It's springtime in the beautiful hilltops of middle Tennessee and, as has been the custom for many years, there was a special Easter Sunrise Service in the Northcutts Cove Chapel.
This quaint little wooden-frame building with its bell tower and spire stands as a monument to the Church in Grundy County, just as the headstones in the adjoining cemetery are monuments to the stalwart families of Northcutts Cove in what is now the Altamont Ward."This facility to us is like the Tabernacle was to Brigham Young and the pioneers," Pres. Phil K. Smartt Jr. of the Chattanooga Tennessee Stake said in his address at the service.
"This is a legacy for us to remember our heritage, left to us by our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents who accepted the gospel and built this facility to show the Lord that they appreciated missionaries being sent to proclaim the gospel in this part of the Lord's vineyard."
The tiny chapel was filled with 135 people at the service.
Pres. Smartt grew up in Grundy County and is the great-grandson of John Tipton and Reuben Smartt, who both donated time and money to build the chapel. Pres. Smartt has taken a special interest in the renovation, restoration and maintenance of the edifice and its grounds. The sturdy, hand-made pulpit and benches are still in place; the original pot belly stove still stands as a reminder of the antiquity of this structure.
Exact replicas of the original porcelain coal oil lamps, chandeliers and front doors were in place for the Easter service.
The chapel was dedicated Oct. 24, 1909, by Charles A. Callis, president of the Southern States Mission and later a member of the Council of the Twelve.
On April 18, 1979, the chapel was placed on the National Register of Historic Places by the U.S. Department of Interior.
Built in 1909, it is one of the oldest standing meetinghouses of the Church in the southeastern United States. According to Pres. Smartt's records, the building was constructed and paid for by local members, friends and missionaries. John Tipton, a Northcutts Cove resident and Church member, donated the land.
The chapel is a landmark for members and non-members of the Church in Grundy County to admire. It is also a reminder of the occasion in local Church history when the frequent hostility against the Church stopped and a three-day debate took place between Pres. Callis and a Campbellite preacher. Latter-day Saints considered the unbiased newspaper reports of the debate to be a fair representation of the Church as a positive, growing Christian religion.
This came at a time when the Church was negatively viewed throughout much of the country. The debate subject was "the Gold Bible and Joseph Smith." Pres. Callis was a bridge between the 19th century missionary work and the modern practice of using mass information media, public communication and referrals.
At the time of the building's completion, Northcutts Cove was a headquarters for the Church's East Tennessee Conference. It became a center for disseminating LDS teaching in the state.
In 1916 there were 472 members of the Church in Grundy County, which was 25 percent of all the members in Tennessee. Even today the county has more Latter-day Saints than any other denomination.