Architecture of Cove Churches

Primitive Baptist Church

Primitive Baptist Church


Missionary Baptist Church

By Jake wells

 “Religion was introduced to the cove at an early date by the first settlers, John and Lucretia Oliver.”[1] Religion, from the start was a large aspect of life in the Cove.  These contributions can be seen in that out of the few remaining buildings in the Cove, both the Missionary and the Primitive Churches still remain much in the same way as when they were taken possession of by the Park Service.


The primitive Baptist Church in Cades Cove was the first Church in the Cove, as well as the only Church up until a schism occurred in the Baptist leadership over the merit of mission work.[2] The Church is one of the remaining buildings in the Cove. In comparison with the Missionary church the outsides of both Churches share a great deal in common. One such examples of this commonality can be seen in construction of the bell towers which are nearly identical , minus the fact that the Primitive Church has a larger tower. Another example is the near identical internal layouts of the Churches with the pulpit at the end farthest from the door, as well as having a large open area just before the pulpit and after the pews. Yet another example is the framing of the building itself. The shape of the Churches are both the same rectangle with the door on one of the smaller sides and the pulpit opposite the door, with a bell tower above the main door. Both also share a utilitarian approach to what a church should be as Elizabeth J. Leppman states Mountain churches remain small and inconspicuous because the church, while central to its members, need not display this importance to the world. The congregation does not expect that non-members will need to be attracted there. The church is the place set apart for ‘the saints’ to worship, and other activities such as education and social events take place elsewhere.”[3]

   The biggest difference between the two Churches are on the inside of the buildings. The difference becomes quite apparent as soon as one sets foot into the Churches. The Primitive Church’s interior is made up entirely of unpainted, stained boards. These boards are not only the floor, but also the walls and the celling. While the Missionary Church’s interior is painted with white and yellow paint, and has a more ornate pulpit. The paint is not the only difference between the Churches, the Missionary Church also boasts a Bay like area behind the Pulpit bringing in quite a bit more light than is present in the Primitive Church. Perhaps the Park service is responsible for the disparities in regards to the interiors of the Churches, be that by painting the interior of the Missionary Church or by removing the paint from the Primitive Church. The Park Service however may not be the reasoning behind the painting, and lack thereof, perhaps it is a statement on the ideological outlooks of each respected Church. The lack of poshness in the Primitive Church speaks to the older more time-honored views of the Church. Whereas the white-washed interior of the Missionary Church represents the more progressive ideals of the members. Either way the effect is just as powerful. The more rustic feeling of the Primitive Church can be felt in the distance from the main loop of the Park today, whereas the Missionary Church is right on the main loop, representing the Missionary Churches more main stream approach to what a Church should be.

Perhaps the reason for the over abundancies in commonalities stem from the fact that the people who broke off from the Primitive Church formed the Missionary Church, and not an outside group. The reason for the Churches being nearly identical may be due to the fact that the Primitive Church building was their view of what a Church building looked like. 


[1] Durwood Dunn, Cades Cove  (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1988),100.

[2] Durwood Dunn, “Cades Cove During the Nineteenth Century” (Doctorate thesis : University of Tennessee, 1976), 149.

[3] Elizabeth J. Leppman, “Appalachian Churchscapes: The Case of Menifee County, Kentucky,” Southeastern Geographer 45, no. 1 (2005): 99.