Standing guard in the same spot where pre-Revolutionary War sentinels watched the plains for American Indian raiding parties, “Reverend Stump” tells the story of the Scots-Irish frontiersmen who settled this area.
“Reverend Stump is a tribute to the circuit-riding preachers who brought the gospel to the frontier back in the 1700s,” said Glen McClelland, current pastor of Mingo Creek Presbyterian Church, where the wooden statue stands. “The residents of this area – the ‘wild woodsmen,’ we will call them – would gather to worship underneath this old oak tree.”
The young oak tree that pioneers congregated beneath centuries ago has had a long and prosperous life on the grounds of the Presbyterian church in Finleyville. As its branches spread over the pastoral grounds, so too did the church. From what started as an outdoor gathering in the 18th century, the church grew and gave birth to numerous “daughter” churches throughout the area.
In 1990, when an army of carpenter ants caused the death of the nearly 300-year-old oak tree, church leaders decided to carve a statue out of the aged trunk at its core.
The only problem was that nobody thought to mention to the pests that their home had been converted into a work of art.
“Nobody thought to separate the trunk from the base” in order to get rid of the ants, McClelland said.
Church officials have tried numerous stopgap measures to thwart the insect assault, most recently filling a damaged cavity with cement. Alas, efforts thus far have been to no avail.
“It’s all right, though, because it was never really meant to be a permanent marker,” McClelland said.
In the 18th century, during the early days of the church, congregants gathered on rough-hewn log benches to hear a sermon from beneath the oak tree located near the location where the manse now stands. A log cabin was built on the site in 1786 to help shelter worshippers from elements … of all sorts.
“There were separate cut-outs for the bachelors,” McClelland said. “They were considered too unkempt to sit among the young women and married folk.”
The church was a hotbed of dissident activity during the Whiskey Rebellion in the area. When an excise tax was levied on whiskey in 1794, in the years shortly after the American Revolution, a band of wheat farmers organized on church grounds to foment opposition. Historians have called the resulting uprising the first public protest against the U.S. Constitution.
A permanent structure was built by the church in 1831. The current congregation maintains that original building to this day.
“This is the only church in Washington Presbytery, which covers Washington and Greene counties, that is on the National Historic Registry,” McClelland said. “There are several that are on the state historic register, but this is on the national.”
Mingo Creek Presbyterian Church is dripping with history. In fact, there’s a whole room devoted to the past on the church’s second floor. Pewter communion dishes used in the 18th century stand in a glass cabinet along the wall. A large glass jug encased in a threaded wicker covering that used to hold Communion wine stands alongside a wicker sacrament basket, both from around 1820.
The church has even had its share of traveling dignitaries. Harry S. Truman was among those who have given speeches or sermons at the circa-1830 wooden pulpit.
Holly Harris, an administrator of a Facebook page called “Abandoned, old and interesting places,” came along for the short tour hosted by McClelland. She recently featured “Reverend Stump” on her page, but was surprised by the additional history inside the church.
“I really enjoyed seeing all of the history,” Harris said. “The statue was cool enough by itself, but there was so much more inside.”