History of the Restoration Movement

New River Church of Christ


New River

The New River community lies in the Northeast section of Fayette County, Alabama. It is bordered on the Southeast by Ford's Mountain and takes its name from the New River (Sipsey) that flows through it. In days gone by it was a thriving farm community. It was the only "town" on the new road between Russellville and Tuscaloosa. This road was built much later than the famous Byler Road. Today most of the former inhabitants have either gone on to their reward or moved away. There arc still two churches that meet in the community that arc over 100 years old, the New River church of Christ and the Old Brand (formerly New River) Primitive Baptist Church. Both have played an important role in the establishment of New Testament Christianity in this section of Alabama.  

It was to this section of the State that Hugh White McCaleb moved his family from Morgan County in 1828-29. McCaleb had obeyed the ancient gospel, likely under the preaching of Elisha Randolph or one of his associates at one of the camp meetings in Morgan County about 1825. Over the next several years, largely through the efforts of John Taylor, the Randolphs (who had settled nearby), the Logans and McCalebs, the cause grew and prospered. The Old Berea Church was established early on and for many years was the only church meeting according to the New Testament pattern in that section of the State.

Each year during the rainy season, the river would flood the valley and make travel next to impossible. John Tyler McCaleb, grandson of Hugh White McCaleb, lived South of the Berea community some 4 or 5 miles. The decision was made to establish a congregation on his farm in the New River community. The church began meeting in 1878 and quickly grew to become the most prosperous and influential in the area. Over the next 60 years, the New River church over-shadowed the other congregations in the area. The list of men who preached there and held gospel meetings read like a "who's who" of the cause in Alabama. Some of these men are: John Taylor, Green Haley, Jeremiah Randolph, Jesse Turner Wood, Jim Wade, the Srygleys, F.D. & F.B., J.D. Tant, Gus Dunn, Virgil Randolph, Frank Baker, J.B. Nelson, A.D. Dias, Charlie Wheeler, and John T. Lewis. Later O.C. Dobbs, Hal P. McDonald, Gus Nichols, the Blacks, Willett, Plato and V.P., E.C. Fuqua, Chester Estes and others. All of these names were household names in the brotherhood.

Earlier in this article we mentioned that the New River Primitive Baptist Church played a role in the cause. This church was the oldest Baptist church in Fayette County, having its beginnings around 1825. It is believed that John Taylor was a member of this church when he was expelled for preaching baptism for the remission of sins. He went on to become one of the most important preachers of the ancient gospel ever in this State.

James W. "Jim" Wade was the preacher for the New River Baptist when he learned the truth. He left the Baptist and became one of the outstanding preachers in the Lord's church in North Alabama. He was the regular preacher at Berea for many years and later served in the same capacity at New River. These men converted many of the members from the Baptist and this created much rancor and resentment between the two groups for many years to come. Adjacent to the meetinghouse al New River is a beautiful cemetery. Most of those buried there were members at New River. McCalebs and Hollingsworths are the two most predominant names. Among these graves are the graves of five of the most prominent gospel preacher mentioned above. Jeremiah Randolph is one of them. Randolph began preaching in the mid 1820's, probably in Morgan County. He moved with his father, Elisha, to Walker County, Alabama and in his later life to Fayette County. He was a lifelong friend of John Taylor and they traveled all over North Alabama and Northeast Mississippi preaching and establishing churches. Jeremiah never considered himself a gospel preacher, yet he was a powerful proponent and was one of the most successful. James S. Wood and Jim Wade conducted his funeral service at New River at his death in 1894.

Jeremiah, is also buried there. Virgil was the regular preacher there for many years. He lived just a few steps from the meetinghouse. He married one of Andrew McCaleb's daughters, Martha. In addition to being a good preacher, Virgil was a great singer. He conducted many singing schools in conjunction with gospel meetings that he held.

He was a kind and gentle man and much loved by all. He passed from this life in 1906. His funeral service was conducted by James Wade. James W. "Jim" Wade is buried nearby the two above. Jim, as noted earlier, was a Baptist preacher who converted to New Testament Christianity. He married another of Andrew McCaleb's daughters, Leah Catherine. Jim was fairly "well off' and maintained one of his old Baptist traditions. He never accepted payment for his preaching. He always rode to his appointments in a one horse buggy. He was for many years the most beloved preacher at Berea and later at New River. Chester Estes would remember him as the "grand old preacher" who sat in a chair on the old bridge across New River while Estes baptized converts in the river below. Jim died in 1929.

John Tyler McCaleb, oldest son of Andrew McCaleb, was an Elder at Berea when he decided a congregation was needed at New River. McCaleb was a successful businessman and farmer as well as a noted and respected preacher of the gospel. He donated the land and most of the lumber for the New River building. He was known throughout the area as a Christian and a very devout man. He  served faithfully as an Elder at New River until his death in 1918. He is also buried at New River.

Oliver Cornelius "Neal" Dobbs is buried there also. He married one of John Tyler McCaleb's daughters, Susan. He attended Nashville Bible School studying under the tutelage of David Lipscomb and James A. Harding. Dobbs served on the Board of Trustees of Alabama Christian College of Berry. He later was the regular preacher at New River. He invented a medical device for men and moved to Birmingham to manufacture the product and became very successful financially. He continued to preach the gospel until his death at age 85 in 1960.

Please indulge this writer for a personal note. When one enters the cemetery at New River, the first marker is the dual marker marking the graves of the writer's beloved maternal grandparents, Lum and Minnie Belle Hollingsworth Ehl. Minnie Belle was a granddaughter of Andrew McCaleb and for most of her adult life was a member of the New River congregation. Three of her uncles are mentioned above, Virgil Randolph, Jim Wade and John Tyler McCaleb. O.C. Dobbs married her 1st cousin. She was a serious student of the Word and I never knew anyone who knew anymore of its teachings than she. She converted her husband, whose family were stalwarts in the New River Primitive Baptist Church and three daughters in law, one of whom was the daughter of a prominent Baptist preacher. She passed from this life in 1962 at age 84. Her funeral was held at the New River building before an overflow crowd. Her cousin, Wiley Hollingsworth gave the sermon and Reginald Ginn spoke words of comfort and offered the prayer at her resting place. Like those great men mentioned above, a true believer had passed on.

Minnie Belle knew all of these has been mentioned, she was related to several of them. In addition she would come to know such men as Gus Nichols, who grew up near her. Her niece, Vera Hollingsworth, married Gus's brother Cary, an excellent gospel preacher himself. Her eldest son, Raymond, was an elder and gospel preacher.

Her grandaughter, Maxine, Minnie Belle Ehl is married to Morris May, a gospel preacher. Her influence had an impact for good on the many lives she touched. She is largely responsible for this writer's interest in Restoration history. "Her children arise up, and call her blessed," Prov 31:28.

-Larry Whitehead, Alabama Restoration Journal, 2007, Vol. 2, #1, pages 15,16

Some Preachers Buried At New River
by Basil Overton

Leon Smith and I traveled together to attend the funeral of a worthy woman, Ada Randolph. The funeral was conducted in the meeting house of New River Church of Christ near Fayette, Alabama. A tribute to this elegant Christian lady by her husband, brother W.H. (Walter) Randolph is on this opening.

Custis Posey, C.Q. Alexander, and I made short talks at the funeral service for sister Ada. I appreciate the splendid manner in which brother Posey and brother Alexander spoke.

We buried sister Randolph's body in the cemetery near the New River meeting house. After the burial service brother Randolph called to our attention the graves of several gospel preachers in the cemetery.

Before writing about the preachers buried at New River, I will tell you about another gospel preacher who is buried not far from New River on Randolph Mountain. He is Elisha Randolph, the great-great-grandfather of brother Walter Randolph.


Elisha Randolph was born in North Carolina in 1784, or 1785. He moved to Warren County, Tennessee when he was young. He moved from there to Gondy's Cave, Morgan County, Alabama. He and other brethren preached the gospel and started churches of Christ in Morgan, Blount, and Fayette counties in Alabama in the early 1820's.

Elisha remained in Morgan County six or seven years spreading the true gospel. Barton W. Stone started a paper in Georgetown, Ky. called The Christian Messenger in 1826. In the October, 1830 edition was the following report by Elisha Randolph who was preaching at Somerville in Morgan County, Alabama. He wrote:

"The prospects of religion are brightening a little among us. Four were baptized last evening and some more are expected today. We have great opposition by the reputed orthodox, but we think their opposition will be of little avail, for truth will prevail." Mr. Grady Randolph is W. H. Randolph's brother and lives in Atlanta, Ga. Grady is Executive Secretary of The Randolph Society. He says that his great-great-grandfather, Elisha was married in Roane County, Tennessee to Mary Evans, and that they had thirteen children, eight sons and five daughters. Three of the sons became ministers of the gospel. They were: Jeremiah, Lorenzo Dow, and Simeon.

Elisha Randolph died September 23, 1856 in the huge log home he erected on hi farm in the eastern part of Fayette County, Alabama. He was buried on Randolph Mountain near where he lived. The mountain was named after him, so says, Grady Randolph.


Brother Walter Randolph's great-grandfather, Jeremiah Randolph is buried at New River. He was born in South Carolina about 1805 to 1810. He married Courtney Billingsley, November 1, 1829. Jeremiah was a lifelong friend of Carroll Kendrick and John Taylor two other gospel preachers of great ability. Jeremiah preached all over North Alabama and much in West Tennessee, and some in Mississippi. He rode horses and walked long distances to preach the gospel. He established-congregations of the Lord's people in Marion, Walker, Winston, Jefferson, Blount, and Fayette Counties in Alabama.

Brother Jeremiah conducted several camp meetings. In one of these in 1855 in Blount County, Alabama, he baptized the noted fighter J. R. Collingsworth.

Brother Randolph preached the gospel for fifty-two years. Much of the time he did so suffering bitter persecution. Three of his sons became gospel preachers. He died April 24,1894. His funeral was conducted by J. S. Wood and James Wade and his body was buried at New River near Winfield, Alabama.


Brother Walter Randolph's grandfather, Virgil Randolph is also buried at New River. He too was a gospel preacher. He was born July 12,1847, in Lamar County, Alabama. His parents were Jeremiah and Courtney Billingsley Randolph. Jeremiah baptized Virgil about 1854.

Virgil married Martha Caroline McCaleb in 1869. Nine children were born to them.

Young Virgil Randolph was poor, and had very little formal education. He had a growing family to support. He had a strong desire to preach the gospel. His father Jeremiah had left him a great example of sacrifice, devotion to God, and toil in the work of the Lord.

Many times Virgil would spend a whole summer preaching in series of meetings each of which would last two weeks, and he would receive little or no compensation for his work.

Grady Randolph says of his grandfather Vigil, "Virgil Randolph baptized many people, but he was best suited to instruct the members of the church in the way of righteousness. He was a splendid singer. He had a melodious voice, and he studied the rudiments of music. so that he was WALTER RANDOLPH I buried at New River where he had preached several years. James a good teacher of song in the church. . . Many times he would go to town on business and the people would gather around him and ask him to sing one of the songs of Zion. After singing to them awhile, he would then preach or exhort them to a pious life in the service of God. He was known in North Alabama as the 'sweet singer' of the disciples. "

Virgil Randolph was afflicted many years with stomach trouble. This condition gradually got worse. He died in a Birmingham hospital on September 9, 1906 which was the Lord's day. He was Wade, his brother-in-law conducted his funeral.


The mortal remains of J. M. Wade also are in the New River Cemetery. He married Walter Randolph's grandmother's sister. She was Catherine McCaleb a sister of Martha Caroline McCaleb who married Virgil Randolph. Brother Walter says Jim Wade was baptized into Christ in 1872, and that he preached at many places in Fayette County and surrounding counties. He accepted no pay for preaching because he made a good living on his farm. He converted many people to the Lamb of God, the precious Lord Jesus Christ. Brother Wade was born May 3, 1845 and died October 28, 1929.


Also buried at New River is the body of O. C. Dobbs who, according to Walter Randolph was "A very forceful preacher with a good, loud voice." Brother Dobbs was a very good debater. He married Susie McCaleb, John Tyler McCaleb's daughter.

Brother Dobbs was born April 29, 1875 and died December 1, 1960.


Brother Walter Randolph's grandmother's brother, John Tyler McCaleb is also buried at New River. Walter says his great-uncle, John Tyler McCaleb was an elder in the church and also a gospel preacher who took a firm stand on God's Word.

Brother McCaleb was born September 27, 1840, and died August 13, 1918.

-Basil Overton, World Evangelist, August, 1982, page 10

New River Cemetery

Location of New River Church of Christ & Cemetery

New River Church of Christ & Cemetery is located about 10 miles southeast of Winfield, Alabama and about 10 miles due east of Fayette. The closest township is the little community of Hubbertville about 3 mile northwest.
From Birmingham: travel northwest on Hwy. 78 through Jasper. The new Corridor X is being completed that links Memphis, Tennessee and Birmingham, Alabama. So, part of the way can be traveled on Corridor X and part of the way is on Hwy. 78. When you get to the little community of Elderidge turn left on Hwy. 13 and head south ten miles to Hwy. 102. (It will be the next stop sign). Turn right on Hwy 102 and head toward Fayette about 6.7 miles. You will come to County Road 53 that goes to your left at the top of a hill. DO NOT turn there. Go on to the bottom of the hill and County Road 53 will turn to the right. Turn right on County Rd. 53 and go about 4 miles. You will come to County Road 49 that goes Left and Right. On the left corner is the New River Church of Christ. The cemetery is just the other side of it.

All Five Preachers are Buried Within The Circle Above

33°48'26.2"N 87°43'43.8"W
or D.d. 33.807269, -87.728834

Preachers Buried At New River

Jeremiah Randolph

Virgil Randolph

J.M. Wade

John T. McCaleb

O.C. Dobbs

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