When we visited Harrodsburg, KY a few weeks ago, we planned for several stops to places we had not visited before. In my previous post, I shared with you our visit to Morgan Row in the historic downtown area. After our visit there, we loaded up and headed just a few miles down the road to the Old Mud Meeting House, the First Dutch Reformed Church west of the Alleghenies!
Dutch Settlers come to Kentucky
Dutch settlers (originating from the Netherlands and Germany) came to Mercer County, KY in 1781 from Conewego, Pennsylvania in search of better land. In time, they were followed by others from the Conewego Colony as well as from the Dutch Reformed mother church in New Jersey. With growing numbers, a house of worship was needed. Just three miles from Harrodsburg, on the Dry Branch of the Salt River, incredibly skilled Dutch craftsmen went to work designing and building what would one day be known as Old Mud Meeting House.
The Construction of a House of Worship
Bringing their skills from both Germany and the Netherlands, the Dutch craftsmen produced a braced-timber framework that formed fourteen foot high walls with unique roof trusses. The wall frames were then filled with wattle-and-daub, a mixture of clay silt from the nearby creek bed as well as twigs and straw. (To learn more about the architecture click here.)
Finished in early 1800, the Dutch Reformed Church became the first to be built west of the Alleghenies. Today, it is the oldest standing church in Mercer County, and possibly the oldest in the state. It is also likely to be the only meeting house in the Upper South constructed of mud.
The Changing Church
The church served as a meeting place and house of worship for the Dutch Reformed Church for sixteen years, until 1816, when the church’s pastor resigned. The congregation then hired a Presbyterian minister, as that faith was the closest match to the Dutch Reformed in policy and doctrine. When that occurred, the church became known as the Cumberland Presbyterian Church.
In 1847, the congregation joined the Bethel Church on Perryville Road and left the building behind, leaving it available to other Presbyterian churches in the community. In 1928, the building and cemetery were deeded to the Harrodsburg Historical Society, although the building served both the Presbyterian and Baptist communities as a meeting house until 1950.
The Dutch Reformed Church
The Dutch Reformed Church developed during the 16th century Protestant Reformation in the Netherlands.
“The Dutch Reformed Church was the largest Christian denomination in the Netherlands from the onset of the Protestant Reformation until 1930. It was the foremost Protestant denomination, and—since 1892—one of the two major Calvinist denominations along with the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands.”
Today, the building and grounds continue to be cared for by the historical society, and the building is available for weddings, reunions, and other special occasions. The Dutch Cousins, descendants of the original settlers, also hold family reunions at the meeting house.
Old Mud Cemetery
The Old Mud Cemetery is on the property of the meeting house, walled by dry stacked stones. The cemetery is the final resting place of many of the early settlers, including twenty-five Revolutionary War soldiers. These veterans have specially marked headstones donated by the Sons of the American Revolution (SAR). Also buried in the cemetery is the grave of Dominie Thomas Kyle, the first pastor of the Dutch Reformed Church.
Adjacent to the church is the graveyard “where rest theNATIONAL REGISTER OF HISTORIC PLACES
ashes of those who starved with Washington at Valley Forge;
who faced the Britons at Monmouth and Brandywine and crossed the Delaware and stormed the Hessians at Trenton; and staked their all upon the field at Princeton and in the trenches at Yorktown.”
INVENTORY – NOMINATION FORM
February 16, 1973
As is usually the case when we don’t call ahead, the meeting house was not open. It was understandable seeing that the meeting house is off of a backroad and not likely often visited. I’m sure the interior structure would have been nice to see, but as I have stated before, I have seen a log cabin or two, so I didn’t feel like we really missed out on the experience.
As you can see from the photos, the graveyard is open. We found that to be incredibly moving. I mentioned above that 25 Revolutionary War soldiers are buried in this graveyard. I took a photo of each marker, but I am not posting them here. If you are looking for an ancestor that may be buried there, please feel free to reach out. I did find a register of names here, but if you would like the photo too, I am very happy to share.
My 5th great grandfather was a Revolutionary War patriot and if I were able to find his burial spot, I’d be forever grateful, so anytime I come across Revolutionary War burials I think about someone else who may be looking for their ancestor’s location too. I also think it’s amazing that we have knowledge of where any of our patriots are buried. After 200+ years, I doubt that I will ever find the burial location of my 5th G.G., but how wonderful it is that we have burial records for some of those brave men! May we never forget their names and their dedication to the birth of our country. God bless those patriots! 🇺🇸
If you do wish to visit and see the interior of the meeting house, make sure to call ahead to the Harrodsburg Historical Society to find out when the building will be open. You can reach them at (859) 734-5985.
Join us next time for the last stop from our day trip to Harrodsburg… Beaumont Inn!
Until then, Happy Travels!