|Old Atkin Street Church and Knoxville's Welsh Community|
"Landmark to Disappear"
When the Old Atkin Street Church Goes Down
The Structure's History Parallels that of the Welsh Colony in Knoxville
From the Knoxville Journal and Tribune. Located by Robert McGinnis. Transcribed by Billie McNamara.
The work of tearing down the church structure, so long known as the Atkin Street Welsh Church, was commenced yesterday morning, and in a few days there will be no trace of it left.
In a short time there will be erected a neat new church building, costing in the neighborhood of $10,000. It will be called the United Brethren Welsh Memorial Church. The tearing down of this structure takes away one of the landmarks of the ninth ward. It was the first church building erected north of the railway. Since its erection, many Welsh people have come to this city who worshiped there, and while the most of them have gone to their rest, there is still a large number living in the various parts of this country, from Maine to the Gulf and from the Atlantic to the Pacific, who will no doubt regret to know that the old building will be no more.
The history of that church is largely the history of the Welsh people of this city, and it may be of interest at this time to give some facts in regard to it, so that its memory may be preserved. There have been two efforts to establish Welsh colonies in this state. One was before the war when Ex-Gov. Bibb, of Ohio, bought a tract of land in Scott and Morgan counties but the war came on, and, with the troubles of the colonists in getting good titles to their lands, the people who originally came to this state with Robert Llanbrymair either went back to Wales or settled in other places in this country.
In the year 1867, the Richards brothers, Joseph and David Richards, and a brother-in-law, Thos. D. Lewis, came to Knoxville, brought here through the instigation of Jno. H. Jones, who at one time was a part owner of the rolling mill on Second creek, and they, having faith in this city, determined to cast their lots here. It was not long before arrangements were perfected that led to the coming of a number of iron workers. These men were the very best of men coming from the various plants or mills where the Richards brothers had been in charge.
These men and their families numbered in 1868, one hundred and four men, women and children. The company had secured from Col. McGhee a large tract of land which was laid out in lots, and, in what is now the heart of the ninth ward, homes were built. These people, however, at the beginning made up their minds that they must have a house of worship, and the company set aside a lot given to the trustees of the Welsh Congregational Church. That part of the city was then in the twelfth district. As soon as they could do so, they arranged to build the church and in the early part of 1870, they had the pleasure of going into a house that they could call their own. The building without the inside furnishings cost some $3,000.
Prior to this, as soon as they came here, the men and women, all of whom were members of some one of the churches in the towns they came from, placed their letters in the Second Presbyterian Church. Rev. Nathan Bachman, pastor. A cordial welcome was given them. A section was set aside in the Sunday School room or Chapel where a Welsh class met, and the use of the Chapel was given to these people who used to gather there at six o'clock in the evening and hold services in their native tongue, getting through with the service in time to attend the regular night service in the church proper.
It was nothing unusual to see a large number of the English-peaking friends in these meetings. They were attracted by the singing, and they felt touched at the spirit manifested in a people who, though far away from their native land, felt they were near to a Father who would care for them and their loved ones. A short time after these meetings began, there was much interest in religious matters shown by the young people of the church, which resulted in a revival that added largely to that membership in the Second church.
When the new building was ready for occupancy, there were twenty-four letters granted from the Second Presbyterian church, and these, with some others who had not deposited their letters, formed a Welsh Congregational Church. In the membership were to be found members of the Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist, and Episcopal churches, but all differences in creeds were set aside, and all that was required of anyone who wished to join was to believe in Jesus Christ as their Saviour and take the Bible as a rule of conduct.
While the credit of keeping up the worship in the old church may be given largely to David Richards, yet it was Joseph Richards who was the prime mover in the building, but it may be said that to Mr. David Richards belongs the credit of keeping the church doors open as long as they were. He and a number of others who were faithful and true, such as T. B. Davis, Evan Jones, Isaac Lewis, T. D. Thomas, E. J. Davis, and William J. Richards and others.
During the course of the years in which services were held in the old church, the pulpit was filled by some of the ablest men of the Welsh in America. The first pastor was an elderly man, Rev. Thomas. He was followed by Rev. R. D. Thomas, known to all the Welsh bards and poets of this country and of Wales as "Iorthyn Gwynedd." Then came Rev. Lot Lake, another of the bards and poets of the sons of "Gwallia." Then Rev. Dyffry Davis, Rev. Dr. J. Francis Davies, and Rev. G. James Jones, all of them able and men of sterling worth and ability.
It was during the time of Rev. J. Francis Davies, who will be remembered by many as a finished orator and powerful speaker and thinker, that the Welsh services insofar as the sermons are concerned were practically abandoned. There were few of the old folks who did not understand the English as well as they did their own language, but for the sake of te young they in a measure agreed to abandon the Welsh preaching. Then came a time when it was thought that a change, making the church another Congregational Church, might be the proper thing, but then and there the lines were drawn and while those who stuck to the old church determined that the doors should not be shut and that services would be held, they continued to hold meetings, but were without a regular pastor. It was then that a proposition was made to buy the building. It came from a people who were not strong, and it seemed as if the Welsh remembered the time when they were weak in numbers and, after much thought, decided to sell out the building to the ones that now occupy it and who are to place a new building on the grounds. As an appreciation of this and the further desire to perpetuate the names and memories of the faithful Welsh men and women of the past the new owners have decided to dedicate as above stated.