Cades Cove Primitive Baptist Church – Townsend, Tennessee - Atlas Obscura

Cades Cove Primitive Baptist Church

This 19th-century building inadvertently preserved the handprints of its builders within its walls.  

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Primitive Baptist Church was first organized in 1827 and was the first church established in Cades Cove, a beautiful valley protected by the Smokey Mountains on all sides. Church meetings were held in the homes of members until the fall of 1832, when a log building was constructed for meetings and services.In 1839, thirteen members left to start Missionary Baptist Church due to disagreement over foreign mission work. Cades Cove Baptist Church assumed the name Primitive Baptist Church in 1841. In 1887, members constructed a white frame building to replace the original log meeting house. The church was built by the members by hand, and used primarily green lumber that was still leaching sap. As a result, the hand and fingerprints of those that worked on its construction can be seen on the ceiling inside.  Most of the prints are from adults and few children, and have lasted for over a century. The Primitive Baptist Church was the largest and most important church for residents in Cades Cove. During the Civil War, the church ceased meeting. Church records explain, “we was union people and the Rebels was too strong here in Cades Cove.” The Great Smoky Mountains National Park was officially established in 1934, but members of the Primitive Baptist did not stop meeting until the 1960s. Even after formally closing the church, the congregation continued to maintain the building and the cemetery into the 1970s. Today, the church is still used for religious events or ceremonies. The cemetery at Primitive Baptist is the oldest cemetery in the cove, and descendants of early settlers are still being laid to rest in it today.

Know Before You Go

Cades Cove is an 11 mile, one-way loop road. After entry, you will pass the first dirt road to your left called Sparks Lane. The next dirt road to your left is the road to the church. Look for signs as well.

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July 30, 2021

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