I became interested in finding out about Gum Spring some time ago, when I came across a note to Bettye Broyles from Virginia Knight Nelson. The late Mrs. Nelson had sent information about one of her relatives, along with a sentence naming Gum Spring Church and School. As I began to research Gum Spring, I became more interested in this place, and found some facts about it in old newspaper articles and the history books published by the Rhea County Historical Society.
According to undated articles written by H. A. Crawford and W. G. Allen, the Gum Spring Meeting House and School building was situated in the Frazier Bend of the Tennessee River, approximately two miles from where Mud Creek enters that stream. This building was located in the twenty second School District around 1858, and was the voting place in Civil District seven between 1852 and 1858. Allen writes that there were many changes in the Seventh District of Rhea County from 1844 to 1851. He stated that the muster ground and the voting place were at John Bolen’s on Mud Creek, and that the school was badly neglected. Also, church services were held at private residences.
In Allen’s article, he also states that Dr. Frazier agreed with James Hooper, Matt Hale, John Cozley, Valentine Allen and Stephen Spence, a board of commissioners or trustees, to give two acres of land for school and church purposes. These men selected a spring used by Stephen Spence, but on the Frazier, or old Gaunt farm. Mr. Spence had a large hollow sweet gum approximately three feet long sunk in the ground, to cover the stream of water as it rose to the surface, thus, the name of Gum Spring. Allen further writes that a call was made and the citizens of the seventh district responded with chopping axes, saws and broad axes. Squads of four and six men and a water boy with pail and gourd went into the forest to cut trees for the building. His article declared that there were no laggards! W. G. Allen writes that the next day his father’s and Spence’s cattle could be seen drawing logs for the building; also, some of the pine logs were hauled to Uncle Lewis Morgan’s up and down saw mill on Big Richland Creek to make the floors and doors. It was stated that Morgan sawed the lumber at no charge, and that all who were involved in the building wanted a school house and a place for worship.
Allen described the building in his article as being constructed around 1844; composed of logs with a board roof, and being twenty-four feet by twenty-eight feet. There was a very large fireplace in the north end, and a small window on the west side. The floor and doors were made of sawed pine logs. There was a large door on the east and one in the south end; both doors had facings, or up and down pieces on each side with an auger hole to insert into the end of each log to hold steady. Also, the hinges were wood with wooden battens (strips used as fasteners). The plank was nailed to these two auger holes bored in the wooden hinges or upright so as to hit a log in the wall. Seats were made of twelve inch chestnut, split and faced; they were eight and ten feet long with auger holes on the bottom side for a two foot leg to hold up the seat.
Crawford’s article states that the goose quill was the only writing pen in general use in the area; both Allen and Crawford mention that writing lessons were given on Fool’s Cap paper, with the curriculum consisting of Webster’s Blue Back Speller, McGuffey’s Readers, Davis’ Old School Arithmetic, Smith’s Grammar and Olney’s Geography and Atlas. Crawford also mentions that probably Benjamin Self was the first teacher at Gum Spring, followed at longer and shorter intervals by James A. Mitchell, F. A. Cash, Mr. Hunt, S. C. Honeycut, G. W. Allen and probably R. T. Mauzy. (Fool’s Cap Paper: lined, legal-size paper which had the watermark of a fool’s cap with bells on it; this began in the fifteenth century when court jesters wore caps with bells and also served as messengers)
From Crawford’s writings we learn that a Missionary Baptist Church was organized at Gum Spring in 1847 or 1848, but that the Methodist Church was probably the first held in the building. This Missionary Baptist Church was given the name of Salem Missionary Baptist Church, and it is believed that Rev. McCampbell Atchley was elected moderator and pastor, and John Crawford the church clerk at that organization. The membership did not exceed twenty in number at that time; however, this membership did grow to be three or four times that in a short time.
Allen writes in his article, “I have written these articles showing what can be accomplished by unity of purpose, without money, when everyone of the home, everyone of his neighbors was his brother’s keeper. Everyone went to church to hear the Gospel expounded—not to show fine clothes; not to gab about the last dance or what a good time we had out joy riding.”
The map with today’s article is from a book by Virginia Knight Nelson about her Rhea County relatives. It gives an idea of the location of Gum Spring Church and School. Nelson states that the Mark Anton Airfield is located on the old Thomas and Philadelphia Knight farm, later that of their son, Richard C. Knight (1847-1925). Richard gave land for the Limestone School (# 10 on the map). Also, note that Mud Creek, mentioned in this article, is on the map between New Bethel Road and Double S Road, right by the # 8.
Since Gum Spring no longer exists as a place, it is fortunate that information relating to it has been saved for us today. This shows us how important it is for us to learn from the past in order to live in the present and prepare for the future.