Cummings Chapel

Cummings Chapel is Oldest church building in Sevier County


(The information posted here was gathered from a previous report in The Upland Chronicles by Carroll McMahan.)

Located less than a mile off Old Newport Highway, an unimposing little church house named Cummings Chapel sits beside a picturesque country graveyard. The rectangular, gable-roofed church was built in 1858 and named in honor of the notable Methodist circuit preacher Rev. James Cummings. Built of large hand-hewn logs, the building rests on enormous hewn sills and a stone pier foundation.

The austere meeting house, which has been covered with weather-boarding, is embellished with a small, hipped roof steeple. Cummings Chapel is the oldest church building remaining in Sevier County and one of only a handful of log churches in East Tennessee.

At the time the church was established, Rev. Cummings was a well-known and respected circuit rider in East Tennessee. Born October 26, 1787, Rev. Cummings was admitted to the Tennessee Methodist Conference in 1820.

Circuit riders had a simple plan of evangelism: They went where the people lived, and they ministered to their needs. Often, one of the first visitors to a family who had just arrived in a settlement was a Methodist circuit rider. If the preacher found a warm welcome, he might spend the night with the family. Upon leaving the following day, he would usually promise to return the following month on a certain day to teach, preach and hold services again.

These little pockets of people sometimes became the core of a new Methodist congregation. As the community grew in size, church members often built a structure. Often the family who donated the land for a new church gave its name to the new church, often followed by the word chapel. In fact many churches bear the name such as Murphy’s Chapel or Headrick’s Chapel.

This was not the case at Cummings Chapel. The land was donated by John Bogart. Perhaps the Bogart family hosted Rev. Cummings in their home and gained so much respect for him they suggested naming the church in his honor. Otherwise, the church probably would have been known as Bogart’s Chapel.


Rev. Cummings did not settle near the church named for him. He purchased a farm at Walden’s Creek and worshipped at Shiloh Methodist Church. It was said that Rev. Cummings had a limited education, but he was a diligent student ad acquired great skill in writing and speaking.

Rev. Lemuel Bogart, an ordained Methodist minister, was responsible for overseeing the construction of the church and led the flock for the first three decades. Born April 29, 1808, Rev. Bogart was well respected in the community. During his tenure, he officiated at numerous funerals, weddings and baptisms in the Jones Cove, Fair Garden and Harrisburg communities.

Rev. Bogart kept a log of marriages he performed. The list containing the marriages in which he officiated, before the fire that destroyed the Sevier County Courthouse along with all its records, is invaluable to local genealogists.

Although Rev. Cummings lived in another section of the county, the notoriety of the church’s namesake continued to grow. In the heat of the Civil War he was excluded from the Southern Methodist Conference because he refused loyalty to the Confederate government. His stand made him extremely popular with the majority of Sevier County residents, who were Union sympathizers. Two of Rev. Bogart’s own sons, Lemuel Jr. and Samuel, enlisted in the Union Army, serving in the Second Tennessee Cavalry, Company D.

Parson William Brownlow found refuge at Rev. Cummings’ farm during the aftermath of the in-famous bridge burnings by pro-Union partisans in November 1861. On Dec. 2, Brownlow, Cummings and a third suspect appeared before a Blount County Justice of the Peace and swore an affidavit that they had possessed no advanced knowledge of the bridge burnings.

In 1865 Rev. Cummings was a charter member of the Holston Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, when it was organized at Athens, Tennessee. Rev. Bogart joined the conference as well. Cummings Chapel was assigned to the Fair Garden Circuit.

Rev. Cummings spent his last days on his little farm on Walden’s Creek. Here he had settled his family and put out a fine orchard. His wife died several years before his death, and a widowed daughter cared for him in his old age. He died at his home on June 20, 1869, at the age 81. At his request, he was buried on the site of old Shiloh Church, under where the pulpit had stood.


Rev. Bogart continued to lead the flock at Cummings Chapel until his death on May 3, 1888, at age 80. He is buried in the Cummings Chapel Cemetery.

In 1906, the congregation decided to build a new building about two miles away on Jones Cove Road. By this time the early members who could remember the old circuit-riding preacher had passed on, and the membership renamed it Cedar Bluff Methodist Church. Rev. R.C. Robertson was the first pastor in the new building.

Members continue to embrace their rich heritage with two services a year in the old church. Although the old building does not have electricity, an evening candlelight service takes place the first Sunday in December and a Heritage Day celebration is held on the first Sunday in May.

Carroll McMahan is special projects facilitator and serves as Sevier County historian for the Sevierville Chamber of Commerce.

The Upland Chronicles series celebrates the past of Sevier County.