By Ron Halbrook
In the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, about 60 miles east of Lexington, sits Cob Hill, Kentucky. The eastern Kentucky towns of Irvine and Ravenna are about 13 miles from Cob Hill, on State Highway 52, which winds its way around the foot of the Hill. The area’s economy is based on farming (tobacco to sell, corn for local uses), oil, coal, and more recently factories. Some folks on Cob Hill work as far away as Mt. Sterling, Lexington, and other surrounding places. Driving up Cob Hill is something like riding the Incline at Lookout Mountain, Chattanooga. Tennessee, with the added attraction of curves; the community is necessarily on top of Cob Hill. A faithful church meets here in the midst of nature’s beautiful setting, where a person can almost touch the stars at night.
When Brother Clinton Patrick came to Cob Hill from Miller’s Creek at age 9, in 1912, the church had already been planted. The log building they were meeting in at that time was also used as a schoolhouse. One of the earliest preachers Brother Patrick heard on the Hill was Pete Leggs. With the discovery of oil came false teachers, the Odd Fellows and related lodges, and other weakening influences; the church declined.
Other men who came to Cob Hill proclaiming the gospel in the early days included Lloyd Martin and “Uncle” Green Hall. Brother Hall left the Christian Church and would not stay around anyone playing a musical instrument under any circumstances. His son George also preached but was weak about accepting exchange offers to preach at union meetinghouses, with the understanding that some denominational preacher would then speak where the brethren assembled. Sam Estes is remembered for never preaching without a plug of tobacco in his mouth–preachin’ and spittin’– though it is hoped other, better influences followed his work as well! Tom McCoy labored among the brethren for about a year. But, perhaps most interesting was another who appeared to be like Melchisedec, “without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life.” In the 1920’s, a Dutchman showed up preaching, but no one could find out where Leo W. Waggner came from. This being the days of the revived form of the Ku Klux Klan, Waggner was suspected as being a Catholic spy. If he was, his disguise was perfect because he opposed the Roman Pope in his sermons as strongly as he opposed “praying through” for salvation. When he disappeared without a trace, rumors claimed he ran off after robbing a post office, or was murdered for a few dollars, or was “put away” for spy activities on behalf of Catholicism. William M. Warner also preached in the 20’s, but later defended instruments in worship.
During World War II, “certain men crept in unawares” sowing the seeds of premillennialism. Jim Forrester, who “brothered” the denominationalists, labored to establish this doctrine. Others during the 1940’s included a Baber, and Burt Martin. All these could be expected to oppose “movie going,” but not the traditions of men in religion. The aged John M. Stuart, known as “Mat,” sometime preached on the Hill; though not millennial, he tried to plant the no-class position. As the millennialists gained ascendency, the Patricks began worshipping with the new church in West Irvine in the 1950’s. Also, the millennialists had not liked brother Patrick inviting Henry S. Ficklin of Owingsville to preach, nor was Brother Ficklin’s opposition to tobacco ever appreciated on the Hill.
Alvin Holt’s successful tent meeting at West Irvine had established the work there. But it was not long until the influence of men like Basil Overton and W.L. Totty helped carry the church into institutionalism, in spite of labors by Houston Gately and others. Brethren began meeting again on the Hill, not with the millennialists this time, but in Lloyd Hall’s (grandson of “Uncle” Green) store house. Houston Gately and his father Jesse labored among the brethren, and Howard See came from Lexington to help when he could.
In the 60’s and 70’s, the work has continued with a new meetinghouse and regular or semi-regular preaching by Sam Watkins, Paul H. Grimes, Dorsey and his son Freddy Galbreath, and recently Bob Blevins sharing the load with Bill Cameron. Meetings have been held by Robert Dillinger (cousin of the notorious criminal John, and pallbearer at his funeral), Bob Crawley, Bobby Witherington, Paul K. Williams, Harry L. Lewis, Neil Mohon, Paul Earnhart, Ron Halbrook, and others. Though Baptist, Methodist and Christian churches are strong in this area, so-called Pentecostalism is dominant. Attendance among the brethren numbers 30-40, with meetings on Sunday at 9:55 a.m., 10:30 a.m., and 6:00 p.m. There have been at times study and singing on Saturday evening and Wednesday evening services. A good training class has been conducted and four or five gospel meetings are held each year.
[Truth Magazine XXIII, 12 (Mar. 22, 1979):194]