The Old Church on the Dry Ridge

Church History

The organization, in 1791, of this first church in what is now Grant County, when Kentucky was still a part of Virginia, is fully documented in Lloyd Wayne Franks' published "Journal of Elder William Conrad: Pioneer Preacher", including the membership rolls from 1791 to 1826. Lloyd's editing of Elder William Conrad's surviving records included the reorganization of this "0ld Church on the Dry Ridge" in 1826 as the Williamstown Church of Christ, Particular Baptist, and its vicissitudes and continuing history until 1882. Lloyd is the great-great-great grandson of Jacob and Elizabeth Franks, two of the original members of this old church.

In 1892, ten years after the death of Elder William Conrad (1797-1882), "The Old Church on the Dry Ridge" consisted of one congregation and two meeting houses, four miles apart. Elder Conrad's next to youngest and last surviving son died in 1891; his energetic grandchildren, nephews and nieces, younger cousins and other members of this old church proceeded with the construction of the building on Warsaw Avenue (then Warsaw Road), Dry Ridge, which was dedicated
June 26, 1892. The minutes of the business meetings prior to that date indicated that the entire congregation contemplated moving to this location, but this turned out somewhat differently. The congregation had been meeting for many years in its meeting house at the intersection of Mill and Falmouth Streets in Williamstown (a location now included in the Williamstown Cemetary property). When it came time to move, several members, including the Barnes, Childers and others residing closer to or in Williamstown decided to continue to worship in Williamstown. These closer to the new meeting house in Dry Ridge, including the Conrads, Renakers, Skirvins and Steers, the majority, met here as "The Williamstown Church of Christ, Particular Baptists, at Dry Ridge." The one congregation - two meeting houses concept was formalized by a set of joint resolutions signed by most members in 1897. There were 38 members worshiping at the Dry Ridge meeting house and 14 members worshiping at Williamstown.

The May 30, 1901 edition of The Williamstown Courier, in its history of Grant County churches reads, in part, as follows:
PRIMITIVE BAPTIST CHURCH - The first church organization in Grant county was the denomination now known as Primitive Baptists.

That was at a date anterior to the organization of the county. The first church organization and the first church house built in Grant county was a Primitive Baptist church one-half mile south of Dry Ridge and it was here that Elder William Conrad was converted to the Lord.

There are at the present time three Primitive Baptist churches in the county. The Fork Lick Baptist church was organized in 1818, and the old church house in which they now worship has been standing more than sixty years. The present pastor is Rev. Wesley Billitter and the membership is fourteen.

The Williamstown Primitive Baptist church was organized in1827.  The membership at this date was 24 and the pastor the
Rev. Wesley Billitter. It was here for years and years that Elder William Conrad preached to his flock. The old church house was torn down some years ago and a neat, new building erected in its place. 

The Dry Ridge Primitive Baptist church is a part of the old Williamstown Baptist church and was organized in 1890 and a handsome new church building erected. The membership is nearly 100 and it is said to be the wealthiest congregation in the county.  Rev. J. J. Gilbert, of Winchester, is the pastor.

It may be appropriate here to state that the Fork Lick Church referred to above was located just south of present Kentucky Highway 36 and immediately west of Fork Lick Creek. Regular meetings were held through 1937 and irregularly thereafter.
The last business meeting of this old church took place on November 16, 1940, and the property was transferred to the nearby Stringtown Christian Church.

This was the church of the Hedges, Northcutts and remnants of the Thompson family, pioneer settlers in the area.  The last business meeting at the Williamstown meeting house was held on August 24, 1918. A later, and final notation in the minutes book, dated January, 1919, reads: "No meeting since the last record on account of the influenza."  Church records normally consist of recorded minutes of business meetings, copies of correspondence received or sent, and letters from one church to another certifying that a member is in good faith and is moving his membership by letter.  In addition, there are usually financial records and various other records.

The Dry Ridge Church of Christ, Primitive Baptist, the name later adopted by the congregation, enjoyed the ministries of Elder J. J. Gilbert, who came with the congregation from Williamstown, and Elder Seldon Steers (ordained August 29, 1896, a great grandson of Elder William Conrad), both capable and devoted servants of the Lord, as were Elders W. L. Lines of Indiana and Harvey Daily of Virginia who filled the pulpit thru World War I until 1920.

A young minister from Ohio, Elder E. A. Huchison M.A.; LL.D., who had recently pastored the elderly and diminishing congregation at Williamstown, was called to Dry Ridge, ministering to this church without interruption thru 1934. A devout Christian, well grounded in the Faith by maternal' Old Baptists and paternal Presbyterians, educated as a teacher and administrator, whose thoughts and comments were well organized and superbly delivered, whose love for and sympathetic understanding of his fellow men was evident, and who was called by the Lord to preach; Elder Huchison's profound influence is still felt throughout this church today.  He served as U.S. Army Chaplain (Colonel) thru World War II after which he returned to this old church. During his absence, sincere Elder R. C. Moore of Ohio ably filled the pulpit.

Although certainly not recognized at the time, the reorganization of this Old Baptist Church into a Presbyterian Church of the U.s. (and UPUSA) began in the late 1940's. The church practices of our pioneer ancestors (other than posting sentries to guard against Indian attack) continued up to this time with church services held on the first Sunday of each month and with a worship service and business meeting on the Saturday afternoon preceding. Other denominations would make extensive use of pianos or other musical instruments, choirs, collection plates, responsive readings, Sunday Schools, missionary societies and other organizations, but not the Old Baptists who practiced their deep and abiding faith in their daily lives and in their meeting house one Sunday a month.

In January, 1948, nearly 157 years after the founding of this old church, it was unanimously decided to not only hold church services on the first Sunday, but on the third Sunday of each month as well. In addition to Elder Huchison, another minister would be available. R. P. Conrad III - Bobby - had earlier expressed his desire to preach and had been "liberated" by the church in March, 1947, to "exercise his gift". Bobby's development as a preacher was phenomenal; the outstanding ability he demonstrated was far above that shown by other dedicated men with much more extensive experience. To the deep sorrow of the entire church and his family, Bobby had only a limited time to develop his gift; he died June 2, 1948, at the age of 26, after a short illness.

A few months later, Bobby's father, R. P. Conrad II, heard the call of the Lord, and was "liberated" by the church "to exercise his gift" on October 2, 1948.  A friendly, kindly man who had a moderate stutter all his life, he delivered perfect sermons without any speech impediment whatsoever. He was ordained on June 5, 1949, and faithfully served the old church until disabled by the illness leading to his death in 1952.

During his ministry, Elder and Sister Conrad gave the piano, now in use, to the church "to be played at funerals, weddings
and other special occasions". Thus ended another Old Baptist practice, with the piano being played at every worship service a year later. Sister Odella Conrad Hearne later donated Elder R. P. Conrad's desk and the remnants of Elder
William Conrad's library to the church.

Elder Huchison continued his dedicated services to the church, but requested retirement when another minister could be found. In November, 1953, the church called Elder Khomer Beaty of Alabama as full-time minister with worship services scheduled for every Sunday beginning in 1954. A capable youthful minister, Elder Beaty requested that Bible Study, or Sunday School, be initiated to attract younger people, which was approved in June, 1954. This ended the cherished Old Baptist belief that the Bible should only be taught in the home or by an ordained Elder rather than by lay members in Sunday School.

Elder Beaty remained with the church for more than two years. During this time, Guy J. Steers felt the call of the Lord to preach and was "liberated" by the church in December, 1954. He was ordained the third Sunday in March, 1955, a staunch and incorruptible servant of the Lord. Elder Steers filled the pulpit until shortly before his death in June, 1958, serving with diligence and confidence.

Following Elder Steers' passing, several ministers visited and served on a temporary basis. Some that were excellent preachers and would have been otherwise eligible for call on a full-time basis objected to one or more changes in church practice, such as the use of musical instruments or Bible Study. Church doctrine was solid, as laid down by the Articles of Faith, but church practice was a bone of contention in some cases. In April, 1959, Elder H. H. Garrett of California was called and remained as pastor over a year.  In August, 1960, Elder W. G. Bell of Tennessee was called and remained until mid-1962. Elder Ralph Morris of Indiana then accepted a call and remained until mid-1964. Elder Donald Johnson of Indiana accepted a full-time appointment and remained until April, 1972. During Elder Johnson's tenure, it was voted, in 1966, not unanimously, but with no determined opposition (the peace of the church not being disturbed), to pass the collection plate at Sunday services, another departure from previous Old Baptist practice. A talented and skillful pastor, Elder Johnson concluded, however, after nearly eight years, he could no longer tolerate the use of a musical instrument during church services.

Visiting ministers, as available, served the church until the ordination of Elder Ganes Turner on April 15, 1973. Four months earlier, he asked for the opportunity to enter the pulpit and try to preach, which the church granted.  Elder Turner was called on a full-time basis, with the understanding that his health may not permit him to serve every Sunday. On November 2, 1974, Elder Turner's resignation because of health was accepted.  In that business meeting, it was unanimously voted to contact the Louisville Presbytery of the Presbyterian church to see if they would supply a minister or ministers. Student ministers were supplied, and the possibility of this old church becoming a Presbyterian church was explored. On March 2, 1975, the church formally voted to request Presbyterian affiliation. The request was approved in due course by the Louisville Presbytery. On Sunday, June 1,1975, Elders were ordained by the Presbyterian church and this old church was rededicated.

The change to Presbyterianism was a step taken only after prayers for guidance and due deliberation. As an Old Baptist Church, this church, like all Baptist churches, was governed by the congregation. Its historic bias against outside control was so strong that it last participated in, and tolerated the interference of, an association of churches of like faith and order in 1855, 121 years ago.

In making this Presbyterian affiliation, the church gave up direct, congregational control by electing "Ruling Elders" who act for the congregation. This change was minimized by electing one Ruling Elder from each family represented in the congregation, resulting in a large number of Ruling Elders for the size of the congregation.

The question of property control is another item sympathetically handled by the Louisville Presbytery. The third area of outside control is that of choice and call of ministers, referred to by Old Baptists and Pioneering Presbyterians as "Preaching or Teaching Elders". The call and renewal of call of Teaching Elders is effected by a three-way agreement between the Ruling Elders, the Louisville Presbytery, and the minister or ministers involved.

Since the retirement of Elder E. A. Huchison in 1953, it became increasingly difficult to obtain well trained ministers. Primitive Baptists have no seminaries so there was no regular source of supply. Four ministers were developed from our own membership; all these dedicated men have since passed on. In addition to temporary, visiting ministers who served the church for short periods of time, five ministers from outside sources were called for various periods of time ranging from 1 year to 8 years each. Finally in November of 1974, we could no longer locate an available Primitive Baptist minister. A decision had to be made: Should we close the Church for lack of a minister?

We could not bring ourselves to believe that it was the will of God to close these doors and abandon this building which has such a rich historical background as to cause us to be here today.  So we began to explore other possibilities. There had to be an answer: It was stated by some members that we were very close in doctrine with the Presbyterians and perhaps we could ask the Presbyterian Seminary in Louisville to supply student ministers while we explored the idea of changing from Primitive Baptist to Presbyterian. This was the unanimous decision of regularly attending members.

The Presbytery was most cooperative and the students came, while we Old Baptists busied ourselves with learning what it would mean to become Presbyterian.  Then after the passing of several months, it was time for action again. All members were officially notified of a meeting on March 2, 1975, at which time a decision as to the future of this Church would be made. At that meeting, action was taken to affiliate with the Presbyterian Church and on April 7, 1975, we were officially accepted by Presbytery as a Presbyterian congregation.

On June 1, 1975, this old Church was rededicated as the Dry Ridge Presbyterian Church.  With this change, we have preserved what was so dear to our ancestors and the doors of this now historic Church remain open indeed.  The founding of "The Old Church on the Dry Ridge" in 1791 by our pioneer forebears is recognized by the granting of a Kentucky Highway Historical Marker, Number 1560.

Also honored by name are Elders Lewis Corban, John Conner, Squire Boone and William Conrad. The reorganization as a Presbyterian Church is also cast in metal. The dedication of this historical marker was conducted by Rev. Robert Frere, Executive Presbyter of the Louisville Presbytery.