Allen Chapel (Independence County)
Allen Chapel is a small community in Independence County on Highway 14 between Ramsey Mountain and Salado (Independence County). Once located upon a spur called the Allen Chapel Road, it is now on the main road from the county seat of Batesville (Independence County) to Oil Trough (Independence County).
Today, the Allen Chapel Free Will Baptist Church (and the associated cemetery) is the only landmark for the community. At one time, a country general store, the Dewey Lusk Grocery, was located near the church. In the early twenty-first century, the only remaining business is the Time Bandit, which sells electric cargo-strap winders. Several businesses, including two banks and a motel, are located nearby on Ramsey Mountain.
In 1827, at age thirty-four, Abraham (Abram) Allen, a farmer and blacksmith, and his new wife (and cousin), Isabella (Sibella) Allen, settled about six miles south of Batesville, eventually establishing a large farm and raising a family. Allen was born in Orange County, North Carolina, and came to Arkansas via Tennessee. At first, the community was called Allen Farm. At the time of his death in 1873, Abram Allen was one of the wealthiest men in the county, owning close to 2,000 acres of land, most of it on the White River in the Dennison (a.k.a. Denison) Bottoms. The 1860 census shows Abram Allen as a leading slaveholder in the county. The Allen family is buried in the Allen Chapel Cemetery.
Two of Abram and Sibella Allen’s sons played active roles in the Civil War. Andrew Allen was a first lieutenant in Company D, Eighth Arkansas Infantry (CS). He served in Kentucky and Tennessee until after the Battle of Shiloh, when the army was reorganized at Corinth, Mississippi, and he was discharged. He later joined General Sterling Price’s army for raids in Arkansas and Missouri. According to the Goodspeed history of the area: “He owns about 1,800 acres of land, 1,500 of which are fine bottom land; he inherited a large amount from his father, but has enlarged his property by his own efforts, and is one of the most successful and enterprising farmers in the county. He devotes some attention to good cattle-breeding, and takes great interest in stock raising. Mr. Allen’s residence is four miles southeast of Batesville. Politically, he is a Democrat.”
Andrew’s younger brother, William A. Allen, served in the Civil War as a private in Company C, First Arkansas Cavalry (CS). Andrew and William’s sister, Sarah Elizabeth Allen, married Colonel Thomas Jefferson (Tom) Morgan of what is today McHue (Independence County), a pioneer and prominent member of that community. Col. Morgan was a captain of Company D, Eighth Arkansas Infantry, during the Civil War.
The first place of worship for the community was a brush arbor on what is today Allen Chapel Road north of the present church. The movement for a church began during the Great Depression in the early 1930s, with Bible study in homes led by Jim Prentice and Melissa (Lissie) Richardson Prentice, which led to the construction of the brush arbor located on the Prentice land. Brother Harman Lewis preached at a revival that lasted several days. From this revival, the movement to establish a church was born.
The landmark Allen Chapel Free Will Baptist Church, named for Abram Allen’s family, whose descendants donated the land, was organized in 1936. The land grant for the church stipulated that the Allen Cemetery would be maintained by the church. The original church building was built from timber cut by Bland Richardson and other men of the congregation. Mules were used to drag the logs to a nearby sawmill to be processed. The building was covered in brick siding.
In 1953, the present church was built using sandstone from the Gan Apple Quarry. Leamon Richardson bought the old church building and moved it behind his shop/garage, which is near the present church; the shop/garage is no longer open for business. The old church building is still standing but is in a state of disrepair.
A parsonage was added to the Allen Chapel church grounds in 1959, and more additions were made over the years. In 1997, a renovation project was undertaken, and the present church complex was soon completed. The Allen Chapel Free Will Baptist Church remains the center for the community in the twenty-first century.
Charles (Chuck) Comer, rockabilly recording artist and manager for Sonny Burgess of Newport (Jackson County) early in Burgess’s musical career, was from Allen Chapel. At KNBY in Newport, Comer became one of the leading rock-and-roll disc jockeys in northeastern Arkansas. In 1958, he also founded a short-lived record label in Pleasant Plains (Independence County) called Midway Records. Comer had a regional hit with “Little More Lovin’” in 1959 on the Vaden Records label in Trumann (Poinsett County).
For additional information:
Biographical and Historical Memoirs of Northeast Arkansas. Chicago: Goodspeed Publishing Co., 1889.
McGinnis, A. C. “A History of Independence County, Ark.” Special issue. Independence County Chronicle 17 (April 1976).
Van Buren, Arkansas
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