The church’s roots can be traced back to as early as 1807 when the congregation in the Crabtree community was first formed. The church, however has a tragic story linked to its past which ultimately ended in closure and consolidation of the congregation with the nearby Roan Mountain Methodist Church.
The following is an excerpt about historic churches in Carter County I found from the Elizabethton Star published in September 2015.
Murder at Roan Mountain Church Revival
Perhaps the most violent and cowardly act in a local church building occurred at the old Bowling Chapel Methodist Church in the Crabtree community of Roan Mountain. The church building, which still stands by the side of the road, is marked by time and age. The paint on the exterior has peeled, the tin roof is now rusty, and the bell tower is absent its bell.
In October 1933, a 32-year-old Carter County constable in the Roan Mountain community was shot in the back as he led singing at a revival meeting inside the church.
According to an account from the Elizabethton Star, John Arnett, was shot in the back by his third cousin, Howard Arnett, who stood outside the church and shot through a window. The shooting occurred on a Tuesday evening, and Arnett died the following Friday morning.
The article stated that witnesses on the outside of the church told authorities that as the shooter raised the gun to fire through the window, he is alleged to have said, “I have killed rabbits and squirrels with this gun, but this is the largest game I have ever brought down.”
“The constable was shot immediately after prayer had ended and he had just started to reach for a song book to lead the singing,” the article read.
Accomplices in the shooting were identified as Dayton Arnett and Robert Julian. All three were later tried and sent to prison for a period of time.
The shooting apparently was the result of the constable seeking to bring some law and order to the community after an outbreak of vandalism and the breaking and entering of homes and a store in the community.
When the church closed its doors several years later, many of its parishioners joined Roan Mountain United Methodist Church. The small Bowling Chapel Church had been a part of the community since 1807.
Despite the shooting, its members had sweet memories of the church. Mrs. Joe Whitehead, now deceased, recalled being a part of the church in her youth and the powerful preaching by some of its pastors, the fervent prayers and songs of praise, dinners on the ground, and Vacation Bible School. “I remember most of the people who attended the church. They were good people, who loved the Lord, and most would have given you the shirt off their back,” she said.
No doubt those early parishioners had memories of Tweetsie, the small narrow gauge train. The railroad track was next to the church, and at least twice a day, the little train chugged and whistled its way past the church as it made its daily run to Cranberry, N.C., and back.
The small abandoned church was also the subject of one of Don Iverson’s paintings.