Mountain Church Memories

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The Church in the Cove | Tazewell County, VA | c. 1897

This idyllic church in western Virginia is nestled in a quiet rural setting amidst the Appalachian Mountains. The community it served eventually became known as “The Cove” which was comprised mostly of farmers who worked hard to sustain life in a challenging landscape. In isolated mountain communities like this one, people kept to themselves but looked out for their own.

The Brown Family

One prominent farming family here was the Browns. Orville Musick and Zarilda Brown were married in 1859 and when war broke out two years later, it is said that O.M. walked from his home in Virginia to Kentucky to enlist. Records show that he served in Co. E 10th Kentucky Cavalry, although there are conflicting thoughts on whether he served for the Union or the Confederacy as there was a troop by the name on both sides. When he returned from the war, O.M. and Zarilda focused on farming and building a family which eventually included 11 children.

Top row: Orville Musick Brown, Georgia Alice Brown (Thompson), Mildred Zarilda Young (Brown); Second row: Jefferson Orville Brown, Nancy “Nannie” Higginbotham Brown (Barnes), Minnie Agnes Brown (White); Third row: Margaret Elizabeth “Betty” Brown, Mary Brown, Evelyn “Eva or Evvie” Louise Brown, Mattie Belle Brown (Goodman), Bottom row: Jennie Eliza Brown (Crockett), Hugh Young Brown, Lillie Octavia Brown (Crockett)

The Church in the Cove

The Browns were known for their tight connections within this mountain community and they wanted to give back. So in February 1897, O.M. Brown and his wife, Zarilda Young Brown, gave 1/8th of an acre to trustees of Southern Presbyterian Church and the Methodist Episcopal Church. The Browns conveyed this land in “the Cove” to be known as the ‘Cove Church.’

Orville Musick Brown (1833-1902)

A few years after he donated this land, O.M. passed away, his obituary read: “O.M. Brown, aged 62 years, died of pneumonia, on Dec. 22nd at his home in the west end of the county. Mr. Brown was a well-known and prominent citizen of the county, and in the estimation of his neighbors and acquaintances, was highly regarded. He leaves a large family, and numerous connections in this county.” -Clinch Valley News, 2 January 1903

The Church in the Cove

In the early years, this was a federated congregation, used by both Presbyterians and Methodists. The congregation was the same each Sunday, but each denomination would take turns leading services on a rotating basis. In later years, services were mostly Presbyterian and the Church became commonly known as Cove Presbyterian Church.

By 1965, the Methodists had officially removed their interest from the church, and in 1968, the Presbyterians did too due to declining attendance. With neither denomination supplying ministers anymore, the building was lent to a local man named Mr. Walter “Brownie” Elswick who led services here for the Church of God from 1968-2008 in exchange for maintenance of the building. After 2008, the building hasn’t been used for regular services but was sometimes used for weddings and funerals of local residents. In 2013, the nearby Presbytery, who still held the deed for the property, released the deed back to the descendants of the Brown Family. The family hoped to identify a local non-profit to convey the property to for preservation but plans seemingly stalled.

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This is the Brown Family cemetery, located across the road from the church that they created.

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  1. I have received and followed your wonderful posts for several years now, and admire your research and dedication. I’m a retired English teacher with an Appalachian background and enjoy seeing and reading about days gone by. My husband and I have been booksellers and traveled much of the east coast finding books and memorabilia in most states, not to mention befriending fellow bookshop owners. So you can imagine that our 1927 bungalow is stuffed with vintage and newer books that I am doing my best to at least sample, if not finish. Thank you again for your site and insights.

  2. I love the story and the photos. I find myself studying their faces, wondering what they were thinking in the moment the photo was taken.

  3. Enjoyed the history of this family and community. I couldn’t help but notice that the entire family looks alike, all with that sad, solemn look. However, I’ve noticed that a lot in old pictures and thought it was just like they posed for family photos back in the day plus the fashions and lack of makeup.

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