Back in 1989 I was appointed to the Belfast-Midway Charge in the Tazewell District of the Holston Conference. My first appointment out of seminary, it was my first charge as a pastor, and I was given the reigns of two rural, small membership congregations which were yoked together to be able to support a full-time pastor. As I’ve already blogged about Belfast, I wanted to take a moment to tell about Midway.
A road was built in ancient days that connected the communities of Tazewell (also known as “Jeffersonville” and later “Tazewell Court House,” before being simplified to “Tazewell”) and Lebanon, county seat towns of their respective counties. It was a portion of the old Fincastle Turnpike that ran from that town north of Roanoke, Virginia, in Botetourt County all the way to the Cumberland Gap in Kentucky. Many families traveled this route on their way to points west, but locals used the road to travel to the main towns in their areas. About halfway between the two county seat towns existed a little community that got called “Midway,” for obvious reasons. But Midway wasn’t the only name of the community.
Towering above Midway like a sentinel that could be seen for miles around was a beautiful mountain peak that ran along the west of Thompson Valley, known as Paint Lick. It was so named because in a previous age Native Americans had found a substance located near the Little River that could be used to make paint. So they used it to adorn their skin, their tools, their homes, etc. But they also used it to dress the rocks along the mountain.
In 1989 I took a hike with some church members from Belfast up to the Indian Paintings on Paint Lick. Some years before a troop of Boy Scouts had taken it upon themselves to paint outlines around the paintings so people could identify them as they continued to fade into obscurity. The paintings are on private land, so there was no one to tell them not to, at least not in a government regulation sort of way. They were sincerely trying to preserve them.
I’ve been told that paintings exist in more than one place on the mountain, but there is one particular “lick” or outcropping of rocks where a large number of the paintings are concentrated. It is not really that hard to get to. But our guide that day decided to take us straight up the side of the mountain. We were climbing steep mountain side, sometimes having difficulty just taking a step. Soon he decided he had taken us the wrong way. We came out at a logging road. We went up the logging road, which, though steep, was very much more manageable to travel. Soon we were at the paintings.
The paintings can be described as characters or figures that denote things from nature. A sun-like orb, a two-headed eagle or other type of bird, another crow-like bird, and a man. There are others that are hard to figure out.
A woman, Gladys Steele, used to write a column for the newspaper about folks in “Paint Lick.” Gladys lived in an old farm house, a rather large home, atop a hill not far from the Midway Church. The home had been an important one in a previous age, and at one time served as the post office.
A school once set beside the church, and was called Midway School. It was one room, and was used as a school until at least the 1940s.
The church was established around 1855. It was said that Midway was established as the result of Preacher Bob Sheffey praying away a moonshine still. Apparently the church was established in its place. Don’t know about the verity of that, but it was a legend still being told when I was sent there. A William Blankenship gave the land. That was before the community of Cedar Bluff had formed, or Richlands, or most any other community around. Midway was an old community.
The church had been hit by a wind storm some time in the 1920s or so. The congregation decided to build it back smaller. As a result, it is still rather small. But the church was a great place for me to learn. The majestic oaks that surrounded it were an inspiration. They reminded me of the faith that came before us. They always made me feel so small in their presence.
A couple in the Midway Church used to play piano and violin together. Jim and Ruth Steele lived a stone’s throw below the church. Jim had the original deed to the church. They often played “One Day at a Time.” It was so nice to hear in our worship time. When I left the church I was given as my going away present a beautiful autoharp which I still have. I think of Midway every time I play it.
A lady who is still living in that community would make homemade cake with caramel icing. It was my absolute favorite. She told me that whenever I wanted one to call her and she’d have it ready by the time I got there.