A Cub Reporter Story. A small town in Tennessee where the old general store and local church have a historic connection. One that was kept a tight secret for years.
As a reporter I’m always on the lookout for a good story.
I found this one in Tennessee.
I was on vacation. A road trip, taking in the sights of this great country. On this particular day I was driving through the back roads of Tennessee when I happened upon a small rural town. A small slice of Americana most people don’t get to see when their zipping down the freeway.
At the edge of this town, right at the end of main street was a grassy hill with an old white church prominently sitting on the very top. I pulled up to the general store and went in. The old wood floor creaked out a bit of history with each step I took. I silently wondered how many great men had walked upon these worn down planks of wood before me.
I picked out a couple of items from off the shelf and walked them up to the counter. The clerk was a friendly sort so I took the opportunity to ask him if there was a story behind the old church at the edge of town. He was more than happy to answer my question. With it came one heck of a history lesson.
“Why yes, I know the story,” replied the clerk. “We call that the Hollow Hill Church and here’s why…
Two brothers, twins in fact, came to town sometime in the 1840’s. One was a preacher, the other a merchant. The preacher was named James. He built a congregation here and he and the parishioners built that church soon after.
The other brother was named Michael. He built the old general store that sits at the bottom of the hill. It’s now a museum.”
The clerk stopped to answer a question from another customer then continued.
“Michael began to raise a lot of curiosity in town when a mound of dirt began to show up just outside his back door. He told anyone who was curious enough to ask, that he was digging a root cellar.
Fact is, he was digging a tunnel into the center of the hill. Once he was under the church he dug straight up, finally breaking through directly under the building.
Once the tunnel connected the two buildings, The two brothers then dug out a large room within the tunnel right where it turned to go up.”
Now my curiosity was peaked. “Why would these two brothers be digging a tunnel with a room in the middle?” I asked.
“Well,” the clerk continued. “Turns out Michael and James had an ulterior motive from the day they came to town. Seems they were involved in what is now known as the underground railroad. They would take in runaway slaves and hide them in their secret room. The two brothers would purchase food, clothing and blankets with their own money and distribute them to those they took in. This went on for several years until slavery was finally abolished. No one was ever the wiser.”
“That’s quite a story,” I stated aloud.
“But that’s not the end of the story,” continued the clerk.
“Once the room was no longer in use, Michael decided to use it as a storage room and a real root cellar for his store. The story goes, as luck would have it, while expanding the room he happened to hit upon a vein of pure gold. It was a small vein that petered out quickly, but it was enough to give the two brothers a very comfortable living for the rest of their lives.”
“So they were repaid in the end,” I commented.
“Yes, the Lord works in mysterious ways, doesn’t He,” answered the clerk.
“I suppose He does,” I replied.
I thanked him for the history lesson. I decided to walk over to the general store, now a museum and introduce myself.
Turns out the old general store and the church were now both museum’s. The woman who ran the place happened to be Michael’s great great granddaughter. She was happy to fill me in on a few lesser known details to what I had already been told, Plus, she was kind enough to give me an exclusive tour of the tunnel, the room and the church.
It was a great history lesson and one of the highlights of my trip. I left that small town with another great story. One I would never forget.
© Copyright 2023 by Scott A. Gese All Rights Reserved.
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