Earle’s Chapel: The Community – Part 4

With the exception of the Earle-Morris grist mill and cotton gin, and later, with the coming of the railroads in the 1870’s, sawmills, there were no commercial establishments in Earle’s Chapel.  Until the time of the Civil War, many of the settlers made the ten-to-twelve day roundtrip by oxcart to market their cotton in Shreveport and bring back supplies or the even longer trek to New Orleans.  It was from one such journey to New Orleans that Elijah Earle brought back the first iron cookstove in Cherokee County.

                The post-Civil War development of railroad transportation allowed the small towns along the route to develop into local trade centers for the farming villages that surrounded them.  The growth and development of “New” Jacksonville after it was relocated on the railroad in 1872 provided such a center for Earle’s Chapel and similar communities.

                It was not until 1926 that Carson C. Brittain opened a small grocery store on what was then S.H. 43 in Earle’s Chapel.  At his previous location in Ironton, Mr. Brittain had installed the first one-stroke gasoline pump in the county and his 32-volt Delco electrical system in both locations was a community marvel in an area that did not have electrical service until the coming of the Rural Electrification Administration (REA) program around 1940.  The store continued to serve the community under several owners, including Charlie Grimes and A.M. (Booster) Earle, descendents of two of the early families, until U.S. 79 was re-routed in the late 1960’s, adversely affecting its location on the highway.

                There seems to be no evidence that any substantial effort was made to develop the community into a township.  Rather, it was typical of the many small farming communities around Jacksonville whose citizens availed themselves of the central town’s trade advantages while focusing much of their social life on the community church and school.

                Until after the first World War, Earle’s Chapel remained a community of farm families who traded “in town” but sent their children to Earle’s Chapel School, attended Earle’s Chapel Church on “Preaching Sundays,” and buried their dead in the scraped earth cemetery alongside the church.  During the twenties, its neighboring community, Ironton, began to expand, and in the face of substantial resistance on the part of many Earle’s Chapel families, absorbed the Earle’s Chapel school into the larger Ironton district.  The church congregation remained active, however, and the cemetery continued to serve the needs of both communities, Ironton having neither municipal nor churchyard cemeteries.

                Today, fifth and sixth generation descendants of the “First Families” of Earle’s Chapel remain on, or hold, sections of their family land.  Others continue to live in the area, descendants of those who “moved to town”—Jacksonville—where they became part of the historical development of that city which celebrated its centennial year in 1972.

                The community is marked today by a plain highway sign on U.S. 79—misspelled Earl’s Chapel—and on the County map, as in the days of its post office, Earls.  Earle’s Chapel Road to the south is lined with modern homes, most of them modest in size, set in “…a little acreage.”  The Chapel Road to the north, however, remains much as it has always been—a narrow country road leading off the highway, across the railroad built in 1872, and up the hill to the Chapel and the Cemetery.