This is Our Story...
The First Baptist Church of Erwin is one of the most historic congregations in Unicoi County and the church's founding as Greasy Cove Baptist Church predates the formation of the City, the County, and even the State of Tennessee. While little is known of the church prior to the late 1780s, Greasy Cove was the first church in what is now Unicoi County and was one of the seven churches which came together to form the Holston Baptist Association in 1786. Today, more than 230 years later, the First Baptist Church of Erwin still holds membership with the Holston Association. After nearly fifty years of fellowship, the church reorganized as Indian Creek Baptist Church in 1822. Fifty-three years later, the churchmembers voted to allow the newly-formed Unicoi County government to meet at the church's meetinghouse until a courthouse could be built. The city of Erwin's downtown area was given to the city by D. J. N. Ervin during the post-Civil War Reconstruction Period. Ervin (for whom our city was originally named) attended Indian Creek Baptist Church as a young boy. As the city expanded, the church followed alongside.
As First Baptist grew, so did the scope and scale of its missional focus. During this period of expansion, the name of the church was changed first to Erwin Baptist Church and then, in the first part of the 20th Century, to First Baptist Church. During its first century, the church planted six "daughter" churches – Flag Pond, Shallow Ford, Coffee Ridge, Ninth Street, Calvary, and Hulen. Each of these was planted as a mission to help its neighborhood grow in Christ. In 1912, the church established the Unaka Academy, a private high school open to all children in Unicoi County. The school was purchased by the city in 1916 and became the precursor to the county's public school system.
The land upon which the present church complex stands was given to the church in 1913 by congregant and businessman, A. R. Brown. A beautiful sanctuary with exquisite stained glass was erected on the corner of Main and Love Streets in 1915 with a small education wing built a few years later. However, the church’s explosive growth – fueled by a flourishing industrial sector in the city – meant that by the 1950s, a capital program was long overdue.
In 1957, a soaring, modernist space which still serves as the Sanctuary was built. Its clean lines, exposed-beam superstructure, and warm wood finishes remind us of the natural beauty of our city and surrounding mountains and the majesty of God’s amazing Creation.
A decade later – in 1967 – an 8’11” Steinway Model D grand piano was purchased for the church by one of its members. In 1970, a magnificent three-manual, 33 rank organ (with some 1,868 pipes!) was installed by the Schantz Company in the Sanctuary. These instruments complement our worship on Sunday Mornings and accompany both congregational singing and musical offerings by the Sanctuary Choir.
Today, as it has for more than twenty-three decades, our church stands as a beacon of hope for our area. Any community-wide worship service of significance is held here, and we pride ourselves on opening our doors to our fair city in times of jubilation or sadness.
A deeper look back into the storied history of our congregation
by Martha Brown Stromberg is available in the Church Library.