James Shell. She died when the child was three years old.

John and Albert went to the Kentucky State Fair in 1919 as guests of the governor and John was displayed as the oldest man in the world. Many folks at the fair doubted his claim of age. He became ‘biling mad,’ stormed home and found a tax receipt which showed he had paid taxes in 1809.

He argued that he must have been at least 21 years old at the time to have done that. Harlan County tax lists, however, show that he first appears in 1844 which would place his birth date at 1822, not 1788.

At the time of his last appearance in the lowlands, ‘Uncle John’ weighed 130 pounds and was 5 feet 5 inches tall. It is said that he was breaking a horse to ride on his last day and that he fell off and hurt his back. He died that night.

Many Shell descendants live in the Harlan area to this day.

Sources: Oldest Man in World is Buried in Kentucky, “New York Times”, July 11, 1922

Author details life of 134-year-old ancestor, Richmond woman writes book about her long-lived family member, “Everyday People” column, ‘The Palladium-Item’ by Rachel E. Sheeley,

Harlan+KY appalachia appalachian+history appalachian+mountains+history John+Shell


Happy Independence Day!

Posted by | July 4, 2016



Water ran rippling and singing a merry song

Posted by | July 1, 2016

Not far from the towns of Boone, Blowing Rock, and Asheville, deep inside Humpback Mountain below the Blue Ridge Escarpment, lie Linville Caverns, North Carolina’s only publicly accessible caverns. For 30 million years, as the nearby Catawba River ate away at the valley between the Humpback and Linville mountains, the water-filled caverns have slowly drained from the top.

Linville Caverns were discovered by Henry E. Colton and his local guide, Dave Franklin, in 1822. Mystified by what appeared to be fish swimming out of the mountain, they followed their pine-knot torches into the opening. “Having procured a guide, a little after 9 o’clock we entered the cave, and after proceeding about a quarter of a mile, came to water,” said Colton of the experience in Mountain Scenery, published in 1859.

Linville Caverns“Previous to this, nothing of a very remarkable nature had met with, but now began the wondrous splendors of that hidden world. Stooping through a low passage, in which the coldest of water ran rippling and singing a merry song, which echoed back a thousand times from the dark dismal arched roof of the unmeasured space which stretched itself before, behind, and above us, we emerged into an immense passage, whose roof was far beyond the reach of the glare of our torches, except where the fantastic festoons of stalactites hang down within our touch.

“It looked like the arch of some grand old cathedral, yet it was too sublime, too perfect in all its beautiful proportions, to be anything of human, but a model which man might attempt to imitate.”

Legend has it that the caverns were a popular hiding place with soldiers from both sides of the Civil War and a workshop for a resourceful old man who made and mended soldiers’ shoes. Traces of campfires were found in the cavern’s central chambers. Local lure tells that eventually smoke from these fires made it out of the mountainside and so betrayed the soldiers.

Thomas Edison once sent a team of explorers to the caverns hoping to find platinum — an element at the time thought vital in the production of incandescent lamps. They returned empty handed.

John Q. Gilkey bought the property in 1937, built walkways, enlarged the entrance, and opened the doors for tours on July 1, 1939 – one of the cave’s larger chambers is named after him. He only lived another year.

Linville’s formations are a rainbow of hues: iron oxide creates a pinkish orange color; black from manganese; blues from zinc and cobalt, white from calcium carbonate, green from algae and moss.

One of Linville Caverns’ most famous formations, the Wedding Scene, features a shelf-like stage with a priest wearing a long robe. A bride and groom can also be seen kneeling at the altar, all created naturally.

During the winter and early spring the eastern pipistrelle bat hibernates in the cave. The fish living in the cave are speckled, brown, and rainbow trout. None are true cave animals, but only cave visitors.

sources: Mountain Scenery. The Scenery of the Mountains of Western North Carolina
and Northwestern South Carolina
, by Henry E Colton, W. L. Pomeroy, 1859


Paving paradise

Posted by | June 30, 2016

The Blue Ridge Parkway is the longest (469 miles), narrowest national park in the world and is the most visited unit in the US National Park system. The parkway runs from the southern terminus of Shenandoah National Park’s Skyline Drive in Virginia at Rockfish Gap to U.S. 441 at Oconaluftee in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park near Cherokee, North Carolina.

Begun during Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration, the project was originally called the “Appalachian Scenic Highway.” Most construction was carried out by private contractors under federal contracts under an authorization by Harold L. Ickes in his role as federal public works administrator. Work began on September 11, 1935 near Cumberland Knob in North Carolina; construction in Virginia began the following February.

On June 30, 1936, Congress formally authorized the project as the “Blue Ridge Parkway” and placed it under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service. The project would take over 52 years to complete. Some work was carried out by various New Deal public works agencies. The Works Progress Administration did some roadway construction. Crews from the Emergency Relief Administration carried out landscape work and development of parkway recreation areas. Personnel from four Civilian Conservation Corps camps worked on roadside cleanup, roadside plantings, grading slopes and improving adjacent fields and forest lands.

“The charm and delight of the Blue Ridge Parkway lies in its ever-changing location, in variety. And of course there is the picture it reveals of the Southern Highlands, with miles of split-rail fence, with Brinegar cabins and the Mabry Mills. These are evidences of a simple homestead culture and a people whose way of life grew out of the land. around them. Provincial life, gee! The mountaineer buildings we acquired to preserve within the holdings of the Parkway itself have resisted the whitewash brush, the Sears Roebuck catalog, and the tar paper of Johns Manville. They are as interesting a part of the Blue Ridge as the natural scene around them.”

Stanley Abbott, Resident Landscape Architect and Acting
Superintendent for the Parkway 1933-1944



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