St. Stephen’s Church in Land Between The Lakes is historically significant because it is only one of a handful of the known original remaining buildings in LBL. The church was built in 1900 by German Americans seeking a place to worship. The final regular service was held sometime around 1942. For the next several decades, the church sat vacant next to the church’s cemetery.
Why The Church Building Remains is a Mystery
In 1963, when TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority) began acquiring land between Kentucky Lake and the soon-to-be Lake Barkley (completed the following year) for the creation of LBL, the church was completely overlooked.
While we aren’t sure, we do have a couple of theories about why the church was left. Considering it had been abandoned for about 20 years, TVA simply could have forgot about it, didn’t realize it was there, or just didn’t care.
The access road to the church and Kentucky 289 was flooded when Lake Barkley was created. The former state highway and much of the access road are now underwater, although remains of the narrow lane to the church can still be seen.
The present-day Forest Service Road #415 to the church didn’t exist back then, so access to the church would have been severed.
However, a cemetery resides there next to the church, a cemetery that people would surely not forget about – so our theory may not hold water.
The church wasn’t forgotten by everyone. In 2000, a group known as “Between the Rivers, Inc.” requested permission and was approved by U.S. Forest Service to restore the old church. It was done after nearly 4,000 hours of man labor.
The drive down LBL Road #415 is a very windy, hilly, one-lane gravel road . You probably don’t want to take a nice Lexus down the road, but any vehicle would be able to travel. The road is about two miles long and is accessible by taking Old Ferry Road (LBL Road #117) to LBL Road #122. If you blink, you’ll miss it, but it is a fun road trip to take. When you get there, you will certainly appreciate the church and the effort put into it, as well as the historical significance of the 120-year-old structure.
We got some aerial footage of St. Stephen’s Church in December 2020 during the Christmas season. Volunteers beautifully decorated the church for the holidays.