Sparta Christian Church
Until the building of the bridge across Eagle Creek, about 1873, there were actually two Sparta, Kentuckys. The oldest and largest settlement (called Old Sparta) was on the Owen county side. It consisted of a group of log houses clustered near a Mill, one store with a Masonic Hall above, and a blacksmith shop. The smaller settlement (New Sparta), on the Gallatin county side, contained the railroad depot. The bridge brought these two settlements together into one larger community. Soon the town built a school of its own (about 1875), the "Old Red School House." It was a two story structure with a grove of trees "planted by the Samuel boys" in the yard making it a nice playground for the town children, with a Masonic Hall upstairs, and with a large school room which could be used for "entertainments, for literary and debating societies," and for church services and revivals. At this time, the people in Sparta held their church membership with Drury's Chapel, Lick Creek, Poplar Grove, and New Liberty churches.
Early in 1875 John T. Hawkins, minister of the Christian Church at New Liberty (then called evangelist of the Church of Christ at New Liberty), held a "meeting" in the Sparta school house. Several were converted through his preaching. Brother Hawkins, seeing the need of a local church in Sparta, therefore persuaded the converts and the members of his church who lived in Sparta to form a separate organization under the "watchcare" of the New Liberty Church. On April 28, 1875, twenty five persons signed a declaration to "meet together at Sparta, Ky. according to the New Testament for the purpose of mutual edification and the discharge of all the duties made incumbent upon us by virtue of our union with Christ." This group met regularly for Communion in the Sparta school house, having preaching and Sunday School but irregularly. In March, 1877 Brother Coppage and J.H. Beasley held a series of meetings for the nucleus group during which eight persons joined the Sparta group.
On the first Sunday of February, 1878, a permanent church organization was formed. A Brother William Pinkerton presided at the meeting. G.S. Williams and George A. Wigal were elected Elders; W.M. Ribelin, D.C. Jameson, and H. Winn were chosen Deacons; and Caswell Samuel was made secretary and treasurer.
The permanent organization continued to meet as before in the Old Red School House. Communion continued to be observed regularly but preaching and Sunday School classes were held only irregularly. There are recorded several "meetings" which were held during the churchless period of the permanent organization. In June, 1878 Pinkerton returned and held a meeting in which two were added to the church. In September 10, 1879, a Brother Coppage held a meeting in which two were converted. Beginning February 23, 1880, Brother Elliot held a meeting resulting in seventeen additions. On April 1, 1883, a Brother Hile was employed to preach the ensuing year. Then in July, 1884, a Brother Knapp held a meeting with one convert. In September 1884, a Brother James Thornberry held a meeting which had no additions. In February 1887, a Brother John I. Boyer held a meeting with twenty seven additions. On April 1, 1887, a Brother P.H. Duncan was employed for the remainder of the year.
In 1890 the Sparta group built a one room frame church near the bridge on the Owen county side. This marked the beginning of regular and continuous Sunday School meetings and Communion Services. The Dedicatory sermon for the new building was preached by Brother H.W. Elliot. At that time the officers of the church were George A. Wigal, Elder, Solomon Ellis, Morton Ribelin, Granville Brock, and David C. Jameson, Deacons and J.J. Samuel, clerk. Brother William Tiller became the first minister in the new church and served for "several years." The church continued without much change in size for the next twenty years.
In 1913 a Brother W.J. Clarke, an Australian who came to Transylvania College to study and then married a girl from Sparta, became the minister. During the six years he served the church as minister, it grew from 75 (in 1913) to 175 (in 1919). Though Clarke resigned as minister in 1920 to go into business activities and to work with the Midway College, he remained in or near Sparta at all times. Until his death in 1949, he (and especially his wife, known as Miss Kate) remained the guiding influence of the church. Brother Clarke remained always in demand as a preacher of funerals, for he had a fine voice.
In 1921 under the encourage and leadership of Clarke, a new brick church was built on the Gallatin side (now the main part of Sparta). The old building was sold to a Holiness group.
Though Brother Clarke and "Miss Kate" Clarke carried the real lay leadership (Miss Kate serving as superintendent of the Sunday School, teacher of the adult class, pianist, clerk, or generally carrying the whole load of lay responsibility), others became the actual preachers. Under their (and the Clarkes) leadership, the membership of the church grew to around 200 and then began declining its present figure of approximately 85. Many of these preachers lived in the area, serving Sparta part time and another church part time (New Liberty or Ghent). Others were students at Transylvania or the College of the Bible, driving up from Lexington to preach. All of them served only half time until 1958. Since that time there has been full time preaching.
The following is a partial list of the preachers who have served the Sparta Christian Church since W.J. Clarke's resignation. This is taken from the Year Book report, so is far from complete. For the Year Book lists only the name of the man who was minister when the report was made out, and many years passed when no report was filled out. They were: E.B. Hensley (1921-1923), J.J. Tinkcom from Winchester (1924), H.T. Young from Lexington (1927), W.D. Groby from New Liberty (1928,1929), John S. Chambers from New Liberty (1930-1932), George Crane from Transylvania (1934, 1935), Aubrey Russell from Ghent (1939), W.J. Clarke was recorded again in1943, Richard Goins from Lexington (1945,1946), Charles Crank, Jr. from the College of the Bible (1947), R.K. Bell from New Liberty (1949,1950), Don Nunnelly from the College of the Bible (1951,1952), G.S. Quinn from Lexington (1953), Richard Roland from Transylvania (1954), Richard Johnson from the College of the Bible (1956), John Hammons the College of the Bible (1958), John Grove from the College of the Bible (1960).
A History of the Sparta Christian Church in Gallatin County, Sparta, Kentucky is by Terry Moore, 1960. It's from the files of the Bosworth Memorial Library at the Lexington Theological Seminary, and is used here through their kind cooperation.