The “readin’, ‘ritin’, and Route 23” phrase perhaps more often is attributed to the communities of Eastern Kentucky. Country singer Dwight Yoakum, an Eastern Kentucky native, wrote a song about it back in the late 1980s. But I’ve long heard it proclaimed about Southwest Virginia as well. And it is, basically, the reason four of the 37 churches of the Eastern District Association of Primitive Baptists are clear up in the Dayton, Ohio area.
I’m bringing this up now because next weekend (October 3-6) members of those four churches will, as they have many times since the 1930s, make the journey back to this region. They’re coming to the 167th annual meeting of the the Eastern District Association. Or, as I wrote a couple of years ago, “the 'So-say-shun,” as I heard it called most of my life. The Association will be jointly hosted by a group of Southwest Virginia churches (Roller’s Chapel, Cadet, Wallen’s Creek, Blackwater Lick, and Davis Chapel) at the former Blackwater School. It’s not unusual for members of the four Ohio churches to travel down to Southwest Virginia or Northeast Tennessee, as the Association has only be held in Ohio a handful of times over the last 80-plus years. If my count is right, the Association has “gone to” Ohio hosts seven times since the first of the four churches there joined the Association in 1938.
According to the minutes of the 166th annual Association:
• “Over 80 years ago, people from various mountain sections of Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky began to migrate to the area of Ohio as they sought a more prosperous way of life. Many found employment in industrial plants in this area and established their homes and farms in this vicinity.”
• “Although they were enjoying their new homes and better means of earning a living, there was something not quite to their satisfaction. They visited various churches and sought to worship with them, but there was a spiritual atmosphere they had known previously that was missing. They started having services in their homes, in groves, or wherever a building could be found when weather prevented them from meeting outside.”
• Fairview Primitive Baptist Church became the first to organize in 1938. A building was constructed in August of that year and the church was formally organized with the help of Elders E.A. Robinette, W.H. Burke, H.V. Hall, and J.H. Sybert with a total of 18 members. It “lettered in” to the Association in October 1938 with 37 members on the roll.
• Rose Chapel lettered in and was accepted in 1958. Clear Springs lettered in at the 114th annual Association in 1966. And Macedonia dates from 1994.
The four Ohio churches jointly hosted the Association last year (at Clear Springs). Mom and I went and had a really good time. It was her first time traveling to an Association in Ohio. We can’t say enough nice things about how well the churches there hosted the four-day event. We had a good drive up and another back. We did not take Route 23, instead taking 11W to 25E to Interstate 75. It was the first time either of us went smack through the middle of Cincinnati. And when the skyline came into view we both let out an appreciative “ahhhh.” From the backseat cousin Phyllis (Hunt Manis) was giving a brief overview of the city, based on her visits to relatives there as well as simple pleasure trips.
The Association’s host church was in the greater Dayton area, but south of downtown. Cousin Tim Roller, from Indianapolis, joined us for the day on Saturday. By then, we all knew the Association this year had “gone to” the Southwest Virginia churches.
Each year churches that want to host the Association the following year make a “plea” to do so during the business session on Friday. Fairview and Clear Springs pleaded to host this year’s Association. So did the five Southwest Virginia churches. Note: each church in the Association sends delegates to vote on business matters, with each church having four votes. The pleas process is sort of round-robin style, each seeker is allowed two speakers, alternating from one seeker to the other and back. The Ohio speakers pleaded to serve the Association again this year, pointing out they had everything there and in place. The Southwest Virginia speakers invited them to come to Southwest Virginia and see the hills. “You know up here you get to look out at all this flat land. I invite you to come down to the holy hills of God and I really think yo would enjoy yourselves. Y’all did an outstanding job. Let us serve you as you have served us.” The Ohio speakers pointed out how often they’ve driven to the hills over the years and that the rest have never traveled to Ohio two years in a row. They stressed they weren’t offended, but said they weren’t going to just give up without even trying to get it back for a second year.
In the end, a clear majority of delegates voted the Association this year will “go to” the Southwest Virginia churches.
One special perk we enjoyed was getting to meet several cousins, descendants of Mom’s maternal Aunt Doshia Willis Wallen, who made that migration years ago to Ohio — probably on Route 23.
J.H. Osborne covers Sullivan County government. Email him at [email protected]