Community and Faith: The Legacy of Sulphur Springs United Baptist Church

A sleepy community lies at the southern terminus of the long-defunct Eastern Kentucky Railway in eastern Kentucky. At its center was the Sulphur Springs United Baptist Church.

A sleepy community lies at the southern terminus of the long-defunct Eastern Kentucky Railway in eastern Kentucky. At its center was the Sulphur Springs United Baptist Church.

The town’s origins trace back to 1694 when John Webb and his parents migrated from near Glouster, England, to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In 1720, John Webb married Mary Boone, the sister of Squire Boone, who was Daniel Boone’s father. The couple had nine children. John Webb’s son, James, moved to North Carolina and later to Lee County, Virginia, before obtaining a land grant in 1819 and relocating to Letcher County, Kentucky.

James Calvin Webb, grandson of James Webb, married Rebecca Wright and settled at the junction of Caney Fork and Dry Fork in Lawrence County in 1826, forming a small community. The area’s rich lumber resources attracted the Eastern Kentucky Railway in 1889.

Like many communities of the era, the community had a central church. In 1891, the Sulphur Springs United Baptist Church was organized. They constructed a two-story structure near the terminus of the railroad, with a worship space on the first floor and meeting space for the Lodge 626 of the Free and Accepted Masons on the second floor. Named for a nearby sulfur water spring, Sulphur Springs United Baptist Church allowed other denominations to hold services in their building when it was not in use.

Lodge 626 was founded in 1885 in the community when the Grand Lodge of Kentucky granted a charter to Doc Woods, Master, Watson Kitchen, Senior Warden, and A. J. Pennington, Junior Warden. Members of the Jake Rice Lodge in Blaine formed the Lodge. Initially, it had 12 members and held meetings on or before the full moon. By 1952, the lodge had relocated to a larger space in a nearby community, which boasted 130 members, making it one of the largest rural lodges in the state.

In 1928, the first high school for the community was established in the Lodge space, initially accommodating 70 pupils. The following year, due to increased enrollment, both the church building and an old nearby building were used as classroom space. In 1930, students were moved to an old feed store that contained three rooms and a library. During 1934-35, while the Works Progress Administration was building a new high school, students moved into the old train depot for three classes, with one class held in the Masonic Lodge hall, and the church sanctuary used for overflow. The new school opened in 1936.

The interior of the church is a treasure trove of antiques. Near the center stands a rusted Warm Morning Model 524 stove manufactured by the Locke Stove Company. Designed to burn bituminous coal or wood, the stove featured a drum made of 20-gauge polished blue steel, lined with heavy-duty patented fire brick liners and hollow tubes that provided heated air to burn off hydrocarbons, resulting in a more efficient and cleaner combustion cycle. It also had a 7-inch smoke pipe.

The Locke Stove Company, founded in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1834, went bankrupt in 1983. Martin Industries acquired the company’s line and produced more modern units until it also went bankrupt in 2000.

Upstairs, the church housed a collection of eight school desks. Seven of these were from the Theodor Kundtz Company of Cleveland, Ohio. Founded by Hungarian immigrant Theodor Kundtz, the company operated as a sole proprietorship from 1878 until its incorporation in 1915. The White Sewing Machine Company acquired it in 1925. Starting as a small shop at 122 Elm St., the Theodor Kundtz Company grew into an industrial giant, manufacturing church and school furniture, sewing machine cabinets, bicycle wheels, and auto and truck bodies. By the early 1900s, it had expanded to five buildings in the Flats and become Cleveland’s largest employer, with 2,500 workers, nearly all of Hungarian ancestry.

Additionally, there was an ornate size four Columbia school desk from the Piqua School Furniture Works of Piqua, Ohio. This company evolved from the Piqua Lumber Company, which was organized in 1890 by W. P. Orr, S. K. Statler, Moses G. Spencer, J. H. Clark, Thomas Aspinall, and Charles Barnett. Later, the American School Furniture Company absorbed Piqua School Furniture Works until its charter was revoked in 1909.

The American School Furniture Company was essentially a conglomerate within the commercial furniture industry for educational institutions. Established in 1892, the United States School Furniture Company had some of its directors form the American School Furniture Company in 1899. Between 1899 and 1901, this new company absorbed 18 companies with 23 factories, including the Piqua School Furniture Works. In 1906, it was reorganized as the American Seating Company.

The advent of the Great Depression and the abandonment of the Eastern Kentucky Railroad led to the community’s slow decline. It didn’t help that the high school built by the Works Progress Administration burned down in 1949 due to faulty flues in the heating system being too close to interior wooden structures. Instead of rebuilding the school, students were bussed to a consolidated facility in Louisa.

As for the church, it continued to function and later became a Community Church, holding services until around 1992. Today, the church building is in poor condition, with a failing foundation and roof system. Numerous windows are broken, and the building has a precarious lean.

Note: Access to the church was with the consent of the caretaker.

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