Established November 8, 1931
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Among the rolling hills of Monroe Country in south-central Kentucky stands the oldest freestanding log meeting house in the commonwealth. Built in 1804, and now known as Old Mulkey Meeting House, the structure originally served as a house of worship for the Mill Creek Baptist Church. This historic site became a state shrine in the Kentucky State Parks system in 1931. The history of Old Mulkey Meeting House represents two important eras in Kentucky’s development, the pioneer era and the great religious revivals of the early nineteenth century.
According to early land records, the first settlers in what would become Monroe County came to the area in the 1790s. Originally a part of Lincoln County, the lands that became Monroe County in 1820 made up a portion of the Virginia Military District. In 1780 Lincoln County covered most of the southern part of Kentucky. After the American Revolution ended in 1783, the government of Virginia passed legislation authorizing payment of the state’s Revolutionary War soldiers in land south of the Green River. In effect, the vast area of Lincoln County would be parceled into grants for Virginia’s veterans.
Settlers from Virginia and North Carolina made their homes along the creeks, rivers and ridges of southern Kentucky. By the late eighteenth century thriving communities had been established in the region. To create a more permanent social order the early pioneers looked to religion as a cohesive force. Church records indicate that religious services were held at the members’ homes until the first meetinghouse was built in 1798. Community memory relates this original structure measured about 24 feet by 30 feet. It had a puncheon floor, peg-leg seats, and wooden window shutters. John Mulkey, a charter member of the church and its first pastor, guided the congregation for many years.
Time and legend have obscured much of the history of the Mill Creek Baptist Church. The church record book from 1798 is the oldest primary document pertaining to the congregation. The record, written in pokeberry ink, is a treasure-trove of information on life in a frontier Kentucky Baptist Church. The steady growth of the congregation soon made the original small meeting house inadequate. In 1804 the congregation erected a larger log structure. The new building measured 50 feet by 30 feet. Like its predecessor the new house of worship had puncheon floors and wooden window shutters. The meeting house is in the shape of a cross, and according to legend the 12 corners of the building represent the 12 apostles. The three doors supposedly represent the Holy Trinity. In actuality, the challenges of raising and hitching fifty foot logs may have determined the unique shape of the church house.
Mill Creek Baptist Church flourished for several years until a religious schism tore the congregation apart. The first decade of the nineteenth century witnessed a remarkable change in religious attitudes and allegiances. The beginnings of a great religious revival movement swept the frontier. One of the most dramatic of these revivals took place in 1801 at Cane Ridge in Bourbon County, Kentucky. Baptist and Presbyterian ministers preached to thousands of people in huge open air meetings that inspired some of the most bizarre reactions such as the holy jerks, holy barks, and the holy laughs. Nevertheless, out of these meetings came a renewed interest in religion. Out of the divisions within the Baptist and Presbyterian Churches came other religious bodies into existence. The Christian Church, Disciples of Christ, and the Church of Christ, can claim their origins in the Cane Ridge Revival.
The effects of the Cane Ridge meetings struck hard at the Baptists at Mill Creek. The congregation’s minister, John Mulkey (1773-1844) subscribed to the reform theology of the Christian Church. The Mill Creek church became divided over the teachings of Mulkey and his followers. In a dramatic service in November 1809, a division of the congregation took place. It was then determined that the majority group would retain the meetinghouse. The congregation formed two lines. Mulkey and his supporters filed out of the building by way of the west door. Individuals wishing to continue with the Baptist doctrine filed out the east door. When the vote was tallied, Mulkey and his group had the most numbers. From then on, the structure would be referred to as the Mulkey Meeting House. At the time of Mulkey’s death in 1844, he had preached for over 53 years and reportedly delivered over 10,000 sermons.
Worship services continued at what came to be known as Old Mulkey Meeting House until about 1856. Then the log church stood deserted and uncared for. After decades of decay, a group of civic-minded people decided to save the historic structure from destruction. On April 16, 1925, Circuit Court Judge James C. Carter appointed S.R. Chism, J.S. Emmert, L.P. Hagan, Cap Harlan, and W.E. Thomas of Monroe County as trustees to oversee the restoration of the Old Mulkey Meeting House. The trustees solicited donations to begin the restoration work. A new roof, floor, and wooden shutters preserved the remaining log walls of the 1804 structure. The trustees encouraged as much public participation as possible in the way of social and religious meetings held on the site. A move to make Old Mulkey Meeting House a state shrine gained momentum in the late 1920s. The Kentucky State Park Commission accepted the property as part of the parks system on November 8, 1931.
The cemetery on the grounds surrounding the church contains the graves of many Monroe County pioneer families, a number of Revolutionary War soldiers, and the burial site of Hannah Boone Pennington, the sister of frontiersman, Daniel Boone.