ELIZABETHTON, Tenn. (WJHL) – While residents of Carter County continue to voice their support of the three crosses atop Lynn Mountain, it poses the question, how did they come to be?
While many are worried about whether the crosses will stay or go, News Channel 11 found out what it took to create the crosses. The story itself is far more than placing wooden stakes in the ground. According to James ‘Sam’ Bradshaw and Ralph Bowers Jr., it’s a story of brotherhood, teamwork, and faith.
In 1953, Bowers and Bradshaw were just two students in a Sunday school class of about 20 boys. While the class ranged in ages, the two were on the younger side with Bowers 12-years-old and Bradshaw only 9.
A month before Easter, the class was tasked with a project which would later be known as the three iconic crosses atop Lynn Mountain. The idea came from Sunday School teacher Viola Phillips who said the mountain top would be the perfect place for the task.
“Viola Phillips could bring down heaven when she prayed, and she was just a wonderful person,” said Bowers.
“Back in World War Two, the older women used to walk up there on top of the hill and pray for their sons and husbands that were overseas. They always called that a hallowed spot up there and someone suggested that’s where we put the crosses,” Bradshaw said.
The project overall took a little over a month, according to Bradshaw. He said while the older boys did the bulk of the heavy lifting, he and Bowers still put in their fair share of work. The job consisted of clearing the space atop the mountain and using cedar trees they cut in the process to form two 20-foot crosses and one 30-foot cross.
“We did a little bit of everything, cleaning it out, digging the holes, trying to get the rock out of the hole. It was really tough, especially for a 12 or 13-year-old boy,” said Bowers.
Since it was 1953, the class did not have the luxury of modern-day devices to help them complete their task. “Everything we had to do back then, there were no chainsaws, no electricity, everything was by hand,” said Bradshaw.
Bradshaw said even back in the 50s, there were questions surrounding the work happening on Lynn Mountain. He said at first there were questions then acceptance as city leaders at the time okayed the project. “Some of the men in the church went to the city leaders and told them what was going on and they said it was fine, so we got to do it,” he said.
Decades later, while the original crosses no longer stand, Bowers said there is still a beacon of hope in the ones there today. The original crosses the class put up in 1953 were taken down in 2007 to make room for a larger Christmas display, but he’s glad they aren’t completely gone. However, he fears with this group calling for their removal that they could soon become just a memory.
“Not only are they personal for me, but for almost 70 years, those crosses have been a part of Carter County history. They are an example of how deep the faith of this community is. The cross acts as a beacon to thousands throughout the years, serving as a beautiful reminder of God’s love every day. Who knew a small group of young boys just trying to share their faith would become such a testament to this entire town?” asked Bowers.
“I still to this day look up there and think when I was just a young fellow, we put those up there. I brag about it,” said Bradshaw.
Both Bowers and Bradshaw said the community support during this issue has been tremendous and they hope a solution is found that will result in keeping the crosses in place.