History of Beargrass
A 200 Year Legacy
1784 Beargrass (Baptist) Church organized
1803 Beargrass joins Long Run Baptist Association
1809 Land purchased near Shelbyville Road Plaza
1824 Alexander Campbell preaches in Louisville
1829 Benjamin Allen organizes Goose Creek Church
1831 Beargrass leaves Long Run Baptist Association
1842 Beargrass Christian relocates to Westport Road
1842 Alexander Campbell preaches at Goose Creek
1842 Goose Creek members transfer to Beargrass
1888 New frame sanctuary built
1917 Church relocates to Shelbyville & Brown’s Lane
1931 Walter Lawrenson called as minister
1939, 1949 Building expansions
1953 Will Van Nostrand called as associate minister
1963 Van Nostrand becomes senior minister
1958 Current sanctuary built
1975 Mary Beth Guy joins staff as third associate
1980 Activities Building constructed
1990 Education Building replaces 1917 building
1994 Scott Colglazier succeeds Van Nostrand
1997 Leigh Bond called as senior minister
1998 Youth and community building purchased
2006 New sanctuary & youth space open in December
2007 Dedication on sanctuary on January 21
The Origins of Beargrass Church: 1784
In 1781 Squire Boone, a lay Baptist preacher and brother of Daniel Boone, preached at “Dutch Station” outside Louisville. In January 1784 Rev. John Whitaker organized the Dutch Station settlers into “Bear Grass Church,” the first church in Jefferson County. When Beargrass joined the Long Run Baptist Association in 1803 it numbered 67 members. In 1809 the church obtained land on what is now the Shelbyville Road Plaza shopping center. Rev. William Kellar of Harrod’s Creek Baptist Church also provided leadership at Beargrass until his death in 1817.
The Campbells’ Reform Movement Begins: 1809
Also in 1809, Thomas Campbell began a reform movement in western Pennsylvania. Thomas and his son Alexander were university-trained, Scottish Presbyterian ministers from Ireland. Thomas Campbell disagreed with other Presbyterians over communion, baptism, election and predestination. In 1811 Thomas and Alexander formed the independent Brush Run Church in Washington County, Pennsylvania near the northern Virginia (now WV) border. In 1815 the Campbells and Brush Run joined the Redstone Baptist Association. Before long differences arose between the Campbells and other Baptist leaders. The Campbells were leading a “Reform Movement” that by 1830 would cause them to separate from the Baptists.
In 1824 Alexander Campbell took a preaching tour of Kentucky, seeking to extend the influence of the Reform movement among Kentucky Baptists. Louisville pastors Philip S. Fall and Benjamin Allen were early Campbell advocates in Kentucky. In 1825 Fall’s First Baptist Church of Louisville rejected the Baptist Philadelphia Confession of Faith. The congregation relied on the Bible alone as the guide for faith and practice. When Fall moved to Nashville (and later to Frankfort), Benjamin Allen, pastor of Harrod’s Creek and Beargrass Baptist churches, provided pastoral leadership in Louisville. Kentucky Baptists were becoming sharply divided over Campbell’s ideas. During the 1829-1833 period, the Louisville First Baptist Church divided into two congregations that would eventually become the First Christian and the Walnut Street Baptist churches.
Beargrass Leaves Baptist Association: 1832
Meanwhile, the Beargrass church had grown to 142 members in 1820 and 184 in 1830. But conflict over Campbell’s views also arose at Beargrass with most of the members following the Campbell reformers. Benjamin Allen had provided leadership at Beargrass for many years, succeeding his mentor William Kellar who died in 1817. In 1829 he organized additional churches at Pond Creek (Oldham County) and Goose Creek (eastern Jefferson County). In 1831 the Long Run Baptist Association refused to admit these “Bible only” congregations. As a result, Beargrass and several other Campbellite churches were forced out of the Long Run Baptist Association in 1831 or 1832 (see Allen’s letter). Allen continued to minister to these congregations until his death in 1838. Allen was married to Elizabeth Clore from Virginia who was part of the Clore family of Oldham County, Kentucky.
Beargrass and Goose Creek Unite: 1842
In July 1842 Beargrass sold its land south of Shelbyville Road and in August purchased land on Westport Road. Before the congregation finished building the meeting house at the new site it began meeting with members of the Goose Creek Church at the Edwards-Herr-Hite house at 4417 Westport Road. The home was then owned by Alfred Herr who was one of the four elders chosen to lead the church in 1842 and one of the five trustees who purchased the new church property at what was later 4164 Westport Road. That same year Alexander Campbell preached to the Beargrass/Goose Creek congregation at Alfred Herr’s Westport Road home.
In December 1842 forty four members of the Goose Creek Church of Christ formally transferred their membership to Beargrass, doubling the size of the Beargrass congregation. There were more than 90 “sisters” and “brothers” in the 1842 Beargrass Church of Christ. The family names on the early roster read like a who’s who of area history: Arterburn, Cannon, Herr, Hikes, Hite, Hubbard, Oldham, Ormsby, Rudy, Simcoe.
The new united congregation built a brick church at the corner of Thierman Lane and Westport Road. After surviving the difficult years of the Civil War, in 1888 the congregation replaced the brick structure with a frame church. The new building included a brick baptistry—though baptisms seem to have continued in Beargrass Creek. In 1906 Beargrass Christian Church installed its first organ, ending the practice of unaccompanied singing.
Brown’s Lane and Shelbyville Road: 1917
In 1917 the congregation moved to its present location at Brown’s Lane and Shelbyville Road. The church was then an island surrounded by potato fields. In the mid-1920s the first building boom began in St. Matthews.
Tremendous Growth: The Lawrenson & Van Nostrand Years (1931-1993)
Beargrass’ modern history began in 1931 when the Rev. Walter Lawrenson became the minister. The church had 137 members. In Rev. Lawrenson’s early years the congregation experienced steady growth. Then in 1938 Shelbyville Road and Frankfort Avenue were widened (becoming US 60) and a second building boom began in St. Matthews. Coupled with Lawrenson’s leadership, this boom led to tremendous growth at Beargrass. In 1939 the church expanded the sanctuary and added classroom space. By 1942 there were 375 members.
After World War II the boom resumed. Scrapping plans to relocate, Beargrass constructed another addition in 1949. St. Matthews incorporated in 1950, Beargrass added its first associate minister in 1951, and by 1952 membership totaled 670. In 1953 Rev. R. Willard Van Nostrand joined the staff as associate minister. The church continued to grow, passing 1,000 members in 1957, and building the current sanctuary in 1958.
The 1960s saw continued growth and change. Health considerations forced Dr. Lawrenson to resign as senior minister and become minister of evangelism. Rev. Van Nostrand took over preaching duties. After 38 years at Beargrass, Dr. Lawrenson died in 1969.
Beargrass added a second associate in 1975 when Mary Beth Guy was called as minister of education. Later that year the congregation elected women to the official board for the first time. An activities building was constructed in 1980 and in 1990 a new education building replaced the old one (originally the 1917 sanctuary) which was razed. After 40 years at Beargrass, Dr. Van Nostrand retired in 1993.
Preparing for the Next Century: 1990—2000
Dr. Scott Colglazier served as senior minister from 1994-1996 during a period of rapid change following the Van Nostrand years. A third associate and a contemporary worship service were added in 1996. Dr. Leigh Bond succeeded Colglazier in 1997. A youth and community building was purchased in 1998 and Dr. John Hull became minister of faith development the same year. A Saturday evening service began in 2000.
Launching the Twenty-first Century
As the congregation continued to plan for the future the 211 Building (211 Browns Lane) was purchased in 2003 to secure additional land and parking. Beargrass leased the building to Cornerstone Child Development in 2005. The partnership with Cornerstone enables Beargrass to work with an organization which provides quality childcare and preschool for the community. After eight years of planning Beargrass built a new sanctuary and youth space that opened on Christmas Eve 2006. The 1958 sanctuary is now called Chalice Hall and is being used extensively by both the congregation and community groups.
After 32 years of faithful service, Rev. Mary Beth Guy (minister of pastoral care) passed away in 2007. Dr. Susan Lowe (congregational care) joined the staff earlier in 2007.
A dynamic program for youth and young adults was led during this period by Revs. Kelly Ingersoll (1996-2005), Julie Richardson (2006-2011), Kelley Dick (2011-2014), Tiffany DeTienne (2015-2018) and Rob Shrader (2018-present). Starting in the year 2000, children’s ministry at Beargrass has become an important focus of congregational ministry. Rev. Steven Straub whose role has expanded during this period is largely responsible. He was ordained in 2017 and is now full-time Minister to Children.