A Brief History of Three Forks Association
by J. S. Bell Hindman, 1984
Three Forks Association is composed of thirty active Southern Baptist churches, two in Letcher County, five in Leslie, five in Knott and eighteen in Perry. There was a time when all of the Missionary Baptist churches in a five county area were affiliated with Three Forks.
At a meeting in the Hindman Baptist Church in 1900 a group of Baptists from the Booneville Association authorized the organization of Three Forks Association. The organization was perfected at the first annual meeting with Beech Grove Baptist Church on November 16, 1901 with seven member churches, namely, Beech Grove, Bush Branch, Hindman, Hazard, Dwarf, Johnson and Riverside. A. S. Petrey was elected as the first moderator. During his life time in the area, Petrey served as moderator sixteen terms.
Petrey was born in Whitley County, Kentucky. He was born again at his home church on little Cane Creek. He was in the first graduating class of Cumberland College at Williamsburg. While he was at Cumberland College, his English teacher, Dr. Johnson, asked him to write an essay on John Bunyan. His teacher was impressed with his essay and told him that he had a definite impression that God wanted him to preach the glorious gospel of Christ. The words of his teacher stabbed him in his innermost heart, for he had been struggling with this decision. After he surrendered to preach, he expected to be pastor of a church with a least five hundred members. However, at the annual meeting of Mt. Zion association in Whitley County, a Mr. Prestridge brought a message on foreign missions. At the climax of his message he said, "Oh, brethren, pray God that He will lay His hands on Asbel Petrey and on some other young men here to carry the gospel to the needy foreign fields." Petrey saw his responsibility. to a lost world and in his heart he said, "Here am I, Lord, send me." The fascination of a large church vanished and he was willing to win souls anywhere.
In the summer of 1897, some of Petrey's friends employed him to do evangelistic work in the mountain counties. One of the revivals he held was in the courthouse at Hazard which resulted in seventeen conversions. Baptists of the missionary kind had no church in Hazard. Just before he left Hazard, Dr. R. R. Baker and Pearl Combs told him that they had been praying much about a Baptist work in Hazard and begged him to come back and establish a church.
The next day he started by wagon to Jackson where he would get a train to Winchester and from there by train he would return to Williamsburg. On his way to Jackson when they came to Lost Creek, the son of the Presbyterian pastor of Hazard pointed to some logs lying across stones in a shady nook and said, "That is the only Baptist church building in Perry County." Petrey had grown up in a community where everybody who was a member of any church was a Baptist. He could not stand the thought of so many people without a Baptist witness. Here was a vast land from London to Hyden, to Hazard, south to Whitesburg and west to Jackson and not a single Missionary Baptist Church on the highway.
Petrey had a good position as a teacher in Cumberland College. He owned his own home near the college and was teaching teachers from ten counties. He told his wife of the great need in the Hazard area. After they had prayed about the challenge, they decided that it was God's will that they come to Hazard as missionaries. He resigned his teaching position and went to Hazard to make arrangements to move his family to Perry County. After an arduous journey, he arrived with his family in Hazard on February 10, 1898 when the French-Eversole war was coming to a close. Later he baptized survivors from both sides of that bloody war.
On August 27,1898, the First Missionary
Baptist Church of Hazard was organized, the first in Perry County and the second in a five county area (Hindman was the first in the larger area in 1897). After a year of back-breaking work, a beautiful house of worship was constructed. Twelve years later the building burned. But faith would not be denied. A brick structure replaced the burned building. Some of the materials were brought by flat boat up the Kentucky River, sixty miles from Jackson, Kentucky.
During his eighteen years at Hazard, Petrey organized a number of Baptist churches in the area. For one year he was pastor at Hindman, visiting the church one Sunday a month. On his way to Hindman, he met some people at Dwarf who asked him to hold a revival in the school house. As a result, the Dwarf Church was established. For sixteen years the Hazard Church permitted him to go to Dwarf one Sunday each month for services. Three splendid preachers came out of that ministry.
In 1909, Petrey assisted in services at Whitesburg. Forty-six persons were converted and a church was constituted. Later the Whitesburg Church asked him to preach for them one Sunday each month. The Hazard Church agreed to let him go. He rode horseback the forty miles and never missed an appointment. Some years later, he served the Whitesburg Church full time for three and one half years.
In 1914, Petrey held a revival at Cornettsville which resulted in the organization of the Mount Olivet Church.
One of the last churches he built was at Walkertown. He began his work as pastor of what is now Petrey Memorial Church in 1922 and served this church until his retirement.
Dr. Lewis W. Martin made a great contribution to the Association as pastor of the Hazard Church for five years and Home Board missionary for seven years. During his missionary work he went to difficult places, lived in a trailer while holding a Vacation Bible School and preaching in a revival. In 1934, Martin held a revival on the left fork of Mason's Creek at Viper and organized Lone Pine Church. Marion Brashear was called as the first pastor of Lone Pine and served the congregation forty years. He is still assistant pastor. Recently Lone Pine built a modern church building and a beautiful parsonage. Mike Caudill, a native of Hazard and a graduate of Cumberland College, is now serving as pastor.
D. C. [sic] C. D. Stevens was pastor of the Hazard Church for a time and did effective mission work in the area. He made a real contribution to the traininhg of young ministers.
H. G. M. Hatler was one of God's noblemen. He served as pastor at Hazard for seven years. He was a warm hearted evangelist and was used of the Lord to win many to Jesus in the area.
O. B. Gabbard has devoted his life to our people. He was pastor at Lothair for many years. He is a strong Baptist, loves Three Forks Association and the Baptist cause. He was moderator of the Association from 1951 to 1954.
Dr. L. O. Griffith served as moderator of the Association for nine years during which time he virtually did. the work of a director of missions while he was leading the Whitesburg Church in a church centered mission program, establishing thirteen missions in Letcher County. He had as his church motto, "Sharing the Gospel." He led his church to purchase a large bus and had the first bus outreach program in the association.
J. C. Dance and his wife were devoted missionaries in our area for many years. In 1939, the Executive Board of the Association asked Brother Dance and J. S. Bell to hold revival services in the courthouse in Hindman in an effort to persuade the Baptist Church there (the first Southern Baptist Church organized in this five county area) to come back into the Association and call a Southern Baptist minister as pastor. The Association agreed to pay the expenses of this effort. These men held a revival in
the spring and again in the fall of 1939. At the close of the second revival, the church at Hindman voted to come back into Three Forks Associati on and they called Bell to be their pastor. He accepted the call on Christmas Eve, 1939. Through the assistance of the State Mission Board of Kentucky Baptists, a church centered missions program was started which resulted in the salvation of many souls and the organization of five churches: Smithsboro, Montgomery, Caney, Dark Hollow and Mousie. Four of these churches are affiliated with Three Forks Association. The pastorate of Bell extended over a period of thirty-five years.
We note some highlights of certain sessions of the Associaton. During the eleventh session, there was emphasis on Foreign Missions and systematic giving. A strong appeal was made for the support of the ministry. At that time, there were 830 enrolled in the Sunday Schools of the nine churches.
At the fifteenth session, it was stated: "Most of the members of our churches are non-paying, non-praying members who are not anxious for the advancement of the Cause."
At the eighteenth session, there was alarm over the commercialism in the area due to many mining camps being built.
Three Forks pledged $37,315.05 to the "75 Million Campaign" in the early twenties. This was seven thousand more than their quota.
At the thirty-seventh session, A. S. Petrey was honored. A history of Petrey's work was authorized and appropriate plaques were placed in the churches where he had served as pastor.
In 1903, there were 42 baptisms reported by seven churches which had a total membership of 332 and church property valued at $2900.00. That year the churches gave $25.56 to mission and $33.81 to other benevolences. Nothing was reported for local expenses.
In 1980, the churches reported 377 baptisms, a resident membership of 5618 and church property valued at $4,419,000. They reported a Sunday School enrollment of 4872 and Vacation Bible School enrollment of 5153, total offerings $1,085,826 , Cooperative Program gifts of $99,508 and total mission gifts of $222,471.
Now a brief word about some of the churches:
SECOND CREEK CHURCH was organized under the leadership of J. W. Walker, who served the church as pastor until 1931.
FIRST CREEK was organized on August 6, 1933 and the first pastor was Isadore Childers. Boyd Campbell purchased a building for the church.
TYPO CHURCH was organized in 1950 under the leadership of A. S. Petrey, J. E. Howell, and Shafter Couch.
The WOOTON CHURCH began as a mission of the Hyden Church in 1958. It was organized in 1960 with 26 charter members and Chester Culver was called as pastor.
Under the direction of L. O. Griffith and Richard Bryant, work was begun at LEATHERWOOD mining camp in 1946. Leatherwood Church was organized in 1947. A tent was purchased by the Kentucky State Mission Board and Three Forks Association, which served as a place of worship for a time. The church has come through trials of changing economy and destruction of their building by fire but they continue to bear a witness for Christ through the faithfulness of laymen like C. A. Easterling.
The HYDEN CHURCH was first organized in 1896 through the labors of A. S Petrey but due to circumstances, it was disbanded. It was reorganized in 1908 and has continued to proclaim the gospel in this county seat town. The church has one mission, Short Creek.
The WHITESBURG CHURCH, Joe Brown, pastor, is sponsoring three missions: Colson, Eolia and Premium. This church, through the years, has reached out into Letcher County to evangelize the area.
COMBS CHURCH was organized on Novemer 6, 1926 ands. C. Couch was called as pastor. The church has established four missions
which have become churches: Typo, Yerkes, Confluence and Big Willard.
PETREY MEMORIAL CHURCH began as a mission of Upper second Creek in 1922. Petrey led in its organization and was pastor for 18 years. Under the leadership of J. E. Howell, Big Creek and Allais were established as missions.
BIG CREEK became a church in 1953. Under the leadership of Archie Everage and Drew Martin, the church has made tremendous progress. It became full time with Drew Martin as pastor in 1970. They have sponsored a bus program, built an activities building, and purchased Video equipment which enables them to tape the Sunday morning services and braodcast over Hazard TV.
The MONTGOMERY CHURCH began as a mission of Hindman Church under the leadership of Archie Everage and Charlie Young. In 1957, it was organized as a church and Archie Everage was called as pastor. He has served the church ever since that time. Their building burned on Montgomery Creek and they have built one of the most modern buildings in the area near Carrie, Kentucky.
The MOUSIE CHURCH began as a mission of Hindman in 1941 and became a church in 1957 with Floyd Titsworth as the first pastor. Mousie took over the mission of Caney, which was begun by Hindman, and under the leadership of Titsworth constructed a building designed by Commodore Slone, who for many years was a teacher at Alice Lloyd College. The Mousie Church, maintains a bus ministry.
The CANEY CHURCH, sponsors a Social Ministries service in the community and offers a spiritual ministry to Alice Lloyd College students and faculty.
SMITHSBORO CHURCH began as a mission of Hindman in 1950, was organized as a church in 1957 and was served by Pastor Jesse Bourne for about twenty years. When Carrs Fork Lake was formed, the church located near Sassafras where they have built an attractive modern building.
LOTHAIR CHURCH was organized in 1922 as the result of a tent revival led by A. C. Hutson. The first building was built of native stone in 1925. The present building on Hemlock Street in Lothair was begun in 1961, later finished and veneered with brick. The church is now building a Sunday. School addition.
RED HILL CHURCH. began as a mission of Duane Church and was organized in 1941. The building was enlarged, a gas heating system and baptistry installed in 1968.
AIRPORT GARDENS and BLUEGRASS began as missions of First Church, Hazard. The present building of Airport Gardens was dedicated. on Nov. 6, 1966. The present pastor, James Hamblin, became pastor of the mission in December 1969 and has served faithfully. The mission was constituted as a church on August 13, 1972 with 100 charter members. The church is now building an addition of 8 Sunday School rooms. On October 16, 1980, the Bluegrass Mission was constituted into a church and Herbert Haynes was called to be pastor. He has been serving the mission for some time.
The YERKES and CONFLUENCE churches are the result of the Combs Church mission work.
The JEREMIAH CHURCH has recently completed a beautiful auditorium.
The HINDMAN CHURCH building burned and it is difficult to rebuild due to inflation.
THUS WE SEE that ALL OF OUR CHURCHES came into being through the BOLD MISSION minded pastors and churches united in fellowship as Three Forks Association.
[From The Kentucky Baptist Heritage Journal, Volume IX July, 1982 Number 1, pp. 8-11; via Adam Winters, SBTS Archivist. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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