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My wife and I live in Barren County and when we got word that her uncle, Carl Bush, was pastoring the Salt River Church in Lawrenceburg, we thought it might be a good time for a day trip. It was a beautiful Sunday morning when we arrived for the service and we were made to feel right at home. Probably most people who live in and around the Lawrenceburg area are aware of some of the history of the Old Salt River Baptist Church. From talking with my wife’s uncle at family gatherings and also checking information found on the internet and other sources, it’s evident that Salt River Church has a great legacy. As worship services are once again being held in the old building, I want to update some of the church’s history as well as that of recent events.
There are few churches in the nation with the history of Salt River Baptist Church. Founded in 1798 as Salt River Primitive Baptist, the church began with seven charter members. One of those was John Penney, the great-grandfather of J.C. Penney. The original building where services were first held was a log structure that was destroyed by fire. That was replaced in 1842 with the present building that stands today.
At the east side of the church there is a cemetery that contains the graves of an estimated 300 people, with the first stone dated to 1820, and the last to its final burial in 1968.
In recent years a new marker was placed at the grave of Corp. Joseph Parker, who was an aide to General George Washington in the Revolutionary War. For years no one thought regular services would ever be held in the church again.
“From copies of old newspaper articles I have, the last regular services were held in the 1940s, with a few homecoming events taking place after that,” Bro. Carl said. In 1977, some local people got together and did some restoration work on the building and cemetery. The weatherboard siding and roofing were replaced with corresponding materials from an old house and the church was painted from top to bottom.
Overgrown trees and bushes were cut and the cemetery was mowed and grave markers were straightened.
However, it wasn’t long before things started falling into disrepair and more work would be required.
“About 12 years ago a local committee was formed and funds were raised,” he said. “The building was made structurally sound and the roof and siding were replaced.”
Bro. Carl says in 2005 he found out that a group was having Wednesday night services in the church.
“There had been some thought that the old building might be turned into a museum but that never happened. I was preaching part-time at another church when someone told me about the mid-week services.
“I attended some of the meetings and it turned out that they were wanting to quit so I decided to see if maybe the old building could be used again for regular services.” He says when he started the process of making the church a full-time place of worship, things just seemed to fall into place.
“There were hurdles, but the Lord has blessed us right from the start,” he said. “After getting some paperwork done with the state, everything just took off.”
The first service was held Sept. 30, 2007. Bro. Carl says that definitely the Lord didn’t want the place turned into a museum; he wanted it to be a church again.
“We started out with three charter members and zero money. We’ve never borrowed money at the bank, but we’ve built a fellowship room, installed new carpet, new plumbing and put in central heat and air.”
He says recently the church received a sizable donation from a man that lives in Alabama who has relatives that are buried in the cemetery.
“We have people who need help in the church and also in the community, and that’s where most of that money will go.” One can only imagine the number of people who have come forward to accept God’s grace through the many years of Salt River Church’s existence. Bro. Carl says that same grace is being freely offered today with a gospel message that hasn’t changed. Church membership stands at 43, with last Mother’s Day having 67 in attendance.
Everyone can be proud that Salt River Independent Baptist Church is maintaining a wonderful heritage that began long ago.