BLUFF CITY, Tenn. (Nov. 29, 2018) -- Tucked away on a rural road just past Bluff City stands the Edward Cox House. The two-story dogtrot log home has been a part of the landscape since before the Revolutionary War.
On Sunday, Nov. 25, members of Bluff City United Methodist Church decorated the home for the holidays and hosted an open house. They hope other groups will contact them and visit during the Christmas season.
Greenery, ribbons, and special touches like seasonal fruits and vegetables decorate nearly every corner of the rooms. The outside windows and doors are decked out with swags and wreaths the way the family would have had it in the 18th century.
The home is a United Methodist Heritage Landmark. According to the United Methodist General Commission on Archives and History Web site, there are only 49 designated sites. The Book of Discipline states that a Heritage Landmark is “a building, location, or structure specifically related to significant events, developments, or personalities in the overall history of the United Methodist Church or its antecedents.”
The Edward Cox House is located where historians believe Methodism started in Tennessee. Records show Bluff City was known as Middle Town when Cox became the first Methodist preacher in the area. His family started the Bluff City church, the oldest continuous congregation in Tennessee, said Jane Riley, a caretaker of the home.
Betsy Carrier is a current member of Bluff City United Methodist Church and one of four people who look after the house. Carrier said she loves the story of the Cox family and believes it would make a wonderful, wholesome television show.
“Their story is full of dealing with Indians, travelers, and the church,” Carrier said. “The more time I spend here at the house, the more I appreciate the Cox family. It’s important to see where we came from. If we don’t know where we’ve been, then we really don’t have an idea of where we are going [so that we may] go in the right direction.”
Cox grew up as a Quaker in Maryland. His father John converted to Methodism after spending time with Francis Asbury. When Edward was 16, he also converted. Soon after, Edward, his father, and two brothers moved west to settle in what is now northeast Tennessee, said Riley.
Ten years later, he married his childhood sweetheart Sallie, and they set up their home next to a spring. The two welcomed into their home circuit preachers, aspiring preachers, and travelers who stopped at the spring.
“They were always very religious and held devotions here,” said Riley. “As the travelers were going through, they would go out, greet them, and invite them in.”
Just like the early Methodists in England, the couple regularly held meetings in their home. Eventually the group that worshipped in the home expanded into the congregation that is now Bluff City United Methodist Church, she said.
Over time, the family sold the land and the home. In the 1960s, the home was purchased from the neighbors by Holston Conference. Bluff City United Methodist members serve as caretakers. A committee oversees day-to-day needs to keep the home in good condition. They also proudly give tours.
“I love the history and the story. I just love the restoration and trying to maintain this for the next generations,” Carrier said.
For tour information, contact Jane Riley at (423) 764-0740. Tours are free. Donations to preserve and maintain the house are welcome. Send donations to: Bluff City UMC, c/o Cox House Preservation Committee, P.O. Box 190, Bluff City, TN 37618.
Corrina Sisk-Casson is a Deaconess Home Missioner. Her home church is Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church in Johnson City, Tennessee.
Photos below: (1-2) Edward Cox House (3) House caretakers from left to right: Betsy Carrier, Jack Hirlbert, Barbara Gilmer, Jane Riley.
Corrina Sisk-Casson is a Home Deaconess Missioner based in the Three Rivers District.