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An honorable past: Depew's Chapel dates back to before the Civil War

Leigh Ann Laube • Jan 31, 2014 at 8:30 AM

As a first grader, Penny Hood Watson desperately wanted to portray Mary in her church’s nativity. But there weren’t enough girls attending Depew’s Chapel United Methodist Church, and the role of Mary went to Sherry Byington. Watson got to play Joseph.

Decades later, she still attends Depew’s Chapel, a traditional country church on Reservoir Road with a history dating well before the Civil War.

"This is home," Watson said. "The Lord’s never led me anywhere else."

Watson comes from a long line of Hoods who not only attended Depew’s Chapel, but who served the church as ministers. According to a church history, families of Little Horse Creek Community — the community along present-day Reservoir Road in the shadow of Bays Mountain — met in May 1849 and appointed trustees to take contributions to procure a building site and to supervise the building of The Methodist Episcopal Church, which would also serve as a school.

The trustees — Dutton Hood, Bird Malear, Ellis Fair, William Carberry, Nelson Dolen, Thomas Overbay and John H. Easley — procured a lot from Capt. Isaac Depew, a Revolutionary War veteran, on Little Horse Creek to build a church they called the Methodist Episcopal Church. Isaac Depew had been purchasing land in the area since 1823. Dutton Hood served as the first minister of the church.

In 1885, Isaac’s son William "Billy" Depew and his wife gave additional land adjoining the original plot to build a new church. Church trustees at that time were John Easley, Edwin Easley, Benjamin F. Hood, John N. Stidman and James Stidman. This church was named Depew’s Chapel and Depew, who served as a chaplain for the Union army during the Civil War, served as the first minister of this church. Depew preached his last sermon on his 81st birthday in 1908.

Between 1849 and 1940, it is likely that three generations of Hoods also served the church as ministers — the Rev. Dutton Hood; Dutton’s son, the Rev. Benjamin Franklin Hood; and Benjamin’s son, the Rev. Lafayette Hood.

Penny Hood Watson isn’t the only Hood descendant at the church today. Dutton Hood is her great-great-great-grandfather, and he is the great-great-grandfather of church historian Jim Easley, who is Watson’s cousin. John Hamilton Easley, another trustee, is Easley’s other great- great-grandfather.

There are other current members of the church who are descendants of the original trustees.

Today’s church building is the 1885 structure, but with some additions. In the 1940s and 1950s, the church, which sits on three and a quarter acres, added two rooms for Sunday school classes. The felowship hall was built in 1983.

Hood remembers when the church didn’t have a bathroom.

"There was an outhouse," she said, "but we didn’t go in it. Too many spiders. I’m sure we just watered the flowers."

The 77-member church is pastored by Nathan Ware, a former Navy chaplain who retired to this area and who had been attending Depew’s Chapel since 2001. When the previous pastor stepped down in 2009, the congregation asked Ware to come out of retirement.

"That’s hard to turn down," Ware said. "In fact, it’s impossible."

Ware serves a small congregation, but it’s a congregation with a big heart and high hopes for the future. The members financially support a number of charities, including Holston Home for Children, Second Harvest Food Bank, Billy Wayne Ministries, and the Salvation Army’s Angel Tree project.

Terry Byington began attending with his sister Sherry and their parents in the 1950s.

"I’ve been going here all my life," he said. "I like the atmosphere and where the church is. It’s just the beauty of it."

Jim Easley calls himself a late bloomer to Depew’s. He previously attended two different Methodist churches before making his way to Depew’s about 15 years ago.

Barry Watson, Penny’s husband, was raised in the Catholic church in North Carolina. He met Penny through a local singles group and now attends her church.

"I’ve always liked that this church gets into the Bible more than the Catholic church does," he said.

Scott and Sandra Young have been at Depew’s for about three years, and have proved invaluable with the church upkeep.

"We have a lot of bright spots in this church. The Youngs have devoted themselves to all areas of the church with such passion, love and excitement, to spread the gospel and live the gospel of Jesus Christ," Ware said.

On Sunday mornings, traditional hymns are sung and Ware preaches from the King James Version of the Bible. To remember the beginnings of the church, you need only to walk through the two nearby cemeteries, which serve as the resting place for many of the founders and early church members.

"I feel like, as a culture, we’re losing touch as to what we’re about as a nation," Ware said. "We need to rekindle American patriotism and our United States. Isaac Depew was one of the original Overmountain Men. This was his property. His son William ‘Billy’ was pastor here for many years. It has quite an illustrative and honorable past and an exciting past. Put it all together and this is a great place to serve Jesus Christ. We’re here to see people that others don’t see, transform lives and change the world for Jesus Christ."

Depew’s Chapel offers a Sunday school at 10 a.m., followed by the church service at 11 a.m. Bible study is held at 7 p.m. each Wednesday. For its younger members, there is a new Awana program.

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