Borders Chapel Church

by Stephen Ray Preston Brackett
As originally published in the History of Lawrence County, 1991
Excerpted from the Jenny Wiley Association Newsletter Fall, 2000

    Borders Chapel United Methodist Church, the oldest church on the Big Sandy River to survive to the present era as a meetinghouse is situated on a wooden knoll and surrounded by large beech trees on land donated by my lineal grandfather, Hezekiah Borders.

     Methodist Circuit Church Records show that in 1812 church meetings were held at the homes of Hezekiah Borders, Judge Archibald Borders (his brother), John Burgess, and Moses Coby Preston.

     There is a reference on the 23rd day of March 1821 by virtue of part of one Kentucky Land Warrant #5166 and recorded as Survey 4579 in the Office of Secretary of State in Kentucky Land Warrant Book H #164 of seventy-five acres beginning near Polls Branch (Meetinghouse Branch) running southward with the course of the Big Sandy River to the mouth of Old House Branch, which included the Borders Chapel site, patented by Hezekiah Borders.

     The first reference to Meetinghouse Branch, which I have been able to document, is an old survey dated 20”’ October 1824, recorded in Lawrence County Survey Book A #22, p. iii, for 100 acres surveyed for Thomas and Reuben Vanhoose, lying partially in the head of Meetinghouse Branch, which was purchased by Hezekiah Borders. This survey documents the existence of the meetinghouse name prior to this survey. Also, William Ely wrote in 1887, “Hezekiah Borders settled on the Sandy River at what is known, and has been for sixty years, as Borders Chapel. He and his wife were great Methodists, and no Methodist preacher ever passed by the chapel during their lives who did not call to see these pious people. They passed to their reward many years ago, but a son of theirs, the now aged Joseph Borders---father of Joe H. Borders, journalist, who started the first newspaper, Cha#erawha News, 1881, in Louisa—owns and lives at the old homestead to represent his honored ancestors. The chapel has been rebuilt and is the best-looking log church in the valley.”2 So Borders Chapel was built ca 1823 by Hezekiah, his relatives and his neighbors.

     The second renovation of Borders Chapel would have been ca 1865-66, My late grandfather, J. Frank Preston, b. 1894, d. 1981, born a few hundred feet from the church, and a church trustee, recalled his grandfather, James Wallace Preston, b. 1836, d. 1917, married to Miranda Jane Borders, b. 1846, d. 1903, granddaughter of Hezekiah, telling of using his team of oxen to haul poplar logs for the church; that Hezekiah “Kye” Brown was 16 when he helped him haul the logs. Kye was born in 1850. Great grandfather Preston had especially relished William Davis enjoying the meals served by the women—William d. March 13,1866, in the 98th year of his life. (Tombstone.) It is not known if the first chapel was razed. It is plausible that original materials remain in the chapel. My mother and grandmother possess one poplar log taken from the old inn of Hezekiah’s, which was older than the church, and the log is in very good condition. Helping with the renovation were Joseph Borders, b. 1817; John Borders, b. 1823; Daniel G. Brown, b. ca 1811; Thomas K. Brown, b. 1843; Joseph H. Borders, b. 1843; Elias George, b. ca 1856; Wallace Borders, b. 1846; Nathan Borders, b. 1848; George Washington Brown, b. ca 1848, and Joseph D. Davis, b. 1843. (Lawrence County Court Records show that the older Joseph Borders mentioned and his uncle, the famous Baptist minister, Reverend John Borders, b. 1792, d. 1876, deeded land in 1876 for the site of Walnut Grove Baptist Church built 1880 in Lowmansville, Kentucky.)

     According to my Grandfather Preston and his first cousin, Emmitt Preston, b. 1894, d. 1987, the poplar logs were covered by white weatherboard and the shingled roof replaced by tin ca 1900. In 1912, the inside logs were sealed and covered by beaded wood, as was the ceiling.

     In 1987, the worn floor was replaced with oak floors donated by my great grandparents, Nathaniel Lincoln Auxier and Mary Borders, Whites Creek, West Virginia. The oak trees, cut on their Whites Creek farm, were hauled to Kenova, West Virginia, sawed and dried there; then hauled to Borders Chapel in a pickup truck driven by my grandmother, Olga Auxier Preston. Great grandmother, Mary Borders Auxier, persuaded her son, John Glenn of Fresno, California, to send $5 a month for a year so he too could participate long distance in this renovation! Others involved were Nathaniel and Roosevelt Auxier, who installed the floor, Ben, Dan and John Brown, J. Frank, Emmitt, J.K. and Charlie Buck Preston; Jim, Elias, and Chester George, Jesse Daniels, Matt Thompson, Jessie and Willie Borders, Everett Miller and Longstreet and Seymore Price.

     Kerosene lamps furnished lighting until the early 1950’s. The potbelly coal stove, replaced by a bottle-gas stove, was recently replaced by a modern heating and air-condition unit. The hand-carved poplar pews were replaced by oak ones but a few of the old pews are preserved. The poplar lampholders, once spaced about the wall at head-high level, are missing, but the deep set tall windows still give a clear picture to the outside valley. Recently, a portico added in front of the chapel’s double-hung doors to preserve them from the weather.

     Sad to say, none of the old church records can be found. Great grandfather, Joseph Borders Preston, b. 1866, d. 1934, was Sunday School Superintendent; his nephew, Emmitt Preston, served in the same capacity from 1930 to October 1981. Great grandmothers, Mary Borders Auxier, b. 1875, and Nancy Josephine Brown Preston, b. 1871, d. 1933 (donated the organ) were the organists. The old pump organ was replaced by a piano in 1935, which was replaced by another in the 1950’s and Mrs. Emmitt Preston (Mary George) was pianist until her death in 1981, age 81.

     My mother, who attended services at Borders Chapel in the 1930’s and early 1940’s, recalled her father, J. Frank Preston, sitting on their front porch before Sunday School time studying the “lesson”; of the shouting by church members until the church floor shook and an occasional high heel snapped; of the many revivals and funerals; of dinners “on the ground”;of young men traipsing in and out during the services; of baptisms in the Sandy River or nearby Meetinghouse Branch deep pool, depending on the level of water; of the young men asking the young ladies, “Can I walk you home?”; of her father many times bringing the whole church congregation home for Sunday dinner; of ministers staying so often in their home near the church that one room was automatically called the “preacher’s room.”

     Borders Chapel is in the Ashland District of the Kentucky Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, and the Reverend Howard Bowen is the minister. Howard Borders, Hezekiali’s lineage nephew, was named Sunday School Superintendent in October 1981. Pianist is Nova Dean Hamilton and Curtis Haffield is Sunday School teacher. Other members are Jo and Robert Borders, Elizabeth C. Brackett, Lois Butcher, Donna Hamilton, Joan and Katy Hatfield, Gladys and Luther Cox, and Raymond and Margie Borders. Robert, son of Howard and Jo Borders, keeps the sloping church grounds in perfect condition, and my three-year old daughter, Angela Frances Ruth Brackett, “helps” secretary-treasurer, Gladys George Cox, Hezekiah’s lineal granddaughter, with a church register.

     Hezekiah, born 23 November 1791, Wythe County, Virginia, d. 10 October 1857, son of John Borders I and Catherine Sellards, sister to Jennie Wiley for whom Jenny Wiley State Park is named and Fanny Davis, b. ca 1792, Virginia, d. 1845, daughter of Revolutionary soldier, Joseph Davis, Jr., and great granddaughter of James Davis I, Davis Fancy Farm, Virginia, are buried a half mile south of the chapel in Borders Chapel Cemetery, surrounded by their children and kinfolk, with the tombstone dates spanning many generations. And Borders Chapel remains viable, loved and revered, hopefully, for generations to come.

1.  Henry Preston Scaif, Kentucky’s Last Frontier, (Pikeville: Pikeville College Press, 1972) p.382
2.  William Ely, The Big Sandy Valley, (Catlettsburg: 1887, Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, reprint
1969) pp. 119-120
3.  Clayton R. Cox, Appalachia Crossroads, (Baltimore: Gateway Press, Inc., 1977), some dates
4.  Unpublished notes of my mother, Olga Frances Preston Brackett, Allen, Kentucky.
5.  Floyd County and Lawrence County Court Records, Borders Chapel Cemetery tombstone dates, and Revolutionary War Claim #15399

(Editor’s note: The following was provided by Steve Brackett’s mother, Mrs. Olga Frances Preston Brackett, to further clarify the date of construction of Borders Chapel. Thanks, Frances!)

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