Unearthed Stithton stone adds mystery to established church history

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Road crews, who recently repaired damaged pavement on Wilson Road at Fort Knox, unearthed something that has some folks around here scratching their heads.

Shortly after the construction crews finished work, an official at the Directorate of Public Works showed up on the doorstep of Dr. Criss Helmkamp, Fort Knox archaeologist, with a broken slab of limestone.

On the slab reads, “Stit—Baptis—187—”

For many who don’t know the history of Stithton Baptist Church, this stone would seem fairly innocuous. For Helmkamp and fellow colleague Matthew Rector, Fort Knox historic preservation specialist, the stone reveals a mystery.

The established, accepted written history of Stithton Baptist Church states that the church was established at the town of Stithton in 1887. In fact, the Baptist Home Mission Monthly, Vol. 9, from 1887, notes that a church was organized in Stithton Nov. 14 of that year.

Yet, in the storage room of Helmkamp and Rector’s offices is the stone, which can be inferred to read “Stithton Baptist Church,” dated sometime in the 1870s.

“How did the stone get there to begin with, and how did it remain undiscovered through the construction of Wilson Road and the reconstruction of the four-lane road?” asked Helmkamp. “It wasn’t found until they were repairing the four-lane, just before they were getting ready to reopen Wilson Road.”

The original church had been established at what is now the circle near Saber & Quill. When the federal government acquired the land of Stithton in 1918, members of the church abandoned the building and relocated to what later became New Stithton, where Wilson Road near the gate is today.

“The Army was the reason the town moved,” said Helmkamp. “Unfortunately for them, in 1942, the Army bought them out again.”

This time, though, they hired Amish men to disassemble the building and move it to Radcliff, where they are located today, according to the church’s lead deacon, Norris Shake.

When Helmkamp emailed Shake a picture of the stone and called him, explaining what they had found, Shake said he found himself spending several hours in the church archives, digging in old files in search of the answer.

“I thought about this at night at home. I woke up early the next morning thinking about it. We have a lot of historical documents here in the church, and I just got to looking at them and trying to figure out what’s the correct date on this thing,” said Shake. “All the history we have says 1887.”

Despite his best efforts, Shake came up empty-handed. He said his desire to find answers led him to the church’s wall of history, situated near the sanctuary. At the base of the wall sits a stone that reads, “Stithton Baptist Church 1887-1948.”

As he studied the wall, a black-and-white image caught his eye. In it, a sprawling congregation stands on the steps of a brick building. The image has an inset titled, “New Stithton Baptist Church 1940.” Barely visible at the top of the building front, a large slab mounted to the brick reads, “Stithton Baptist Church 1878-1934.”

Helmkamp and Rector met up with Shake at the church last week to look at the history and three other stones mounted to the wall of the church. All three discussed theories for the nine-year gap and the existence of the stone, coming up with plenty of speculation but no conclusions.

One of the predominant theories among them was that in 1934, when the stone was made, maybe leaders made a simple mistake, transposing the 8 and 7 and left the stone in place until 1948, when the next stone was produced. Shake thinks that’s unlikely.

“I’m not finding anything at all that says there was a mistake in the dates,” said Shake.

A productive side has surfaced from the unearthing of the stone, according to Shake.

“It’s really got my mind working toward trying to find out more about the history of the church,” said Shake. “We have a 15-year period beginning in 2003 that has gone unrecorded in our church history. I think the pastor is going to find a couple of people to see about updating our history.”

As for the missing nine years, Shake said he will continue to search for an answer but admits that answer may never be revealed.

“We’ve got nine years that we just don’t know about right now,” Shake said. “Are we nine years older than we think we are as a church? I don’t know. Maybe one of these days we’ll figure out the mystery.” n