Deena C. Bouknight, – Contributing Writer
Just after their 10 a.m. service this past Sunday, All Saints Episcopal Church congregants and guests gathered on a hillside next to the church office to dedicate The Grove, which includes a timber-frame arbor, walkways, trees, and benches for the use of not just the church but also the Franklin community. Situated on what was once occupied by a neglected historic house that was a few years ago available for free for anyone who wanted to move it off the property, The Grove was dedicated in memory of parishioner John Russell’s late wife, Sharon, who died at age 63, and son John Jr., who died at age 19. Russell donated the funds to All Saints for the construction of the open-air pavilion as well as the landscaping, and more.
All Saints’ Rector, Rev. Jonathan Stepp, told the crowd gathered for the dedication on the corner of Church and Iotla streets, “It’s a beautification of our property … a gift we can give our congregation and our community, and an improvement near the town square. It’s a space where people can reflect and find rest, enjoy a peaceful lunch, spend time in prayer …”
The design of the front of the structure mirrors the front portion of the Gothic Revival-style church. Crosses make up the east and west sides, and there are plaques, which were handmade by local potter Brad Dobson of Mud Dabbers Potter, that include such expressions as “Truth” and “Love.” The vaulted shiplap ceiling includes a hanging light, and the structure has been equipped with a sound system so that music will play regularly. Plus, there are benches on all four sides.
“John Russell had a vision,” said Rev. Stepp, and “it’s a blessing for this town.” He led participants through a litany of blessing and thanksgiving, including the prayer: “In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we give thanks for this grove and arbor, blessing them to be a place of deep connection with the Divine, through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Russell, who spoke with visiting family members, friends, and church members present, shared that his wife and son “gave love” and provided “memories,” and he thought of The Grove as their gift. Inside the structure’s construction, he explained, are his wife and son’s names included on wooden pegs.
Russell thanked many individuals who worked to make The Grove a reality, including Paul Shuler of Cowee Grading; Charlie Mayol of Charles & Son Concrete, Kent Ledford, New Creations Landscaping; Walker Enterprise; and more.
Built in 1888, All Saints’ St. Agnes Chapel on Church Street is constructed of handmade bricks formed by clay from the nearby Little Tennessee River. Church pews were hand made, and in 1888 the membership consisted of 12.